December Synchroblog: Following the Baby We Just Celebrated

This month's synchroblog topic is explained here:  http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/2011/12/

So Jesus came . . . Did you get what you expected? How has following Jesus led you into strange places and turned your life upside down? Or has it?

I don't have anything new to say on this that I haven't shared with many groups in person, but it bears repeating the story at least once on this blog.

I was born to conservative Christian parents who grew up themselves in Christian families. My dad grew up in a United Presbyterian church in the Twin Cities (Macalester), attended Macalester College (a Presbyterian-affiliated school), and was ordained as a deacon and then an elder early in his adult life.  My mom grew up in a rural Evangelical Covenant church, attended North Park College (a Evangelical Covenant school), and joined Macalaster when she married Dad, also becoming a deacon and then elder in young adulthood.  As they moved, they attended other churches, and ended up spending most of mid-life at the church that was my home church:  Church of the Cross (PCUSA) in Omaha, Nebraska, where they were both active in lay leadership.  They were (and are) very loving and ethical people, have rich prayer lives, a very deep knowledge and understanding of Scripture, and have always had a heart for those in need as well, donating time and money generously.

I grew up believing -- like most kids do -- that my experience was normal, and that my parents' reality WAS reality.  I was very committed to following the Jesus that I'd been led to pray to nightly when I was first able to talk, and wanted to be a missionary (since full-time ministry stateside wasn't within our world-view in terms of my gender.)  I grew up conservative politically and ethically, and was definitely a "good girl' as well as a committed Christian through my teens.  I "followed Jesus" to Wheaton College, and had a rich experience there exploring community with my missions-minded friends as well as learning all I could learn.

I would bore most of you to tears if I gave you a blow-by-blow of the next 20 years, but the short story is that real life with real people led me to rework my theology and world-view in many places.  I abandoned conservative gender roles (the idea of playing the "right" role for my gender in exchange for being protected in ways that men were not) only after trying that path over and over.  I abandoned the idea that capitalism and conservative politics were synonymous with my faith only after trying very hard to reconcile them in the places I found dissonance.  I moved from conservative evangelical toward progressive contemplative with great difficulty socially, because I always assumed that the people around me could see the same holes in our theology and practice that became clear to me, and so I had to suffer a lot of very deliberate active rejection (certainly not by all conservative friends and family, though) before I could let go of the idea that others were also looking for better ways to live the way Jesus taught us to live.

The truth is that most Christians are sincere about following Jesus, but also sincere in believing that those in leadership and teaching positions know and are teaching them the things that will really result in the lives -- individually and in community -- that Jesus was and is calling us to live.  They persist in trusting that leadership and the status quo of the current church culture because they equate unquestioning submission with obedience to Jesus.  This isn't new, of course -- for we are often taught about how the religious people of Jesus day tried to follow the scribes and pharisees in the same way and for the same purpose.  Most adults -- even to death in their 90s -- never question the justice or rightness of what they have been taught since they were little by people they respected and still respect.  That is the reality of community and faith.  (Indeed, if those in leadership themselves question the status quo, they often find themselves no longer in leadership!)

I began my life thinking that following Jesus would make me like my parents, whom I still respect deeply, and would help me resist the parts of me that don't fit the ethic and culture of the conservative churches and families that surrounded me.  Following Jesus would heal me of the "sin" that made it hard to fit the status quo or fulfill my ethical obligations under it. (Following Jesus is healing me of the sin that is actually rebellion against God in my selfishness and fear, as He teaches me His law of love.)

I never stopped following Jesus, even through really brutal times of paying the consequences for not being like my parents, for not fitting the ethic and culture that I thought was based on a good interpretation of Scripture, and for not fulfilling my ethical obligations under all that (meaning the gender- and conservative-culture-specific mores, not the universal truths that most cultures have recognized).  Following Jesus led me to great grief and loss -- especially the loss of my self-image as a "true believer".

These days I know that Jesus loves me enough to want me to know what is true and to want me to live transparently with Him and my community of faith.  He's not afraid of conflict or anger or rejection, and has been teaching me that I don't need to be, either.  He has been teaching me to sort out the voices of family and friends and self, and to live with my focus on the wisdom in the community of faith that He shows me is more closely aligned with His intent and His words and the REALITY that He created and is creating.

The bottom line?:  I followed Jesus because of my deep needs for community and acceptance and affirmation, and found that obedience made me an outcast . . . but that that was the deeper fulfillment of those deep needs.  (I did find community with other followers, of course . . . but only after letting go of the narrower communities that I pursued acceptance from.)

AND there will be a new bottom line as life moves forward, of course.  Because I'm not done, and neither is He.


Here’s the list of links for this month’s synchroblog. 
Glenn Hager – Underwear For Christmas
Jeremy Myers – The Unexpected Gift From Jesus
Tammy Carter - Unstuck
Jeff Goins - The Day After Christmas: A Lament
Wendy McCaig – Unwanted Gifts: You Can Run But You Can Not Hide
Christine Sine – The Wait Is Over – What Did I Get?
Maria Kettleson Anderson – Following The Baby We Just Celebrated
Leah – Still Waiting For Redemption
Kathy Escobar – Pain Relief Not Pain Removal


At Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 2:14:00 PM PST, Anonymous Ellen Haroutunian said...

"and found that obedience made me an outcast . . ." Yes! Ironic, isn't it? Thanks for this.

At Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 5:29:00 AM PST, Blogger Carol Kuniholm said...

Thank you. I resonate with much of your experience. Reading through this current synchroblog, I see a repeated refrain: following Jesus means stepping away from the safe, comfortable, familiar community of the church. In some ways maybe that's always been the case. But unless we find our way into a deeper fellowship of like-minded disciples, it's too easy to spend years in isolation and grief, rather than continue ahead helping to shape the church, community and Kingdom God had in mind.

At Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 9:31:00 AM PST, Blogger EmKay Anderson said...

Thanks, Carol!

I feel I have a better community around me than I ever have, but I also think that I have a better understanding of leadership in shaping the Kingdom that God has in mind than I ever did before. That perhaps is a good topic for a new post, but it would overlap a lot with my post just previous to this one.

I think we somehow have equated leadership with sermons and sessions as if Jesus came to teach us how to have well-run churches with good teaching. I went through a time of considering that call, but now believe that my call is to live and preach a "normal Christian life" that is not accepting of the division between laity and clergy but that calls to clergy to live what they preach and calls the laity to center their lives around their own discipleship as leaders in that.

I do not feel alone in that at all, but can list hundreds of other "tentmakers" who are living what I (and they) see as real church. And I also do not feel this is a movement outside our denominations and organized churches, but rather a grass-roots movement from within those institutions. We are not just after new wineskins, but are pouring out of the old ones!

"Isolation and grief" were and are a part of every story of real community, I think! Otherwise community is artificially structured and maintained by all the tools we study in sociology class -- the mores and norming techniques of any group. But community that evidences the central motivation of self-giving love really is a whole new body. As I read the history of the Church, it is evident that we have had both kinds of Church since the beginning; so this is nothing new. This is just our turn!

At Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 6:56:00 AM PST, Anonymous TCDavis said...

Dear Maria,
Thanks for this candid sharing of your faith journey. It takes courage to swim against the stream; and you obviously have inner strength for a continuing journey. Since you mentioned in your Twitter profile that you are a "pragmatic Christian mystic" you might be interested to read Rufus Jones' <>. These reformers were precursors of George Fox and other Quakers. Rufus Jones (1863-1948) wrote extensively about a practical version of Christian mysticism. See: http://bit.ly/zR0Qzh. You can obtain a free ebook copy of Jones' book at Project Gutenberg. If you're a Kindle reader here are instructions about how to get it: http://cyberkenblog.com/?p=405. If you don't own a Kindle, here are instructions about how to get books from Project Gugenberg using a free Kindle reader for your PC: http://cyberkenblog.com/?p=410. Finally, you might be interested, from a faith perspective, in my interfaith peacemaking blog, http://www.interfaithreflections.com.


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