Janel Apps Ramsey: Deep and Wide

Our guest writer for April is Janel Apps Ramsey. Janel has been a part of “I’m Nazarene, Too” for a while now. She is a post-Nazarene living and working in Denver. She is the Co-Director of http://www.brewtheology.org, an organization working to promote healthy conversation between people of different faiths and backgrounds. She is the editor of Women and Church and Wounds of the Church. She is pastor of Evensong Community, a house church community that walks with people through faith transitions. She loves Denver, washi tape, her family, and her cats, Ty and Yao.

 Deep and wide

Deep and wide

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide

Deep and wide

Deep and wide

There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide

I don’t know what brought this song to mind lately. Something triggered a memory or I heard the phrase somewhere. At first I couldn’t get past just the deep and wide part. And maybe I didn’t need to.

You see, deep and wide was always how I saw the church. My Father always talked about the wideness of the church. After returning home from Vietnam, tattoos and all, the Church of the Nazarene was the safest place he had. He was looked at with suspicion on the street, no one would sit near him in school, but the Nazarenes loved him and made a place for him and his family everywhere we went. He always thought the church was deep and wide.

Deep and wide.

At the same time, my Grandfather was an 8th grade educated farmer who started attending the local Nazarene church. He loved it and was so inspired by it that he felt a call to ministry. But they were not well off, and the material was a challenge, and so he felt guilt over not fulfilling that call for the rest of his life. He was generous, and loving, and kind, but never quite felt he measured up. Even after saving a man’s life by lifting a tractor off him and injuring his own back permanently, it wasn’t penance enough to make up for leaving the call behind.

Shallow and narrow.

Janis was one of our youth volunteers in the church I spent most of my life in. She was always available. Always around. Always ready to help, or drive, or do what needed to be done. But she wasn’t allowed to teach. Because Janis was divorced. And remarried. So while the church was very happy to use her abilities, time, effort, and money, she wasn’t “really” a Christian. And that fact was made loud and clear, over and over.

Shallow and narrow.

When our pastor, who felt he couldn’t make ends meet, had to take a second job to provide his family. He didn’t feel safe telling the church board. He didn’t think they’d understand. He didn’t want to lose his church, but wanted his family to have what they needed. He didn’t deal with everything perfectly and was partly at fault, but what came next was worse. After being voted out, strange phone calls came at night threatening his home and his safety. His wife was stalked when she was out around town. And the evidence pointed to some angry board members.

Shallow and narrow.

When the district boards suggest that no, clearly both you and your husband cannot both pursue ministry. One of you is just responding to the call of the other. Clearly there’s a mistake and you’re not hearing God’s voice correctly.

Shallow and narrow.

When a woman answers the call. Boldly, faithfully, and fully. Forsaking all other talents, gifts, and commitments, to do what God (and the church) is calling her to do. But never gets paid for the work that men have always been paid for. She never makes it to the finish line. She wonders what she did wrong, when everyone tells her she’s doing great. When a heritage of equality, translates to inequality that is deeply imbedded in systemic sin, unconscious bias, and discrimination.

Shallow and narrow.

When going online and abusing others becomes standard practice for people carrying the name “Christian”. Harassing strangers. Threatening people’s careers. Acting like a spoiled child. Being a passive aggressive narcissist. Calling names. Tattling. Then acting like nothing is going on.

Shallow and narrow.

But there was this one man. A foreigner. With brown skin. With brown eyes. With no home. Who lived on the generosity of others. Who gave without thinking.

Deep and wide.

Who loved the woman who was widowed. Or broken. Bleeding. Condemned. Gossiped about. Hurting. Alone. Rejected for no reason.

Deep and wide.

Who touched a broken back and made it whole again. Who made the blind to see. Who made the lame walk.

Deep and wide.

Who fed the hungry. Gave grace to the poor. Who held the weary.

Deep and wide.

Who saw the foreigner, in the ditch, crumpled and bleeding, and saved him. Picked him up. Cleansed his wounds. And gave him new life.

Deep and wide.

Who looked at the divorced woman and said, “I am the water that gives you life. You will never thirst again.”

Deep and wide.

Who looked at the soldier who came looking for help. Who raised his daughter from the dead.

Deep and wide.

I can’t get over the contrast. Trading in the deep and wide for the shallow and narrow. So much gets sacrificed in the trade.

I am not Nazarene anymore. The shallow and narrow did me in. All the arguments came my way. How we need to stay and make change. That we can’t all leave. That I’m abandoning the call. Well, maybe I am. But for me, to stay in love with Jesus, meant sacrificing the church. And there is NOTHING shallow and narrow about that decision.

I found I’m Nazarene Too in the midst of NNUs fight to push out Tom Oord from their ranks. Even after everything I experienced, watching the church act like that completely overwhelmed me. How could the church claim any sort of holiness while treating another person that way and denying it all the way along? Shallow and narrow. I almost left for good.

However, I’m Nazarene Too is a place where redemption takes place. This is where the struggle to be deep and wide, is fighting for a church that is better than this. This is a place where I am acknowledged and heard. Where I still have hope that maybe the church will be redeemed. They are the only people who will listen.

I’m sure people will write this off as whining or wounded. Fine. But if you would keep reading you would hear the voice of someone who still loves the Church but has been given the label divorced (from the church), sinner (by the church), unsanctified (from the church), backslidden (from God), etc. Did it ever occur to you that just because my faith became deep and wide, that I still love Jesus too?

Shallow and narrow is easy. You build a wall around the edge of the stream and let it fill with an inch of water. Now it’s safe.  Everything stays put. Nothing disrupts it. Nothing is difficult. The wind can’t move it. The mud can’t find it. The stream can’t change it. It does what it’s told.

But the moment the wall is breached all kinds of things can happen. The water escapes. New water gets in. A fish swims in. The current drains the little pond. So we better shore up the wall and be safe.

The problem is, the world is an ocean. With many inputs and many creatures, many places and many interactions. It is deep and wide. It is full of beauty and pain. It is full of good and evil. It is growing, and changing, pushing and pulling, moving and shifting. And for our faith, our churches, to make any difference in the world there must be a wideness in our mercy, our grace, and our faith.

Maybe it’s just the churches I was exposed to or the conservative districts I lived in. But my experience of the church became shallow and narrow. And no, that is not all dependent on my individual walk with God. It became shallow and narrow because the church built a wall to keep us all in. Safe, clean, and pure.  And that is just not reality.

There is a fountain, the fountain of the earth, that is flowing deep and wide. And there is a fountain, a fountain of grace, flowing deep and wide. And while I may flail a little, may come up sputtering for air once in while, may long for the safety of a hidden pool in a forest; I’m just in too deep.

God calls us into the deep and wide. Into a community that lives, and moves, and has it’s being in the deep and wide. Will you join me? Will you join us? As we learn what it means to be deep and wide.

A Very, Very Special Announcement

Steve Fountain writes:

As you may know, our “I’m Nazarene, too” group started as a small band of like-minded radical left-wing extremists set on destroying the church we love so much (and of course advancing the gay agenda), and while our accomplishments have been remarkable, and while we have added to our ranks all those who should be saved and more, the time has come for us to move to bigger and better things.

Posts and comments on Facebook, no matter how venomous and hateful, can only accomplish so much, and now the time has come for “I’m Nazarene, too” to take the next logical step in our (r)evolution.

Rest assured that you will find this news exciting!

In the weeks to come, “I’m Nazarene, Too” will be transitioning from a mere Facebook group into a full-fledged, legally-recognized, tax-exempt church—in fact several churches—under the umbrella of a brand-new denomination known as “Nazarene II: The Next Generation®, Incorporated, LLC” aka “Naz2: TNG™” and “Naz2™”(“Naz2™” will also be a registered DBA for tax purposes—some details have yet to be ironed out through consultation with our ecclesiastical legal counsel, Bruce Balcolm, and with our two Popes, Dan Boone and Craig Keen—who are both #amazingleaders).

Lately we’ve come to realize that Millennials, and even some X-ers and Boomers, want more than virtual interaction with our group, and we expect that most will be making the shift to our new, improved Nazarene experience.

For now, you probably have questions.

Obviously they will be answered in due course.

Of course there are some details that we have already worked out, such as: membership in the NazToo group automatically means that you’re a member of Naz2, the church.

Let’s be honest—it’s what we’ve all wanted all along, anyways, am I right?

So, while we do not have our creeds or special rules hammered out yet, we will be producing them at our first general assembly, which will be held at our headquarters in fashionable and pleasant Beech Island, SC.

Evan Abla writes:

Some clarification to Steve’s post is in order. I’ve already set up the Headquarters for the new NazToo Church right here in sometimes sunny Dayton, Ohio. We already have our 501c3 and from now on you can all refer to me as Arch Bishop Evan Abla. And the official name of the denomination is Church of the Angry Nazarenes® (CAN™)! Don’t make us angry; you wouldn’t like us if we were angry™. That’s our tagline.

Steve Fountain writes:

After further deliberation and debate, it has been decided that Naz2®, the original and true NazToo denomination, will be headquartered in beautiful South Carolina, while Evan’s derivative and apostate hypermasculine cult will be headquartered above the Mason-Dixon line—in Wyoming or whatever.

Melissa Smith-Wass writes:

Wait…I thought we were going to do something with the property my Uncle is selling/donating in Union county, Indiana? The commune/school/farm/headquarters? If y’all aren’t gonna use it, I will. And I’ll just start my own church while I’m at it. Then when everyone gets tired of you guys, they can come to my nice church. I’ll call it a Church of the Nazarene for All Sinners and Saints®. We’ll be more liturgical and all our Sr. Pastors will be female. Men can still serve–we’ll need support pastors. And we can open an online university–there are plenty of outbuildings to house it in. So, we’ll be A Church of the Nazarene for All Sinners and Saints®, Liberty, Indiana (next to Mounds SRA).

Evan Abla writes:

As I have listened to the things that Steve has said about himself and his new church, I fear that the fountain of heretical teaching is in South Carolina. Steve’s ilk probably wouldn’t even accept Kentucky Blue Fugates at his church.

Steve Fountain writes:

Let it be noted that my church accepts people of all races and sexual orientations, including Blue Fugates (which I’m pretty sure is not a PC term, Evan).

Evan Abla writes:

In the Church of the Angry Nazarenes™, we accept all people, as long as they are the strongest one there is. Our worship is like the Thunderdome; two walk in, one walks out.

Steve Fountain writes:

In an effort to promote unity and conformity in the Body, I am publicly offering Evan’s and Melissa’s churches the opportunity to become congregations associated with the Naz2® denomination, so that we may “By any means necessary, save some™.” I feel sure that in time, both of these errant movements will come home to the church proper. I believe it was Pope Locutus the First who said, “Resistance is futile; you will be assimilated.”

Melissa Smith-Wass writes:

Whatever. I like my odds with the two of you leading things at your churches. We’ll be moving our headquarters/farm/commune to Harmony, Indiana, home of the Old Druid Standing Stones and the Methodist Chapel of St. Mary Daly—their bivocational pastor/Reiki practitioner has wanted to join up with us since she heard the Methodists are splitting. Also, the old abandoned Sapphic Society campground would be a great place to host our doula training and essential oils appreciation and utilization classes. We’ll also be planting a grove of Elder trees where our Earth-focused worship services will be held. When all y’all NazToo folks get tired of Evan’s fight club and Steve’s artisan foodie church–you can come join the matriarchy. I’m a little late to the game, but I think the Ladies of NazToo will come through for me. And the men will follow, because, well, let’s be real–y’all men need us ladies. Maybe more than we need you.

Steve Fountain writes:

My church is not an “artisanal foodie church.” However, individual congregations will be obliged to celebrate the Eucharist in each Sunday (or Saturday evening) service, including an artisanal, locally-sourced sourdough boule (with a gluten-free option) and Pinot Noir (except during Advent, when Beaujolais Nouveau will be de rigueur) or, for those preferring a nonalcoholic option, beet kvass (homemade or purchased from Fab Ferments only) or kombucha (green tea and sorrel with a muscadine second ferment) as the elements, and services will be followed by potluck dinner on the grounds, with dishes consisting of anything folks want to bring, as long as it’s non-GMO, locally-produced, humanely processed, organic, microbe-friendly, slow food. Further, members are quite welcome to eat at McDonald’s and even to shop at WalMart, provided they attend confession and do penance within 7 days. So, NOT an “artisanal foodie church,” Melissa.

Melissa Smith-Wass writes:

The Church of the Nazarene for All Sinners and Saints® will not submit to being a subordinate to any other denomination. We have come a long way, baby, now hear us roar. Also, our new members will receive one of those cool pink p***y hats to wear to services and protests.

 Evan Abla writes:

Neither will the Church of the Angry Nazarenes™ bow down and surrender. We will remain separate but equal. Wait. Separate and superior. Here we stand; we can do no other. And all our new members will receive a pair of those fingerless leather gloves like Rocky Balboa used to wear. Real tough guy stuff. And potential members should know that we have a special Easter Sunday service coming up at CAN™. The first 40 in attendance will receive a complimentary box of 5.56 ammo! Yes, we CAN™!

Steve Fountain writes:

So it appears that this great schism has resulted in a Trinity of NazToo denominations. Members are encouraged to prayerfully consider which tradition they’re inclined to hitch their wagon to, whether it be “Naz2™” or one of those “other” ones (though the choice is obvious). Also, our new members will receive 10 (count them, TEN) heirloom Bradford watermelon seeds AND a copy of Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation.

I am sure that you are all as surprised and happy to hear this exciting news as we are. Stay tuned! Great things are ahead for all of us!