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.

3 thoughts on “Janel Apps Ramsey: Deep and Wide

  1. Thank you for sharing. This is beautiful. I am so grateful to the group, but this blog and the chance for people like you to thoroughly flesh out the ideas and glories of their journeyings is beautiful. This is beautiful.

    Like

  2. Need this right now I am struggling with this exact issue….I’m pretty much fed up with the shallow and narrow. My question is do we stay and fight it and try and change it or dust off your feet and take your peace with you…

    Like

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