Leaving the Island of Organized Religion

A reader writes:
(after the jump)

Dear Mr. McLaren,
I want to say “thank you, thank you, thank you” for having the courage and heart to walk the path you’re walking, sharing openly what you’re learning, and blaze this trail for many christians like myself! I cannot put into words the gratitude I feel to you for putting on paper what my soul is telling me is the true, authentic way of Christ, and I am forever grateful to God for placing your writing, especially “A New Kind of Christian” in may hands at exactly the right time.
Without going in to much detail, I’ll summarize what has been a whirlwind of a journey. In October 2006, I stepped away from organized church; actually, I think it was more like crawling away, dragging my weary body off the island, which I had lived my entire 44 years of life on the planet. I experienced what you describe as the “Bittersweetness of religious tradition: Parts of it almost kill us and parts of it give us life.” October 2006 was the season it almost killed me.
After walking away, I discovered Matthew 11:28-30, written so beautifully in the Message Bible, as though it was ointment sent to me from God. “”Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Shortly after pushing off of the shore of the only island I had even known, I began to ask God to direct me to someone who was familiar with “leaving the island” of organized christianity. It was a lonely place out there. I was floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean; I knew I had made the only choice and I knew it had to lead to a better place; I just didn’t have a clue how to navigate the waters. Next thing I knew, God had rescued me with your book “A New Kind of Christian!” I’m telling you it was a life saver for me…God’s answer to my pleas for direction. I made it across the waters between the island on which I was raised and the rest of the world; then, I began a journey through a spiritual desert. This book served as the first of many stepping stones on my journey. With the turn of every page, I read my own story, identifying with my deepest thoughts. And, the steps you described in the book were exactly the steps I followed to recover from the shock of leaving the island, and adjust to life in the real world. Thank you for sharing your process. Thank you for having the courage to say what so many christians are experiencing in the basements of their souls. I am so grateful for this particular book, as it saved my life, serving as a reassuring hand to hold to steady me as I walked through this foreign and difficult process.
I am deeply grateful for the role The Oasis, the church in Lakeland, FL you are visiting on October 28th, is playing in my journey; and, how it truly lives up to the meaning of it’s name “Oasis;” as it is precisely the watering station at the end of my desert. Every single Sunday, every element of the service, skits, worship, video clips, activities, messages all resonate with my soul. And, this is the truth…every single Sunday I’ve attended, my friends and our friends and family members who have attended with us all are amazed at how accurately the message lines up with life circumstances. I’m so grateful to Paster Phil Grimes for founding this very special community of christians. It is truly a beautiful place of spiritual refreshment available in Polk County.
Six years after walking away from organized christianity, I really didn’t expect to reconnect with an organized church setting, and certainly didn’t expect to feel drawn to actually worship God in a group setting. Then, five weeks ago, a friend invited me to The Oasis Community Church in Lakeland, FL. Little did I know at the time, The Oasis would serve as the watering station located at the end of my desert. Last week, I spent the week alone, while my husband and son were out-of-town, and to my surprise, realized the desert journey was over!!!
Ok…here’s the really amazing…blow-me-away-with-HIS-love-and-grace-part,. Last Monday afternoon, I began cleaning out my car, and picked up the Oasis Sunday bulletin, and discovered Brian McLaren was coming to Polk County to speak. I had to read it so many times because I could not believe he would come here. Seriously? I had asked God to bring a community or a small circle of believers who actually knew and respected and longed for the authenticity and truth that resonates from McLaren’s teaching, because it so resonated with my soul. I never expected you to speak down the road from my house. Seriously? I know this is my gift from God, and it is difficult to really “get” the extent of another’s gift…but this is so HUGE for me! So, I cried tears of the purest joy and deepest gratitude. It is difficult to know and grasp another person’s journey, but I’m telling you…having YOU, Brian McLaren, coming to The Oasis to share…is so very significant for me. (ok…i’m sure for some others too i’m sure) Not only did God use “A New Kind of Christian” to help me recover my life, but you see, you coming to speak completes my desert journey. YOU serve as the bookends to my desert journey!!
…So…Thank you for make a stop in Lakeland, Florida to speak on October 28th, as it means terribly much to me, serving as the second bookend to my journey off the island, crossing the water, and finally through the desert. My husband and I are looking forward to hearing you, and reading becoming a part of your latest work.
May God refresh you as you revive and refresh so many!

Thanks for these truly encouraging words. Many folks have “left the island” and can’t imagine there could be a faith community like the one you’ve found, and I hope your words will give them hope, just as they’ve given me encouragement. This week, I’ve been in conversations with people about how we can help leaders form more new communities that will be there for people who “left the island” and need a new home.