An oasis in the wilderness
Three Big Announcements + The Field Notes Round-Up
Buckle up, today’s Field Notes is coming in hot! In addition to our monthly essay below, I’ve got three(!) big announcements as well as the round-up of the past few weeks at the newsletter here and some new speaking dates on my calendar.
Real talk: I could hardly sleep last night, I was so excited for this to hit your inbox this morning.
And it’s public, too so feel free to share it far and wide with your folks. For now: let’s gooooo!
Essay: An Oasis in the Wilderness
About seventeen-ish years ago, we were somewhere in Arizona, not quite halfway between our old life in Texas and our new life back home in Canada, towing a U-Haul stuffed with our worldly goods.
The August heat was radiating off the road but we kept the windows open because the air conditioner wasn’t keeping up. Hot air thundered into our Chevy, whipping my hair out of my ponytail, my legs were stuck to the seat. It felt like I had been hot for years and maybe that was true. This Canadian gal had never managed to acclimate to the temperature properly. The years we had spent in south Texas had been a bittersweet roller coaster with beauty and sorrow, devastation and joy: the one constant was my inability to handle the heat.
My young husband had just resigned from pastoral ministry and we were limping home to reimagine our future, more than a little broken-hearted and burned-out, perhaps even battered. Once idealistic, I had become cynical. Brian may have been the one to leave his Jesus-y job behind but I was the one losing my faith altogether, still grieving our latest miscarriage and many of our experiences in ministry while everything I had known about God became a gigantic question mark and everything I thought about Christians became a howl. The sky was blue, the horizon endless, our pain immense. We talked (okay, I ranted) all the way across the red desert, poking at the widening cracks in the house we had once built for God. My soul was as parched for water as the landscape around us.
God had once felt as near as my breath, now there was only space space space.
When we stopped for gas and lunch, I opened the car door and stepped onto the shimmering pavement, a river of sweat snaking down my spine.
“Ugh, I’m so sick of being hot!” I complained, tipping my head back in exhaustion.
“Have you ever considered that you’re not having a spiritual crisis, perhaps you’ve just been overheated? for many, many years?” asked my husband mildly, taking his life in his hands. I threw an empty water bottle at him.
As he pumped gas, I bought our water and sandwiches. We parked to the side of the station and then we followed the signs for a picnic table to a clump of scrubby trees where we continued our conversation from the car.
I shrugged, “I feel like I’m wandering in a desert. I’m not who I used to be but I’m not sure where I’m going next either. And there isn’t much out here but a lot of space. It’s scary. Like who I was has disappeared. Like God has disappeared.”
“That’s fine,” Brian was unbothered. “I figure God meets us in those places of space even more than when we are pretending to have it all figured out or have our souls crammed full of our own opinions and certainties. I’m not worried.”
When we fell silent at the picnic table, we realized we were hearing something: was that...the sound of.. running water? in the desert?
Our eyes met and we stood up, turning towards the sound. We walked to the ridge behind our table and looked down what we had thought was just a crevasse: there were trees beneath us, their tops were at our feet. It was a hillside leading down to a small bright river running at the bottom. We scrambled down the banks and further into the trees that had been below our line of sight, lower and lower towards the river. We reached the edge of the laughing creek, skidding the last few steps.
Unthinking, I kicked off my dusty sandals and walked barefoot right into the water. The light came through the trees and we could see clear to the bottom of the creek.
I knelt down, right into the red rock bed, and plunged my hands into the cool water, groaning aloud with pleasure. My swollen feet rejoiced.
Cupping my hands, I lifted the water to my own bowed head and opened my palms, allowing the water to run down the crown of my head, dripping down my hair and neck. Over and over, I baptized myself in the desert’s water.
After what felt like an age, I finally looked back at the bank. Brian was perched on a rock with his own bare feet dangling in the water, watching me with a smile.
“Isn’t a literal stream in the desert a bit too ‘on the nose?’” I called.
“God’s such a show-off,” he said comfortably, leaning back.
I stood up, water running down my legs and dripping from my fingers. My hair and shirt were damp but already drying in the heat. This was just a small brook in the desert, hardly worth noticing to most people, stuffed behind a gas station.
I had thought God was absent from me but it turned out that a desert wasn’t an absence of God, it was an invitation to a new path of intimacy and depth, growth and evolution. The wilderness wasn’t something for me to fear: God was already here, making a way. Homemade baptisms also await in the desert.
“All right, I’m ready to keep going,” I said. We got back in the Chevy and headed north, following the wilderness all the way to our new home.
The Three Big Announcements
Well, pals, as you may have guessed from the theme of my essay above, I’ve got some very good news for those of us who long for an oasis in the desert.
Tickets for Evolving Faith 2022 are now on sale!
We know there might be many reasons why you're out here in the wilderness, beyond the city gates.
Maybe you feel as if you don’t belong anymore in the faith community that used to be home. Maybe you’re struggling to find your footing and you can’t seem to identify a path forward. Maybe God has felt more absent than you’d like to admit. Maybe you’re ready to take a fresh look at Scripture and reimagine the theology you once took for granted. Maybe you’ve felt alienated amidst the partisan mudslinging and the ugly culture wars of our times, yet you want to hear faithful voices that cry out for justice, equity, and true peace.
Maybe you’re overwhelmed by all your questions at the intersections of faith, belonging, Scripture, church, and life. Maybe the belief system that once seemed so solid to you feels like it’s crumbling. Maybe you’re eager for some hard conversations, but you crave community to accompany you. Maybe you’ve never felt the belonging you so desire, because some aspect of your identity meant that someone else marked you out as “other.” Maybe you’re tired of walking alone. Maybe you’re exasperated by all the folks who keep trotting Jesus out to defend positions and policies you find deeply unjust, yet you still deeply love the Jesus story. Maybe you’re craving a reminder that you are loved—body, mind, and soul, as God created you—and you want space to dream afresh about what might be possible and who God might be calling you to become.
Here’s the good news: you’re not as alone as you might think. You’re not as alone as you may have felt.There are a lot of us out here in the wilderness.
We’re not perfect. We’re a diverse and sometimes messy bunch. We come from all over the world, from all different cultures and different religious backgrounds, all with our respective baggage and no small amount of insecurity.
But we’re here, and we’ve spread out our quilts, we’re ready to feast, and you’re not just welcome—you’re wanted. We’ll learn, we’ll share stories and songs, we’ll stoke our wonder and curiosity, and we might find some renewal and redemption too.
We all need community—and we could all use some respite and rest too. We deserve to be reminded of what matters and who is alongside us. We’re hungry for connection and inspiration. We’re eager for deep conversation, maybe some laughter, and probably (okay, knowing me and Jeff, definitely) some tears.
We will gather to do some good work together: building a faith that nourishes not just for us but also the whole world as well as finding companionship amidst challenging terrain. Sometimes that might compel us to name what we’re against. But we also never want to forget to say what we’re for: acting for justice and embodying grace, cultivating hope and proclaiming love.
We need some hope. We need more love.
Amid the fractures of the world, we’re seeking healing. We’re coming together to listen—to God and to one another. We’re ready to reimagine and to rebuild, to remember and even to resurrect a faith that is truly good news.
Next, The Evolving Faith Podcast Season Two has launched!
Get out those ear buds because yes, that's right! Episode One of the brand new season is already ready and waiting for you.
Jeff Chu and I are back as your overly earnest hosts as we revisit the main stage sessions from our 2019 gathering in Denver, Colorado. Whether you were there with us in the room or you’ve only ever dreamed of joining us, now everyone can be part of the conversation. I know it’s been a long hiatus since Season One and we’re genuinely excited to be back with you all, broadcasting from our respective pillow forts.
You’ll finally have a chance to hear Barbara Brown Taylor’s beautiful meditation on the wilderness, Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes challenge our notions of fitting in, Jen Hatmaker’s sermon on discerning good fruit and rotten fruit when it comes to rebuilding your faith again; Pete Enns offering his honest experiences from the wilderness; the message from Danielle Shroyer that we can’t stop talking about to this day; and so, so so many more incredible leaders and teachers from Lisa Sharon Harper to Jennifer Knapp to Jasper Peters and beyond. A new episode will drop every Wednesday until we’re done so make sure you’re subscribed in your podcast app so you don’t miss a single one.
(There may be a wee bit too much talk about the tv programme Derry Girls, courtesy of Jeff Chu who now wishes to be referred to as “the wee gay fella,” thanks you for your understanding at this time.)
You can find The Evolving Faith Podcast in all of your podcast apps including Apple and Spotify. If you’re looking for show notes including a complete transcript and social media goodies, those are at our website.
And finally, The Evolving Faith Community is ready and waiting for you!
As the years of Evolving Faith have come and gone, one desire has been a constant refrain from folks: We need community. Many of us have found ourselves at the yearly conference or listening to the podcast because we feel like we don’t quite belong anywhere anymore. Over the years, we’ve heard over and over from folks: You want - even need! - to do this important work in community.
This online sanctuary is not only a community for all of us but it will also be the platform for our conference gathering on October 14 and 15. It is our hope that this new community space will become your own oasis in the wilderness with fellow travellers. The Evolving Faith Community is free to join.
More than 3,200 folks are ready and waiting to welcome you to our new home. The link is community.evolvingfaith.com or click the button below. See you over there!
The Field Notes Round-Up
It’s been a busy few months, I know, so here’s the round-up in case you missed any of the Field Notes newsletters lately:
A bit of serotonin for your week ☀️: The Good Things including 📺 🎧 🥘 🫖 🛒 📚 🌻 🧶 (subscribers)
Let’s chat about books, shall we?: My favourite recent reads, everything else I've read lately, celebrating Mother's Day, and Kindle deals (subscribers)
The Power of a Single Voice (by Idelette McVicker)
I’m here, you’re not alone - an essay for Good Friday
Jesus retells the whole story from the inside out - An essay and benediction for your Palm Sunday
The Lent Series: Goodbye + Hello
May 20-22, 2022 in Hunt, Texas - Respite to Recover: Women’s Conference at Mo-Ranch
August 12–14, 2022 in Montreat, NC - Women’s Connection 2022: Claimed for More: Wholehearted Living When We Are All Out of Sorts
October 14-15, 2022 - Evolving Faith Live Virtual Conference
November 4-6, 2022 in Calgary, Alberta - Bold Witness, Relentless Grace
Okay, that’s it. Whew. I told you that it was a lot!
Now needing a nap,