Organizing Pastor and Spiritual Entrepreneur
Nicole Lamarche knew she was called to create a community of people who want to live with purpose and joy. We aim to love ourselves, connect with Spirit and transform the world. Here is how she tells the story:
I grew up in a small United Church of Christ congregation in Eastern Washington. Even when it fell short, it was a refuge of sorts during the times when my life fell apart. When my parents divorced, the perfumed soaked hugs of Alice and May somehow soothed me; the attention and patience offered by my teachers nourished me. I felt noticed, appreciated and welcomed when it seemed like those spaces were dwindling. I learned the stories of the Christian faith through hymns. When high school felt hard and my small town was suffocating me, the Open Door Congregational Church helped me to find my voice.
In college, I found community at the First Congregational Church of Tucson. With the exception of the paid members of the choir, I was often the only person my age. But it was there, that I began to read the Gospels as if for the first time. My worldview had already begun to unravel, but meeting Jesus of Nazareth in his time, in his context, as an unpredictable, Middle Eastern Jew who challenged the religious and political powers of his day- well, let’s just say it rocked my world. But, as my foundation crumbled, I was loved and fed soup as God helped me to build something stronger. It sounds so cliche, but it was something like a conversion experience and I blame Jesus. Knowing that I was called to be me, fully and faithfully and beautifully and not try to squish into a mold; knowing that whatever limitations any of us have, can be used to do wildly wonderful things- I was hooked. Seeing Jesus like this, was as a balm for my deepest wounds; it felt like finally understanding that we are all broken, but the Jesus story tells us that brokenness can never have the last word. Our purpose is found when we use our gifts, whatever they may be, to join the Spirit’s work in the world: healing brokenness, building, birthing, creating, loving, making things right.
God is not a man in the clouds, who is omniscient and omnipotent (these are grave theological mistakes in my opinion, read more here), God is an energy, a life force, a ground of being that pulls us to the most life giving possibilities. God influences, pulls, prods, lures but we can disconnect and do our own thing. And many times this disconnection drains our souls as we are pulled away from what really matters. But somehow, however far we wander, however disconnected we become, God is swirling within us and around us and is waiting to welcome us in again.
Everything that happens is not part of God’s plan, but God can make something incredible out of whatever happens. We are all connected by this power and it is somehow within us and beyond us. The Jesus story tells me that God is love and I am drawn to that because love is so right. It is clear how things turn out when we love ourselves, love God, love others, and love all of creation. And it is clear what happens when love is not our grounding force. Our world loves to worship other gods, the god of success, money, power, privilege, patriarchy and on the list could go. I don’t think Jesus is the only way to God, but it is my way.
He extended an extravagant welcome, invited people to go deeper and pointed them to God. He invited those around him to live with radical generosity, to care for those without enough and to take risks for the sake of love. For me, following Jesus isn’t as safe as it was when I was a kid because that journey was about answers, about believing the right things and about categories of who was in and who was out. Following him now is about pushing my own level of comfort to be the person I intend to be, about making space for openness, curiosity, listening, probing and occasionally hearing something like answers. Following him now means working for justice, taking leaps of faith, being present in the moment.
I know I am not the only person who longs for a faith community that is radically inclusive, deeply spiritual and unapologetically progressive. I yearn for a community that is welcoming to me as a lover of science and the cosmos and um no the earth was not made in seven days and yes it is really old. I yearn for a community where my gay and lesbian and transgendered and whatever kind of sexuality they express, where all of my friends would feel more than awkwardly appropriately welcomed. I yearn for a community where my kid can dance like we do at home and have it not be weird. I yearn for a community where I hear music that speaks to me now, like the music I hear in church probably spoke to the people it was written for hundreds of years ago. I yearn for a community where I can be honest about the places I am struggling. I yearn for a community that inspires me, challenges me, comforts me and grows with me. I yearn for a community that doesn’t just tolerate people who are a different class or race but that cultivates a sense in which every single human being matters and an encounter is a chance to see the face of the Divine. I yearn for a community that holds me accountable when I forget that it’s not all about me.
I know that for many people, the idea of Church is out of style. And I understand how many people have been wounded, beaten and bored by people claiming to speak on behalf of God. But what if we tried it a different way? What if we started with the assumption that everyone, regardless of any category we would create, is welcome into the life of this community? What if we started with the assumption that there is a power that is within us and without us and that it has many names? What if we started with the idea that we are rooted in the Christian story, but inspired by lots of stories? (My husband is a Unitarian Univeralist minister.) What if we affirmed that we could find God in science, history, poetry, silence, politics, literature, music, art, outside, inside, everywhere? What if we tried this new thing in the Silicon Valley- the most innovative region of the country (maybe even the world)? What if it is already happening?