In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Becca Stevens joins Pete and Jared to share how the embodiment of faith can be an engine toward great good in the world. Together, they explore the following questions:
- According to Becca Stevens, what does Scripture call us to do?
- Why are the Beatitudes a foundational part of Becca’s ministry?
- What significance does the story of the lilies of the field in Matthew 6 have in Becca Stevens’ life and ministry?
- How can we utilize our imagination to tease out meanings from biblical stories?
- How can we move past traditional expressions and criticisms of active faith to creative expressions of it?
- When does Becca Stevens say that the real miracle of healing can take place?
- What does it mean to be present for someone?
- What does Becca Stevens mean by the phrase “practically divine?”
- How can the pressure for perfection prevent us from living out our faith?
- How can a gift as humble and simple as a bag of chips make a beautiful and profound impact on the lives of others?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Becca Stevens you can share:
- “When the woman anoints Jesus’ feet with oil, it got me thinking about just how intimate and messy healing really is. We don’t want to sanitize Scripture so it’s not intimate and messy.” @RevBeccaStevens
- “People think that the call in Scripture is that you and I have to change the world. And really, the call in Scripture is to love the world.” @RevBeccaStevens
- “We get this idea in healing that there’s somebody that’s well and somebody that’s sick. The real miracle of healing is when people stay together long enough that in the process we are changed towards love, both of us.” @RevBeccaStevens
- “It’s not so much that people are broken. They’re wounded, for sure, and they’re broken open. That’s a great place to plant seeds of healing and hope.” @RevBeccaStevens
- “Even when you’re talking about the exegesis of Scripture, it doesn’t happen alone and in a vacuum. It’s a whole community of people who have helped decipher and translate and canonize and do all of this work. However we find these deeper truths, we do it in community.” @RevBeccaStevens
- “It doesn’t have to be a secret that we fail. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not good enough or smart enough, it just means we need each other and that’s kind of good news. And that’s what Jesus taught us—we need each other.” @RevBeccaStevens
- “To anybody that is, in any way, suffering—find a safe community of people where you can find your heart again, where you can feel that your faith is rooted and can carry you through hard times.” @RevBeccaStevens
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Website: thebiblefornormalpeople.com
- Website: Thistle Farms
- Book: Practically Divine
- Support: patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty intro music]
Jared: Welcome, everyone to this episode of the podcast we have today “Reimagining Scripture for a Suffering World” with Becca Stevens, the founder of Thistle Farms.
Pete: Yeah, if you don’t know what Thistle Farms is, Becca will introduce that herself. But it’s just- it’s national, it’s international and it’s just, yeah, I guess the amount of good some people do in the world, Jared, it’s, you know, so foreign to me.
You know? I just talk about the Bible. But anyway, yeah, it’s- it was, we had a wonderful conversation because just it’s, you know- practical is sort of like a word that, you know, doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s a practical, feet on the ground, way of really thinking about what it means to be a Gospel person. But then also how the Bible works into that in ways that are, you know, very creative and imaginative.
Jared: Yeah, I appreciated the fact that for a lot of us, you know, in these faith transitions, we can feel stuck on like, “Okay, how do we live now that these things are shifting?” And I thought Becca gave a really good story for how Scripture can continue to be a motivator and an engine for a life that’s creative, and sort of outside the bounds maybe of how we used to think about faith.
Pete: Right. And for doing some very profound things.
Jared: Excellent. Alright.
Becca: People think that the call in Scripture is that you and I have to change the world. And really, the call in Scripture is to love the world. So, if I’m going to love the world, that means that I have to accept the fact that I have to change sometimes to love it better. And it got me thinking about just how intimate and messy healing really is, of all the things that I think we don’t want to do is sanitize Scripture so it’s not intimate and messy.
Jared: Welcome, Becca, to the podcast. It’s so great to have you.
Becca: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here. This is really an honor.
Jared: Oh, the honor is ours. So, we do want to start with your work with Thistle Farms. Just tell us a little about what it is you do and where did it come from? What’s the origin story?
Becca: Sure. So, Thistle Farms is really a global movement for women’s freedom. It started 25 years ago; I can’t believe it. It started right in Nashville, Tennessee, with one house. We invited five women to come live, who all had histories of trafficking, addiction, being prostituted and just said come stay for two years rent free and no authority living in the house. We’ll create community, and we will grow from there. And that’s exactly what happened. So, more houses came on board. Then we started an enterprise called, you know, Thistle Farms Bath and Body. We manufacture bath and body care products. And then we started a national network, which has grown to the largest network for survivors with long-term beds in the country. And then we started these global partnerships and we have about thirty countries and 1400 women who are artisans and creators and survivors who make products for people. I mean, it’s really a beautiful, seamless movement of housing and jobs for women around the world.
Jared: And so maybe tie that in with a little bit of your spiritual biography. How does the work you do, how is that informed with your faith?
Becca: Thistle Farms really came out of my own longing to believe that love heals. I mean, I grew up, my dad was a preacher, but he died when I was little, he died when I was five years old. And he was killed by a drunk driver. My mom, 35 years old with five kids just raised us. And so, we had issues around trauma and poverty, and a lot of times when that happens, people really take advantage of you. And mine started with sexual abuse that happened in the church when I was a little kid for about almost two and a half years. And so, I learned both how the church can be this beautiful place for community to thrive and for us to do this work of loving the world together. But also, it can be a pretty scary place where people keep secrets and silence of abusers.
So, I had both those things in my head and I went on and got a degree and became ordained in the Episcopal Church thirty years ago. But I always knew that part of my ministry was really going to be about serving women who were on the streets and who are trying to survive to create sanctuaries for them.
Pete: Do you see your work as sort of being the church, but in a different way?
Becca: Now, that’s a beautiful way of saying it. Absolutely. I mean, I have always been just a lover of the Beatitudes where Jesus pulls everybody together and says this is basically how we’re going to live. And he also really taught us all along the way and all those stories about what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves, about giving drink to the thirsty, giving food to the hungry, giving clothes to the naked, to tend the sick, to visit the prisoners, to comfort the sorrowful, and bury the dead. You know, those are the core principles that inform, what I believe is, you know, my best expression of trying to live into the Gospel.
Jared: We, you know, as you talk about the Beatitudes, I just I think about that, as someone who is Anabaptist. And as a Mennonite, the Beatitudes really kind of formed this central core almost, we talk about this on the podcast, kind of the Bible within the Bible, meaning that the central tenants that we then filter everything else through, I’m wondering is the Beatitudes that for you? Or what other parts of the Bible sort of anchor you that allow you then to read the scriptures through that lens?
Becca: Yes, I love that. Yes, the Beatitudes are that foundational part, and I love that. I named my home ministry, Thistles. And you think about the end of the Beatitudes towards the end in Matthew 6 where it talks about, you know, consider the lilies of the field. And, you know, those weren’t the kind of lilies you put on an altar in a wedding bouquet. Those were the wildflowers out there growing in forgotten fields. And so, thistles really were that when I started walking the streets or going into the alleys where the women were turning tricks or being beaten or trying to sleep, you would see thistles growing, and I kept thinking about how that Scripture is like, you know, thistles are horrible, they’re a noxious weed. They also have this beautiful deep purple center, and Solomon in all his glory is not arrayed like one of these, it says in the Scripture, and I thought of that and thought how perfect that would be for us to really use that as a symbol for us being willing to not leave anybody behind, not condemn, but try to love.
And I would say the other scripture that really has informed what we do is, you know, we use healing oils, that’s one of the products we manufacture beautiful, you know, oils for calm, for focus, for peace, you know? And our very first healing oil was based on Exodus 30, when Moses goes up the mountain, and God gives them a recipe for the healing oils of the generation with cinnamon and olive oil. And so, I’ve always loved how, you know, in my deepest heart and in my most hopeful self, you can always look to the old, old scriptures to help lead us on a new path of how to love each other.
Pete: Mm hmm. I’m thinking here about, you mentioned you have a seminary background, and so you’ve had to think a lot about Scripture, probably more than, you know, the average person does. That’s certainly the case. And what I’m hearing even now is the role of, I guess, imagination, in accessing Scripture, you know? You’re teasing things out of what lilies meant and you’re teasing meaning out of that and then it seems to be, maybe I’m overstating, but it’s this might be part of your whole idea of what the Bible is and how the Bible is to be used and accessed in our day for certain situations that the Bible might not very, might not speak about too clearly.
Becca: One of the things I love about Scripture so much is how it teases our imagination, as you say. I love that. That there’s so much poetry, even in the stories that Jesus told. And it does it, it sparks my imagination and makes me want to try harder. And I think about one example of like, when the woman at the end of the seventh chapter and the beginning of the eighth chapter of Luke anoints Jesus’s feet with oil. And it’s this visual, visual story of her pouring a whole vial of oil onto Jesus’s feet in front of all the disciples as an act of, you know, repentance and reconciliation and hope and all of it. And it sparks in me this idea of, oh my gosh, can you imagine how messy that was? If you pour a whole bottle of oil on someone’s feet, it goes everywhere. It doesn’t stay on the top of the feet. And it got me thinking about just how intimate and messy healing really is. And how of all the things that I think we don’t want to do is sanitize Scripture so it’s not intimate and messy. You know what I mean? Like if we really want to do it and live it out, it’s going to be a little bit intimate and messy. And so that story has a lot of layers to it.
Pete: Yeah, it’s a non-surface reading, and I don’t want to, you know, we don’t want to beat up on others. But I know that the way Jared and I, the way we’ve been schooled to read the Bible, you really don’t do that too much. I mean, you look for historical connections and things like that. But I think, you know, what you’re describing, I think is, I mean, in my opinion, the way Christians have always sort of read the Bible anyway, you know? They’re always looking for the depth dimension because- I mean, in my opinion, this is how I put the pieces together, we’re dealing with issues that the biblical writers themselves either didn’t focus on or never had the slightest idea about. And so, we’re taking this scripture that was written by people at certain times for certain reasons, but we have different reasons and we have different lives and we’re always asking the question, “Well, how does this gospel affect what we do here?” And I think, as Christians, we’re always going to be accessing Scripture in some sense, but you have to do that with some imagination and some creativity.
And you know, you’re Episcopalian, so you don’t know any of this probably, but I mean, the way we grew up, I mean, not the way we grew up so much, but people that we, our listeners, that’s a new thing for many of them to hear—it’s okay to elicit the imaginative dimension of Scripture, for the purpose of making your reality more meaningful and thicker. That’s usually a bad thing, the imagination, you have to get out of the way and just do straight exegesis and read the text and don’t, you know, your feelings and your thoughts don’t matter that much. So, I just, I mean, from my point of view, I just want to say, I’m glad you’re saying this, because I think a lot of people are gonna be helped by it.
Becca: Thank you. And from, you know, I wanted to be always in my life, to be living into my faith. And that, to me, is kind of a love letter to God, how I live my faith. And I used to get worried that people would think, you know, “Oh, my gosh, she’s too Christian,” “she’s not Christian enough,” “oh, Lord, look at this. She’s being heretical.” And all that did for me, when I was going through this process of growing a ministry was just stifle me or make me afraid to speak my truth. And honestly, that’s how a lot of the women that I work with alongside for survivors get trapped in stuff is they get scared to understand or speak their own truth. And kind of when I moved past that, of just worrying about how it would be interpreted by others, but just to try to think about what’s the most loving and compassionate way I can do it out of my desire to be faithful, it kind of freed me up. And I could have ideas and I could have imagination. And I could say, “Oh, my gosh,” you know, “serving food in a cafe is a communion.”
Becca: And it could also provide jobs and welcome in a community in that’s hungry for justice to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, that’s faithful. It doesn’t look faithful, necessarily always. But it’s truly the best way that I can live into so many of the values that I have gleaned from our Scripture.
Jared: I think it would be really helpful if, could you maybe expound on that a little bit? Because I do think a lot of people struggle with a faith that was about what you said, was about how are how’s my pastor going to look at this? Or how am I going to be seen in the community? And a lot of times that comes and, I don’t know if this is true for you, it comes at the expense of someone’s intuition. It’s sort of like they have these hunches of what’s loving or what is faithful to this Gospel they’ve heard their whole life, and they have these expressions in their everyday life, but they’re kind of being told “No, no, no, not like that. It needs to look like this.” And did you have some of those feelings of, you know, how did you move past some of those feelings around feeling like to do it well has to be played within this certain sandbox, but feeling drawn outside that sandbox to other creative ways of expressing your faith?
Becca: So, that’s such a great way of saying it. You said it so much better than I could, but I do think it’s like it’s even beyond the idea of just my intuition. It is about I do not want to ignore some of the tenets of the doggedness of love for the sake of the dogma. Does that make sense?
Pete: Oh, yeah.
Becca: So, the doggedness of love that I hear about our Lord talking about in Scripture through parables, through everything, is that we have to be free. In order to love, we have to have freedom.
We have to grow mustard seeds of faith. We have to remember that we have dirt in us where the seeds are sown that can be fruitful. And so, it’s saying like, plant the seeds there. Plant the places where you feel like you can grow, have faith that’s going to bear fruit, not where it’s going to stifle you or make you feel like, “I’m so afraid that I’m going to step out of this line, that I’m not living my fullest into being a beloved child of God.” And that’s, you know, for, especially if you can imagine for women, some of them who were prostituted by the age of six or seven, where they began to experience stuff. They’re so afraid to like, trust in that doggedness of love and to say that you are part of this beloved kingdom and your ideas matter and your thoughts matter. That’s a huge gift of freedom for people.
Pete: And you have to believe that yourself, right?
Pete: And you have to model that yourself. And yeah, I guess love and fear don’t go together very well, do they? Isn’t it written someplace “perfect love casts out fear,” or something like that? There’s something in the Bible, something. I don’t know.
Jared: Yeah, it does say that. That’s in the New Testament, though. That’s sort of out of your…
Pete: But you know, the thing is, that’s just it, I think there is a lot, there were voices in Scripture that are very clear about that sort of thing, you know, and not all of it, but at least a good part of it.
Becca: Yeah. And, you know, what I love so much that I go back to so many times is like, you know, sometimes I think that people think that the call in Scripture is that you and I have to change the world. And really, it’s the call in Scripture is to love the world. And so, if I’m going to love the world, that means that I have to accept the fact that I have to change sometimes to love it better. So as a pastor, especially for me, to walk in and say, like, “I know I still have change to do. I know I still have stuff to learn.” That’s a vulnerable place and that is where love thrives, but that’s also where you can kind of be hurt. Does that make sense?
Jared: Yeah. So, can you say a little more about that? Like, what does the vulnerability look like in those moments?
Becca: Yeah, I think, oh, gosh, it’s such a hard thing to say. But I will say, it’s not that in really hard times sometimes ministering to people or being with my family that I have to have the answer. It means I can be present with you; I can pray with you; I can lean in with you. And hopefully, the healing happens for both of us through that process and I learned something and someone else learned something. Instead of like, I think sometimes we get this idea that in healing, that there’s somebody that’s well and somebody that’s sick, and the somebody that’s well just touches you on the forehead, or whatever, and then you’re all better. When what I’ve seen is the real miracle of healing is when people stay together long enough that in the process, we are changed towards love, both of us.
Jared: And I pushed you on that a little bit because I think that’s a really profound point. Because again, in the tradition that I grew up in, it was about- the most loving thing you can do is to hand someone the truth, right? So, speaking the truth in love, really, was about giving people the truth. And that the challenge with that is it sets up that dynamic that you were just talking about where someone has the truth, someone doesn’t have the truth, and I get to be in control. And so, love and control get connected, instead of letting go of that control, which is to be with someone and maybe not have the answer. But that was sort of anathema. You know, what’s the point if not to have this package called the Gospel that I give to you and I gift you with all the knowledge that I have, and you get it too, and now we spread that to other people. But what I hear you talking about is a Gospel that’s more about equals coming together, open handed with each other and just being present to each other and in letting go of that control. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Becca: It totally makes sense. And honestly, I have so much to learn from both of you. When you say, you know, The Bible for Normal People, it’s like, I’m right in that camp, because, you know, I’ve studied Scripture for decades. I have tried to be faithful in reading and patterning my life on what I’ve gleaned from my study and prayer and action. But I know that you guys have so much to teach and coming into something like a podcast, being willing to hear and learn is a much better way for me to be with y’all than to think okay, well here’s the four truths that I have to say to you no matter what the conversation is, that’s not love.
That’s not serving each other, you know? I mean, because I love how much you’ve done and how much you’ve learned and I want to be in the conversation.
Pete: Well, you are, you know, and we all have our own angles, I guess. One thing that I was thinking about as I’m hearing you describe all this, Becca, is the women that you have at Thistle Farms, obviously, some are maybe people of faith, some have no faith, some have whatever, right? Is that correct?
Becca: Yes, absolutely.
Pete: And so, I’m saying this for the benefit of people, again, who come from a different background, like maybe more evangelical or fundamentalist background, I’m going to assume that you’re not like actively proselytizing them with evangelistic services or something like that.
Becca: And it’s basically, the way that I have formed our community, our programs at Thistle Farms is that people have a home, I mean, this is your home. And so, most of the programming happens outside the home. So, the five women that live in one of the six houses in Nashville or one of the sister communities, and it’s not the same in other places around the country, but this is the home that you go to, but we try to make sure that you have all kinds of support services, groups, places to continue your religious education, your spiritual well-being, your mental health journey, your recovery journey, all of those things. So, we might have Twelve-Step programs that people can go to, we might have Bible studies that people can go to, but women are adults and they can, you know, participate in some groups. You know, we try to have well-rounded programs that people can go to. But the idea of, and I think, honestly, it comes from some of my own background about the abuse beginning in the church, we are really careful not to say this is what you have to believe in order to be a part of being here.
Pete: Yeah, it seems like, rather than conversion to a particular dogma, it’s about justice and righteousness for people’s integrity for their lives to help them very practically, and to just give them a place to breathe and to remember their own humanity after some very, very difficult times.
Becca: Absolutely. And we are really trying to remind people that love heals. That, you know, in the beginning, was love. And when we remember that we are part of the vision of love, of this beautiful, practically divine place in our lives, that that is where the healing begins. And that’s how, you know, like, I’ve heard one of the women down in manufacturing not too long ago, saying, you know, “They kept telling me, they love me. They kept telling me, they love me. And five years later, I love myself, Lord, I love myself so much.” It was like, that felt like that felt gospel to me. I mean, that felt so big for somebody to go, you know, to go, “Now I love myself to death.” You know? It’s like, good for you and you’re gonna have a place that’s going to free you to be the best mom, to be a faithful partner, to be a caring daughter. I mean, all of that’s possible when we can learn what it means to love ourselves as we are loved.
Jared: And I think that comes from the, I would maybe call it this expansive understanding of the Gospel, again where our Christian faith, while that may be specific to us, can be an engine for this broader understanding of love. And I like what you said earlier, I think you encapsulated it well when you said, you know, my charge is not to change the world, my charge is to love the world. And I think that actually, for me, is kind of my takeaway from our conversation. I think that’s a shift for a lot of people who maybe grew up in a tradition, where the goal was to change the world. And so, I love you by changing you, rather than simply, I love you, period. And I think that’s a big shift for people.
Becca: Yeah. And I think that it feels like a lot of times we have compartmentalized love. So, it’s not appropriate for business or it’s not appropriate for politics. It’s okay for personal relationships. It’s okay, in church talk. But what I’m discovering is that there’s a value to love in the marketplace, in the bigger marketplace, and it’s a good business model. And when we love each other, it does help heal wounds and divisions, and it’s powerful. I believe it’s the most powerful force in the world for good.
And so how is it that we can revitalize love and encourage each other to say, you know, this is how we are going to live into the Gospel in the marketplace, in our businesses, in our politics? We have to love.
Pete: You have this wonderful phrase that you use, in fact, I think it’s even on the cover of the last book that you wrote, Practically Divine. So, could you tie that into what we’re talking about here? What does that phrase mean? How’d you come up with it? And it just- it’s just a wonderful idea, but just talk about that.
Becca: I remember my mom, you know, the single mom of five kids. And she would say things were practically divine. And what that meant in my mind was that it is something that’s useful, but also it’s kind of like almost divine, practically divine things. It’s not perfect. It’s almost and it’s enough. If something’s practically divine, that’s plenty good. And I think of us as being that, that we’re practically divine. That we are useful, that we are almost and we are enough. And so for me, it encapsulated this idea of the beloved, of us being hopeful, of us being optimistic, because we’re attached to the vine, it means of the vine. And so, we can be courageous, humble, all of those things, and we can see the beauty around us and keep working with each other, towards the common goal of loving each other.
Pete: So even, maybe another way of putting it, if I’m hearing you right, as just broken people ourselves, we are still useful to others to bring love to them, which is a divine act, right? If God is love, I mean, John says this all over the place, right? If God is love, when we love as God loves, which is a self-sacrificial, sort of vulnerable love, we’re actually bringing God to them and we’re doing a divine act, and you don’t have to be perfect to do that.
Becca: Absolutely, that we can be imperfectly beautiful still. And I sometimes I’ve thought, especially again, y’all got to remember of the community that have served for so, so long, is that it’s not so much that people are broken. They’re wounded, for sure. And they’re broken open. And that’s a great place to plant seeds of healing and hope. And so that’s my absolute truth about, you know, what it means to serve one another is, even in our broken openness, we can transform ourselves with compassion to really be present for one another. That’s how I mean, yeah, so yes, what you’re saying and, again, this idea of whenever we serve the least of whatever that means, the least of each other, in our communities, we’re communing with God. We’re with Jesus. And who doesn’t want to be with Jesus?
Jared: Can you say a little more about the phrase being present with, because I think, I feel like it’s ubiquitous in our culture, we talk a lot about being present with people. And you know, I just want to be present with you, all that sort of thing, what you just have, I think you have a unique perspective on that only because I think that is one of the things that it sounds like is a really important part of the program and the process that you’re a part of, what does that mean for you to be present with?
Becca: It means that I’m not going anywhere. I mean, it’s how trees are planted, they dig deep roots. And so, to be present with for me doesn’t mean that I fly in and out, but that I’ll walk alongside someone through their hard times and I’ll come to their graduations and cheer them on. It means that, you know, I’ll pray for you. And I pray that you pray for me, and I pray that we keep going together, you know, towards this intentional walk of loving God and we somehow get to do that by being present with each other. Like, I can’t do that by myself, this work we cannot do alone. Even, you know, even when you’re talking about the exegesis of Scripture, it doesn’t happen alone and in a vacuum. It’s a whole community of people who have helped decipher and translate and canonize and do all of this work. That however we find these deeper truths, we do it in community. I mean, you know, every time in Scripture, even people who have individual epiphanies, they’re doing it together. I mean, the disciples went up on you know, in Transfiguration, three or four of them together or there was a whole crowd down at the river Jordan when the dove came out of the cloud.
There was a huge reception for a wedding, the first time Jesus turned water into wine. This stuff happens because we keep coming together to be present with. That’s what- I mean, that’s my best guess.
Pete: You know, we were talking before about, you know, practically divine and not having to be perfect, and I just, I don’t know, maybe just being a college professor and seeing a lot of young people, perfectionism in the Christian faith is like ubiquitous, you know? Never doing enough, not good enough always having to prove yourself to God and things like that. Is that something that you yourself have passed through? Is it something that you’ve ever had to struggle with, the feeling of not being good enough? And if so, how did you like move out of that, only because, again, I just know every semester, I’m talking with students who are just petrified that God’s going to drop the shoe on them, you know?
Becca: Yeah, I don’t know that that’s- I love that, and I don’t think that that’s something we necessarily outgrow. I think we have longer seasons where we’re not living into that ideal, but I still feel that sometimes. I mean, I still feel like that, like, there’s a huge, there was a huge donor that called me a few weeks ago and it was this amazing call and then I haven’t heard anything. And honestly, I was like, I blew it. I didn’t say something right. I should have done this, you know? I mean, I can still go there, and then I think no, I did my best. And whatever happens, I can trust it. And it’s gonna be okay. So, I don’t live in it very long, but I’m telling you that voice is a part of my life. It’s just on a different scale and in different ways, for sure, for sure.
Pete: But you’re aware enough to talk your way through it.
Becca: Yes, that is true.
Pete: Which a lot of younger people are not, they’re not at that place yet.
Becca: Yeah, and I really feel for people sometimes, though, when they do feel that way, because, you know, it’s universal. It’s some of the injustices are timeless and universal, and for us to try to live our faith out, in the presence of those can be a daunting task. And I remember the first time someone died in our community and I thought, oh, everybody’s gonna know that, you know, I am not capable of doing the work that I said I was going to do or I’m just inadequate or the issues are too big or it doesn’t make any difference what we’re doing, this is just going to happen. I went through all of that.
Pete: You’re going to finally expose you as the fraud that you are.
Becca: Yes, because I’m not living into this perfect ideal. And then what I realized at the memorial is that everybody was weeping together.
Becca: And it doesn’t have to be a secret that we fail. It doesn’t have to be shame about our individual selves. It’s like we can say to each other, like, “Jared, I’m really scared. Jared, I need, you know, some guidance on this.” And it doesn’t mean that I’m not good enough or smart enough or whatever, it just means we need each other and that’s kind of good news. And that’s what Jesus taught us—we need each other.
Jared: I think, you know, when we think about the idea of the Gospel being good news, I just think for a lot of people, the things that we need, in our current context, a lot of times are those things like presence and a shoulder to cry on and someone who accepts us unconditionally, those people who will walk with us. I think, sometimes we get this idea- I mean, I can speak for myself, that the way to be helpful and useful is it has to be practical. I have to have a lot of money, I got to be able to give this money or give that thing or I have to be able to be really handy so I can go fix the thing for you. And I think we’re missing, maybe, what I hear you saying is sometimes there’s a huge opportunity that we all have this resource within us, which is to be present with each other. And it doesn’t have to be something grandiose or big or even financial or anything like that it can be this presence.
Becca: And I hope, I really hope that people that are listening understand that this is not light theology. It is simple truth, which is the deepest theology, and that’s what we can live our lives doing. So, let’s say, for example, just bringing it right down to earth, you know, you have a bag of potato chips and you think, “Oh, I can’t give this bag of potato chips to this person because there’s another 20 people down the road that might need a bag of potato chips.” But let’s say you venture out and you’re like, “Well, all I got as these chips, and I’m gonna offer them the best I can.” And that actually can be life changing. And we’ve had women come off the streets because they got a bag of chips and then they start talking and then they came into a home and then they went back to school. Then they found their faith and then they got a job and then they paid off their fines and got a car. And it was like, it was just a bag of chips. And in some ways, you think, it was just five loaves of bread, or whatever it is, it can be humble and simple and still profound and beautiful.
Pete: Yeah, and hard, like you said, because it’s, it’s easy sometimes to turn things over in our heads, but the simple truths are, I think, the hardest ones to embody, you know? And we always, I mean, I shouldn’t say we, I should say I. You know, I can see myself talking myself out of simple things like that sometimes, like, what difference does it make? There might be another 20 people down the road and need something else. What a waste. This isn’t gonna change anything, don’t do anything. But, you know, if I were on the receiving end, I wouldn’t want people to think that way about me.
Pete: And that’s why I think people who have been- who have suffered or been marginalized or been abused, I think their radar is up for this sort of thing, and they can sense the needs and, and I think be more prepared really, to be sources of healing for other people.
Becca: And honestly, and I don’t mean to make this political, but sometimes I think this and I’m just gonna throw it out there. Also let’s say, that person on the side of the road that’s hungry, and you have a bag of chips. Let’s say they’re wearing a Biden hat or they’re wearing a MAGA hat. Does that make any difference if you’ll offer the chips, you know? If someone’s hungry and my prayer and my hope is that we’re able to offer those chips, you know, the simple truth about love. And that is really, that’s in, right now in our world and where we are is like that, to me it is important to remember about ourselves about how we love.
Jared: Yeah. Reminds me again, going back to the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 5, where Jesus talks about God having this undifferentiated kindness, you know, where he says, “God brings the rain on the just and the unjust and causes the sun to rise on the righteous and the unrighteous and then calls everyone to do the same,” this sort of undifferentiated kindness that God shows and how maybe we ought to show the same.
Becca: That’s so beautiful. And I think it makes me so grateful, because I know I’m the unjust sometimes.
Becca: I’m grateful the rain is falling on me sometimes when I haven’t deserved it. I’ve had so much forgiveness in my life, seriously. I’m married to a man for 35 years, and he, it was, you know, I got married really young. And I thought he was cute and I married him, and it turned out to be this huge godsend for me. And I was telling him just the other day, I was like, I know I’ve forgiven you seventy times seven times, but what I also know is that you’ve forgiven me seventy times seven plus one times. And so, to find people who are willing to keep going with you and loving you, that’s the biggest, kindest thing people can do for each other.
Pete: Yeah. Well, Becca, listen, to bring this to an unfortunate close here, but I’m wondering if you can leave our listeners with some thoughts because there may be people listening who have said, “I wish I had a place like this to go to,” or who have suffered themselves. And you know, if there’s any sort of word of encouragement or advice that you can give them for moving forward and not staying put?
Becca: Absolutely. I would say to anybody that is listening and is, in any way, suffering, find a safe community of people where you can find your heart again, where you can feel that your faith is rooted and can carry you through hard times. At Thistle Farms, our community, we get more referrals through social media than any other source, where people are just trying to reach out and connect. My name is Becca Stevens and if you DM me on Instagram, I will, you know, respond to anybody and get you some places that might be helpful near you. You know, we do not have to suffer alone. That is part of the good news is that we are seekers and disciples. And there’s other people that can help us through the hard and holy ground that we walk.
Pete: Alright, Becca, well listen, thank you so much. It sounds trite, but it’s inspiring to listen to the work that you’re doing and how you understand the Gospel and how I think that will affect other people too. So, thank you for taking the time and speaking with us.
Becca: I loved it. Thank you both so much.
Jared: Absolutely. Farewell.
Pete: See ya.
Stephanie: Well, that’s it for this episode of The Bible for Normal People. Before you go, we want to give a huge shout out to our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, you can leave us a review or just tell others about our show. You can also head over to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3 a month, you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.
Dave: Our show was produced by Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team—thanks for listening.
Pete: How does your Christian faith, which is biblically informed, affect what you do? I guess something like that.
Jared: Yeah. We’ll figure out a non-nerdy way of saying it.
Pete: Yeah, does that sound okay?
Becca: Well, I don’t know that you’ll find a non-nerdy way of saying it, but I trust you.
Pete: I know that’s the thing. This is Bible, ohhhhh, Bible.
Jared: So, we won’t- we won’t interrupt you, but we’ll definitely, as you know as you finish up a story-
Pete: Unless she says something really dumb.
Pete: Then we have to interrupt her.
Becca: I have a thirty-minute sermon I’ve prepared, so I don’t see any interruptions necessary except an amen and amen.
Pete: [Laughter] Okay.
Jared: If you can get Pete not to say something for 30 minutes-
Pete: That’s impossible. That will never happen.
Jared: You will have the jackpot.
Becca: Oh my god, I’ve never preached thirty minutes my life. I’m Episcopalian for the love of God.
Pete: I know. Good for you.
[End of recorded material]