Last month, the street community of Denver said goodbye to one of our favorites. For over thirty years "Pastor" Peggy called the streets home. At some point in the last ten years she had a legitimate encounter with God, which resulted in her turning into a driven street evangelist and welcomed her nickname, Pastor Peggy. She was known for that duck tape cross that she placed on the back of all her sleeveless jackets. With courage and a determined Texas smile she'd walk right up to crack junkies and gang bangers and hand them a gospel track along with a cigarette.
She’d come into the coffee house and knowing my background in ministry she would earnestly ask me questions about the end times and what a 7 headed monster represented in the book of Revelation. (As you could imagine, my answers left much to be desired.)
Her faith was characterized as mostly black and white and a contradictory mix of poverty, grace, and end times judgment. Her faith and the way she lived it was a grace to her and so many others on the streets who loved her.
Did you catch that? I said her simple fundamentalist faith was life giving!!!
Her passing jarred me and reminded me of the power of the gospel at all levels of transformation. The folks I interact with on the streets crave both God's grace as well as the distinctions provided by clear and simple boundaries. It’s this type of faith that provides something solid on which to stand. It’s this experience of spirituality that gives many who have been enslaved to chaos and pain throughout their life a sense of healthy attachment and perhaps the childhood they never had.
I’m recognizing how important it is for my boys, Josiah and Micah, to experience elements of this simple black and white religion as they develop their foundational footing in life. It seems clear boundaries along with consistent consequences can be some of the most life giving ingredients of compassionate parenting that allows people to develop deep wisdom as they move into the second half of life.
There are purposeful and mysterious seasons where our footing needs to be taken out from underneath us, but that's only beneficial IF we've been trained how to stand in the first place.
This is why I encourage becoming familiar with the stages of faith. There are several stage theories out there such as Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and more recently Janet Hagberg in her book, The Critical Journey. Unless you can reasonably chart and encourage both movement and direction, there is no way to name maturity or immaturity.
And an understanding of stages of faith are meant to be of benefit to YOU and your personal journey. They are not intended to encourage the Pharisee in us to locate, judge or make assumptions about others.
As I learned more about Peggy's childhood I was told she was badly abused and neglected by her family of origin which is why her acceptance and practice of the "old time" religion was so necessary and powerful for her in the later years. God was lovingly parenting her on the level of spirituality that she most needed. An age appropriate gift. And those of us that knew her well were in many ways mentored, provoked, and drawn further toward the Mystery by her commitment and activism. It reminds me of a song that my grandparents loved and sang... "Give me that old-time religion, It's good enough for me."