Doing the Work that Brings Peace and Justice – Steve Mahr

By Marcos Leon


“Faithwalking is an opportunity to become fully aware of your trauma and the negative meanings you have made of it, for the purpose of making positive declarations that free you to live your fully alive life, alongside a community, doing the work that brings peace and justice here and now.” – Steve Mahr

Steve Mahr is a Faithwalker in Orange City, Iowa. In the video above and text below, Steve shares about his experience with Faithwalking. Click here to listen to a podcast episode featuring Steve on the connection between the Faithwalking journey and social justice..

Q: Describe something in your life that you were not aware of before Faithwalking. What was the impact of that lack of awareness in your life?

I don’t think I was aware of the extent to which my childhood trauma informed the way I showed up as an adult. I was aware of the history of anger in my family (specifically my dad and my grandpa) but unaware of how I made specific meanings of my childhood experiences. I felt so much shame that I couldn’t get a grip on my outbursts – especially at home. I felt like I would never get control of who I was, and that left me feeling defeated. The identity of shame I wore was that I was a deadbeat dad.

At our first Faithwalking retreat, when I said that out loud, I felt like I was choking up a tumor that had been weighing me down for my whole adult life. When the people I loved and trusted most rejected that “deadbeat dad” identity, it gave me the courage to do so as well. Over the next year or so, I leaned into the opportunity to create new, empowering meanings of my trauma which helped me live into an identity that is closer to my best self.

Q: What has changed through Faithwalking? How are you different?

I am less afraid.

I used to be afraid of screwing up. One of my negative vows was that unless I showed up as people needed or expected then I would be rejected. When I replaced that negative vow with the positive declaration of “I belong,” I became less afraid of naming my messes and working to clean them up. This has transformed my relationships with my kids, my wife, and my employees. What I once thought could deteriorate trust is actually what has strengthened the trust others have with me.

I used to feel the need to bulldoze others that disagreed with me. Generally in my life, those people had been bullies – both physically and verbally. I learned that if I could be louder and smarter, then I could run over anyone that disagreed with me. With Faithwalking, I have learned the power of being self defined. The emotions and opinions of others are not a threat to me. This frees me to listen better, to understand others more deeply, and to not worry about me losing the parts of me I love.

Q: Describe the vision you have of your best self.

I value relationship. I value justice. I value neighborly love. My hope is that I live a life that creates space for connection. My hope is that I live a life that agitates and disrupts the people and systems that perpetuate injustice. My hope is that I live a life that participates in the ongoing work of justice and peace in my community. And finally, my hope is that those in my community experience love when they are around me.

Q: Describe Faithwalking in your own words.

Faithwalking is an opportunity to become fully aware of your trauma and the negative meanings you’ve made of it for the purpose of making positive declarations that free you to live your fully alive life alongside a community doing the work that brings peace and justice here and now.

Q: What is the most helpful tool you have learned in Faithwalking?

“Most helpful” is hard. I think when I use only one of these tools, I find myself flailing a bit. When I use a few of these tools together, I am able to show up as my best self. Here is what I have found:

a. Spiritual Workout: When I keep my rhythm of spiritual practices, my mind and body are synced up in a way that allows me to engage authentically – my boundaries and awareness are at their best.

b. When I remember to stay curious, I am less likely to pounce on others and be reactive.

c. When I remember that vulnerability and authenticity is the key to belonging, I am able to show up as my best self, rather than hide or bulldoze. Living courageously has yet to backfire – even when I do it afraid.

Q: Tell us about you. Who are you? How did you connect with Faithwalking?

Before Faithwalking, I was in a rocky relationship with the church. I had been on and off in my twenties, but always with skepticism. By the time I turned 30 I had decided I was done. I saw no transformative power in the message of Jesus because I didn’t witness it in the life of the church. I grew up in a theologically conservative household. My dad was my youth pastor and then eventually an associate pastor at our church, alongside my uncle who was the senior pastor. I had leaned into my upbringing because it gave me a sense of belonging, until the foundational beliefs I held fell apart against the backdrop of the reality I was experiencing as an 18-20 year old kid.

In 2015, I was operating my own coffeehouse in Orange City – a very conservative town in NW Iowa. A guy named Mike, who was a new pastor in Orange City, started coming to our shop fairly regularly. Because of my disdain for the church, Mike made me curious, because he seemed to live a life that was less about theology and politics, and more about his values and staying connected with others. It bugged the shit out of me. So, I asked him questions, like, every day. I would grill him. Eventually, he said to me, “Dude, I love you, I love this shop, stop asking me questions. Come to church and make your own conclusions or let me just drink coffee and hang out.” I went home and told my wife about this encounter, and she said I should go and that she would go with me.

The first Sunday I showed up, the church was introducing a project to get folks connected with at-risk school kids – not for the purpose of getting them to church, but for the purpose of helping them feel loved and like they experienced belonging. Something about it was foreign and refreshing. I cried. I wondered if this church was for real. The sermon didn’t end with an altar call or spend time judging a group of people. The sermon called us to a life lived best when we were looking for the other and how we can love well. I was surprised.

Then Mike called me and asked me to have a beer with him. We met and he asked me to be a part of a five-year commitment which the church was embarking on that took a core group of people through a learning process about individual and group anxiety (Churches Learning Change w/ Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor). The ultimate goal was to find ways to be the church in our community. I told him I needed to clear it with my wife before I made any commitments. When I told her, she laughed and told me if I didn’t commit then I couldn’t complain about the church ever again. She pointed out I was getting an opportunity to participate in the very thing that I was loudest about. So, I said yes.

It sucked. It was hard. It ripped open old wounds and made me face shame that I was perfectly content leaving buried. And it transformed my life. It was through this that I was introduced to Faithwalking. Faithwalking has kept that initial seed of transformation alive in me. I am a person who works daily to reject my shame voice, remember who I am, and stay in action alongside a community to participate in the work ahead of us. I am so incredibly thankful for Faithwalking. It truly revealed to me the transformative power of following Jesus – something I think I have been seeking my whole life – and it has literally saved my life.


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