Teach me to go to this country beyond words and beyond names. Teach me to pray on the side of the frontier, here were these woods are. I need to be led by you. I need my heart to be moved by you. I need my soul to be made clean by your prayer. I need my will to be made strong by you. I need the world to be saved and changed by you. I need you for all those who suffer, who are in prison, in danger, in sorrow. I need you for all the crazy people. I need your healing hand to work always in my life. I need you to make me, as you made your Son, healer, a comforter, a Savior. I need you to name the dead. I need you to help the dying cross their particular rivers. I need you for myself whether I live or die. It is necessary. Amen.
I realized that I could read the Bible (and other texts) and find meaning in them without having to believe in the absolute Truth of the stories contained within them. After all, what difference does believing in a global flood or a talking donkey or a king killing 200 men just for their foreskins have on my life today? What questions do these stories answer?
The fact is that to know yourself and to let your self be known by others is a gut-wrenching, vulnerable, nerve-wracking process. It often includes tension, drama, and conflict (all three of which I despise greatly). But rarely does this conflict come up, I think, because we inherently dislike or detest someone else. It surfaces because we see something in them that makes us feel something about ourselves. Yet when we refuse to be vulnerable, to "risk engagement," we put ourselves at risk for emotional atrophying and decay.
In my closest relationships, tension is a constant. I value friendships with people whose backgrounds, ideologies, and beliefs are not exactly like mine. I hold dear conversations with friends who are willing to challenge me, willing to play the devil's advocate. In friendships with people who tend to be more amicable and less challenging, I feel numb, almost stagnant. It's when there is a tension, a tug-of-war you might say, that I feel most alive, most human.
I am what I have
I am what I do
I am what other people think about me
During various stages of life, I've bought into one or more of these lies. In fact, it's hard to recall a time where they all did not simultaneously play a part in my own sense of identity. At times my sense of self has been wrapped up in the books on my shelf, the clothes in my closet, the gadgets and toys I own. It's been impacted by the words I say and by my actions towards others. It's been affected deeply by how people react to my words, how they've spoken to and about me. Yet when I think about it more deeply, I realize that none of these things are me.
If I want tolerance, I know plenty of places where I could have such an experience. Sadly, more than any other place that comes to mind, there is the Church. Granted, I'm not talking about congregations belonging to those denominations that are typically thought of as being more "progressive." I'm talking about faith communities where the emphasis is overly placed on personal holiness and where the necessity for justice is almost completely overlooked.
I hate leaving. I hate feeling as if I'm losing a relationship, as if someone I love dearly is abandoning me. This is what transition can feel like for many people. This reality makes it necessary for the transition process to be handled with care, offering space for both grief and celebration. Without room for all the emotions that become tangled up in transitions, the shifts that individuals and communities face can lead to excessive pain, bitterness, resentment, and much more.
I love talking theology, but over the years as my own theology has been transformed and become broader in scope, I've been hesitant to engage those whom I believe to be more conservative than myself, fearing rejection or ostracism. However, these new friends were nothing short of kind and loving, even as I made statements and theological claims that most "evangelicals" would consider staunchly blasphemous. One of the group members asked me about the tagline on this site, the whole "thoughts and ramblings of a self-avowed, practicing heretic." I told him that, as I understand it, heretics are not necessarily wrong in their beliefs. They simply came out on the losing side of a theological debate. They are the minority, the marginalized, and as such, I'd prefer to align myself with them than with the doctrinal majority, even if we disagreed. That is why I identify the way that I do. It's about empathy. It's about solidarity.
Until we confess the poverty of our friendships, many of our attempts to foster inclusion run the risk of becoming awkward and inappropriate attempts of tokenism. It doesn't feel good to be the "token" anything in any community. It diminishes everyone's humanity to be misled by communities that appear to be inclusive but are actually using minority members for cosmetic purposes.