...The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
...Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God...
I think about God resting God's hand on those parts of my body that I hate. I imagine the look on God's face while touching me, and I envision God having this sweet, subtle smile, one that says, "I am yours and you are mine. You bring me pleasure, and I love you just as you are." God sees the tears that come into my eyes as I let this message sink in. It may not be solidified. God might have to say it several dozen times more before I wholeheartedly believe it. But in that instant, it is the only truth I need.
One professor, one I trust as a friend and mentor, noticed this and decided that I needed something different. I needed space: space in which to experience respite from fighting against something. He felt that, in all my efforts of fighting against, I'd been afforded little time to discover what it was I've been fighting for, or more importantly, what I've been standing on.
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?
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.
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.
In churches where people stay for years, rarely missing more than one or two Sundays a year, life becomes routine and creativity can feel smothered, stifled. When community members feel that time away could harm their role, the ways in which they engage and are accepted by their community, then community potentially loses its vibrance. Its edge becomes dulled. Its energy becomes encapsulated by this feeling of safety, a reality that is visible to any outside observer.