So I’m sitting here at camp and I should be working on the workshop I’ll be delivering in a couple of days at the Comfort & Hope Conference. I’ll be speaking on the suffering of loneliness and the tension between intimacy and fidelity in finding our way to staying alive to hopefulness. But instead, my mind is churning away (as it often does).
I’m in the place, which shows up from time to time, when I just want to run away, to escape. Having allowed God’s Spirit to lead me into uncharted territory over the last few years has been both exhilarating and exhausting, exciting and terrifying. It is challenging to engage such a process when you hold a somewhat public role as I do with New Direction. Part of the challenge is to be obedient and faithful to what God is doing within me personally while at the same time seeking to exercise wisdom, discernment and responsibility in my leadership role with New Direction. And while the two clearly intersect with lots of grey areas where the boundaries blur – they are not one and the same. This blog is probably one of the places where the lines are most murky between my personal reflections and the speaking I do on behalf of the ministry.
This week as I’ve been here at the Christian camp that my family has attended for nearly ten years with a group of old friends, I have really felt like a misfit. Is it safe to really talk about the journey God has me on? Will I be judged? Will I be understood? Will I be rejected?
As I’ve listened to the messages in morning chapel they have seemed oh so certain, so clear, so clean, dare I say so milky ….. and the world I live in is chaotic, uncertain, messy, complex. The world I live in will not tolerate the luxury of the theoretical where the Bible gives the principle and you just need to follow. The world I live in demands that you think and rethink and question and yes, even doubt. The world I live in rages in the face of sanitized faith and challenges foundational paradigms that used to lull me through the inevitable paradoxes of life. The world I live in has erased the lines drawn between sacred and secular, saved and lost, sinner & saint. The world I live in is composing a magnus opus to the heart-stopping, outrageously unbelievable unconditional love and acceptance of God that crushes and demolishes the vestiges of self-righteous “us & them”. It’s a scary world sometimes. It is a wild and risky place. It is a place that invites, yes even insists, on a free-fall into the mercy of God where there are no favorites, where the slackers get the same wage as the keeners, where dignified fathers hike up their robes and haul ass off the porch to meet pig-shit slimed losers …. with no “but” in sight. And it makes us nervous …. because it seems too good to be true. We somehow want God to be wrathful – because that makes sense to us. We somehow want to hear the boundaries on what makes a “real Christian” because that allows us some tangible security.
And we want to know who is “in” and who is “out”. We want to know who is “right” and who is “wrong”. We want to know, “Are you on our team? Or aren’t you?”
And I feel like I’m walking the precipice with no safety net saying, “Those are the wrong questions.”
To me, the questions are, “How are you loving people?” “How are you serving people?” “How are you trusting God to do his work in people’s hearts, in his time, in his way?”
But, what do you really believe? But, what do you think the Bible says about homosexuality? But, what do you think the wages of sin are? But, how can I trust you if I don’t know if you agree with me or not?
New Direction is taking a new direction. It has been a long time in the works. It was not an easy journey to get there. I even wondered, at times, if I might get fired along the way.
Jean Vanier says, “The process of searching for truth demands an openness; it demands an evolution of thought, for individuals and entire societies, as the whole world changes and we discover new intimations of what IS. There are unchanging principles, such as the call to be people of love and not of hate, which govern our lives. We need to integrate our experiences into these principles and let these principles enlighten our experience. Such an evolution in thought can mean searching and groping in the dark, sometimes in anguish, thinking through old ideas, formulating them in new words and new ways. We must not try to return to the past, but instead launch out into the future – to understand each other and what it means to be human, to understand what is happening in the world – in order to become more fully human and to work for peace and unity. It is only as we begin to integrate such a sense of reality more fully into our being, as we thirst for that which gives meaning to our lives, that we discover the fundamental meaning of loneliness: a cry, often a painful cry of anguish, for more respect and love of others, to be even more enfolded in truth, held in God. Such a cry could bring a new wholeness to humanity.”
At New Direction, we want to inhabit and promote generous space where diversity among followers of Jesus on the subject of homosexuality is acknowledged so that the individual outside the heterosexual mainstream can find and experience a safe and spacious place to explore and grow in faith in Jesus Christ. This space isn’t about right and wrong, us and them, left and right. It intentionally seeks to dismantle the polarity that typifies the debates around the issue of homosexuality. It calls us to the higher and deeper (and messier and more chaotic and frankly much, much more difficult) task of loving and serving one another in the midst of our differences. To me, that is the bridge we’re trying to build. Wherever there is difference, we want to be nurturing language, values, tools, modeling and serving to facilitate people really seeing one another across the gaps, really caring for one another, really experiencing shalom together.
I know all too well how hard this is and how much reality strays from such ideals. None-the-less, this is what we want to embody and help to foster. I also know all too well that this isn’t the whole response to the many questions that this subject raises. But it is the piece that we feel called to address. Local churches need to wrestle with doctrinal and policy statements. And individual Christians need to wrestle with scripture and the Spirit to know where they land (or alternatively to keep their eyes fixed on Christ during the season they don’t know where to land). Our hope is to serve the Body of Christ in HOW we relate and respond to people in the midst of the different journeys and perspectives within the community.
But the pressure is there to position ourselves. And sometimes the accusations are there too.
My personal perspectives seep through in some of my writings, but my personal position / belief is not the point of this blog and certainly not of the work of New Direction. It is understandable that people would want to know what I believe (often what they’re really saying is, “Do you think homosexuality is a sin?”). I suppose some people want to know the answer to that question to know whether or not they should keep reading this blog (ie. If she believes “this” then I’m outta here.). I can’t help but feel sometimes that the questions come with the same undercurrent as those the religious leaders confronted Jesus with when they were trying to trap him. It is certainly your choice to not read this blog. But the blog isn’t meant to simply affirm what you already think – or to necessarily change what you currently think. The blog is intended to provoke engagement – not simply spoon-feed answers. And we hope that in the process you will think – whether that brings change or not.
Perhaps some people want to know what I believe to help them decide what they believe. Friends, there are much smarter people than I – don’t look to me to decide what you believe (and frankly, don’t really look to other smart people either ….. you really need to own this journey for yourself – yes informed by others in the Body of Christ – but ultimately as the Holy Spirit is leading you.).
My focus, and I hope yours as well, is to encounter people where they’re at. To look and listen for where God is present in that individual’s life and to try to be a source of encouragement and care in that place. For those who interact with me who are not believers – same deal. I respect them where they’re at – and want to be an encouragement and a caring person in their life. I serve a big God – who sent his Son because he loved the whole world. I don’t have to be anxious. God loves my friends, no matter what their system of belief, so much more than I ever could. I can rest in that. My job, so-to-speak, is to walk in step with the Spirit and obey to the best of my ability his prompting, to say what he asks me to say, to do what he asks me to do. The rest, I really can leave up to him.
So I’ve been in this camp all week. And there are lots of things that have been said in chapel or conversation that just aren’t where I’m at or that I flat out disagree with. For example, hearing male dominated language all week and the exclusion of any acknowledgement of women in ministry has sucked for me. Hearing Scripture being squeezed into rulebook fashion based on a poetry passage makes me want to pull my hair out. Yet, these folks are my brothers and sisters – we share a common humanity, we share being image-bearers of God. So, I’ve tried to guard my heart this week and to posture myself in a place of humility and grace. To speak when prompted to speak and to listen and be still otherwise. It hasn’t been easy at times. Yet, I’ve been grateful for the fruits of the Spirit that kick in with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control.
As I’ve been reflecting this week and talking with my husband, I’ve really been struggling with sustaining my energy for my work with New Direction. It is tiring to feel scrutinized, to be confronted with orthodoxy tests, to have an inbox full of high-need messages, to juggle so many different responsibilities and now that I am the only program staff member, to try to maintain a high-level of self-motivation. I hope I don’t sound like too much of a whiner or complainer. In many ways, I’m so very grateful for the work I get to do. But as many of you know, this isn’t an easy topic to engage day in and day out. It’s hard to feel like a misfit – feeling like at any moment someone on some side of this topic is going to reject me. It’s hard sometimes to not personally internalize some of the crap that gets thrown my way.
“Too much security and the refusal to evolve, to embrace change, leads to a kind of death. Too much insecurity, however, can also mean death. To be human is to create sufficient order so that we can move on into insecurity and seeming disorder. In this way, we discover the new. Those who have the eyes to see this new order, as it arises, will often be considered too revolutionary, too modern, too liberal….. Those who see the coming new order will frequently be alone, persecuted.” (Vanier, Becoming Human)
Straddling so many differences, being confronted on so many levels, facing diverse demands ….. sometimes I want to escape. Sticking to my guns in the face of other expectations isn’t always easy.
For those of you who resonate with this blog and find its plodding work valuable, please pray for me. And for those of you so inclined, no matter who you are or what position you take – let’s link arms and continue to work towards nurturing a diverse community in which love and respect and relationship really do take priority. Because when we do, I believe we will be the change we long to see. And along the way, we can help one another to persevere and to endure – for there is much work to be done.