The way out is through. If I knew that before, it becomes ever clearer, the longer I am immersed in this intense experience – “intensive” is a good word to describe the way we are doing things here. It is all the things, all at once, on all the levels, all the time; total immersion in the change process, a sort of baptism, this being swallowed up and transformed not by water or by fire but by a community of people who are, for whatever purpose, all in this together.
I cherish the amazing conversations that just sort of happen due to proximity – the kind that start with seeing someone you recognize, realizing neither of you have eaten yet, and next thing you know it’s four hours later and you’re both still in the burger place talking queer religious communities, mythological constructs and Bible history with one of the employees. Or the kind that continue in fits and starts over the course of a day or a week, teasing out one thread at a time from the tangle of ideas and emotions on complex social-theological issues.
This is how the world will be made whole. This is how we are made whole: one conversation at a time, one relationship at a time, one idea at a time, coming from a place of our own integrity (even if that is hurt and confusion) and assuming that the person we meet is doing the same. It is hard work. It is complex work. It is slow work which I did not begin. There is nobody alive today who began this work. There is no living memory of any person gone who was there for the beginning of this work. It is the work of being human, of building human community, and it goes back to our oldest stories, the stories that were old before we scratched marks on stone or clay to help ourselves remember them by.
And it is still our work, this work of learning to be human. We all begin this work, yesterday, today, tomorrow – in this moment and in the next moment and in the moment after that we begin this work. We build on the foundations laid by those who have done this work before us, and the work we do becomes the foundation in turn for those who will come and continue it when we are no more. Nothing is ever finished. This work will continue long after we are departed from the world and our grandchildren’s grandchildren have forgotten our names.
These are ideas. They are not my ideas. I am certainly neither the first person to have them nor the first person to articulate them: others have gone before me, built layers upon layers of experience and reflection and scholarship about these things. And they are also my ideas, distilled from my own experience and reflection and study, shaped and formed by what I learn from those gone before me, deconstructed and rearranged and rebuilt to my situation, like a pile full of lego blocks where what I build may look exactly like what’s been done before, or completely different, or may become unrecognizable as other hands take up the work when I step away from it.
And so I figure things out, little bits at a time, fumbling around uncertainly as people do, anxious about vulnerability and imperfection, wanting to put forward in public spaces a complete and finished product that is no longer a work in progress. There’s a tension around the urge to conform to that kind of public face – to simultaneously be a prophetic voice for change and justice and have a polished and appropriate professional image and a warm non-anxious pastoral presence and always keep appropriate boundaries while being true to the authentic self at all times….
Yeah. It’s complicated. Mixed messages.
So I am here, doing this thing I do, from where I am, in the way that it happens. And it is not perfect, and it is not complete, and like rocks in a tumbler or ideas in the mind it may eventually polish up smooth and show the deep surprising colors concealed within its rough exterior.
That is why I write this blog. Because sometimes I think that in focusing on having the public faces we show be as perfect as we can make them, we lose the opportunity to show the fascinating process of how they got that way. A polished stone is a beautiful thing, but part of the beauty is in the transformation.