Posts Tagged ‘patience’
A member of our community came out as gay/bisexual on Facebook a few weeks ago. Bravely and beautifully, I say. One can’t mean to say that it’s brave or beautiful to be gay, because what would that really mean anyway? But I think my friend* (and her gentle language in the post) is beautiful, and that it takes a lot bravery to speak up about such a controversial issue in public, especially when you carry the controversy inside of you. As a straight guy, I’m afraid to speak of these things in public, and I know that people with same sex attraction have considerably more reason to fear, especially when their culture includes friends of faith, where the questions are rooted in some pretty powerful old stories of meaning.
This friend came out in conversation with me a couple years ago, and we had many pretty amazing conversations, the three of us: God, the Beautiful Girl, and me. I’m telling you, they were amazing, but more about that in a minute. We had loose plans to talk to our community about these conversations, but she moved away and the talk was delayed. I’d been eager for it to happen primarily because I’m pretty weary of the sex talk in the church (when we talk at all) being about us and them. This kind of talk is problematic … for a couple reasons; first, we’re no longer isolated enough that it makes sense to talk as though we were part of a homogeneous demographic. Second, it’s reductionistic to suggest that any of us are firmly planted on one side of a black/white issue. If we can believe it, God wants to meet each of us in our desire to be whole, healthy, and connected to the ultimate good. If this is so, then everybody might stand before God with the same posture of trembling anticipation. So anything that helps us talk more about just us, than about us-vs-them, is good.
If you are used to reading articles and posts on questions of sexuality where people are quick to let you know where they stand, you may have noticed I am not doing that. Sorry. It’s not because I don’t have anything to say. It’s because I’m just not going to say it in print. You don’t get that part of me unless we’re face to face, deep into the conversation, and maybe not even then. What I will tell you is how the conversation with my friend went down, and maybe it will help you understand why I don’t give away my convictions lightly.
I wasn’t ready for it. That’s the first thing. That is, I knew that pulling a community together in this day and age meant that the question of who gets in (you know, to the community, to heaven, etc) was going to come up, because, that’s one of the ways people like to mark out the boundaries of community. It’s been this way for ever … really since we were children—especially so when it comes to boys and girls, and boyishness and girlishness: witness the little kids’ clubhouse where no boys (or girls) are allowed, because the gendered mysteries taking place inside could never be understood by the opposite sex. I knew years ago, long before starting our community project, that there was going to be a moment when we’d feel the pressure to decide how the boundaries get laid down. There’s no getting around it. Even no boundaries is a boundary, one that is as constraining and fixed and meaningful as any other. I knew the questions were coming, but I wasn’t ready.
One reason I wasn’t ready is that, while I have beliefs and thoughts and convictions, I really did not like the way the conversation was going, in both the faith-culture and the wider culture. Much of the language that gets published has been isolationist and combative … words thrown around like dumb-bombs dropped on cities in wartime, with most of the language shamelessly generalizing the enemy as a unified force with an agenda to destroy Our Freedoms, or Our Values. I wanted nothing to do with it, and was really not looking forward to being drafted into battle.
But as it it turns out I didn’t need to be ready. See, I’d long thought that the business of the church is to gather together to listen for God’s word to us, both as a community and as individuals. I also believe that church leaders are not here to dictate or direct, but to lead the way to the God Who Speaks. It’s a good theory anyhow, and God was going to give me a chance to test it. When I got together with my friend, each day I wondered if we were going to have the conversation I feared … the one where we draw lines in the sand and stand on opposite sides. While I was prepared to do whatever I sensed God asked of me, God never let me draw that line. I know that is a loaded statement, but you’ll have to trust me on that. In fact, as God had me stand with her it was as though we were on one side of a line, both desperate for the same thing—a word for us, for her, for me.
We had the conversation. Over months, we aired out the Big Secret, talked out fears (many of which we shared), shared articles, critiqued theologies, and questioned philosophies. We cried, laughed, and prayed a lot. Throughout, I never felt free in my spirit to talk about my personal perspective or to say what I thought in a bottom-line sort of way, and maybe I’m just now realizing that this was because it wasn’t about me. What I could do was make room for God to talk. And wow — like wow — we witnessed some amazing action in that department. … But no, I’m not going to talk about the things we heard or experienced, because, while I was there to bear witness, they do not belong to me. They belong to her and will remain with her as long as she can carry them or until God speaks a new word.
I bet, if you were to ask her, she could tell you how I might answer certain questions. But I never came out and spoke them. I never felt like that was my role. Still don’t. But here’s how not-simple this is. I don’t think my role is fixed—as one of only listening, or of silence, or passivity, or civil disengagement. At any time I will try to be whatever kind of pastor/leader/friend that God calls me to be. With my Beautiful Friend, my role was to stand by her in God’s hearing, as she heard God’s words to her. Another way this is not simple: having gone through this, I know that I am not any more ready to have this conversation with someone else, because no matter how much experience I have in the conversation, I don’t think I ever get to know the agenda ahead of time. Maybe that’s another piece of what God is doing with my little part of the church: no more agendas for a while.
If I have to move like a beginner for the rest of my life, never leaning on my experience or understanding, but always looking to God for the way forward, then this, at least, is a very simple thing. Simple, yet hard to grow into. Some days I’m less afraid of the conversation; some days I can see how little I have to worry about how it all goes down.
For a couple years now, I’ve been eager to share this story with our community, but I wasn’t going to do it until our friend was ready to share her part of it. We never got to do it live, but now that it’s out on the network, we no longer have to put it off. While waiting for it to happen, I’ve been postponing conversations about sexuality, because I didn’t want us to begin talking about these things until we were able to recognize that it was personal. Recent conversations where an opinion about sexuality or gender have come up have been a bit hard and bruising for many of us.
Now that our friend has made herself known to us, it will change our conversation. “Those people” are now our people. And we have to listen carefully, to God and to each other, if we are to go forward in any respect—together or separately. My dream is that even if we walk out our faith with different understandings, that we will continue to share a humble awe at the fact that each of us is free to face God in Christ with, at the very least, the expectation that we will hear what we need to hear.
*She’s out and public, but I want her to be able to control her name and story online, so I’m not going to identify her. Anyhow, while I shared this with her before publishing it, I’m only confidant that this is my story, not that I’m doing a good job of telling hers.
This is a poem mashed up with a piece of music … wherein a robot takes over a Glitch Mob song and manages to give directions to a place worth getting to.
I’m imitating the experience of my smartphone interrupting my music to give me directions. I decided to write my own directions, get the computer to read them, and then mash it up with a song with a beat (with apologies to The Glitch Mob, who just made the song, called Fistful of Silence, but had no control over what I did with it).
Listen first (loud), then read the words
Starting directions to
the land that I promise you.
Proceed to the route.
Proceed to the route.
Turn thou neither to the right nor to the left.
Do not be afraid of the desert.
Turn thou neither to the right nor to the left;
nor make up your mind to return to the land
where Pharaoh broke your back …
In the endless horizontal,
there has always been a pillar
And after the scorching desert heat by day
and fire by night
only a blind man would miss the cloud.
Proceed to the route.
Proceed to the route.
Proceed to the route.
turn to the east and face the rising sun.
Raise your fist.
At the right moment, open your hand,
to reveal its well-traveled lines to the brightening sky.
And as the heavens read the roadmap of your palm,
know that you have already come
We’ve come to a stage in our journey foretold in the ancient scrolls …. Way back in 2009, I wrote an essay about Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. The book lists a multitude of patterns, each a way of thinking about design when making human-habitable spaces. The patterns are applied on a grand scale: from laying out a city to laying out the furniture in a living room. Alexander’s brilliant madness is that he builds a case that anybody can make their own spaces. From design to build, we’re qualified, and he will show the way.
One pattern in particular struck me (and inspired the essay). He instructs us on how to design our own house by spending time on our plot of land, enjoying it with family and friends, and after we’ve discerned the shape of the space we want to live in, simply to hammer in stakes where the corners will be. Outside expertise is not needed, and may be counter productive at this stage. The organo-hippie simplicity of this really appealed to me, and has been at the core of my philosophy of how to build anything (like this here community thing we’re doing), but it isn’t the end of the story. Because Alexander follows the chapter with an essay centered on a technical formula intended to make sure your columns are properly spaced, ensuring that the structure will withstand the test of time.
This is where we’ve come to. We have spent ample time discerning the shape of the thing we are building, and we have a sense of the life that it will contain. Now, the task is to build it well, perhaps to seek expert opinion from those who have experience and knowledge about such things. We want our project to last as long as it needs to, to survive storms, and to be here when people need it.
See the original essay on (Low) Tech Writer. It’s worth reading because it is one way of describing what we have been doing all this time, and what might be next.
“If technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, then there is a time and a place for it in all aspects of our lives. Technology can be a lifesaver. However, apply it too early in a design process and it cripples our products and projects, our homes and communities. They become cold and rigid–we fear any imperfection in them. They will be impersonal and homogeneous, ill-suited to our unique context or environment. You can see the results of an overly technological architecture everywhere you turn in suburbia: homes built according to some remote architect’s bland, marketable standard of what a beautiful home should look like … and when such “homes” are planted on a typical suburban half-lot, these mini-mansions look like part of a demonic plot to destroy a neighborhood. The best thing you can say about them is that they won’t fall down in a storm ….
“Let’s adopt this as a (low) tech writer principle: let individual or community wisdom, forged-in-context, dictate the unique shape of your house, project, product, or organization. Take time to listen for, intuit, and live with the implications of the designs you are working on. Only after organically discerning the shape and scale of a new project should you consult outside “experts” (or formulas). These may aid in developing levels of structure efficiently, but such expert witnesses will seldom have your local, contextual perspective, and so should not under any circumstances be allowed to dictate design.”
… Who calls you hobbits, though? That does not sound Elvish to me. Elves made all the old words: they began it.’
‘Nobody else calls us hobbits; we call ourselves that,’ said Pippin.
‘Hoom, hmm! Come now! Not so hasty! You call yourselves hobbits? But you should not go telling just anybody. You’ll be letting out your own right names if you’re not careful.’
‘We aren’t careful about that,’ said Merry. ‘As a matter of fact I’m a Brandybuck, Meriadoc Brandybuck, though most people call me just Merry.’ ‘And I’m a Took, Peregrin Took, but I’m generally called Pippin, or even Pip.’
‘Hm, but you are hasty folk, I see,’ said Treebeard. ‘I am honoured by your confidence; but you should not be too free all at once. There are Ents and Ents, you know; or there are Ents and things that look like Ents but ain’t, as you might say. I’ll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please – nice names. For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.
‘But now,’ and the eyes became very bright and ‘present’, seeming to grow smaller and almost sharp, ‘what is going on? What are you doing in it all? I can see and hear (and smell and feel) a great deal from this …. What is going on? What is Gandalf up to? … I like news. But not too quick now.’
… From The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien
More than three years ago now, we set out to explore church planting for ourselves, with no expectations except that God could form a group of followers into a community of meaning for our particular time and place.
During our first few years of gathering, we’ve been patient and diligent. We have been diligent about listening to God and following the steps laid out for us. For the longest time this has meant that we’ve been practicing our community faith in such a way that there’s been little evidence of activity. This is where patience comes in! It has been a challenge. Each of us in turn has had the chance to remind the group to be diligent in following through with our chosen way, or to be patient while waiting to see the fruits of our efforts. Go team!
Even better, our hopes that God would respond and lead us have been largely fulfilled. We have a confidence we wouldn’t have otherwise, and we are stronger for it. Our practice during this season has included, almost exclusively, a focused program of prayer and listening to God that has helped to bond us together, and strengthened us as individuals and as a community. Now, we are leaving this season of intense weekly prayer, and moving into a new season.
To lay a little groundwork for a description of what’s next, let me say that I, for one, set out on our journey with the confidence that if we listened to God and were patient and did what we were given to do, that God would “call” us in a way that matched us uniquely. And we have come to that place, where we get to say, “Ahh, yes! That feels right!” We feel like we can serve a unique and needed purpose in this area. It’s sweet to know where we get to stand, and I love how we got here. It feels to me like God has proven that he knows and loves us.
So where have we come to?
Meanwhile, friends, wait patiently for the Master’s Arrival. You see farmers do this all the time, waiting for their valuable crops to mature, patiently letting the rain do its slow but sure work. Be patient like that. Stay steady and strong. The Master could arrive at any time.
From James’ letter to the church, in Eugene Peterson’s The Message
One of the earliest ideas that we’ve had to work with as a community has been a simple word-picture describing a ridge-beam held up by a few posts. In our practice, this kind of image is an important way that God communicates to us, and the image itself was given to me early in our process of discernment by a couple who were praying on our behalf.
The group understood this idea to have originated with God, and for this reason, we have given it serious consideration. After much prayer, listening, and imaginative work, we came to understand that this picture of posts is a picture of us. We are the posts that lift up the ridge-beam, that in turn gives shape to the building, creating a good space for shelter and gathering.
This metaphor was stimulating and interesting but wasn’t very practical until we asked God, “So now what? How do we respond?”. More words and pictures adding detail and clarity kickstarted a process that we ended up calling our “postings” … during which we have been praying for each member of the community. To continue with the metaphor, we’ve been making sure each post is securely in touch with the foundation, that it’s solid and healthy, and that it can take its right place under the ridge-beam … soundness, strength, security, fit, and many other things that matter for good buildings, like beautiful details.
One thing we have NOT been doing is making sure each post is cut to the same length, or cut to right-angles, or carved with the same designs. Each post takes its unique place, supports the burden it’s meant to support and has just the strength and style to do its part.
Now, to leave the metaphor behind and get real for a moment, it’s true we have taken our sweet time praying for each person, because we understood this to be a critical task in our development of community, not to be rushed. We begin by asking each person to say something about their hopes and dreams (or lack thereof) for the future, about what they consider their rough spots to be. And, we pray, and listen, and give God a chance to weigh in. Each time we’ve posted someone, the story has been the same … God encouraging and speaking to the strengths and gifts of each person, revealing new perspectives, and in some cases giving opportunity for confession and a commitment to new ways of living. The beauty of the practice has been that the group has become stronger by several significant measures. We get to know each other better of course, and hear from God in often surprising ways. But, way more significant for me, when we hear directly from God about the good that a person will do and be if they embrace their identity, we will feel a growing respect and even an excitement to be around them when they are going for it. At the same time, and equally significant, we’ll have permission to call them on it when they are not. All of this makes us into better community, because we come to be more responsible for one another.