[This past weekend was the inaugural (?) “Rain and Snow” winter festival at SSU, and Carol and I had the privilege of offering hospitality to Pádraig Ó Tuama, receiving more hospitality than we gave, from his presence, his words, and his easy appreciation of our shared moments. Here is a passage that shows the thoughtfulness behind an approach that combines hospitality with truth-telling:]
In many circles of faith or spirituality, there is generous time given to the testimony – the telling of the story of conversion, or re-conversion, of enlightenment or change. It is a moving thing, to listen to the testimony. But testimony, if told or heard unwisely, can be a colonisation of a single experience into a universal requirement. Jesus fed me when I was hungry, we hear, and those who are hungry feel bereft. Jesus healed me when I was sick, say the healthy, and the burdened feel more burdened. Meditation cured me of depression, say some, and others make plans to hide the Prozac. Upon whom is the burden of words? I don’t know. I don’t think there is answer. I cannot dampen gladness because it will burden the unglad. But I cannot proclaim gladness as a promise that will only shackle the already bound. Faith shelters some, and it shadows others. It loosens some, and it binds others. Is this a judgment of the message or the messenger, the one praying or the prayer prayed? I don’t know.
Hello to what we do not know.
What I do know is that it can help to find the words to tell the truth of where you are now. If you can find the courage to name ‘here’ – especially in the place where you do not wish to be – it can help you be there. Instead of resenting another’s words of gladness or pain, it may be possible to hear it as simply another location. There are there and I am here. At another point, we will be in different locations, and everybody will pass by many locations in their life. The pain is only deepened when the location is resented or, even worse, unnamed.
Hello to here.
- Pádraig Ó Tuama, from In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World
[I’m back to sharing some passages and discoveries after a long and busy summer. Here’s a short word from Frank Schaeffer for those who have been lacking the motivation to be a part of a spiritual gathering:]
If you are a Church Of One, do you trust your congregation? When you want to be inspired by an icon representing something bigger than yourself, don’t you ever get tired of just looking into the mirror?
- Frank Schaeffer, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God
I won’t sugarcoat this: Standing on the precipice of the wilderness is bone-chilling. Because belonging is so primal, so necessary, the threat of losing your tribe or going alone feels so terrifying as to keep most of us distanced from the wilderness our whole lives. Human approval is one of our most treasured idols, and the offering we must lay at its hungry feet is keeping others comfortable. I’m convinced that discomfort is the great deterrent of our generation. Protecting the status quo against our internal convictions is obviously a luxury of the privileged, because the underdogs and outliers and marginalized have no choice but to experience the daily wilderness. But choosing the wily outpost over the security of the city gates takes a true act of courage. That first step will take your breath away.
Speaking against power structures that keep some inside and others outside has a cost, and the currency most often drafted from my account is belonging. Consequently, the wilderness sometimes feels very lonely and punishing, which is a powerful disincentive. But I’ve discovered something beautiful; the loneliest steps are the ones between the city walls and the heart of the wilderness, where safety is in the rearview mirror, new territory remains to be seen, and the path into the unknown seems empty. But put one foot in front of the other enough times, stay the course long enough to actually tunnel into the wilderness, and you’ll be shocked how many people already live out there – thriving, dancing, creating, celebrating, belonging. It is not a barren wasteland. It is not unprotected territory. It is not void of human flourishing. The wilderness is where all creatives and prophets and system-buckers and risk-takers have always lived, and it is stunningly vibrant. The walk out there is hard, but the authenticity out there is life.
– Jen Hatmaker, quoted in Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness
[A passage from a soon-to-be-released book appealing for a newly invigorated role for theology in helping us live a good life:]
The most theological thing I have ever done was to plant a church—a community in which Bible scholars, ethicists, philosophers, and, yes, a stray “theologian” proper, have done theology as we have lived theologically. A community in which graphic designers, poets, musicians, sociologists, and even lawyers and medical doctors have become “accidental theologians.” It began almost imperceptibly and quite by accident. We should have known something theological was afoot when we found ourselves spending evenings on a back porch listening to a friend—a Christian Nietzsche scholar perched, with not a hint of ironic self-consciousness, on a stump in the backyard—call us to live lives that amounted to more than a never-ending quest for ever-greater degrees of comfort. I remember waking up at 3:30 a.m. to walk with that friend three miles across town to the train station—simply because walking was more life-giving than driving and the conversation along the way was worth the effort. Summer evenings were spent poring over Karl Barth, Søren Kierkegaard, C. S. Lewis, Kwame Bediako, Marilynne Robinson, and, yes, Nietzsche, with the visceral sense that our lives depended on the words on the pages. The questions of life were theological because theology was the question of life. Where to live—and with whom—was a theological question. We bought houses together; we shared cars. How and whether to own at all was a theological question. Rhythms of work and rest were a matter of deep theological reflection. Art and beauty were perhaps among the most theological questions of all. Theology was a question about the nature of the life we were living together.
I have learned that when plants put roots into the soil, their roots do not simply suck water and nutrients out. They share. They build community. They put out sugars, proteins and carbohydrates—“cakes and cookies”—
that gather and feed a communion of microfauna, whose activities hold and return nutrients that the plants themselves cannot make, at just the rate and amount that they require. The most important thing in good soil is
not nutrition, but biology. Or, to say the same thing: the richness known to plants is not an abundance of stuff, but an abundance of relationship.
– Marcus Peter Rempel, Life at the End of Us Vs. Them: Cross Culture Stories