My fellow classmates and I are working our way through a book called Convictions, by Marcus Borg. I would bet that many of us are reacting in ways as myriad as our number to the posthumous Convictions in the book, and I think it would be really something to leave a humdinger waiting to be published after I was dead, when none of the popular criticism could wound me, when no one could ask me to say more. When #don’treadthecomments wasn’t a thing.
Alas, that was not the assignment we received. No, we were assigned a paper in which we would write our own convictions, and surprisingly I finished my paper and turned it in last week; and was shocked to see that it is 9 pages long.
What I wonder though, after watching a TED talk on “Being Wrong“, is how many of our convictions are held only because someone told us, a long time ago, or rather recently, that they were true? How much of the answers that we receive do we believe? How much of what we are taught do we ingest and put into practice?
I think I see now that I am not being asked to give up what I believe (via seminary training, AKA indoctrination, ha ha), rather, I am being asked to back that, ahem, shit up. I am being asked to say why. To say more. To have a smart and real answer for the things I say or assert are factual. I am being asked for a bibliography. And in that asking and the searching that comes after, the frantic googling of scripture, reading of bible passages, I’ve found that many things I just can’t support.
I can’t support by factual and historical accounts that on the night Jesus was born the stars in the sky sang, that three kings traveled to the manger where the child lay. I cannot prove that the whole of creation felt an unexpected surge of hope. But I believe it.
I can’t prove that one morning the women who were Jesus to end returned to the tomb and found it empty ,found the stone was rolled away. I can’t prove that the burial garments, still stained with blood and spice and oil were piled on an empty stone table. But I believe it. I believe the small stirrings that took place, the jerked foot, the moving fingers, the fluttering eyelids, the sudden remembrance of a battle waged. The waking, the realization of a promise made true, the garments left behind as that stone started to move.
I believe these things like I believe I can keep my children safe their whole lives. Like I believe that my truck will make as many trips as I need her to make, no matter the distance. I believe these things like I know the sun will rise tomorrow — and all of these things could be wrong.
Even now my children have ridden off on their bikes into a suddenly clear sky to go to the playground. I’m glad we’ve watched Into the Woods, I am glad that the magic of Sondheim has taught them that “nice is different than good”. Even so, they are outside of my realm of control, and yet I believe they will be ok. They will come rollicking through the door shrieking at each other in not too many more minutes, and the madness of the whack a mole bedtime routine will begin.
I wonder if the point of reading this book, Convictions, if the point of having to examine our own, was to see some of the small (or very large) things we are holding on to that don’t make sense any more. I wonder if it was an invitation to let those things go. I have come to believe, 2 years later, that many times our faculty know much more than we believe they do.
In the TED talked linked above Kathryn talks about early lessons in what it means to be wrong, how wrong feels. How we will try at any cost to be right. And how that harms those around us, as we hold onto the things someone told us a very long time ago and believe them to be the gospel truth.
I would invite you to examine. Oh, friend. It is painful. Like giving stuffed animals and baby clothes to charity painful. But so necessary, so needed. You can be free.
When I think of that examination, I think of that awful scene in Fried Green Tomatoes, where the character of Kathy Bates goes to a women’s gathering of some sort (I shudder to even remember) and they all get out small compact mirrors and examine their vaginas. Their special parts, as my much younger girls would have said.
Because it’s a lot like that. It is deeply uncomfortable, deeply vulnerable. But when we examine our thoughts, our belief systems in that way we may reach conclusions that are different.
As a friend of mine said today, when all of this is over, maybe you will hear things differently. And she made me cry as she listed my obligations, my own self imposed ways of behaving and committing and showing up. And what I realized, as I drove away, was that they are self imposed. My own ridiculous holiness code told me that I must…… fill in the blank. While the women who walk the red road with me would scoff and snort and toss their heads in indignation.
I told my friend today, through what I thought were very well hidden tears (there I go again, being right!) that I am working through God. I am emptying out his pockets, I am going through his phone while he showers, I am trying to piece together who I am supposed to be.
I am reconciling this punishing and angry God, this God who demands that I lay it ALL down, EVERY. SINGLE. THING. with a God who maybe sees me. A God who maybe hears me when I take my lunchtime “naps”, this place where I float for 20 minutes or so, pleading and talking and praying and asking. Maybe that God hears me, not the God who would have me sacrifice my own children for his call. Because some parts of me believe in that God too, believe that if I were only willing to go to the mountain, to make those plans, God would stay my hand.
I ask, in these floating times, for direction. I make the mistake of saying, show me. Make it so clear. Don’t let me miss it.
Forgetting that the last time I asked that my life fell apart and every thing was taken out of my hands. Be careful what you ask for, that is a cautionary tale for another day. But seriously, be careful.
I guess what I am here to say, what I didn’t even plan on saying, truth be told, is that what we think believe may not be true. That the truth is a relative thing, open to each person and their life experience and their early teaching and learning. I am here to say that your truth is not any better than mine, though I am still working on believing or meaning those words.
I guess I am saying that my overwhelmed tears were ok. That I am working hard on not being ashamed when I cry. How grateful I am for the friends who pretend not to notice.
I am saying that I believe there are unknowable things, mysterious things, and things just not known yet. And that all of those are ok. Just as I believe in that heavenly version of “ding dong merrily on high” I believe in the glorious light that shone into a new hewn tomb and that both of those things are alright.
Is this easy for anyone? Does anyone discern and pursue a path to ordained ministry with not even a hair out of place? I would like to meet that person, have them tell me all they know.
Meanwhile, speaking of tears, we will have a baptism in a just a few weeks, in a community inside the heart of our own community at St. John’s. We will baptize a man who wants to come to the table but has not had the chance to be baptized before. Our bishop will say (in stilting? I don’t know, does he speak Spanish) Spanish, “Juan, quedas sellado por el Espíritu Santo en el Bautismo y marcado como propiedad de Cristo para siempre. Amén.” That he is baptized and marked as Christ’s own. And I know that I will cry when that happens. I already forgave those tears.
I think that it will be alright. I think that we will figure this out, our need to be right juxtaposed against all reason and human tragedy. I think we will figure out that this isn’t about us, that the kingdom will not be realized in our lifetime, but that our work is needed and valuable, that our words will carry weight.
I think I will be ok too, though it gets a little iffy at times.
I love you still. Please don’t be afraid. Life is so messy and hard, but look for the moments that glimmer, moments where you are called into a peace you cannot understand. You can find them too.