To be in the world, but not of the world, requires subversive alertness. Cultivation of a contemplative mind is crucial. Spiritual practices and disciplines help form the virtues that guide our public engagement. We learn to take a breath before reacting. We recognize that our anger is a reminder of a deeper pain. We choose to see people as fellow-image bearers, worthy of dignity and respect, in need of grace. We become enlarged in choosing the way of kindness, of gentleness, of humility. We become more familiar with our wounds, staying present, escaping less, learning to lament, and to love and comfort ourselves in God’s presence. We relinquish defensiveness and the right to strike back.
Or at least we hope we are making some progress towards the serenity such growth can bring.
Generous spaciousness, a concept I first began to imagine in 2008, is intended to help nurture environments in which we as individuals, and together as community, can take these steps. We can give ourselves and each other the space to consider, risk, and wrestle towards this kind of growth. Embracing the values of humility, hospitality, mutuality, and justice, we open ourselves to expect the best of and give the benefit of the doubt to others (and sometimes ourselves too).
We rest in being the Beloved. We experience secure trust in believing that everything that is needed to reconcile us fully to God and to each other has already been accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power of sin, evil, and death has been broken – even though we yet live between the now and the not yet. We don’t have to add, earn, or even obey for it to be true. And nothing we do or don’t do can change what has already been done in Christ. We can only choose to live in this amazing reality – recognizing that everyone around us is included in this reality too, whether they know and acknowledge it or not.
Even the person who defriended you after you rainbowized your avatar.
Even the person whose arrogance hides them from their own ignorance.
Even the person who claims Christ while dehumanizing their neighbour.
Even the person who wields their unfair power position like a weapon.
Even the person who refuses to see the influence of their own privilege.
This is enough to keep us on our knees, keenly aware of our inability to be both honest and present to our emotions and, at the same time, live in the reality that extends freedom and grace to those who frustrate, hurt, disappoint, and betray us. O God have mercy on us and make us merciful.
But this call, to be in the world but not of the world, asks yet more of us. As much as it calls us to humanize those most difficult to love, it calls us to humanize ourselves. To see within ourselves the ways that vengeance and privilege and power and pride blind us and distort who we really are – and to know that we are more. To humanize ourselves, we stand up into our true selves, as those created in the image of God.
When we wonder what we can add to the conversation to be first, to be seen, to be insightful, to be witty, to be thought wise…… to matter, to belong, to be affirmed, to have influence…… to be respected, to be honoured, to be, perchance, to be loved.
When I entered these conversations at the intersection of faith and sexuality, as a completely naïve, mainly straight, married, suburban Canadian mom more than a decade ago, I could not have visualized the landscape around us today. Exodus closed. Marriage equality. Transgender visibility. Church dialogue. Speaking opportunities. Book published. Colleague connections. Influence potential.
I didn’t realize I would one day stand at the precipice of a major tipping point in the culture wars – when those who still hold majority power and privilege behave as the persecuted, when celebrations are tempered by sobering reality of ongoing injustice, when the liminal space is so acute people’s ears ring and their eyes burn. I didn’t know when I looked into the sky and told God I wanted to help the church love gay people better that change would come so quick and so slow, all at the same time…… that gay was just the beginning of an alphabet soup population who would bring such richness and such challenge, all at the same time……. that spiritual confidence and rest, long sought, would bring such mystery and paradox …… that I would have made so many amazing connections with so many beautiful people and feel so isolated and alone, all at the same time …… that my insights into faith and theology would be so expanded and I would be viewed as so dangerous, all at the same time, or that I would feel so free to risk and so pressured be a responsible steward, all at the same time.
I confess, that in the stresses of just trying to keep New Direction financially afloat, I compare, consider competing, complain, and covet. I’m guessing, that among those of us who’ve been around the block a few times, that I might not be the only one who feels these things rise up from time to time – especially when the bank account is low.
But that is not who I am and not who I want to be.
And in these very days when the golden hoop seems within reach if we just have the fastest or best, or at least the most circulated response, I want to be subversively attentive. I want to see the lure of commodifying the work of justice, complicit with the consumerist Christianity so pervasive in our context – and resist – for the sake of my soul, for the sake of this work, and for the sake of our witness in this cynical world.
At the precipice of this tipping point, I want to resist participating in the oppressed becoming the oppressor (though I recognize that as one with so much privilege and power it is audacious of me to even suggest), to resist revelling in being on the supposed “right side of history” (though I do hope my grandchildren someday see their granny as a social justice badass), to resist pushing too hard, judging in my heart, or assuming without relating.
I want to live loudly the song of the incarnation.
I want to identify with – ALL who are hurting, frightened, feeling marginalized – especially in such tumultuous times.
I want to strip myself of privilege – becoming more keenly aware of the ways that invisible cloak creates barriers between me and others.
I want to lay down the dominant identifiers and risk experimenting transcending these categories without appropriation (yes, becoming trans* so-to-speak) so that like Paul, I can be all things to all people and participate with God in dissolving dividing walls of hostility.
I want to test the limits for the sake of humanizing those who have been other-ed – for Jesus’ sake.
And I confess I’m unsure, I’ll likely mess up, I’m afraid to offend, and am not completely comfortable with not knowing all the outcomes.
But this I know: there is more. More to discover in living incarnationally. More to learn in cultivating generous space. More freedom to experience. More love to give and receive. More relinquishment to come.
And this I trust: God is with us, we are the Beloved, and we have good news to share!