More than Presbyterian
When I met my husband, I had already graduated from seminary. During one of our early conversations about our faith journeys, he asked me if I was still Presbyterian. I thought about it for a moment, and then I said, “Yes, but I’m more than Presbyterian now.” He thought my answer was funny, and he still kids me about it, but I was serious.
My roots will never stop being Presbyterian. I will never forget where I came from, and I keep the best of my Presbyterian upbringing with me now. But I am also a little Charismatic, a little Episcopalian, a little Vineyard, a little Emerging, a little Non-denominational, a little Buddhist, a little Mystic, a little Catholic, and a little I-don’t-know-what.
I’m in the garden now. My roots are growing down deeper. My leaves are spreading wider. My buds are blooming. I’m adding my rich and unique beauty to the variety of the garden. I am learning to live in harmony with the different plants surrounding me. We are all growing together, and it is only together that we can call ourselves a garden.
Remember when Rachel Held Evans called the Bible a conversation-starter? I think she was right. What kind of garden would we be if we get rid of all the variety and uniqueness and try to make the whole garden look like us? We’d be a garden overtaken by weeds. Weeds put a strangle-hold on their fellow plants and force them to submit to only one expression of plant life. Good gardeners uproot the weeds to allow more space for all the plants to grow freely and fully as they were meant to.
Let’s stop using the Bible to end conversations. Let’s stop using our swords to wound and instill fear. Let’s be conversation-starters. Let’s allow the different voices of scripture, of history, and of today to shape and inform the conversation. One of my seminary professors once defined theology as God-talk. Let’s allow our theology to be a work-in-progress, a work toward discovering together the truth about God and the truth about ourselves because of God.
Boundaries and the space between
I read about a study once where a community member drove by her child’s elementary school and noticed all the kids hanging on the fence at the edges of the playground. Concerned that the fence was holding her child back, she had the school remove it. Immediately, the children’s behavior changed. They began to congregate in the middle of the playground, fearing the insecurity of the edges they once safely explored because the boundaries were gone.
I’m not advocating that we abolish boundaries and play with an anything-goes mentality. We all need boundaries to feel safe and to bravely explore the fullness of the space we have been given. Without any boundaries at all, we would be like the children gathered in the middle, afraid to explore and play in the in-between.
But we won’t know where the boundaries are if we don’t spread ourselves out and grow into the space we’ve been given. Through conversation, we can explore and experience that space together and learn what it really means to be the body of Christ.
I used to be a conversation-ender, but I’m a conversation-starter now. Which one are you? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.
“Went to seminary” sounds so nonchalant, so casual and normal, as though I had said nothing more significant than “then I went to the store.” Let me rephrase.
Then I was uprooted from the comfort and safety of my quiet little life in conservative Greenville, South Carolina with its gentle, rolling Appalachian foothills and temperate climate and dragged across the country to entertainment-saturated, liberal southern California with its rough, jagged Rocky peaks and dry, dramatic desert climate.
During a prayer session once, a young man I had just met that evening gave me a prophetic word that he saw me as a beautiful flowering plant that had been uprooted from my pot. He said the pain I was feeling was from being in transition but that I could rest assured that God was holding onto me and that I would be planted again soon, outside in the garden.
At the time, I kinda thought he was crazy. I didn’t put much stock in prophetic words, especially from people I’d just met, and how did he know I was in pain, anyway? I hadn’t said anything about it.
But I went home and cried.
He was right. I had been uprooted, not only from the pot of my life in South Carolina but also from my black-and-white Presbyterian perspective on the world. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my pot was holding me back. I couldn’t keep growing in that environment anymore. I had outgrown the pot and needed more room for my roots to go down deeper and my leaves to spread out more fully.
Invited into the conversation
So I was in seminary, hovering between the security of my pot and the great unknown of the garden. My roots were dangling in the air, exposed for all to see and desperate for water. It was in that space, the space between the pot and the garden, that I was invited back into the conversation.
In seminary, I was surrounded by people of faith–both conservative and liberal–all wrestling with scripture, examining their roots, being exposed to new points of view, and rubbing against each other in friendly, earnest debate. We were all working out who we were and what we believed. We were all trying on new ideas and perspectives. We were all talking and listening and thinking and arguing. We were all part of the conversation.
I spent a lot of my time in seminary with other Presbyterians, only a lot of them weren’t black-and-white at all. And I spent a lot of time with people whose roots were in many other denominations and expressions of Christian faith. And they weren’t very black-and-white, either. The best conversations I had in seminary were with other students whose roots were dangling in space just like mine. We were all in transition.
We were all on our way out to the garden.
To be concluded tomorrow…
I used to be a conversation-ender.
Growing up in the South, I was immersed in a conservative environment, both religiously and politically. I grew up Presbyterian, in a long bloodline of Presbyterians past, which is a denomination that puts great emphasis on knowledge and scripture. I grew up with sword drills, and I was a quicker draw than most. I knew all the Bible stories and could answer all the Sunday school questions.
I wouldn’t trade that upbringing. I have deep respect for my Presbyterian roots. They are strong and deep. I still maintain most of my early Presbyterian theology and appreciate my early exposure to a love of the word of God.
What I would trade, however, is how I used that word of God. I was quick to draw my sword and fight, and I fought to draw blood. I fought to win.
The appeal of a black-and-white theology is that there is a straight answer for everything. There are neat categories. There is order, and we Presbys love us some order. There is comfort in knowing what is right and what is wrong, who is in and who is out, where the line in the sand is and which side we’re on.
The problem with black-and-white theology is that it is fear-based. Fear of complication, wrong answers, messy categories, disorder. Fear of not knowing, not being sure, or maybe just not being right. Fear of being disagreed with. Fear that there could be more than one valid answer. Fear of losing that comfort and security.
The good and bad of boundaries
Having clear boundaries makes us feel safe. That’s a natural human trait. We’re designed to want and need boundaries. Boundaries are good and necessary.
But whose boundaries?
If boundaries are good and necessary, then the more boundaries we have, the better off we will be, right? We will be safer and more comfortable. We will be more sure. More right. So we create more and more boundaries for ourselves, encroaching on the space within. Little by little, we sacrifice our safe space until we find ourselves…in prison!
Enter Jesus. Enter truth. Enter freedom. Enter fullness of life. Enter fulfillment of the law. Enter space.
The best boundaries we can live by are God’s boundaries, not ours. But how do we know what God’s boundaries are? Who’s to say who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s in and who’s out, who’s free and who’s in prison, whose space is God’s space?
Better to be safe than sorry, right?
Better slap down those who threaten the safety of our comfortable boundaries, right?
Better end the conversation now than risk stepping out into all that space, right?
To be continued in tomorrow’s post…