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.
If you missed it yesterday, read Part 1 first.
Running in place vs. running a race
But if we end the conversation, then what have we gained? We might stay safe; we might feel righteous and satisfied at having the last word. But what have we really gained?
Being a conversation-ender is like running in place. We might be the fastest, fittest, most well-trained athlete in the world, but if we only run in place, we never get anywhere. It’s much safer to run in place than to enter a race. But is that safety really worth more than the risk it takes to enter the race and be willing to find out we’re actually not as fast or fit as we thought? What does running in place really gain us?
Ending the conversation
Rachel Held Evans spoke recently at a Mission Planting conference about her upcoming book A Year of Biblical Womanhood where she said, “I believe the Bible is meant to be a conversation-starter, not a conversation-ender.”
Growing up in the conservative South as a black-and-white Presbyterian, I prided myself on being able to end conversations with the perfect Bible verse. You can’t argue with scripture, right? I carried my Bible with me everywhere because I wanted to be prepared to give an account for the hope that I had. Cursing? Sex? Watching TV? I had a Bible verse for everything, and I felt safe and secure in the knowledge that I was living the right life.
But then I entered high school and began to be friends with people who didn’t live the right life at all. In fact, they didn’t even care about what the Bible said! I didn’t know how to have conversations with people who didn’t honor the word of God as perfect and authoritative. For the first time, I wasn’t ending the conversation. They were.
Listening before speaking
As soon as they saw the Bible I faithfully carried with me everywhere, the conversation was over before it ever began. So I put my Bible away for a while and began to listen.
I listened to my high school friends. I read their stories and poetry. I played their games. I entered their lives and watched how they engaged with people. I took note of what was important to them. I listened not only to their words but to their lives.
In college I kept listening, mostly because every time I opened my mouth I was slapped down and criticized as that-intolerant-conservative-Christian. I began to understand how I had wounded others with my Bible-verse sword, how I had cut out their tongues with it and counted myself righteous for doing so. I had wounded others growing up as I was now being wounded by my professors and fellow students. I listened, and I learned how it felt to be uninvited to the conversation.
Then I went to seminary.
To be continued tomorrow…