Barking Into The Crowd
I was on the board of a venerable organization as we discussed a potentially unpopular change. The CEO was nervous. One of the board members said, “The dogs bark, the caravan moves on.” I had never heard the phrase. I imagined a military caravan traveling through town, dogs barking everywhere because, well, that’s what dogs do.
My neighbor has a border collie, Lucky. Without a flock to herd he eagerly awaits every opportunity to retrieve anything – a tennis ball, a rotten apple, smelly socks. Lucky barks at everything that moves on our quiet street. Until I got to know him I found his barking annoying. Now that we are on speaking terms I realize Lucky’s just calling out to everyone he sees, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!”
I worked in the church for over 40 years. I preached in churches of 15 and churches of 15,000. I know the American church pretty well. Some attend church because they are afraid – afraid of hell – afraid of life maybe. Some come for the community. Others value the worship. Some are what my friend Brian calls “learners.” They see life as a journey, not a destination. They are spiritual seekers who do not expect incontrovertible answers. Others are “landers.” They want every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. The two groups do not always get along.
I have always been a learner, driven to ask the questions that have no answers. I have not always found favor with landers. I have too many doubts, read too many books. I’ve always tried to speak honestly. Mark Nepo says, “Are we speaking honestly or just barking into the crowd of everything we are afraid of?” It is an important question. Neither learners nor landers are immune to barking into the crowd.
I’m discovering most learners are open to hearing about my experience as a transgender woman. Most landers are more resistant. They have already landed on that subject and found it unacceptable. The Southern Baptists even condemned it on a voice vote – a voice vote! They didn’t even consider it worthy of a tally. The landers took over the Southern Baptist Convention quite a while ago. They purged their seminaries and moved hardcore landers into positions of power. Now that I’m standing outside that world, it all looks like a tempest in a teapot.
I now find myself among a lot of active reformers who live on the liberal side of the street. They have learners and landers too. Some of them bark into the crowd. I have to be honest though. I find a lot more learners on the liberal side of the street than I found on the conservative side of the street. They speak honestly. They know what they know and what they don’t know and the difference between the two. And yes, I feel more at home among them. Most have no idea what it means to be transgender, but it does not frighten them. They feel no need to bark from a distance, via blogs and sermons and chat rooms. They invite me into their homes and ask about my journey. They puzzle with me over the things none of us understand about what causes someone to be trans. They have taken the approach, “Love first, and the understanding will follow.” Not many of them are Southern Baptists.
I suppose a society needs both groups, the landers upholding cultural norms while the learners keep it all moving forward. I don’t sound very convincing, do I? You’re right, I’m not feeling all that charitable toward landers these days. I’ll leave you to ponder the reason.
And so it goes.