Barking Into The Crowd

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.

12 thoughts on “Barking Into The Crowd

  1. Interesting thoughts about learners and landers. I’d hope to consider myself a “learning lander.” But people aren’t always good at the self-awareness thing. Thanks for something to think about.


    • Bill,

      The self-awareness thing is not a place we can ever have much confidence. Hard as we might try, all of us will sometimes speak honestly and sometimes bark in the face of our fears. That’s why being open to challenge from the outside is so critical to personal growth.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Richard Land, a director of ethics and mucky muck affairs of the SBC spoke to a convention of folks at Cedarville University discussing immigration issues. I asked for a moment to speak with Dr. Land about the church in Israel, generally and specifically the congregation in Gaza – Gaza City Baptist Church, an active and ministering congregation. It ministers to neighbors without regard of their faith or absence of faith . I tried to tell Land that the Baptist televangelists of the US are killing that church & the church in Palestine by the US ministers’ rants about the Palestinians being terrorists . . . every one. Jon Hagee, Charles Stanley et al., good people probably, speak without thinking, damning the people in that congregation unknowingly each gtime they speak of Palestinians in their pejorative manner. Land did not want to hear me tell him about the church at large. He’s a lander. Stanley has responded to none of my letters, emails, forwards from Hannah (John in Palestinian tongue). The Palestinians have TV satellite dishes and know of Hagee’s and Stanley’s rants because they love to watch US TV. But the Palestinians see Gaza City Baptist Church (with that printed on the front of the building) as possibly a front for the US haters of the Palestinian people. “It is a part of the CIA,” some of their Muslim neighbors say. But, can we teach our US ministers that Palestinians were among the first Christians? Apparently not. Hannah’s family lands date back to the first century. Hannah’s family faith in Jesus Christ does, too. Hannah has the deeds but they are worthless because the Massad land was seized in 1948 and donated to the cause of the 20th Century Exodus. Landers are not Learners, but they do not know that they do not know the truth. Hannah’s faith is built on a foundation which has been firm for 21 centuries.


    • Bert,

      Land is one of those I would definitely include in the “lander” category. Scott Peck used to say that 99% of the evil in the world is done by people 100% convinced they are right. Your point about Hannah’s faith is a good one. The language of landers and learners certainly has its limitations. You don’t hang onto faith in that hostile environment without a firm foundation – makes me think of Barth’s perspective on what sustains faith.


  3. Thanks again Paula for a very thought provoking post. I have been a learner most of my life. As I get older there’s a growing part of me that wants to be a lander for a change. Thanks to people like you and those pesky kids of mine I can’t, I just can’t do it. I guess for now I’ll keep circling, but damn, after 53 years my “arms” sure are getting tired.


  4. I recently heard Brene Brown say that people become judgmental about those areas they most fear. Maybe the “landers” are fearful of what they might discover about God, grace, learning, and life, so they judge and condemn.


  5. I think when one becomes a “Lander”, he or she stunts their spiritual growth and becomes arrogant and judgemental…a “Learner” however, continues to seek forgiveness, knowledge and better ways to serve God and their fellow human beings.I hope I always continue to be a “learner”.


  6. I have to say that I love the theory of “learners” and “landers”. Someone earlier mentioned that they think they are a “learner-lander”, and I believe that describes me as well. There are certain subjects, many of which have nothing to do with the church or faith, that in my heart I don’t think I will ever waiver on. Then there are the thousands of things that although I may have an opinion on, I don’t feel I have the right to throw at people as fact, because who gave me all the answers???!!! There is one fact for sure that I have LANDED on. The God that my Granny & Papa raised this family on, is a loving God and did not give a single one of us the right to cast judgement on others. I cannot even pretend to have a real understanding of transgender because some things you just have to have “been there” fully understand, but I know that family to me means love and you are my family.


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