Saying Yes To What Is
For years I remained within the institutional church, situated at what Richard Rohr would call “the edge of the inside.” From my Bible college days I asked questions that had no answers. I did not see things dualistically, black/white, right/wrong, in/out. My struggle with my gender identity taught me this is a complicated world in which suffering is the norm. I was not going to accept a faith that did not acknowledge that reality.
People in the church often became angry with me because they wanted to hear something with which they already agreed. They did not get that from me – not from my preaching or my magazine columns or the seminary courses I taught. My mentor, Dr. Byron Lambert said, “The truth is hard to tell and the truth is hard to tell.” What he was saying was the truth is hard to discern and equally difficult to communicate. That instruction formed the heart of my ministry.
We cannot start the religious journey without structure. We need boundaries to control our developing egos. But when our faith never leaves those rules and regulations, religion becomes little more than an evacuation plan for earth dwellers. Follow the rules and heaven is yours. All it takes is a willingness to color inside the lines. It is still all about you – your ego – your personal comfort. That kind of religion does not even demand love.
Rohr suggests the first phase of faith could be called the construction phase, and the next is the period of deconstruction. We enter this phase when we encounter suffering, life’s greatest teacher. Suffering occurs when we are not in control. Having to stop for a traffic light is an infinitesimally small form of suffering. Losing your work and your friends because you dare to live your own life instead of the one mapped out for you is another form of suffering. Cancer, or the loss of a loved one, is an even greater form of suffering. Suffering helps us see that a religion of rules and regulations is utterly inadequate. For many this is the stage in which faith is dormant, if not altogether lost. In this period we are often angry. But if we work through our anger, we come to the next phase of faith – reconstruction.
In reconstruction we lose our superiority complex and return to Jesus in genuine humility. We understand Christianity is not about meritocracy. It is about grace. We realize our soul never needed answers. It needed meaning, and the story of redemptive suffering found in Jesus holds all the meaning we need. We embrace mystery and realize, as Rohr says, that mystery is not unknowable, it is endlessly knowable – truth unfolding in deeper and surer ways as we live into it. And when the day is done that kind of faith will bring us to a place in which we can accept the profound truth that love is saying yes to what is.
I’m not there yet.