Thursday, February 16, 2017

No Man's Land

I used to have a vision that by the time you reached this point in life, you pretty much had your crap together - you knew where you stood on most everything, your plans were set, your opinions had matured into wise, unmovable truths, your kids grown and your responsibilities few.

I remember being a teenager. I remember the anxiety, the angst, the turmoil, the insecurity...sometimes I feel like I'm there again. Except back then, we had the blessed, ignorant bliss of truly believing we knew EVERYTHING - just no one would listen to us... Now, I KNOW that I don't know - yet people expect me to know. 

I find myself feeling less "pulled together" rather than more. I've no doubt that the hurricane of changes at this stage of life brings this on for many of us. We are beginning to deal with aging, both in ourselves and our parents, our kids are growing up, leaving, scaring us to death with adult decisions. Add new jobs, moves, new church, difficult relational issues. In varying degrees, it's life for us all. As I've maneuvered through this maze, I've begun to ask questions...Questions that I think I've asked, on the inside, for as long as I can remember, but never felt free to voice them. In the midst of that questioning, I find myself in a weird place - my conservative friends think I've lost my mind and gone liberal. My liberal friends think I'm still freakishly conservative.

No Man's Land.

That's where I feel like I am - belonging no where, yet feeling deep connections with people all along this continuum. It doesn't feel like there's much space for those that don't have a particular nitch. Everything is a battle these days...and as I watch the battle lines being drawn and the weapons positioned, I feel like I'm never standing in a good place. Where do you stand when the guns are blazing from every direction? From my vantage point, I can see validity in much of what is said from both sides, but so few listen to someone with a different opinion, a different point of view. Matt Walsh or Bill Maher, Tomi Lahren or Michael Moore become weapons, hoping to change minds with their excessive rhetoric. But it doesn't work. It never works. Sometimes it feels like we've blazed right on past trying to change opinions - we just want to fight now - not change, not grow, not connect. FIGHT. 

I haven't always stood here. I've been fully on one of these sides, guns drawn, ready to fight if necessary. I had the answers and I was ready to woo you to my way of thinking with my vast knowledge -- armed with prearranged arguments, scripture and the Constitution - and if that didn't work, I could, as one of my children likes to say, "bring you down with my vicious rhetoric". And honestly, it was more comfortable for me there. I knew where I belonged. I had my tribe, I knew the rules and I followed them unwaveringly (I don't think that's a real word, but I'm using it anyway). I did not feel "other". While I am no longer comfortable with a lot of my well-worn, time-tested answers, I am also not comfortable on the other side of the battle field. They seem to have all the answers too - they are just the opposite answers. It often feels there is no place for those that don't know where they stand on everything. There seems no place for people that can see valid points being made from opposing views.

I recently watched a video making it's way around the internet of Marco Rubio giving an impassioned speech about the importance of not attacking one another in our differences. And it was awesome. I wanted to stand up and cheer. But I didn't. That sense of agreement was quickly followed by a deep sadness, because here's the deal - he can say that right now because he's on the "winning" team, so of course the other side should play nice, of course they should just move on... 

But I remember. 

I remember how many of those people now saying to play nice and just move on treated, and what they said, about President Obama, Hillary Clinton, President Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and a myriad of others when they were on the "losing" team. --(In fairness, I have no idea how Mr. Rubio spoke when on the "losing" team - perhaps he was amazing and his words recently were spoken from an honest heart - but I KNOW many on his "team" were not playing nice when they found themselves on the losing team). The criticisms are often deserved, but never the disrespect, the lies, the mocking. There is a difference in respecting someone and treating them with respect. When someone has not earned our respect (and perhaps, especially then), as followers of Christ, we are still to treat them, and speak of them, with respect. 

People should not be shouted down for speaking up when they feel rights are being violated, when they feel the Constitution is being violated, when blatant lies are being thrown about as truth. People should not be summarily dismissed as racist, misogynistic bullies because they agree with a particular political party. AND they should, likewise, not be dismissed as baby-killing, selfish, entitled, snowflakes because they align more with another party. Yet, it happens every day. From all sides. 

(Sidebar: Short history lesson - our nation started with, and we hold dear, a bunch of crazy people that snuck on a boat and destroyed the cargo to make a point to the government they felt was oppressing them - we've been being ugly to one another for a looooong time.)  

We behave this same way in the Church too. It is crushing to watch when you see the hearts of people on both sides - people that truly desire to follow hard after Christ, yet they cannot see Christ in the other because they're too busy being right to really look. In the Church, perhaps even more than in politics, there seems to be no space for those in between - those struggling with doubts, in either direction. Saying, "I don't know how I feel about ... anymore" is anathema. It's not safe on either end of the conservative-liberal spectrum. The Church, of all places, should be a safe place to say, "I don't know." I have watched people (people that I KNOW, not world-stage people, but everyday people), finally be brave enough to say out loud, "I'm struggling with ... " or "I don't know if I believe ... " or "Maybe they're right about..." -- and suddenly, everything ever known about that person, their character, their faith, their reputation, no longer matters. They're labeled and pushed aside. This doubt casts suspicion on everything they say and do from that point forward. They are "other". This plays out on a national level as well, when Christian leaders and teachers are blasting each other over differing, non-essential, beliefs - all while the world watches. (The rub here is "non-essential", as that list of "essential" beliefs gets longer by the day, on both sides...much longer than I believe it is for God.)

For the last year, we have wandered a bit aimlessly through many different churches, ranging from those that would be labeled very conservative to those that would be labeled liberal. (I hate the labels.) We've had the advantage of sitting toward the back and just, for the most part, watching. And you know what I've seen in all those places? Jesus. I've seen Jesus. In faces, in words, in songs, in liturgies, in sermons. The last few months, we have mostly settled at a small Episcopal Church in Ada - a place that, quite honestly, I would never have imagined myself worshiping. Yet, we have. We sit, we kneel, we cross ourselves, we bow, we recite liturgies and sing unfamiliar hymns. We take Communion in a way we've never done before. But you know what? We've seen Jesus - every. single. week. Last week was probably our last Sunday there and, surprising even myself, I'm going to miss them. They gave us a place to heal, to question, to be quiet. And they loved us every week. Hugged and fed, smiled and blessed, passed peace, a stale piece of bread and wine. They gave us Jesus.

I really don't know what I want to say here, what point I want to make.

I want to feel like I belong somewhere again. I miss the familiarity of a "tribe".

Maybe I shouldn't though. In the wrestling, I've found others that are wrestling... a kinship of sorts, though not really another "side". Jacob wrestled with God and scripture leaves us with no indication that was a bad thing. Jacob seemed to do a lot of growing up from that point on, actually. Maybe this will ultimately be a good thing. I hope so. 

It's uncomfortable here - I'll tell you that. But it's also a little freeing. I'm gradually becoming a little more able to say, "You know what? I don't know. And, for now, I'm okay with that." I don't think God is freaked out by my wrestlings - or yours. 

I guess I just wish we wouldn't be so freaked out with each other.

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