Saturday, March 7, 2009

Becoming Homeless: When Language Falls Short

"I've got issues (front), some of which I'm aware of (back)." If I were to have T-Shirt campaign this is the one I'd promote. As a matter of fact, maybe that's what I'll do. Anyone want to order one?

I'm flailing these days about how best to speak of God. I'm an incessant theological thinker, to a fault perhaps. I just can't help it and don't want to apologize (not in the defending sense of the word, but in the feeling bad sort of way) for it either. Many colleagues don't affirm this new grasping for descriptions around God to the point where I often feel like I'm trying to become as irrelevant as possible for the sake of staying alive.

I find myself wanting to listen and ask questions more than speak. Even though I write books in my head (as my CPE supervisor used to say about this introvert) I find myself becoming more and more silent and with-drawn into the dismissive territories of culture where life is lived and engaging in honest, vulnerable and transparent ways and where flaws aren't feared to subvert divine beauty but enhance and drawn attention to it.

I'm at a cross-roads these days wondering where I really fit in. I'm completing a two year interim in a congregation where initially I was going to spend my time cultivating an emerging community. I am looking forward to time away, cave time some would say, to listen to the Spirit deep within bubbling up and in new ways. I've been schizo really, giving language to a traditional community while yearning to speak a new language which takes so much energy to describe to the traditional community that I feel I'm always having to explain or defend myself.

Through it all what I struggle with more than anything is realizing an emptiness to a language that once brought me life within the framework of my faith. There are completely new and different categories by which I embrace my faith in the world. Previously it was enough to talk about God, say words about Jesus to get at some semblance of encounter with God. But for what? To hold on to God as if in any way I actually could? Perhaps this is the challenge, perhaps this is the illusion. I feel homeless to the limited reality of what words can deliver.

I've been drawn deeply to the homeless as a compassionate concern of mine befriending my local homeless shelter. This has been a tug at my heart since college, a deep residing concern for people who aren't treated as people, but objects. Thinking back I find myself sharing some of values for homeless living, not in some romantic, bohemian kind a way, but in the sense of longing for something beyond what it actually is, in search of a community who will embrace me in my ugliness, not for what it could be, but for how it is currently in need of being held, affirmed. It is this in-person-dynamic-engagement where God emerges and is felt beyond the very words that can frequently domesticate God.

No word can ever really solve a homeless person's issue (as if their issue is greater or less than my own) or make them feel any better. And yet, in another radical sense, words are the very thing that validate and encourage human dignity. This is precisely what I'm yearning for, a community of so-called "homeless" people who willingly and openly engage the divine in, with and around all of who we are as if God has already shown up our gathering waiting to be discovered. You see, for me, I know through the conversational forums, listening and making space for me in one another, God is somehow becoming present in ways for which "churchy" language, space and time, has created a vacuum. This is why it is becoming so important for me that the very language we reserve for God be created as safe havens of respectful and fragile engagement that affirms the presence of God in our midst. I wonder, if we can move away from language as words that define to language as art that provides hints and shades, colors and hues, referencing fragmented and blurry images of the One creating and sustaining us, one with another.

Maybe what I'm journeying toward is reflected in this word of encouragement from a FB friend: "as indicated in the early christian letter to Diognetus, for Christians "any foreign country is a motherland, and any motherland is a foreign country." Somehow we are suppose to be a migration rather than territorial movement i think." A people of the WAY? A lot more challenging.


Joan Ball said...

Uncertain and facing faith as a challenge - sounds like you are right where you're supposed to be.

Anonymous said...

I identify/sympathize with the incessant theological thinking thing.

Excuse my hubris if my following thoughts do not mesh with your thoughts. But, a thought that I have is that often context leads us to unusual places. Since coming to Reedsburg I have worked with many more homeless and disenfranchised than I had ever been exposed to before. It is rather odd in a town of 10,000 people or so, sort of off the beaten track, but that is the reality of ministry in this place. Anyway... I have found that language is often a stumbling block. I have as do you a back pocket full of words that express the fullness of God for all. But, I have found that often this language can not be fully grasped by the folks I am dealing with. I feel a little like Vizzini in the Prices Bride when he keeps uttering the phrase... "Inconceivable!" And Inigo Montoya says to him finally... "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Ok, I am getting long here... but my thought is that words have meaning in relationship. Be that the old school relationship of a formal congregation where the heavy lifting of language has in part been done by those who came before us. In the relationships that God calls us into today outside of the comparable safety of the church, that may mean the hard work of establishing a vocabulary that can carry the weight of that relationship.

I think you are on to something with the migration thought. I find myself wondering how the blessings of past language can translate, or morph into blessings now. Ok... I'll stop now!
the older balder David

david said...

dave, thanks for stopping by and sharing. i like the thought that you say about words having meaning in relationship. this is true and yet even our relationships will shape the meaning-making from our varied past experiences and how we see things differently. i love a thought i came across once from the disciple bible study from cokesbury that said "it's important to realize that we will come to differing understandings of god, faith and scripture and that that won't disturb God as much as it does some of us." what a great thought! why are we so anxious to domesticate god?

tamie said...

comrade, i am moved by this post of yours. thank you for such transparency, so rare these days among people. i am humbled at your honesty, the openness of your heart. i think i'll be thinking on this post for quite a while...

Darrel Harvey said...

I came across you on twitter...kind of randomly...but after reading here I'm thinking maybe not so randomly. I appreciate your thoughts but appreciate even more the grappling that is birthing them.

ps - sign me up for some of those T-shirts and I'll sell them in my coffee shop!