Wednesday, April 21, 2021

We Shall Be Known By...what? I'm not so sure...

My heart hurts. I’m beginning to appreciate sadness enough to just name it up front, without blame outward or shame inward. My heart hurts. This Hurt hurts… 

I faithfully participated in a business meeting this morning, for the good of students and an institution in which I’ve invested years of my life. And we did our business as usual. As usual. I heard a colleague celebrating her baptism, made possible by another colleague and the tradition in which they(we) stand. I heard another colleague celebrating his entry into the Church of Rome, as he named it, alongside his family. I heard another colleague state plainly that a specialized religious leadership degree does not require coursework for intercultural or interreligious sensitivity today. There was immediate disruption of this (potential) exchange, “as that is a larger conversation for another time,” a fellow said, but I felt my silenced rebuttal land heavy in my heart. And then something broke open a bit in me. I realized that probably most of the colleagues there would have agreed with her, not with me. All morning, I sat as I always do with the celebrations I can celebrate and the statements with which I disagree whole-heartedly, noting the contradictions and irreconcilability that are larger than I can hold, that cannot be flattened easily into any compassionate resolution. I’ve done this for years, holding spaces and places for myself in a conviction in the larger human communion to breathe amidst an era of narrowing and polarization. This time, tears. My body aches. My heart hurts enough to allow it all to rise up in me, weeping…sadness...with no place it needs to go right now, except here, my processing, my holding(s). I suspect this is part of the Work needing to be done...

A gift/challenge here is my immersion this week in Beloved Community work (also hosted by this institution). I serve as a consultant to a Mentor leading a Doctor of Ministry cohort in this Beloved Community lineage of practice, thought, heritage. I’ve/we’ve been refining language of documents, resourcing students for their work as scholar-pastors in the church and world… Which
practically means I have also been gifted in receiving texts about the Chauvin trial and verdict arriving last night. I have been wrestling to--able to?--hold more expansive space for these colleagues outside and inside of this immediate institutional culture, for us all to be about transformative work across difference(s).

And yet...

None of any of that was spoken, named, invited into anything this morning, not even in prayer. It was like it didn’t exist.

My heart hurts, like so many hearts I’m now blessed to know, travel with, companion and encourage, honor, learn from... AND I felt alone. I felt isolated from hearts feeling deeply. I felt disoriented amidst the waves of grief (and their potential graces) clearly arriving for me here, now...

Significantly, these reflections had begun a little differently this morning, enjoying my cup of coffee, praying the rosary, then beginning to write before my CrossFit workout at 8 a.m. There’s a song that has been following me, of sorts, with both invitation and aversion, for probably 18 months. The original artists are a group I’ve loved for several years, MaMuse, a two-woman duo with folksy sound and heart-felt compassion flowing and being grounded in the earth. They have a choir, called the Thrive Choir, sing it in the YouTube clip available. I have several of MaMuse's albums, enjoying a shuffle of their artistry as I drive from place to place.

This song seems so very poignant today: "We Shall Be Known"...lyrics as follows, or listen to it here (Thrive choir cover, 3 min investment well worth the listen...):

We shall be known by the company we keep

By the ones who circle round to tend these fires

We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap

The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth

It is time now, it is time now that we thrive

It is time we lead ourselves into the well

It is time now, and what a time to be alive

In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love

In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love

I love the vocals of the song. I love the harmonies, the melody, its lyrical quality woven gently with a defiance or assertiveness that is also softening somehow. There’s a firmness to the song I love, and dislike, both at once. To be known by the ones who circle round to tend these fires? YES. I'm a circle-keeper/holder/learner. HearthKeeper is a name I treasure from 2013. I tend many fires. We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap the seeds of change from deep within the earth? YES. I'm a nature-girl, all around, becoming more and more attuned to co-creation with Nature, the wilding wisdom way...

But for me, I am
not known by the company I keepI keep company with lots of folks who are quite different from me in religion (many) and politics (less so, but some), racial-ethnic heritage (even less so, but some), and economics/class (probably least here, truthfully...which makes me think of Marx).  The company I keep in my day-job holds a history of a root-tradition within which I too stand, which I cannot relinquish with a sense of integrity. But this institutional community expresses itself more and more narrowly...insularly theologically, if globally assumed-to-be-expansive. I am not remotely aligned with these theologies, the rather triumphalist faith practices, more overtly-traditional norms of ‘community’ well-guarded by older white men and those who barter power with them. I remain because students who need most what I offer have to come to me--they have to take my course. 

I remember a progressive student coming into my office for support in a course she was struggling with and discernment whether the school was serving her journey well enough. How can you teach here? How can you stand it here? she asked me with deep frustration. I suppose I could have said, Because I have already surrendered, come to think of it, but I didn’t have that language yet. I smiled with her into her frustration, sharing a bit of my own journey that led me right here. I kept to myself that if the journey hadn’t been just as it was, I wouldn’t have been sitting with her right then. Ultimately, we discerned early formation and being a tenured-professor had way different risks for deep formation, and she did wind up transferring, with deep blessing.

But perhaps I should be known by these colleagues with whom I identify so little? In which case perhaps I need to wake up and leave said company? I’m sure some of those others with whom I travel would say that to me, would encourage me to leave.

Here's the rub for me...

I think the song creates such aversion in me because it’s too easy, and easily polarizable. There’s a whiff of what I’ve heard called liberal fundamentalism (basic gist: so progressive/urgent/wounded-angry-inside that the wounding of others for justice is justified). You're with us or against us, one might say. If you're not with us, you're complicit, others will say. I get that, even bow to that experience for so many today, the truths of both. Except my elders-teachers have shaped me to awaken to either/or thinking, if/then causal statements, that are lashed about in pain and grief today. Those are not the Way.

My heart hurts today because I'm convinced that some of us simply have to stop the polarizing tribalisms. Some of us have to learn to be with company nothing like us, who do not believe as we do, whose lives and politics are absolutely irreconcilable with our own. If we sing along that we shall be known by the company we a good thing...then aren’t we just staying in our silos? So...have I reached my limit? Am I done with living a different both/and into the worlds around me?

Reconsidering citizenship is underneath all of this, for me.

  • How do we face the pressuring judgment of others who encourage us to join only with those they find most comfort with, or those who are seeking change only as we/they see it?
  • How do we discern when it's just too fuckin' hard to hold the both/and, that it's simply time to BE with those who are sowing and reaping the seeds of change we CAN see?
  • But if that...if we are truly known by the company we keep...then where or how does any and all the violence end?
  • If we cannot hold the sacred dignity of every human being, even THEM, and yes, even those who refuse the dignity of all, then where/when does the polarization, the separation, the violence ever end?

Acceptance within, I can imagine hearing. Integrity is known from within, I can already tell myself.

But who cares when the tears come? When it all makes you cry, is that enough? When one's heart hurts so, what is to be done, known...?

I dunno...

Then the song ends with a great line, of course: In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love

Today, I simply have to ask... Does any one of us actually think he or she is leading in love? And if she/he/they think they are leading in Love, is she/he/are they willing to eventually come to know how very deluded each of us is right now about that, in this moment? [The unhealed, sad-angry but impish part of me then wants to know, “And can I be there to see it happen to them?” (not to myself, of course).]

Which sits in utter contradiction with Love Upholding All That Is... I sat with a friend this past week, both of us finding ourselves listening to some questions about when Love begins, how it begins, how/if we know. I won’t have space/time today to give much of that richness voice, but it became apparent to me that while there
are moments in which we experience when love begins, and there are moments when we experience when love ends... is no less true to say that Love Simply IS. It is what upholds everything. It is, whether we know it or not. It opens and holds and creates and invites, whether we participate in it or not. We get to participate, my friend would say. We get to practice and learn and deepen in Love…

...with the company we keep, I guess.

So it ends for today... I got nothin'... No tidy integration... No clarity, really... Except now my sadness is more bearable.

There's that.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for your post. After I read it, I went back and found the parts that really stood out and thought (hoped?) you might like some feedback:

    "... I felt my silenced rebuttal land heavy in my heart. And then something broke open a bit in me." This really struck a chord with me and was the part of your post that I really FELT most at my core. My reaction was along the lines of, "Yeah, I feel ya." I really liked the texture of the word sequence "silenced rebuttal land heavy".

    "... contradictions and irreconcilability that are larger than I can hold, that cannot be flattened easily into any compassionate resolution." This hit me not in my heart but in my mind. It tapped into the part of me which runs with the likes of anxiety and the concept of scale relative to space and time (see also: profound, awe, incredible, fear). I really love the phrase "flattened easily into any compassionate resolution". Skillful implementation of wordsmithing. Personal highlight: best use ever of the word "flattened"!

    "So it ends for today... I got nothin'... No tidy integration... No clarity, really... Except now my sadness is more bearable." I was impressed by what I saw as a lack of agenda, or not closing with "IN SUMMARY" where you tie everything up to make a point. I didn't feel like you were selling anything in particular, which I found to be quite refreshing and most unusual.

    I came away feeling both inspired and defeated, knowing that at least some people "get it" and that there is a simple yet powerful "way" to go. The problem is I don't think enough people care and are just too invested in and proud of themselves/their identity to let go/compromise. Their way is THE way, and that's all there is to it. The problem is, is that I am just as convinced. Tolerance and acceptance is the ONLY way, and I have no tolerance for intolerance. (This paragraph must end now because I could never make it complete).

    The thing that despairs me the most is that although you and I could not be more different (and I'll spare you the details, but our worlds/ourselves differ VASTLY!), there is at least one thing that unites us which is what compelled me to spend so much time (all afternoon) and energy (mental effort to examine and express myself) into something that has no real payoff for me (what do I think will really come of all this?). It saddens me so much that something so potent yet simple which makes me want to write this to you is off the table for so many in this world.

    Let me end with a compliment (I think). I skipped over the link to listen to "We Shall Be Known" (I'm most into hard rock/loud and heavy screamin' tunes) when I started reading your post, but by the end I had to go back and listen to it. I must say I really didn't hate it! :) I enjoyed the quality of the vocals and harmonies and overall feel of the music/melody. I even listened to another song by this group which I really liked (full disclosure: it was mistaken/accidental click, but still, I found it quite enjoyable and was impressed with the song/singing I heard). If you're interested, here's the link:
    The music portion is from 1:09 to 6:08

    P.S. It's a bit unrealistic/arrogant of me to think that you'd want to reply, but I figured it would be dumb not to give you that option, so my email is


ENACTING Beloved Community

This is a phrase that undergirds the work of C. Anthony Hunt (or here ) as well as a curricular goal of one of United Seminary’s Immersion...