The First Step in the Middle of a Journey
How does one start a blog at this point in one’s life? Often I have been told that I tend to begin stories in the middle. Sometimes the people listening can catch up, and at other times, they will make me stop and explain how I got to the center before the beginning. Here we are in the middle of a story that has been going on for some time. I promise to fill in the gaps as I go along. If I tried to start initially, it would start, “and then the Earth cooled.” So let’s not do that, shall we?
Why am I writing this blog? Well, primarily, I like to write. It helps me process my thoughts and keeps them from bumping around inside my head. I am an extroverted person, and I think the best outside of my inner space. If I can read or hear my thoughts from outside, I can make sense of them better. The best way is to share them with others and have them reflected me. It’s like hearing myself for the first time.
When I was preaching, I would have to listen to the tape to actually “hear” what I had said, because I tend to get caught up in the moment. When I re-hear or re-read my own words, I often say, “Wow, did I say that!” I sometimes believe that God/the Universe or whom or whatever just throws random thoughts into my head to see what I will do with them. This ability tricks other people into believing that I am way more intelligent, circumspect, and erudite than I am. (Actually, I’m just trying to boost my Grammarly score!)
The first time I tried to write an introduction, I started with a “brief,” well brief for me, an account of who I am and my place in the world--my personal, historical, ethnic, sociological, religious, spiritual context as it were. After reading it, I decided against it. Who has read Oliver Twist or David Copperfield all the way through? Who wants to hear Tom complain about glass animal figurines or Ethan Frome relive his bad choices as he listens to two complaining women instead of just one. Not I. I will get around to some of the sordid details we go along. I do not want to run off scared the first time you encounter my words and thoughts.
I will pique your interest by describing my family in the words of Tolstoy from the introduction of Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its way.” Tolstoy, Hugo, Tennessee Williams, Faulkner, and Eugene O’Neill could be contributing writers in the real-life historical drama that is my family of origin. Follow me down that path at your own risk. And I answered the call of my ancestors walking down that path, finding Puritans and Cavaliers, Norman Templar Knights, Walloon Huguenots, immigrants from Wales, Prussia, and Switzerland. There are Civil War heroes and scoundrels, colonials and colonizers, pioneers and persecutors, maybe a Seminole and a Druid priest or two. One just never knows.
I have also started a fantastic program at the Pacific School of Theology. For a person raised in the southeastern US in a rather traditional Methodist background, the land of Berkeley, California, is a mysterious and mystical place. A place of radicals and hippies, of free thinkers and those who turn over tables. Where the unconventional is conventional, and the unusual is usual. I love it. I am learning things that push against everything that I have ever known my entire life. I am in heaven. My father was a university professor, and before that, a professional student, so I grew up on campus in married student housing in Gainesville, Florida, and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I was a faculty child in the small math department of Middle Tennessee State University when it had only 5,000 students in a town with only 35,000 people. I was in a bubble. My family lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but I grew up on campus. I attended university there, and it was like having your aunts and uncles for teachers.
I am in my second time at a seminary. I earned my M. Div. (cum laude--not that it matters, lol) at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, when I was turning 30. It was considered relatively liberal in 1989 by the local Southern Methodists of the Florida Annual Conference. It pushed me a little, but I am rather strong-willed and had a very strong-willed father, so no grad school professor could ever scare me. Now at PSR, I have moved so far left, from the magnolias and dogwoods of the old South to the northern Bay area of California, all foggy and full of those, well, you know, those people (gasp), which is good, because I have always been one of those people even when I wouldn’t let myself.
Others are asking me to share my story and listen to the words of others. I am learning how to give space to those who have not had a voice. And see those who feel unseen. I am practicing sitting in silence and waiting for those who have had to wait for their turn to speak and ask how they want me to respond in ways that empower them and not continue to diminish them and their humanity. I am learning how to let go of my privilege as someone who identifies as “white” and male. And how to decide when and how to use it in the service of justice and inclusion. I am learning how to embrace the fullness of my whole personhood. In my queerness, in my non-binary fluidity, I understand the complexity of my feelings and emotions throughout my life was never about not being man enough or repressing my sexuality. All of us are on a spectrum of sexual attraction, gender identity, and even emotional and romantic attraction. The freedom and self-awareness that have come into my life, especially in the last six months, are incredible.
So more than I intended, but I let the intuition guide me to the computer, and the Spirit/Universe lead my thoughts and fingers across the keyboards. I hope to inject some humor along the way. I hope to make you stop and think, reflecting on another way to view things you already knew.
In my training for ministry, the approach to reading Scripture, and really anything, is to read it once, stop and absorb the words trying to hear the words in your mind. Go back and re-read the words, pause and reflect and pray on what emotions, feelings, and thoughts those words stir within you, what inspires you, what makes you angry, what makes you sing, and what makes you cry. Read again, laying all those things aside. Listen to the voice or voices of those who wrote and said those words. Who were they, why did they tell these things, their story, and why they wanted you to hear it? Read it one more time, and integrate the words into your thoughts, into your feelings, into your emotions. How will those words be expressed through you? What manner will you share those words with others? How will you share in the experience of what you read and all the content contained in the passage?
May Peace, blessing, and grace be with you all.