I haven’t been writing much, and that’s not just here on the blog. At all. School work took a lot of my attention for a while, but this summer it has been just about learning languages, so nothing is in the way that is taking up my writing energy.
The lack of writing has more to do with the fact my writing energy is enervated. And I am pretty sure I know why. It’s discouragement. Discouragement that is masked by a whole lot of encouragement in other parts of my life. But, this blog is about my writing encouragement–my ponderings, musings, intellectual curiosities–when that energy is depleted the blog is soon to follow. That’s why I wrote so much in so many different places when I first moved up to the mountains in 2003. Now, hardly at all. Before there was an earnest zeal. Now… there’s a discouragement.
But why the discouragement? I think I’m figuring out more about that too. Last year I did a big burst of writing and extended effort to get things moving. Rather than hearing a clear no, or helpful responses, I heard vague yes’s or nothing at all. One big yes I heard came about the book I finished writing at the end of last summer. It’s about seeing hardship or frustration as part of, not counter to, spiritual maturity. God doesn’t cause it, but he often allows these things to happen. It was accepted last Fall for publication. But, there’s been very little movement at all since then. A year after finishing it’s still in this vague status. I don’t have expectations that it would be a big, or any type of, bestseller–my experiences with It’s a Dance suggest a more realistic hope–but having something move forward is, for me, a needed encouragement. I’ve much too much experiences with my efforts being stalled or countered–even when they are worthwhile. So, I’ve this variously strong impression that my actual work or effort has no bearing. Which leads to more frustration and stalling on my end. That’s not a good trait, I know. But, it’s an impression I’ve picked up from a lot of frustrations over the years where things just didn’t click as they, by all rights and appearances, should. Amy, of course, is a major and massive exception to this–reminding me that sometimes the door opens as it should and it’s wonderful.
With the book and with the article I submitted, and which was apparently accepted, there are good reasons and delay is often part of this process. So, these two are still good things… I’m just impatient and, I suppose, in need of encouragement as I try to press forward in professional ways.
The other thing that has been deeply pressing on my mind is old church stuff. It’s looking like we’ve found a new church here, and while that’s grand, it is always easier to hide from the exposed emotions that such commitments bring. These old emotions have to do with the church I went to, worked at, and was part of for a long while–which I’ve written about in various direct and indirect ways as I’ve attempted to process all that happened. This isn’t really new thinking then, but with the new church, still having regular contact with a number of people involved in that, and the post Grace, of Kingdom Grace, wrote a bit back about her own old church, I’ve gotten into a mental muddle about writing on church and ministry. The fact I’ve stopped, for the most part, on writing about politics, and was a bit fried with writing on theology for a little while, meant the blog just didn’t have any of me feeding into it.
When I think about Grace’s post, I’m not at all saying my situation was like that. Her situation sounds very clearly dysfunctional and full of darkness in regards to her church. There’s seemingly some really clear wrongdoing involved. Mine is really different. Mostly because the people involved, for the most part, were good people seeking after God–and most of them still are. There was no, as far as I know, major sin involved and no cultic developments. There was a lot of people who weren’t perfect who were trying to lead the church as they knew how towards what they saw as vital. In other words, I still think motives were good by almost all involved. And that’s what makes it tricky. When I look around and I see how many good people wandered away from that setting, and wandered away from a passionate faith, and consider all the possible reasons for that I get a fair bit conflicted. And I think that has, even before my leaving of that church, led to a whole lot of misinterpretation of my motives, my thoughts, my goals. How do you criticize good people who are seeking after God? How do you ask questions when the goal seems so right and good and the methods seem, on the surface, to be at least worth trying?
I was a small fish in a small pond, but I was like one of those sucker fishes that goes around all the pond, poking around the nooks and crannies, discovering what is going on. I felt a lot, was learning how to put these impressions into better words, and I began to say a lot. Mostly because there wasn’t ever a forum for conversation. There was onboard or offboard but not any way to learn more, share more, or interact on a deeper level. And for whatever reason, no matter what I did or what I learned or how much I was willing to volunteer, there was never really any interest in my contributions. I volunteered to teach as much as was needed–but was only asked to teach the membership class. Yeah… that’s sort of weird. They trusted me to talk about the church to new people, but had no trust or investment in me to do more than that or involve me in more than that. And the trouble with that, with my only teaching that class, is that my passion for teaching and learning and sharing about the things of God became, in that setting, devoted only to increasingly noticing the divergence between what that church said they were about, and what I actually was hearing, and seeing, and learning from the bits and pieces who floated around that pond.
The fact is, and always was, that what I was experiencing in my alienation there wasn’t about me wanting to make a name for myself or try to somehow prove something or be a big deal. Rather, I saw my alienation as an example of what I was seeing in a lot of directions, and as I did my absolute utmost to overcome all the usual objections to involvement I saw there was really no interest in really allowing for broad involvement. I was a seminary student, who was single and had all kinds of freedom of time on my hands, who was willing to do a whole lot for no money. I was passionate about God, as far from consumerism as possible, and otherwise had all the trappings of the “acceptable” volunteer. But, no matter what I tried there seemed to be a wall of exclusion built in–which I ran into again and again and again in one way or another.
So, there was something deeper involved. Involved in me, to be sure, and I take full responsibility for my issues that exacerbated some of problems I encountered. But, the trick of blaming only the participant–a trick a whole lot of churches use to great success–doesn’t work as well with me–because I’ve continued to learn how to put things into words about what I saw, what I heard, what I experienced. And while there’s no way to go back and fix the mistakes of the past there’s a lot of need for continued conversation. Only that never happens, and never likely will, because everyone justifies themselves even as people wander all around, lost and confused. This is stifling to me because what I experienced there was just another example of what I’ve experienced in churches throughout my life–at all stages of involvement–and continue to see elsewhere. It’s stifling because even as I know there’s absolute truth in what I study and what I believe–there’s this huge…thing that constrains my passion and undercuts my hope and brings deep discouragement about offering something worthwhile. I was taught that no matter how much I learned, no matter how good I was, no matter what I did good, it had absolutely no correlation to my participation or my inclusion. I was a constant outsider, even as I had the credentials of the consummate insider.
Which is a weird place to be, as no one, increasingly, knows what to do with you.
And that’s all still stifling to me. What to do with all those good people who are seeking God who are participating in structures and forms and pushing people away from God–even as they are oftentimes bringing other people towards God. The bad people might cause harm and be discouraging. But it’s the good people who have always seemed to trouble me. Making me want to climb into a cave and hide from sight–to be quiet because I’m never going to be learned enough, or good enough, or smile enough, or political enough to join in their games. And everyone has the attitude of just moving on–live and let live–“sorry if you were offended by something I did or said”. And at the very deepest part of myself–the part that retains a passion and a covered well of magma–I scream constantly that NO! WE CAN’T JUST MOVE ON. WHAT HAPPENED??!! I don’t want to just ignore the fact that good people, people who are seeking God, can still miss so much the essence of God’s Kingdom. I don’t want to ignore that in my own life.
But no one cares. I’m the troubled one who raised a wee bit of a ruckus, wrote some inflammatory things. I’m the one with the problems and the one with the issues. Everyone else is just fine. Only they’re not. People fled, people encountered dysfunction and chaos and disaster and broken relationships and fruitless seasons. There’s no forum to speak in, there’s no path to conversation–there’s “the” way or the highway–but we’ll grab a beer with you sometime to make sure we’re all still friends.
That’s a deep insecurity I have now. Which should push me towards God even more, and it often has, and maybe still does in subtle ways. But, it leaves me increasingly quiet and unreflective. Because reflection, in my experiences, has been the cause of alienation.
Why would I want to share all this to people who are really in need of good news and need to find a place where they could truly become who God has made them to be? I grew up in the church. I’ve loved God my whole life and have thrown myself into learning more about him and trying to give up so much so that I could serve him with my gifts and talents and efforts. And this, this above, is my testimony.
So, that keeps me quiet. It discourages my writing. It discourages my thinking. Even as there’s a lot of encouragement in other parts of my life.