Mercy for the pain

 

Sometimes we talk as if changing our views, coming to new understandings, is a cognitive exercise, a battle of aligning our mind with the work of justice.

We didn’t know things, and now we know things – knowledge at the center.

But deconstruction is the stuff of guts. Not like “having the guts to do something,” or like intuition, but like guts – emotions in your body depths, churning feelings, pain and grief.

Thinking critically is the stuff of heartbreak.

And we do it not often accompanied well, this coming to new views and perspectives. There’s not a handbook, and aren’t really gurus. Sometimes someone is raising the question, like in a classroom, provoking the change, but there isn’t always someone holding space for the repercussions.

There isn’t always someone to say, “yes, and keep going,” and “gosh, that sounds devastating,” and “wow, just wow – did you ever think it would cost that?”

Instead it ends up being a lot of fumbling and asserting, a seemingly rash losing of the mind to onlookers, trying ideas out with a few you trust, and then taking them back and wondering if you are in fact entertaining the devil, and what if you accidentally end up radicalized in a way that makes you eccentric and alienated, and why does everything hurt so damn bad like the implications could destroy your life?

Sometimes you put your body in the idea to see if it fits, you step out before you’re really ready, just to find out you’re not sure yet after all and take it back. And then you back-peddle the things you asserted, and you move back toward the old thoughts, just to find out all over again that they no longer fit, and pendulum swing back toward the new.

It’s all a wilderness and is anywhere home?

It’s because thoughts are never free-floating things, all neutral-like, and opinions rarely belong to just you, just me.

“It’s just my opinion,” we say – as if we alone came up with some view ex nihilo and put our stamp of ownership on it, then married it to a “just” so you can’t be held responsible for it later.

No.

No, the changing of one’s mind is often the changing of one’s whole community, not drastic-like, but in increments.

Because those opinions are part of bigger stories that together we have told to one another and tell one another about how the world is. And these stories unite us, hold us together, make us intelligible to one another.

What you find out in the deep work is that the thing you thought was “just my opinion” is actually the glue holding you in relationship with a whole slew of folks, and places, and patterns of life. It’s the key to certain memories and interpretations of them, life goals, dreams, and being oriented in the world.

And so to take that one opinion out of the mix, whether you’ve fully replaced it with another one yet or not, is suddenly the one act that throws everything into chaos. It wasn’t “just” at all – it was damn near everything!

Sometimes, the thing you’re changing is a small matter, minute in the grand scheme of things, a friendly point of disagreement that makes you perhaps quirky and even endearing in company that has loved you long.

But often times not – not with the things that matter most. Maybe it’s one huge matter, but not the deal-breaking kind, but who can know at the beginning whether it’s little or big, a deal-breaker or it can be worked through? There’s no way to tell.

And these things can stack up, one change bringing all its friends and attendant changes, until it seems finally like you might be navigating the negotiations of a break-up, but in the context of a deeply entrenched whole way of living in the world. And it’s not one person, but family, a town, a church, a denomination… Sometimes it’s a break-up with your former self.

And so yes, I used to think one thing – about gay rights, about race, politics, economics, gender roles, body size, biblical interpretation, free church vs. denominations, ableism, ad nauseum and the list goes on – and now I think another thing, lots of other things.

I changed my mind.

But it didn’t come without cost. It wasn’t a cognitive exercise centered in my thinker, but rather a gut revolution.

There are times I honestly want to cry out that no one told me it would be so hard – not for me, not for anyone else. No one told me. And half the people I know have been in their own revolutions alone side by side; I can see this now, when in the beginning I felt so singular.

Disagreeing hurts.

Renegotiating relationships, even if only in the privacy of one’s own mind at first, hurts.

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that, especially in the context of justice, where the pains of my deconstruction seem to pale in comparison, I think, to the injustice I have managed to be complicit in for my whole life so far.

Sure, a new community comes along. You do find folks to align your life with. You do find your tribe. If you’re lucky, you find them mid-change, somewhere out wandering in the wilderness too.

And thank God we find one another, because honestly? Honestly, on an elemental survival level, I need community.

And I need it more than I need to be just in the world. And given the choice between enacting justice to love another, and being loved and accepted myself, it’s the latter that will often win out. Because I’m a human being.

So I’m sympathetic to those who count the cost and think “Nope, just nope.” Or who perhaps change despite the nope, and yet hold their cards so very close.

Tonight, as my now-Episcopal church takes to the Houston streets in a pride-parade float, I’m so cognizant of the fact that three months ago, we were Methodist – that folks we used to be closely aligned with, we are no longer.

And I was a voice pushing for that shift. I was. Because our people need to be married, and our people need to be ordained, and most of our people were excluded from fundamental aspects of what it means to be Christian while we were Methodists.

But also I was one of those who had more at stake, both ways – I need my own door open to ordination, and also the majority of my seminary formation took place in a Methodist context where my now-clergy former classmates are heavily Methodist. After the General Conference decision earlier this spring, I barely knew how to go on – and I’m not even native Methodist. I fell into it by accident. It was a shorter term community for me, and still I felt wrecked at that loss, or at the very least, complication.

And naming that as painful has taken a different kind of courage.

It’s familiar pain, like the gut-churning I feel on Sunday mornings in my home church, where the powerful up-front roles are filled by men, where everyone is outwardly heterosexual, where most present are white, where biblical interpretation is a taboo concept on the whole, where nearly everyone is republican, where most bodies are able bodies, where there is no liturgy and no real presence.

That’s painful.

I was baptized there. I was married there. My grandpa preached there. So many crucial moments were right there.

So I don’t mean to waltz in with some “people, get a clue!” admonition toward justice, as if that’s just the easiest thing ever, to change your mind. It’s not easy; it’s a wrecking ball.

And it takes far more flexibility, compassion toward self and others, resilience, and adeptness with language and connection than I ever expected to be the case. It means a willingness to renegotiate everything – to evaluate, to salvage what can be salvaged, and let go of what is worthy of a dignified parting, with appropriate grief.

There are things to let go, and they need dignity, and there should be grief. If there isn’t, you might be doing it wrong.

I wish someone would have told me what it would cost.

And thank God they didn’t, because knowing, I would’ve never been receptive to the new.

It’s good, the stuff of life. The conflict and the hard is ultimately worth it, a self-emptying in time that hopefully is for the sake of another. But in the meantime, mercy for the pain.

 

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