At the end of The Enneagram Journey podcast that I had the honor to be a guest on, Suzanne asked me, “What are you hopeful for? Short term and long term?”
I was caught off guard. I don’t often lean into hope. At least not in specifics. This could be an Enneagram 6 thing, or it could be a Craig thing. It could also be an “I’m on Twitter way too much to have hope” thing. Probably all of the above. I do have a generalized sense of hope, which I suppose was reflected in my answers. Short term, I said I’m hopeful for a trip I’m taking in October with some close friends. Long term I said something about “things being revealed,” alluding to my belief that the best thing about the Trump years is that there has been an “unveiling” of sorts, and we no longer have to wonder where people stand. And, that darkness doesn’t win.
Both of those answers were 100% true. Both are things that my heart is really into right now. But the trip is more of something I’m looking forward to, rather than being hopeful about, and “The Unveiling” was a little too ethereal to be about anything real. Suzanne told me at the end, “Enjoy your trip home, but don’t second guess anything you’ve shared.” She knew that would be difficult for a 6, but offered it up as a possibility anyway.
I did second guess the Hope question. If I had it to do over, this is the story I would tell…
This past spring my church, University Baptist Church in Waco, had “The Talk,” which is what I’ve labeled the conversation every church is likely having, have had recently, or should have. It’s about LGBTQ inclusion and marriage in the church. For many churches, The Talk will be as short as saying the word “No” from the pulpit. For others, there will be a short period of conversation before the church realizes they have already been affirming of LGBTQ individuals and marriage for some time, and they’ll simply need to craft some sort of statement reflecting that reality. But for most, The Talk will be like ours– An extended period of difficult, painful work that leaves a large group ecstatic, a large group disappointed, and a congregation significantly altered.
The result of our Talk was that church leadership decided our building could be used for LGBTQ weddings, and our pastoral staff could choose to perform those weddings if they were asked. It was an admittedly nuanced decision, but since we have always practiced Open Communion and Baptism, it was effectively a decision to open our arms to all, and that our welcome would not come with conditions. It was a decision with a lot of implications, some that I’m sure will need to be hammered out over time.
The further result, as is often the story for churches who go through The Talk, is that we lost people. More than a few. People we love. People who visited us at the hospital when we were sick, brought us meals when we were grieving, offered cars and houses and cash slipped under the table when we needed it. Family. People who belonged to us, and to whom we belonged. They left for personal reasons, theological reasons, and professional reasons. We knew it would happen. It was going to happen regardless of what side the decision fell on. But it didn’t make it any less painful. It’s still painful, maybe even more so now that summer is over and the people who left and the people who stayed are all back in this (somewhat) small town of ours.
The empty chairs are like wounds forming into scars. We will probably walk with a limp for some time, and we know it.
At the same time, something else has happened. Something that felt, stay with me now, quietly supernatural. Those who know me will know how anxious I am of using this language because of where it might lead, but it felt like a fresh wind was blowing through. (I will not speak in tongues, so don’t get your hopes up.)
There was a time when I first started attending UBC that feels, in retrospect, like it lasted about seven minutes, though the facts and data reveal it was more like four. It was a time somewhere between our beginning and when we became famous. Before the Emerging Church books, the record deals, and the youth groups arriving in buses to take pictures of our Sunday morning worship. The best way to describe it was hope without agenda.
I remember an early Love Feast, the communal meals we shared periodically on Sunday nights. There weren’t a lot of us, maybe 20-30 max. We had room for more, but if they didn’t show we didn’t sweat it. We ate in the backside and we were all angling to hold the baby. Avery was an infant and usually the sole occupant of our nursery. We knew each other well enough to note who was taking too much time with the baby, but not well enough to say “Hey, stop hogging that baby. It’s my turn.”
We still asked each other a lot of questions. Where are you from? Major? How long have you been at UBC?
We were real young. Looking back, we were all barely older than Avery. We were still in the phase of life where every new interaction was a possibility. We suspected we had a good thing going here, and we were determined to linger to see our suspicions through. We had no inclination that what we were experiencing of God and God-in-each-other could be marketed and sold, although I think we would have all said that we were living into something special.
I felt a similar tug in my heart early this summer at a meal we shared. It wasn’t as innocent as those early feelings. There were years of experience and loss, both recent and remembered, that made the feeling more earth tone, less bright than in those early days. But it was, dare I say, hopeful?
I don’t know what caused it, or how long it might last. Perhaps as long as it takes for us all to know each other in this new iteration of our life together. Maybe longer. Maybe its because once the Big Conversations are off the table, (until the next ones come along anyway), we can start being curious about each other and God’s work in our lives again in ways we weren’t before. Maybe it’s the ecclesiological (church) and pneumatalogical (spirit) equivalent of adrenaline, where the pain of loss stokes the fires of self-preservation.
I don’t know what it is, but it is what I am hopeful about.