Last night after the official launch of my website I had two very close trusted friends suggest that I consider not placing the “Just Another Agnostic Christian Mystic” blog as a first introduction to a public that doesn’t know me well. Their concerns, which are completely valid, are that I may lose some people before I even have them. The term “agnostic” can set off triggers in some people as agnostic and atheist often show up in the same sentence and have a history of visceral, un-thought out reactions.
I pondered their concerns overnight. Their concerns are personal to me since I just interviewed for a half-time position in a church that may be ready to take advantage of my experience in coming to terms with organizational grief and thinking about their future legacy. I was aware that news of my website would leak to the church leaders (especially since I included a handful of them in my initial launch invitation!) and they would read this post that included the misunderstood and scary word, “agnostic.”
I woke up this morning and very quickly decided that the blog needed to stay put, but that I would soften the title with the less catchy, but more accurate phrase, “If I Have to Have a Label…” The truth is I don’t actually go around calling myself an agnostic Christian mystic. The point of the blog was to make clear that I resonate more with the values that come out of my Christian tradition (such as compassion, justice, peace, grace, etc.) than I do with any label identifying me. If I have to have a label and if the census requires a short, pithy identifier, then the closest thing I can come up with that would fit on their form is “agnostic Christian mystic”:
- Agnostic because my faith is informed as much by my doubt and my wrestling with ambiguity as it is with certainty.
- Christian because how I live my life is rooted in the Jewish-Christian narrative.
- Mystic because, in recent years, I have come to describe my spirituality as one of yearning for, seeking, and relishing the experience of the Sacred and the actual presence of God over rationalistic beliefs and creedal affirmations.
I staggered over to the computer in my usual morning stupor prepared to change my title to the softer, “If I Have to Have a Label…” so as not to shock some people too quickly and lose them before I have them. I first opened up my email in order to remind myself of the well-thought out concerns expressed by one of my friends last night. But, just above her email was a new email from another acquaintance who is only now seeing the underbelly of my life and faith. I opened up her email not sure what to expect. In it she wrote, “I love your description of yourself as an agnostic Christian mystic…that is fabulous!”
I was immediately reminded of my original experience when I first went public with a tongue-in-cheek “agnostic Christian mystic biker guy” letter to the editor in the Eugene Register Guard. The response tells the story. In the larger community there was an 8 to 1 split in favor of those who were delighted with my creative description over those who were appalled and offended. However, in the church where I was serving at the time it was more evenly split which led to a more difficult discussion since they were paying my salary.
I have lived for most of my adult life feeling caught between these two cultures. There is a whole new dialogue going on in the culture in the area of religion and spirituality. I feel very much a part of that discussion both by virtue of my age and generation and my chosen profession and passion. Yet, when I am in the culture of the Church I feel that I need to shut that part of me off and retreat to the familiar themes, language, and beliefs that have identified the shrinking core of the religiously faithful for the past few decades. I have come to describe it as a sort of spiritual schizophrenia.
I appreciated my friends’ comments. They are rooted in their personal concern for me and their support for seeing me achieve my long term goals and objectives. I, of course, am concerned that I may end up seeing doors closed to pastoral positions before I even get up to the doorstep to knock. But, when the broader community is cheering me on with an 8 to 1 positive/negative ratio, it tells me that the issue is not that I should be softening my language with something more palatable. The issue is that the Church needs to start listening.
I am so thankful for my friends’ comments and concerns. I feel loved and appreciated and now even clearer about my voice, my truth, and my mission.
The title stays just as it is.