Today’s post comes in the form of a response to a nice supportive note that I received this past week. I think it sheds light on this long journey I have taken to work out my identity in the rapidly changing world of religion and spirituality.
I received your wonderfully supportive note this past week wishing me well “in whatever new things I might choose to do in the future.” I had to smile to myself as I felt your love and support and also recognized that your language exposed my ongoing efforts to communicate what I am really doing.
Three years ago you were one of the primary supporters of my last pilgrimage when I set off for a 4,000 mile, ten week pilgrimage through eight western states. In fact, you were the one who predicted that I might just find the love of my life out there on the road. Little did you know—in fact, little did I know—that one of those chance meetings on the road would to turn out to evolve into this relationship that I have been referring to as “my blossoming love”.
As you know I have been wrestling with my place in the Church and the culture for many years. Depending which month you ask I may tell you that I have a deep commitment to the Church and her transition in this time of ongoing decline and congregational grief. Other months I may communicate that my true voice is to work with the emerging “spiritual but not religious” community divorcing myself from the frustrations of an institution with too much historical and religious inertia to get it to budge. Back and forth I have gone for years often feeling like I am straddling two different worlds without really belonging fully to either one. One good friend has observed that there has been a homelessness to my soul. He is a wise and honest friend!
It’s ironic, Bonnie, that your family actually mirrors the reality that is emerging for me. It’s not that I will someday figure out a path for the future. I am discovering that I am already on that path. You and some of your Baby Boomer children have told me that if they had lived in the area they would have been coming to any church where I was serving as pastor. That is a reflection of my emerging identity. I am at my core, a bridger. The fact that both you in your 80’s and your nearly 60 year-old children are attracted to my preaching, teaching, and pastoral care tell the real story.
It may appear that I am still trying to figure out what I want to do. But, I am coming to realize and accept that I am actually doing it already. My role isn’t to stand completely and firmly in either community, but to act as the bridge between a traditional community that is passing away and an emerging community that is fragile, but full of promise and new life. I have a commitment to both just as a child loves his old fashioned parents and his modern friends.
I smiled at your note, Bonnie, because I immediately thought of how Lewis and Clark might have reacted to good wishes for “whatever you choose to do in the future.” I wonder if they too would have smiled and said, “Honey, we are already doing it. We are explorers and adventurers. Our souls thrive on new discoveries. We belong somewhere in that uncertain place between the Old World and the New World.”
The truth is, I could not have written this note three years ago. I think you know that. I was grieving over this nagging feeling that I didn’t really belong in either place. I was feeling lost in the space between the religious community that formed and shaped me and my Baby Boomer contemporaries and friends.
But, now I am increasingly comfortable with my role and my place. I think this particular struggle is coming to an end. Remember, some people build cities. Other people build bridges. I belong in the latter camp, more like a Lewis and Clark. I may never be completely comfortable in one place. My path may always be in that space between people and between communities. My role might not be to “get there,” but simply to be one of those who steps out on behalf of the Old World to forge a path to the New World.
Thanks again for your love and support as I continue to articulate this unfolding and winding journey that Life has rather forcefully invited me into.
Brian (a pedal pilgrim)