Mystic Mondays December 5, 2016
“I feel like I am trying to find my voice again.”
Those were the words (or something close) of Diana Butler Bass last week on a Facebook post. Butler Bass is the author of at least ten books on culture and religion and a person who is considered to have a finger on the pulse of the American religious landscape. I had been feeling those same words in recent months and especially acutely since waking up on November 9. I had wondered what was going on with me. I breathed a sigh of relief when the great Diana Butler Bass was also feeling a bit lost.
This has really rattled me. I have spent recent years following a call to find a new way to be a religious voice in the community. It is my chosen profession and my deepest passion. I have two religious degrees and two decades of experience serving as a pastor of Protestant churches. Yet in recent years the pulpit has slowly transformed from the moral centerpiece of the community to the exclusive property of church members.
In many ways my pilgrimages and blogging have been my way of building a new pulpit that speaks not only to the faithful within church walls, but to a whole community seeking spiritual reflection and growth. I thought I knew what I was doing. I was exploring the modern return of ancient religious mysticism. I was speaking the language of the “spiritual but not religious.” I was carving out a new voice for myself in this changing religious and cultural landscape.
And then November 9 happened. Trump crashed a party I didn’t even know we were having. A political and spiritual earthquake shook us to the core.
And now I feel lost. What the hell does mysticism have to do with our new reality? Do terms like “spiritual but not religious” have any meaning in this new world? Will it really matter? Is the only thing that matters now whether one is for Trump or against?
And what about that church pulpit that has felt more and more pushed to the sidelines of American politics and culture in recent decades? Will pulpits be defined by how closely they cozy up to Trump or how often they criticize Trump through veiled references? Will churches find themselves even further down the path of irrelevancy as they preach a soft neutrality and half-truths? Or will preachers once again claim that once sacred and honored tradition to be the moral voice for the community holding our leaders to a higher standard of ethical and spiritual character? Will we preach the gospel with no concern for who it offends or doesn’t offend only seeking to please God Herself.
“I feel like I am trying to find my voice again,” writes Diana Butler Bass. If she, who has had one of the clearest and most distinctive voices in our culture, is questioning her voice I wonder how much we all are questioning our voices, our choices and our priorities. She is rattled. I am rattled. I wonder if you all are rattled too. Here are the questions I am now asking:
“Can I continue to write under a title ‘Mystic Mondays’ and feel that it has any relevance to our time?”
“What is my voice now? Is to renew that prophetic role from the pulpit that first drew me to preaching? Is it to take my blogging and speaking a whole new direction?”
“Are there things more important than work and financial security?”
“What are the risks of doing something? What are the risks of not doing something?”
“Shall I retreat from political responsibility into bike riding, guitar playing and family and friends and hope all this just passes?”
“Shall I buckle down for the long haul and commit to fighting a war that feels imminent?”
A month ago the world changed. How much, I just don’t know yet. What I do know is that the things that have helped me keep my bearings have either been shattered or shaken up. I don’t know which way is up any longer. I vacillate back and forth between an engaged anger at one moment to a crumpled mass of nervous, useless flesh at other moments. What felt real a month ago has vanished like steam. A world that made sense a few weeks ago now seems more like a jostled Scrabble board.
Here’s what I promise you, however. I will keep writing. I will keep sharing my confusion. I will feel and experiment and write my way through this. If I am angry that’s what you’ll get. If I am in a fighting mood that’s what you’ll read about. If I happen to see some deeper mystical purpose in all of this I promise not to keep it to myself. I will tell if I am feeling despondent just as easily as if I am feeling tenacious. And hopefully, word by word, feeling by feeling, day by day, it will all make sense again.
The truth is I never really lost my voice. This is my voice. It won’t always be pretty. But you can be damn sure that it will be honest.
Thanks, Diana, for being honest too.