Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Slippery Slope

By Anna Woofenden

The core of this piece was written late on a Saturday night in last June, at the Wild Goose Festival (a gathering of emergent and progressive Christians), sitting under the stars at the campsite, reaching to comprehend and process the transformations that were taking place in me and around me by texting a dear friend and colleague. Turned out to be one very long text.

The warning has come in many forms over the years: watch out for the slippery slope. If we dare to question what we’ve been taught, we cannot predict what could follow, what unearthly pit is around the corner. If we dare to question, before we know it we could be... well… something and surely hell and hand-baskets are involved. Don’t raise those questions, don’t voice any doubts, you don’t know where it may lead. I had been warned.

I didn’t listen. I’ve had conversations with people whose views differ from mine. I’ve gone to worship services that have stretched me beyond my comfort zone. I’ve traveled to other cultures. I’ve read those “edgy” theological books. I’ve entered into conversations where I am challenged and uncomfortable. And in January I finally left the church organization I had called home for many years, as a “radical” pursuing ordination as a woman. Since then, I’ve dared to open up the Bible without being preemptively sure of what it might have to say to me. I’ve become friends with fellow seminarians who are seeking to serve God wholeheartedly who also happen to be lesbian, transgendered and gay. I’ve begun to question the cultural assumptions that had defined my theological reality and am finding the Bible to be alive with humanity and contradiction and the gospels to be downright manifestos of radical living. I continue to question the theology and church culture, as I understood it, while boldly stumbling along, pursuing God and spiritual community.

You open any of these doors, and before you know it, you’re led down a road where you're speaking up about the marginalized, selling your possessions to give to the poor, and surrendering your life to something greater than yourself. It's a slippery slope. If you open yourself up to revelation being alive and moving, letting it be more than a moral code or a patriarchal history lesson, then you slide. You slide and find that you're surrounded by revelation. Poems, stories, myths, the writing and lives of Gandhi and Dr. King, Maya Angelou and Rumi, and the mountains, the people, silence, and yes, even the Scriptures are speaking to you. All overflowing with the Breath of the Spirit and infused with Divine Voice. Each offers pathways connecting the human and the Divine, enlivening and disturbing, moving you to action, bathing you in peaceful Love.

It's a slippery slope, letting go of the lines that divide, seeing people different from yourself as human. Let the walls that make me an "us" and they a "them" crumble, and there is a world of humanity to love. No longer can you ignore the vulnerability, the humanity, the absolute sinner and saint in all of us. No longer can you push others aside or arbitrarily categorize them. Confronted by the humanity around us, we confront the humanity within us and expose our collective brokenness. We come face to face with the things we are capable of, for ill or good. We lose the ability to hide behind our self-righteousness or be cozy in our carefully constructed boxes of absolutism and superiority.

And then we might start caring. We might start exposing ourselves to the people in the world around us. We might start seeing needs. We might start owning and feeling the pain of the human family as our own story, a story that we are drawn into, that we now want to participate in. It’s risky, this slippery slope of seeing humans as human. It’s transformative, God being Divine.

Entertaining the idea that God is untamable, uncontainable and immersed in all we know, might just lead us to respond. To ask what Jesus taught and at least play with the possibility, maybe for the first time, that we're actually called to follow these teachings, is a daring and radical notion. Maybe Jesus had something right when he told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Maybe there's something to this command to take care of the widows and orphans. Maybe Jesus wasn't being metaphorical when he told us to feed, clothe and heal our human family.

Maybe, just maybe, this whole Jesus on earth thing, this spark of Divinity walking among us, is something to pay attention to. Maybe model our lives after. And maybe when we go back to the gospels we might find that most of what Jesus was interested in were the marginalized, the poor, speaking up against the oppressing forces, confronting the hard conversations, going to those that need healing, and approaching the broken parts of each of us. We could find that this radical Messiah came to speak and live out an alternative to ruling over others, to consuming, to living only for ourselves. We may begin to entertain the notion that there's something more to live for. We could start to hear the gentle breeze whispering in our ears that there's a force of Creative Love calling. Calling us to act. Moving us to live in harmony. Drawing us to follow this Radical Christ. And that, that my friend is damned uncomfortable.

Watch out for the slippery slope.

Anna Woofenden is a MDiv student at Earlham School of Religion and the Swedenborgian House of studies. She blogs at http://annawoofenden.wordpress.com

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