Ohio is once again in the season of Dame’s Rocket, and as I drove by woods and fields today, I searched for it. Perhaps not a great idea when one is driving solo, but I couldn’t help it. My eyes have been searching it out for 16 springs now. It beckons me every year, and today I discovered yet one more reason that it calls me so strongly. It is this: I am not unlike Dame’s Rocket. I have lived on the edge of worlds for a good portion of my adult life, and I need to believe that I, too, exist there as a thing of beauty. That when someone searches the between-spaces of life, I will be blooming and showing forth for anyone who cares to observe.
It is not easy living on the edge. If you stop and think about what it really means to live on the edge, it doesn’t take long to figure out that it means that you don’t really belong to one world or the other. Or, if you relate it to the “edgeness” of Dame’s Rocket, a person on the edge may exist partly in one world and partly in the opposite world. Sun and shade, Christianity and secularism, fundamentalism and heresy, political liberalism and conservatism, art and utilitarianism, smoking-hot short skirts and denim jumpers. As I went through today, so many of the things in this aforementioned list reared up and challenged each other, but the one that sucker-punched me was the contrast between fundamentalism and heresy.
It came in the form of an email, an email from someone to whom I am very close. The gist of the email was this: that a guy who has devoted his life to serving Christ in the Mennonite Brethren Church among its youth has been blacklisted from speaking at any Mennonite Brethren youth camps in the future. The reason? He has blogged about prayer labyrinths, U2, dreams, and (gasp!) Rob Bell. The camp director believed that it would put youth at risk if they were to look up his blog, that they may be tempted to leave the faith as a result of reading discussions about such things. In other words, to even discuss these things objectively puts one in the murky places between orthodoxy and heresy, and any person wishing to do so must not be tolerated in the Mennonite Brethren Church.
This comes only a few days after I told a person that the Mennonite Brethren, unlike the Old Mennonite order, do not engage in the practice of shunning. Well, maybe they do and just don’t have the guts to call it shunning. While this is the “same song, second verse” in my own experience over the last 10 years with evangelicals, it is also, undoubtedly, “a little bit louder and a little bit worse” because now it is coming from the denomination in which I first met Jesus.
Jesus. As a child, I loved Jesus immediately. As I understood it, Jesus was the best Christmas present of a Father who was even better than my own father, who I thought was pretty amazing (and still do!). The stories of how Jesus met bad people, loved them, and made them good captivated me. The drama of the death and resurrection of Jesus spoke to the deep places that even a five-year-old can sometimes have. As a result, I went through my early childhood feeling a sense of belonging to a group of people who also loved Jesus. My people defined themselves as a people who believed that loving Jesus and living out the things that he spoke about, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, was paramount to being a part of God’s kingdom.
But over time, American politics has polarized Christian denominations and claimed many of them as its own, even a denomination who used to claim the strongest of allegiances to the Kingdom of God and minimize allegiance to any of the kingdoms of this earth. But now, if I believe in social justice – yes, the kind of Kingdom of God-justice that the Bible talks about – I am suspected of being a heretic and (dare I say it?) unAmerican, which in today’s fundamentalism is the same thing as heresy. If I honestly labor over questions of God’s character, his love and holiness, it is urged by more denominations than I care to think about that I be held as someone not trustworthy to lead the coming generation. Never mind that these are some of the burning questions of this generation.
And I don’t belong in the world of heretics either. I actually believe that there is something to this story of Jesus. I believe that he was the unique God-man who came to bring forgiveness and a new Kingdom that we were commanded to continue building between his appearances. And I believe that Jesus, not man, will be the reconciler of all creation (Col 1). So the liberals definitely don’t want me.
I find myself here, once again, on the edge of orthodoxy and heresy, according to someone else’s definition, but not the definition I see in the Bible itself. I am deeply saddened to think that evangelical faith has been politicized, co-opted by people who do not even claim to be evangelical – Sean Hannity: Catholic, Glenn Beck: Mormon, Michael Medved: Jewish – and rubber stamped by evangelicals who are now toadies of civil religion.
I cannot live in either world. I must continue to exist in the between places of conservative and liberal faith, sun and shade. Some of my leaves and petals are warmed by the sun, and some of them are cooled by the shade. But I cannot exist where it is either only hot or solely cold. To do so would mean death to my soul, to the very elements that make me grow and blossom. And so my commitment to being spriritual Dame’s Rocket on the edge of faith and belief remains. And I hope that one day, I will find that this supernatural purple will have reseeded itself so that there are more and more beautiful blossoms in the wild places between spiritual field and forest. For it is there where much of life’s beauty and mystery is found, and it is there where I am waiting.