John Backman is a guest writer whose voice we’re honored to share. You can read more about John in his bio at the end of the piece.
It always stuns me, and it shouldn’t because I’ve seen it so often: the same issue keeps popping up again and again in wildly unrelated contexts. Like this past month, when a lesson I’ve been learning as a spiritual director magically appeared in a story about the Church and LGBTQ+ people.
The lesson has to do with our need to “get somewhere.”
It first came up in my supervision group. (Many spiritual directors meet with a “supervision group”—usually a wiser, more experienced director and a few of us novices—to make sure our work is on track.) I’d been having great sessions with a directee, but they seemed scattered: there was no moving toward a goal, or solving a problem. They weren’t, in other words, “getting anywhere.” And it made me wonder if we were supposed to be getting anywhere.
In one of those classic signs of the Spirit, the same question had been haunting two other spiritual directors in the group.
As we talked it through, we began to realize that the answer was no. We’re not supposed to be getting anywhere with our directees: not if “getting anywhere” means making steady progress toward a goal, especially a goal of the director’s choosing. This is why the word director is such a misnomer. We’re not directors of anything; rather, we’re companions to the directees—the people really in charge—who are working out God’s will and presence in the depths of their souls. We just inform and nudge and ask questions.
In a nutshell, we “directors” respond to what’s put before us.
Sometimes, so does the Church. Recently, at our LOVEboldly Book Club, one of us told the story of a conservative megachurch that welcomed a lesbian couple. No one was trying to make a statement here: the couple simply showed up one Sunday, was warmly welcomed (as is typical for that church), and soon became part of the community. They actively volunteer in many aspects of church life.
Yes, there are probably whisperings about these two women and the life they lead. Parishioners undoubtedly have their opinions about homosexuality in general. But no one has pressed the issue in a public forum. No one has felt a need to.
In a nutshell, the church responded to what was put before it. They didn’t try to “get anywhere.”“As Christians, we often default to the idea that we must “get somewhere” in formulating a response to an issue that hasn’t touched us personally.”
That may change someday. Perhaps these women will sense a call to ordination. Maybe at that point, the congregation will need an honest, open conversation about its stance toward homosexuality.
But their approach for now has wisdom in it. As Christians, we often default to the idea that we must “get somewhere” in formulating a response to an issue that hasn’t touched us personally. This gets us into abstract arguments that often exclude the people whose lives it might change. It feels different from at least one aspect of Jesus, who spent a good chunk of his life meeting specific people, responding to specific needs and questions.
What if we decide to postpone “getting somewhere”? What if we suspend our decision-making urge, put off difficult decisions until they demand an answer from us, and in the meantime carry out the work of walking together in love?“What if we suspend our decision-making urge, put off difficult decisions until they demand an answer from us, and in the meantime carry out the work of walking together in love?”
About the Author
As a spiritual director, an associate of an Episcopal monastery and a genderfluid Christian, John Backman writes and speaks about contemplative spirituality and its surprising relevance for today’s deepest issues—including issues of gender and sexuality. He authored Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths) and contributes regularly to Huffington Post Religion. His articles have appeared in RELEVANT, IMPACT, and many other publications.