There was a strange and surprising silence after my blog, White Theology, last week. I had a few readers who enthusiastically thanked me for the succinct analysis of our growing awareness of structural racism in the church. I had one reader, a professor of philosophy, who was ready to go deeper into the issues. But there was no one who took issue with the blog. That surprised me. Generally, a blog that challenges our assumptions this deeply gets a fairly equal response from those who applaud my writing and those who are troubled or take issue with my writing.
The silence reminded me that maybe it is time to remind people why I write this blog. I have titled the blog Teasing Out the Future. That word “teasing” is important to me. When I write I am not naming the future. I am not dictating how you should think about the future. I am not even stating my own position in the hopes that I can drag you, the reader, into my world.
No. I really am teasing out the future. Part of the experience of teasing is that one is never quite sure exactly how the object of teasing will take the teasing itself. So much of teasing is testing the limits of a relationship. Sometimes teasing deepens and enhances the relationship; sometimes it exposes small cracks and vulnerabilities in the relationship. But it always points the way toward where one can go and where one cannot go. Teasing almost always points and narrows the way forward.
I write this because the strange silence on my last blog told me that I may have hit a raw nerve and that some people weren’t comfortable letting me know I had exposed a vulnerable spot. It makes me nervous when I write something that I think could be controversial and all I hear are positive affirmations. I am not interested in just getting affirmation. I am interested in teasing out the future of the church one conversation at a time. And part of teasing is discovering where the path ahead of us is clear and where there are obstacles.
The greatest compliment you can give me when I write is to be engaged. I am less concerned with agreement than I am with engagement. Tell me when I am right on. Tell me when I am full of BS. Tell me when I am seem to be on the right track. Tell me when my thinking has gone off the rails. Tell me when my teasing out the future is deepening our relationship and tell me when I am hitting a raw nerve and better back off. Tell me anything that is on your mind. Just don’t be silent.
One of my colleagues and a former co-moderator of the PCUSA, the Rev. Jan Edmiston, has a blog like me. She titles it “A Church for Starving Artists” and then under the title she writes, “Jan Edmiston writes things here.” I really like that simple description. It is very much in the same spirit as my writing.
When I write I am not making official statements on behalf of the presbytery or the PCUSA. I am not dictating how we should think. Like Jan, my blog is a place where “I write things.” I am writing as the Presbyter for Vision and Mission, but my writing is a way of starting the conversation, inserting some energy into our presbytery, and teasing out the future.
It is my belief that the future of the presbytery and our congregations is not going to emerge from a group of thinkers sitting around a conference table preparing a visionary blueprint. Rather, it is my belief that the vision is going to emerge by throwing out hundreds of seeds (weekly blogs) and seeing what sprouts where. It will come into focus, but it will be an organic process of seeing what grows and what remains fallow.
In some ways this approach is very Jewish. The Israelites are people of Jacob, that is, “one who wrestles with God.” Part of Torah study in the Jewish tradition is to wrestle with the text, wrestle with each other and wrestle with God. We Protestants are sometimes burdened with our “orthodoxy,” that is, getting it right. That can sometimes hamper our willingness to question, to challenge, and to push back. It can hamper our ability to grow.
My Holy Breadcrumbs blog posts are not rooted in orthodoxy or in trying to dictate my vision of the presbytery on the rest of you. My Holy Breadcrumbs blog posts are invitations to wrestle. They are conversation starters. They are meant to be catalysts for an emerging vision.
I write under the title of Holy Breadcrumbs as a way of saying, “We are building the future one conversation at a time.”
I will admit that I enjoy affirmation as much as the next person. But affirmation is not what I am going for. I am going for engagement. I am inviting you all to wrestle with me and wrestle with God.
So, in that spirit…
Affirm. Challenge. Agree. Disagree.
Just don’t remain silent.
This blog is for you. My feelings can’t be hurt.
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades
Got it. Like silence hurts us in the elections ahead.
I love and accept your invitation to engage. Like you, I have always said that I can take any response, other than being ignored.
I was silent last week only because I was otherwise occupied and did not read your blog. I did see a series of emails amongst people who sent your blog to each other. So maybe part of what you accomplished last week was to get people to engage with each other — with those closer to them, more familiar, already trusted for sensitive self-disclosure. It is hard to know the reach of your impact sometimes.
Don’t assume we are not reading and heeding your words. One thing this Covid time has done is to get the Connections and your writing into the emails of everyone in this church. I join you in the teasing. We need to think, pray and play in new ways to stop digging the hole deeper that we got into 40 years ago. It’s only now that we are waking up out of desperation to be the church we should have been. Nice to know that you value the replies to your writing. Thanks for pushing us forward.
Thanks, Bob. Since I didn’t receive any challenges to my blog I thought it might be a good time to remind people that my whole goal is to get us thinking and not to impose a perspective. I am tickled that people take the time to read and see what God does with my attempts at “teasing out the future.”
Hi Brian –
a belated thanks for your White Theology blog.
1) in your blogs, I do not see you speaking for the Church, but rather to the Church as a Teaching Elder (my favored title). Keep speaking to us!
2) in 2009 I had the pleasure of taking a seminar at the University de Geneve, “Theology in Context,” led by John W. de Gruchy (University of Stellenbosch). I commend reading any writings of de Gruchy, an exciting Reformed theologian.
Thank you, Charlie. I will keep my eyes open for his work.
Perhaps the silence was a blessing in disguise in that the message of engagement was what was needed at the moment, not just between you and your readers but everyone we share our lives with. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of engagement.