I recently celebrated my birthday with a backyard bash for friends and family. And because I think it’s always important to add moments of emotion and poignancy to an event – I asked a few dear friends to share a few words.
They captured almost every facet of who I am with their words and memories; it was sweet and it made me glad. Without weddings, funerals and birthday parties we would rarely have the opportunity to review the world’s opinion of us.
There was one phrase that stood out in particular: “What I love about Tash is that she manages to be a person of deep faith without being a weirdo”, or words to that effect.
Confession: the words made me nervous for a moment. It was a diverse crowd filled with work colleagues, old friends, friends from the bar and clients. And while I don’t try to hide my spirituality any more than I try to thrust it upon people; there were a lot of people there I’d never ‘fessed up to my faith in front of.
Unwittingly I’ve stumbled on one of my greatest insecurities. I’m afraid of being alienated from people I genuinely care about because my spirituality is misunderstood or inaccessible to people.
One of the most poignant reminders was a conversation at my local bar. I couldn’t tell a lie so I had to ‘fess up to being a person of faith with a couple of regulars as the topic of conversation turned to all things spiritual. I watched the walls of defense slide into place as the conversation turned and the casual easiness of our camaraderie fell away. It wasn’t anything I’d said or done, but the risk it posed. Sometimes our history has done too good a job of shaping the myth.
My fear is that when people have experienced personally or witnessed from afar, a singular or communal failure on the behalf of traditional or even modern Christianity, it creates unnecessary distance and wariness between us. Mistrust and unease are the by-product of those experiences, often rightly so. I don’t really care so much about evangelism (that’s an inside word). I don’t care about converting you or anyone to faith. I really don’t. I care about people having the freedom to engage with their own spirituality, discover meaningful truth and communities of expression that support that. A steady, life-long, flexible engagement with spirituality. None of that is about conversion, yet so often that seems to be the greatest fear people have, thus my greatest fear is that people will assume that’s what my goal is.
My goal is simple: he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
“Ask me, what is the most important thing and I will tell you, it is people, it is people, it is people.”
My fear is that I will be robbed of relationship with you because of other people’s bad history.
Still – this is not a story about my sense of loss or alienation. This is a story about coming out spiritual, defining what I mean when I say it. I’m not religious; if religious means living by prescribed belief and without ongoing engagement of my intellect. It does mean the applied force of my humanity and intentional engagement with the earth, the air and the heavens. It means engaging with other human beings and listening, looking to the universe in all her signs and wonders. Yes, I believe in God. I am open to how that is expressed.
A non-Traditional Spirituality
I spend a lot of time with people and in places that ‘good Christians’ aren’t expected to be found. I don’t regularly behave in a way that people might expect or demand. I’ve regularly got myself in trouble with organised faith communities for not holding to the party line. The trouble is – when you don’t fit easily into the Church’s idea of faith and you don’t fit easily into the world’s perception either… well, that can be a difficult path to walk.
I have found enormous comfort in the spiritual rituals of our ancestors; both Maori and European. I have found meaning in the faith of my Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i friends. I have found centering and powerful emotional connection through yoga as much as through boxing. I believe that the world is full of signs to point us on the way. We came to define coincidence and serendipity by experiencing and describing those circumstances. The world is full of signs – from the tui that sings in the trees outside my window no matter where I sleep to the reminder of the ongoing rebirth and rejuvenation of creation that happens constantly beneath our feet while we talk about the demise of the planet.
I believe there is no greater way to discuss or describe music and the arts than to engage the part of the human soul that reaches outside of itself to a higher or deeper expression. I have seen a birth. I believe in a creative power in the universe. Even if our engagement with that creative power is no more than to acknowledge the mystery of it, to resign ourselves to not understanding the complexities of the world in which we live – I would rather that, than to cast aside the possibility.
I am smart. I know church history. I am learning and engage with broader faith practices than simply the Judeo-Christian traditions. I know, better than many but less than my scholarly friends, the critical errors of church polity that have caused so much friction and fracture within communities that should only thrive in serving a wider society. That’s probably why I’ve been so afraid of losing the opportunity to connect and engage with people if I wear my spirituality on my sleeve.
I’ve been struggling for years to walk the line – not to deny my spirituality but also to run a mile from becoming a proclamation-based, traditional Evangelical. The core of my fear is my dislike of traditional evangelism. I am actively engaged in the exploration of what faith means in this world. My challenge, is to be honest about how little I like to publicly own my faith, despite the enormous amount of time I spend with people who don’t have connection with traditional Churches or spiritual contexts. In the darkest of nights, I’ve questioned whether in fact, I am a fraud.
There is much about the historic and the modern Church that disappoints me. But I will not quit it, for transformation is only made possible from the midst of her. I will not quit. I wrestle, argue, get frustrated as much, if not more than those who hate the Church. But I won’t give up on it, because the idea of a community of people committed to the same values of serving humanity should be the most successful humanitarian work on the planet.
I work really hard to not be a spiritual weirdo. To be grounded, relatable and approachable while still exploring and expressing my own spiritual beliefs and journey. Those beliefs are prone to change from time to time, but my values largely are not.
“Feed them, clothe them, love my sheep.”
It’s a paraphrase of a conversation between the prophet known as Jesus and one of his most passionate (and at times, hapless) followers, Peter the fisherman, and those three verbs are practical expressions of the values I hold most dear – people, hospitality, love, generosity and nurture. That’s what I’ll value the rest of my life, regardless of how my spiritual beliefs and expression may change.
So what do you think? Is my fear ungrounded? My insecurities for nothing? I promise, I’m not what you’d expect – but only you know what that is.