The Space Between Rootedness and Exploration

“Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.” -Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts
Photo: Firlefanz, Pinterest

Photo: Firlefanz, Pinterest

I never thought I would come to love this city so much. In fact, when I moved back here after backing out of my Peace Corps assignment, I felt ashamed. For four years, I lived In the Baltimore surburbs as an undergraduate. The world felt big and wondrous. I planned to spend two years in Africa with the Peace Corps and then two years in Colorado for grad school. Never was it in my plans to live near here again. But in 2010, after my mental health tanked and I needed to say “no” to my Peace Corps dream, I received a job at Johns Hopkins, living in Towson for another year before spending another three in different neighborhoods of Baltimore. In 2011, I moved to an underserved neighborhood with a friend and while I could never bring myself to say hate- I detested Baltimore. This neighborhood. My job. Didn’t see what this city had to offer, where its life was.

But then I moved to a quirky neighborhood, that, while not particularly racially diverse, is an eclectic source of artists, hipsters, cyclists, social advocates, a few old white men who never seem to leave the bar, and, of course, your standard Bawlmer Hon. I began going to a liberal Church that particularly focused on LGBT inclusion, learning much from my pastor who is a married lesbian. One meaningful connection led to another, as so often does, and pretty soon I began meeting these funky people in my neighborhood. We made videos on being people of faith who support marriage equality, paraded monthly through diverse neighborhoods of the city on bikes, gathered together for Tuesday night discussions on spirituality and social justice. I biked with triathletes through beautiful farmlands and open spaces. I became friends with a 60 year old Jewish woman I met in jury duty. I began going to holiday parties, meeting more and more friends who felt like “my” people in which I could both be accepted and challenged to become my best self in the community and the world. Sitting on the ledge of the front porch one night swinging my legs up and down, I looked up at the moon feeling so grateful for people and places of beauty and belonging. I don’t even recognize the me who once felt ashamed of living in this city with amity in my heart.
So in June 2014, when it was time for me to move to Washington DC, a mere 42 miles away, I sat back on the ledge of that front porch, feeling bittersweet about an exciting fellowship I’d soon be starting, and moving away from a city I began to love like a mother-nothing-can-stop-me-from-loving-you-do-you-hear-me kind of love. Sure, it would be easy for me to come back. But I reckoned it wouldn’t be the same.

And same it wasn’t, because life wasn’t created for sameness. But it has been good. And now, with a few months out in the horizon, I will be facing another transition. My fellowship in DC will end and I have no idea where I’ll live or what I’ll do. But in processing decisions I will soon have to make, I am struck by two orientations: rootedness vs exploration. Rootedness is what caused the latter half of my Baltimore experience to be so good. It’s those on-going deep conversations with people that only comes from meeting time and time again. Staying somewhere long enough to be able to laugh about an event with a group of friends that happened ten years ago… 10 years worth of stories, tears, ends and beginnings, a history so rich, you lost track of when you called these people “friends” instead of family.
I stopped looking for ways to leave this place, this “family,” given over instead to a desire to not just stay, but to connect with as many people, places, and activities that moved my heart. Some people call this “settling down,” a term I’m uncomfortable with. A phrase that brings to mind homogeneity- white fences in the suburbs with a spouse, dog and kids. A description that creates a binary- that you are somehow “unsettled” if you don’t take on this narrative; immature, wasting your life on the pleasures of the world instead of doing important adult things. Whatever you call it, though, it’s being able to say, “This is what I want. This is where I want to be. This is who I want to be with. This is what I want to be doing.” 

But what about those parts inside that long for new experiences, to learn as much from the world as possible by setting foot in all of its pockets and contours. That discovers career opportunities in other parts of the world that would be stimulating, yet would require leaving. That longs to say I spent my twenties (thirties, years, decades, whathaveyou) catching sunsets from different latitudes and longitudes- beyond travel? That wants to explore everything? That’s had enough of the fast-paced productivity-driven culture of DC and remembers, well, then you can simply leave?

I know this isn’t black and white, but I somehow feel as though one has to choose between rich relationships spent in community versus discovery and excitement that comes from living in many new places-a year here, a couple there, etc.

But what I’m slowly discovering is that space between. Not a cliche you-can-have-it-all space, but a space that celebrates meaningful relationships while also celebrating freedom and exploration. That’s fearless to leave, not afraid of packing up and charting anew, that won’t stay somewhere because it’s safe and convenient, but because your heart can truly echo, “This is where I want to be right now.” 

Rather than watching friends leave, a voice inside you wondering, “Gee, am I supposed to be leaving too?” Instead, knowing it’s perfectly acceptable to stay too. If I only ever lived within a 3 hour radius of my hometown, what does that say about me? Will I have missed out on some grand experience every young adult is supposed to have before marriage and family (if that’s even in their life plans)? Will it say I haven’t ventured out far enough?

Maybe, maybe not. But I won’t base the quality of these years on where I did or did not live. Maybe I’m never meant to officially move outside this 160 mile radius. Maybe the only time I will have wasted is time spent being somewhere, not fully there. That forgot to recognize this rootedness-exploration pendulum looks different for each person. Perhaps it looks like leaving before you can talk yourself out of it. Perhaps it’s staying engaged in a community and place you love, while feeding your heart’s longing for exploration through travel and diverse friendships, staying far from ritzy hotels and tourists traps and getting lost instead in people’s stories, culture, and off-beaten paths that await. Perhaps it looks like leaving and staying in touch. That setting aside money for a plane ticket back to the city and people you love once or twice a year is a worthy investment. Perhaps it’s simply the orientation that nothing is supposed to stay exactly the same.

I wrestle with this space, this space I know actually exists if your heart really wants to find it. I treasure this space. I celebrate this space.

Where are you going next? Where will your final resting place on Earth be? I can’t tell you that. Where will your friends go, your family, those you met on past travels? Will you ever be able to pinpoint on a map where “home” is anymore? Can’t tell you that either. I can only ask my soul, your soul, to open your hands wide enough to prepare for when that next step comes, that always-hard-at-first moment of transition. To look up at the sunset no matter what latitude or longitude you find yourself gazing from, and find it beautiful. To create community wherever you go, especially by vulnerably speaking your musings and experiences while listening to others as they do the same. Our hearts are big. But they’re also small when you compare it to our limbs and bones. The world is huge. But it’s small enough that there’s room enough in your big heart to hold the people who make it beautiful to you, and as your world expands, the people inside will squeeze in tighter, but in an sacred embrace they wouldn’t experience otherwise. Root. Unroot. Re-root. Transplant. Sprout. Or leave the ground altogether. And treasure that blessed space between.

I’ll see you between the water and the ledge.

mel cliff jump

Photo: MO 2010

 

 

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When You Don’t Know What You Believe Anymore. (Finding Community in the Midst of Uprootedness)

I was on the phone with a friend last night who was describing, through tears, the confusing, sometimes lonely, often uncertain journey of re-evaluating your faith. When you’re figuring out what you really believe versus what you’ve been taught to believe. When you have more questions than answers. When you see more grey than black and white. When you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere. I found glimpses of my story in my friend’s story and thought back to a time about a year and a half ago. It was quite a lonely time and I felt this innate desire to be understood; for just one person to say, “Yes, I’ve wondered about that too…”
Eventually, I would come to understand these feelings better through Ed Cyzewski’s “Divided We Unite” (free PDF version found here).

“For some of us who have been rooted in one spot for a while, sometimes the old answers and ways of doing things stop making sense. ‘Transplants’ are often in vulnerable positions, as they don’t feel like they fit anywhere, their beliefs have been shaken in some way… [One problem transplants may have] is they sometimes rush into something new without dealing with their previous hurts and disappointments. I saw this a lot with folks who were disappointed by the church and then jumped right into house churches or emerging churches without seeking healing first.”

Transplant! A-ha. It was the word I had been looking for but couldn’t put my finger on. A season of uprootedness is where I’ve been since my senior year of college, when the teachings of the Evangelical world didn’t fit in with how I understood gender, sexuality, salvation, and social justice. I’m still in “transplant.” And that’s ok. It’s nice here; I’ve finally found some fellow flowers in the field and know I’m not alone anymore.

This conversation with my friend brought back visceral memories of the past year and a half, when I was just beginning to verbalize my discontentment with “Christianity as usual.” I was only just starting to write out my truest feelings through a new outlet I created- this blog. I was only just beginning to speak up and share my truest feelings and opinions around other believers, as I didn’t want to ruffle too many feathers; rather, I just wanted to somehow arrive at a semblance of settledness and peace about my faith and wanted to get there as placidly as possible- you know, just kind of slide out of the back doors of former Churches and Christian groups and enter into an unprecedented dawning of a new era in my faith: freedom. Of having a voice without fear of being choked for voicing a different perspective, another way of living faith, another way of trying to love a God I can’t understand completely, but long to know deeply; a God I revere, but will no longer appease with praises and prayers that are null of the complete struggles I have with the Bible- with its violence and oppression of women– and gender, and Heaven and Hell and all the other stuff that I needed to be freed from and hash out with none other than my Maker.
Somewhere during this time span, God gave me an invaluable gift of freedom that I’m still exploring. The girl who finally left the “non-denom world” (Christianese for Churches that aren’t affiliated with any particular denomination and usually consider themselves Evangelical) for the United Church of Christ (and trembled the whole way, wondering when an Evangelical was going to tell me that denominations were bad or that the UCC is too liberal). The girl who was almost too afraid to post “6 reasons why I support question 6” for fear of retaliation from former conservative acquaintances became the girl who would speak at the UCC about how the church can be proponents of recognizing the imago dei in all by supporting marriage equality. I have much work to do on this road to freedom, but the familiar tears of my friend reminded me of the faith metamorphosis I’ve been through this year, as God brought some fellow stumbling, bumbling (whatever that means anyway) folks who love God and love people and don’t care for the dogma of anything else that takes away from this love. In my desperation, God brought such people into my life and they have shown me that I’m not alone; that there are more of us out there than we think.

So where are you right now? Have you ever been in a place where you weren’t sure what you believed and struggled to reconcile what you’ve been taught about Christian faith with what your experiences have been outside of the confined walls of doctrine and “shoulds?” Are you in that place now?
Hang on.
Reach out.
Speak up.
And find us out here in these open spaces…

Have you been through uprootedness before? Go reach out to someone who’s currently experiencing this. You remember how vulnerable and shaky it feels when your whole faith world gets thrown upsidedown. So go have that conversation. Go get that coffee. Go on that walk. And find a way to remind a fellow brother/sister/soon-to-be-friend that they aren’t the only one who feels this way.

Because no matter where we are in our faith journeys, we need each other. We need to know we’re not alone with our thoughts. With our questions. With our inability to sit still, hands folded on our laps, seated at our pews, secretly dying inside to a faith that is out of touch with reality, that’s not listening (just shouting), and that’s not loving (just pointing fingers).
We all need to know that we can love our God even if we want to release some of the things we were taught to believe about Christianity. And may we always come to know, deep, within our core, that there is and always will be room for us all at the table.
Come.
You may have heard you won’t belong if you doubt, or you won’t be “in,” if you question the way you do. But hear it crystal clear: you do belong. So come; have a seat. Or, if you’ve been sitting for way too long and need a fine place to stand, find your space to stand. Or run. Or cartwheel upon these endless fields of freedom. Come. There’s room for you. You’ll figure out what you believe in time. You don’t have to have it all figured out now. In the meantime, we’ll be here, in the muck and mire and mess and in the starting over and the joy, with you, beside you, learning with you, growing with you, questioning with you, passing around the cup and the bread and the Kingdom will Come, oh if but a taste of it in the now, and also in the forever and ever. Yes, yes, amen.
go out into the highways