About once a month or so, Hunky and I discuss the possibility of starting an informal spiritual gathering. We circle around it and poke it with sticks, knowing it’s a dangerous idea. We start saying “when” instead of “if” and then flee right back to “if” because ain’t nobody got time fo’ when. We dream a little on the back porch about what it would be like to be in healthy spiritual community, but neither one of us are ready to commit to more than conversation fueled by a glass or two of wine.
Last weekend, one of my mentors died. She didn’t know she was my mentor, but that doesn’t negate her effect on my life. She was young, and she was fiery, and she dove into heresy preaching inclusion, and female empowerment, and systemic racism and injustice. She made my journey less lonely. She’s why I sometimes sit on the back porch and dream aloud of a faith community where doubt and questions are the driving force rather than authority and certainty. A community whose foundation is inclusion and love.
Honestly, I’ve recently turned away from any sort of spiritual expression, not just the evangelical kind. I don’t want to hear about, talk about, read about, write about or even think about that God stuff. I’m trying to unpin my identity from a rigid and hurtful system, better to not be associated with ‘those people’ at all. What I can’t escape is that I was ‘those people’ not so very long ago. While it’s true some people will never want more than a narrow, exclusive vision, some of us are going to fall down the slippery slope and when we do, we need people who aren’t threatened by the fall, who will tumble with us, and hold us at the bottom.
Welcoming is a concept I consider often. For someone who really resists situations where she has to make small talk with strangers. I find myself daily in situations where I’m talking with strangers, ensuring they feel welcome in a space I maintain. It’s not something I am comfortable doing, despite the fact that I seem to do well at it. Social situations, for me, always come with a degree of discomfort. Comfortable is how I feel at home on the sofa with my dog. Welcome is how I feel when I know what I say about my experience will be embraced and accepted, whether or not we are in agreement.
Comfortable and welcome aren’t the same thing.
I’ve placed a big premium on safe spaces, since March of last year. For awhile, I believe safety was an absolute necessity for healing and self-discovery. I’m not “healed” because I cannot undo the scars to my soul and my psyche, nor do I want to. But like an incision which has been given proper time and care, I no longer need to guard against pain so diligently. I can let my soul get bumped around a bit, maybe even stretched a little and challenged. I can stop making sure I will be comfortable and pain free, and simply be aware of the welcoming spaces.
I don’t know what we’ll do with those back porch dreams, whether they will dry up and drift away like fancies sometimes do, or whether they will take root and grow into something we can’t ignore. Sometimes I lean in, but most times I still lean well away, closing the door on the idea of anything resembling “church” ever again. Except that brave writers and speakers and thinkers and dreamers before me shared their stories of faith and community, and those voices made me welcome when no others did. They provided an anchor in the storm. Even when they didn’t know me, they reached out and saved me.
The world needs more of that sort of courage and kindness. It needs more welcoming spaces. And we have a big back porch.