Through A Glass Darkly: A Celtic Perspective

Beautiful thoughts on perspective…

Tadhg Talks...

20170703 THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY PERSPECTIVEDoes Channel 4 tv station still use the ‘4’ logo that is made up of disparate parts that change the whole of the logo depending on how you view it? And, as the camera moves around it, the jumble of parts suddenly becomes the number ‘4’, but only for a second or two, and then it’s just a jumble again as the camera moves on.

‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.’ 1 Corinthians 13:12, The Book

Perspective is all important.

I once ‘accidently’ got into a discussion with someone who wanted to convince me that the sun and moon were the same size, because during a total eclipse the moon exactly covers the face of the sun. I talked to them about perspective, and that the…

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Spiritual Abuse: Is It Real?

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A basic, working model of spiritual struggle and suffering (E.Thomas, 2017)

It can be disquieting for me to hear that my belief systems have caused people deep and abiding damage to their cores. It can be so disquieting and disturbing that I cannot accept that what has brought me light and life has brought death and destruction to someone else. Thus, I blame the “victim” and carry on with life. Some people, apparently, need more time to wake up and be enlightened. Or to be saved. Or to walk a better path. Or pray harder. Or get a grip. Or read better science. Or let go more.

I’ve taken a long time to post about this particular subject because: 1) I’m still grappling with the effects of what I would term as spiritual abuse and trauma, and 2) there is so little research out there to really look to.

The reality that there is less research devoted to spiritual abuse and trauma over and above other more visible abuses is alarming. To me that suggests a few possibilities: 1) we still believe it doesn’t really exist (despite some loud voices crying out for the dismantling of religious and spiritual circles; why is that?); 2) we don’t know what it really looks like or how to address it; 3) we don’t want our personal beliefs tampered with. After all, if a good thing has transformed my life, how could someone else possibly dare to question it as abusive or threatening? If a good thing that has helped me in my life is determined to be abusive for someone else, then I potentially become a part of an abusive cycle which is something I did not sign up for me.

This post is just an introductory one that will offer some basic, working definitions. Over the next while I hope to delve more deeply into the subject, gaining better understandings and insights into my own life, into the lives of others individually and culturally.

The short answer: yes, spiritual trauma is real. Period.

Here’s the longer answer:

Spiritual Abuse: Spiritual abuse has been defined as “a kind of abuse which damages the central core of who we are. It leaves us spiritually discouraged and emotionally cut off from the healing love of God.” Another definition of spiritual abuse is “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining, or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment.” (Nicloy, 2006). Nicloy goes to say that he doesn’t believe that most perpetrators actually believe they are doing harm, and in fact might be unaware of the damage they are doing.

The NACR (2017) breaks this definition down into further specifics by addressing the abuse of children’s emerging spirituality damaging their sense of self, sexual abuse in connection with a clerical figure, the use of spiritual truths or sacred texts to keep people in submission or dangerous situations, the abuse of religious figures by congregations, religious coercion (cults), invoking divine authority in order to generate specific behaviour (I’ve been told to pray more because I am anxious about my soul; then God will accept me), placing undue burdens on people with less authority. (Jeff VanVonderan)

This is a broad area. However we need to understand that whenever we are talking about the core of our beings being violated or damaged, these violations and damages have some of the greatest potential to impact the rest of who we are. This is so not only because these wounds are specifically directed at the core of who we are, but because they include the Divine Source of life and love (whoever or whatever that Source is for a person). Couple them together and suddenly the one Source who is to be trusted and loved above all else becomes a monster, a judge, a distant force without care, or a figure that perhaps even wants us to suffer.

Spiritual Trauma: “Spiritual trauma is, essentially, the violation of the sacred or spiritual core in human beings, harm at the innermost level. What constitutes the sacred core in human beings—what exactly is this spiritual core?…There is one thing that most human beings would agree on as located at the core of our beings; and most religious traditions would label as the spiritual core of human beings—and that is the child-like yet profound expectation that good and not harm will come to us. When this is violated then we have suffered an injury to our spirit; at the extreme, this expectation that good will come to us is replaced by what Philip Roth refers to as the “wisdom of someone who has no expectations.” (Kruk, UofBC).

Let me clear: as far as I know at this point, spiritual abuse and spiritual trauma are intimately connected (see diagram above), but are also separate experiences. Abuse can certainly lead to trauma, but like other forms of abuse it does not always cause a traumatic degree of angst.

On the flip side, not all spiritual trauma is caused by spiritual abuse. We all walk through dark nights of the soul that can be brought on by anything that we experience. We all ask questions around meaning, around purpose, around death and dying, around the existence of a higher being, and around what happens to us after we die. When we receive incomplete, incoherent, incomprehensible answers, or even silence, our spirits experience traumas that are real, valid, and in need of healing.

Spiritual Harm: this definition is a little murky as I could find only vague references to it. If I’m understanding the term correctly, it specifies the intent to harm under the umbrella of abuse or trauma. If a spiritual leader knows they are acting abusively, and even desiring to do so, this is harm. However I am leaving this definition at that as I need to delve into it more substantially.

Spiritual Distress: this is a normal process that every human being walks through during the courses of our lives. As I mentioned in the trauma section, we all ask deep, abiding questions that shape the core of who we are as humans in relation to what is greater than ourselves. Our journeys through these questions can cause no small amount of distress! However, there may or may not be external forces/influences causing harm or abuse to our inner selves.

With all of this being said, how do we discern what is abuse? What is trauma? What is harm? And what is distress? They are all so closely connected that all four could be present in a person’s life, or perhaps only one. I have no solid answers for myself at this point other than to look to my own life and see how these experiences have shaped me and impacted me.

For example, a consistent theme preached from the pulpit while I was growing up was that “my sinful self was so abhorrent to God that God couldn’t stand to look at me unless it was through the lens of Jesus.”

I want to be careful here.

Remember when I said what one person would consider abusive is still someone else’s salvation message? I’m not here to coddle people who still hold strongly to these beliefs, but I do wish to try and be respectful in my communication. In the end, however, I need to honest with my truth.

This is abuse.

In the myriad of Christian traditions, we espouse to be in relationship with a God of love. Not only that, but many Christian denominations trust that God IS Love — the Source, the Essence, the Being of Love Itself, Love Incarnate.

And yet…Love can’t stand to look at me because of how I was created by this Love?

Self-esteem aside, I learned that self-compassion was not acceptable as it was a selfish act. I needed to feel as bad about myself as I possibly could because without understanding how depraved I was, I wouldn’t be able to understand the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

I had to love the Love of the Universe who hated me until this Love killed his own kid.

I’m not here to debate penal substitutionary atonement theory, although I will say it is a dominant belief in evangelical circles still even today. To question it is to question one’s identity as a Christian. It can be seen as a threatening thing to do at times.

As a child hearing these messages, the religious dissonance led to religious schizophrenia. These weren’t mystical paradoxes to be wrestled with for all time. These were (and are, I believe) abusive statements that caused deep and scarring wounds to the innermost parts of who I was. Except for Jesus, I was unlovable. And yet no matter how hard I held on to Jesus, I couldn’t love myself, fully love others, and especially God.

Truthfully, I wanted to destroy myself.

Were the preachers and teachers who passed this doctrine on out to get me or hurt me? Likely not. They have no idea the harm they caused to me, to themselves, and to the many others they shared this teaching with. No idea.

But that doesn’t make it any less damaging. The ripple effects of this one teaching alone helped set me on a course of mental health issues, damaged self-esteem, violence towards myself, and an inability to really connect with God — the real God of Love who was trying to call through that miasma of fear, loathing, and terror.

I could go into numerous concrete events that I would classify as abusive, but I will save those stories for another day. I hope we can walk this journey gently together. Healing takes so many forms and my prayer is that all of us of who know we have been abused, harmed, traumatized, or distressed will find solace with one another and reconciliation with the truth and love about God.

 

Dear Jean: Water and Innocence

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The Alberta Provincial Legislature Grounds, Erin R. Thomas, 2017

Dear Jean,

It’s been an age since I’ve written to you. I’ve been remiss. I listen to your talks and read your books, and I would love one day to meet you. I’m sure enough pilgrims wander towards L’Arche already, however, that you likely don’t need this reluctant mystic tugging at your sleeve. Still, I wanted to offer up an experience I had last night that transformed my own world a little bit, even as it was transformative for the whole world.

I was walking what had become my usual loop around Edmonton’s River Valley, up to Alberta’s Provincial Legislature grounds, and towards one of its smaller wading pools so I could rest my hot feet in the cool water. As I approached the steps and waterfalls, I noticed something that caused me pause:

Four grown men splashing in the pool, laughing, and playing.

That’s right: playing.

I’ll confess I was immediately on guard. As a woman, I’ve been conditioned to be suspicious of playful men, especially when they’re playing around in groups. Should they prove to be unfriendly, there’s no way I could possibly hope to fight them all off. And why, pray tell, were these MEN playing around in a pool used mostly by CHILDREN?

Those were my first thoughts. Measures of safety versus threat.

Yet something was out of sync with my conditioned response: these men were genuinely playing. I couldn’t understand it. There was an innocence here that I would not expect in a group of men in their late twenties/early thirties. As I sat down and released my feet into the water, I took a second look. Two of the men were acting like children in the truest sense of the word: holding their hands into the waterfall, holding their arms close to their sides as if scared of going deeper into the pool, clapping with what seemed like delight when the other two men splashed each other.

Their innocence helped me see with new eyes.

I was watching two adult men with the capacities of children along with their companions or supervisors or house mates.

I was both ashamed of and compassionate towards my first impulse. There are times in my life when I need to be on guard around men. As a woman, it’s still a sad reality for me and most females. However, as I watched the watery scene splash before me, I realized that I was in the presence of purity, innocence, delight, and honour.

Yes, honour.

I have seen many ‘workers’ who come alongside people who are differently abled than myself who are impatient, bored, tired, off on their cell phones, or have little interest in the people they are supposedly in community with. Yet tonight, I saw two grown men join in with their charges with the same gusto. They splashed their charges playfully and gently; they splashed each other and laughed; the offered gentle hugs; held hands; and played hide’n’seek.

That was the most wondrous moment for me.

One of the men hid managed to hide behind the small waterfall, laughing that his worker couldn’t see him. His worker played right along, pretending to try and grab the man through the water, and the man behind the water laughed and laughed and laughed. It was such a huge delight for them both to be able to play freely, openly, and honestly. Men don’t play like this, do they? Men haven’t been taught they are allowed to play like this…have they?

When did I become so protective and cynical?

It was a hot day yesterday, so naturally many people drifted towards the Legislature grounds’ wading pools. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if I wandered there at just such a times to witness the play of four grownup men. Until I saw it, I didn’t know just how much I needed to see it.

I saw the giving and receiving of gifts: the gifts of laughter, of play, of respect, of childlikeness, of celebration, of openness, and unashamedness, and of time. The two childlike men clapped and laughed, splashed and laughed some more. The two workers, to me, saw the humanity in their charges and were able to respond to the divine love in them. The childlike men weren’t just jobs, they weren’t just ‘cases’ to be worked. They were people. Humans created in a divine image.

And this honouring of the divine came out in the form of uninhibited play.

Once I whispered the word uninhibited, I realized I was smiling. Their gifts to each other were resonating not only with me, but with every other person splashing around in that pool. As they began to get out and dry off, one man stood facing the waterfall, arms outspread, and jumped up and down in the water simply delighting in the spray, the setting sun, and the entire experience. He was wholly joyous and wholly present.

Once they left that part of the pool, a small child ran in and stood facing the waterfall, arms outspread, and jumped up and down in the water simply delighting in the spray, the setting sun, and the entire experience. She was wholly joyous and wholly present.

To whomever these people are, I thank you. Your gifts of celebration of one another in freedom and play released me to see with new eyes. What better gift could be offered? What better gift could I learn to receive?

Until next time, Jean,

Erin

Listening Without Needing To Be Heard

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Erin R. Thomas, 2017

I wrote a blog post for The Boost Collaborative Breakfast Club on the need to mentor youth in the spiritual discipline of deeper listening. By helping kids to want to create safer spaces and to want to listen to the people around them, we can support their efforts in navigating a increasingly polarized world filled with rhetoric.

Check it out…

People Aren’t Flies: How Youth Can Listen Without Needing to Be Heard

What Evil, Then? What Evil?

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16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2)

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3)

What evil, God?

What evil, snake?

Eden was perfection, was it not? At least, that’s what I was taught. What evil was there to see if Eve took a bite? In a paradise, what darkness was present for the humans to even bear witness to? What did you know then that our theologians don’t know now?

For if Eden was such a pinnacle of perfection, and humanity it’s pure tip, then there would have been no evil to know, much less speak of. All Adam and Eve would have seen would have been more life. Evil was not known in this world, was it?

Was it?

God, you separated the waters from the waters — tehom. The abyss. The chaos waters. The flood. What dwelled in those waters that you needed to create holy space away from them?

Darkness?

Chaos?

Evil?

It’s a perplexing notion, snake, that you would tempt Eve with knowing good and evil when evil supposedly didn’t exist. You, snake, are not Lucifer — even if you pretend to be. Rather you’re only a crafty animal. Do you know the answer: what evil was there for the first humans to know if there was supposedly no evil present?

Ahhhh, there’s a speck on our tepid theology.

We’ve become so lukewarm, so numb, to the traditional tellings that we lack the ability to question such glaring wonderings. From what I see, all Adam and Eve would have been able to see in the garden, after imbibing forbidden fruit, was more life. If evil truly didn’t exist in Eden, it would have needed to exist outside of Eden — or outside of space and time — for them to have any knowledge of it.

If this is so, then Eden was not perfection. Eden was not God’s prescriptive ideal for humanity. Oh what a fall…we have idolized Eden, clinging to being “very good” as our return to innocence, when all along you, God, had a greater plan and a greater story.

How limited our vision and insight.

For the fruit to have been forbidden at all, evil needed to have already been present in the Garden.

And so it was.

But that’s not what we tell ourselves.

And we strive so hard to return to a place that never existed in the beginning.

The question is: where do we go now?

 

I Have Father’s Smile

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Dad & I celebrating Fathers’ Day at The High Level Diner. He paid. 😉 

I have my dad’s smile.

It was a common refrain for me to hear growing up: “You look so much like your dad!”

And it’s true.

I have his eyes, his hair (all on my head, thank goodness; he can keep the beard), his bone structure and body type, and even his sinuses (ask both parents how many times they nursed me through horrible bouts of sinusitis growing up). If ever I claimed to be adopted, people would simply do a quick scan of dad and the jig was up. Without a doubt, I am my father’s daughter.

Did I mention I have his smile?

However, I didn’t inherit my dad’s teasing sense of humour. What I seemed to have developed all on my own was a dangerous seriousness towards life. Oh sure I could laugh at funny things (when I chose to), and there were certainly enough of those moments in our family growing up. However, I wasn’t naturally able to see the lightheartedness of things.

Enter Dad.

Dad is a natural tease. I’m not a natural tease-receiver. In taking everything so literally and so seriously, I was consistently melting down into tears because Dad didn’t seem to take my angst seriously. In trying to get me to laugh at what was going on, I felt he was making fun of me. Of course, from Dad’s perspective, he couldn’t understand why this child wasn’t able to shrug off life’s left curves and laugh at the darkness. He was trying to help me! And suddenly his eldest child was in a puddle wanting nothing more than to hide away in her room.

Oh life.

We even had a song for Dad when Mom was sensing the teasing was getting a little much for us kids. It was from Sharon, Lois, & Bram’s “Elephant Show” (sung by Eric Nagler as a guest performer), and it became a family mantra:

Daddy stop teasing, it’s not very pleasing
It’s always confusing when you don’t know what’s true.
I know that you love me, and that’s why you do it,
but Daddy stop teasing whatever you do.

Mom always tells me that the major reason she fell in love with Dad in the beginning was because of his ability to make her laugh. Mom’s a serious person, too, but she was able to learn to laugh with Dad. He wasn’t making fun of her (most of the time 😉 ), and he definitely never berated her. He was simply able to inject good humour into any given situation, and through that was able to express love and affection. Healthy families need to laugh together if we’re going to survive whatever’s thrown at us, done to us, or given to us.

It is a beautiful and necessary gift, this thing of laughter.

It was just that I seemed not to have inherited that gift beyond the smile. It’s been something I’ve had to learn and hone over the years. I’m still a terribly serious person — even when learning to laugh. And there is a deep and meaningful place in the world for us serious and intense people (although I would like it if my intensity could dial it down now and again). But when I look into the mirror and smile, I not only see my Dad’s smile now but I can see his humour. It just took longer to grow into than the rest of me.

I even see my Dad coming through in how I relate to my young nephews. It’s hard NOT to tease them! And it is a learning journey to discover each nephew’s response to humour (especially teasing), and how much is okay or when I’ve crossed a line. I mean, what else do you do when a five year old boy marches down stairs with a goofy grin on his face and underwear on his head? (that five year old is now eight, and has the same goofy grin that I love so much; and I’m confident he’ll ditch the Captain Underpants look eventually…maybe…when he’s forty?)

Laugher isn’t my first go-to when difficult things come to pass. However, Dad’s life and laughter have shown me that it really is okay to do just that: laugh. I may need to laugh on my own, by myself, without anyone watching before I share that laughter with the world, but the spark is there where it wasn’t before. There is more of my Dad in me now than there was twenty years ago. That’s a legacy and a gift.

Now when people tell me that I look like my Dad, I can smile and say “Yup! I sure do!”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

A Picnic With Bigotry

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Artful burn after 3 hours of sun exposure.

A few weeks ago, the church I’ve been attending here in Edmonton co-hosted a church picnic. Being a student, I couldn’t afford much in the way of food but I did have a vehicle I could bring to assist transporting people to the picnic grounds.

Wouldn’t you know it: there was a new woman there that morning who wanted a ride.

Here name was Jan* and she was from one of the southern states. Jan was camping across Canada for our “Canada 150” celebrations. Since the national parks are offering free admission to everyone, she thought it would be a great idea to take the time to explore our nation.

It also meant that I got to know things about Jan I wish I hadn’t.

Years ago, when I was in a particularly dark night with God — around the church, around humanitarian issues, around deep questions of identity, life, and purpose — there walked in a pastor who opened a door of light. He and his wife held what seemed like endless space for me as I processed black vitriol being vomited up again and again and again. There was gentleness, kindness, patience, and love.

There was generous space.

Never once did I sense that Calvin had his back against the wall. I could spew out anger, hurt, pain, rejection, and question after questions after question after question. If I ever did offend him, he never seemed to show it. Lori mainly showed me how to laugh at myself a little bit more — something that hasn’t come easily for me.

Since that time, I have aimed to become a pastor that emulates such people. I want to be a person that holds generous space for all kids of people, even if we disagree. I want the space to be so safe and so true, that even the most disagreeable person will be able to be fully themselves no matter what. Truth and love in a mystical dance together.

However, this is probably where I made a major erroneous assumption with Jane.

As Jane talked about feeling called to seminary but feeling too old to begin anew, about God’s purpose for her life, or about how she, as a Jewish person raised in a largely Lutheran community, experienced anti-Semitism from a young age, I assumed she needed generous space. I assumed she needed no judgements from me. I assumed she needed some care.

I assumed wrong.

As the surface discussions around seminary eroded away, she began making statements about how hurt she was that we, as Canadians, hated Americans.

What?

We hate Americans?

I began to feel the world become a little fuzzy.

She started making claims that the hatred from Canada was felt by “her people”, and she couldn’t understand why. She didn’t understand why Canada would possibly be upset at being made the “buffer nation” during the Cold War (a war between America and Russia with Canada caught in the middle). And she didn’t understand why we would accept cowards from the Vietnam draft, or be upset at being called socialists or communists.

I suddenly didn’t understand why she was camping across our country.

As the talk progressed — or digressed — she began poking at the stance on biblicism at my seminary. She asked: “Do you folks preach and teach the Word of God?”

I hung my head. I knew where this was going.

Her jaw dropped when I referenced God in the feminine, and demanded I show her where in the Bible God was ever a woman. I wasn’t spoiling for a fight. However I wanted to guide the conversation towards usefulness, so I suggested she start with re-reading Proverbs and to dig into the image of Lady Wisdom a bit. This gave Jan a genuine pause for thought, but whether it was thought over what I had said or thought towards how to keep sapping at me, I can’t say. For the conversation then turned back to how Canadians hate Americans.

I tried explaining how Canada is engaging in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the first peoples of Turtle Island. We are far from being reconciled, but interracial dialogue and the dismantling of white privilege were important life choices for me and —

(Jan interrupted) — “Hey girl, I’m a Jew. I know far more about oppression than you ever will. Don’t talk to me about white privilege.”

Uh-oh.

Jan went to talk about how her parents had sent her to a Lutheran school because it had the better education system. Being the only Jew (or so she claimed at the time), she said that she was told repeatedly that if the Holocaust were to ever happen again, Lutherans would hold to Luther’s teachings and make sure the Jews were eliminated.

Powerful. (true or not)

At the time, while I was way past the point of comfort, I still didn’t really have a good reason to blow her off. I heard deep spiritual pain and trauma from her, and whether I liked her other views or not, I perceived she needed what I had years ago: ears willing to hear all that darkness fuelling Jan’s life. So I stayed put. The two of us carried on.

I mentioned that I hadn’t been a Lutheran for very long, but I was given to understand that the majority of Lutherans denounce anti-Semitism to the core. Many groups are involved in reconciling with POC and LGBTQ+ groups, and especially in Canada our indigenous brothers and sisters.

“You know what, sister? You’ve been fed propaganda and you’ve fallen for it. Those blacks and Indians? They’re doing all of that violence to themselves and each other. And no one talks about what they’re doing to us. They’re LYING TO YOU.” [emphasis added to highlight Jan’s sudden increase in vocal tone]

Full stop.

The blacks and the Indians…what?

My friends, both north and south of the border, are…what?

“Those Mexicans you have a bleeding heart for? They’re lying to you, honey. They’ll tell you anything to sap off your country and then disappear into your nation, taking all of your resources. Our immigration guards? They don’t shoot people like they tell you! They bring people in, try and understand their situation, and then get a horrible rap in the media.”

My Lantinx friends are…lying to me?

“We’ve tried making peace with black people, but look at it all. They’re doing it. They’re making it happen. The Indians just keep attacking each other like they’ve done since before we white folks came. Sure we did damage, but it was the same old damage the Indians did to each other. Ain’t our fault.”

Hold up now!

I interjected. I reasoned. I was firm. I refused to get mean, but it seemed like this woman was spoiling for a fight!

And it didn’t stop. She talked about teaching English as a Second Language in Vietnam (but only as a front so she could sneak in Bibles and teach Christianity). I challenged her on it because she didn’t understand why the local people were upset with her, or why she had no power to change the poverty she saw.

I finally found my words, which were woefully lacking in the shock I was experiencing, and challenged her:

“Maybe it’s because you’re an American trying to convert people in a country you bombed the hell out of four decades ago.”

“I didn’t have anything to do with the war.”

“Doesn’t matter. You’re still colonizing. You’re still the oppressor. You’re still trying to tell a people your country demolished that their way of life and their beliefs are WRONG and that you are RIGHT.”

“What’s that got to do with it? I’m only speaking the words of Jesus Christ. Everyone needs them. I never bombed anyone. I never hurt anyone. If fact, I’M the one who got hurt as a kid!”

What now?

She claimed that she hated Donald Trump.

She continuously repeated “I’m all for ‘love thy neighbour’.

She expressed desire to be open to the ways of Jesus.

Yes, she reflected a conservatism that I was intimately familiar with and have long ago left.

Yes, she made some confusing statements about Canadians and Americans.

Yes, she was a Seinfeld “Close Talker” extrovert that was draining a lot of my energy.

But…

…a full on bigot?

Even after ‘love thy neighbour’?

Yup.

There it was.

Bright as the sun…

…the sun! Oh shit.

In one burning moment of pain, Jan pointed out after three hours of “generous space” I was turning a little bit red. I looked at my legs and arms: I was turning a lot red. In my eager desire to be a safe person, to listen without judgement, and to hold space, I had neglected to re-apply sunscreen and had given space for hate.

As Jan pointed towards my inflamed skin, a Godsend of a woman came by offering popsicles to people. As deep and intense as my conversation was with Jan, all it took to veer Jan off topic was the offer of a cherry popsicle. I was able to reorient myself and be truthful about another engagement I needed to attend to.

Thus I gave her a ride back to the church. It was only then that I discovered that she had a car all along. Why she needed a ride in the first place, I can’t say. I drove away in searing pain, both in body and spirit.

I wanted to express love to this woman and to hold space.

Well I certainly held space. But I totally misread her needs.

Jan was spoiling for a fight. She wanted me to engage in conflict. And while I didn’t realize her need in the moment, I had already decided going in that I wouldn’t be baited by her stuff. I was going to hold space.

And I burned in hell for it.

After debriefing with the pastors at Trinity, I realized my error: it’s a good thing to want to create space for everyone — even with people we don’t agree with. During a time of polarized rhetoric and public outrage (both of which I’ve been guilty of from time to time), safe and generous space is desperately needed.

However, I do need to learn some better boundaries in terms of shutting conversations down when they need to be. Jan needed to be shut down. I gave her all of my time, stood my ground, but I did not fight. Still, her word were lies and certainly racist and disgusting. She needed to be asked to leave the picnic about forty minutes into the conversation. The pastors did thank me for keeping her attention, though, and away from the children. Bigot or not, her processing did not sound…sound.

I’ll likely never hear from Jan again, which is 100% okay by me. And I highly doubt now that she really was interested in the seminary, which is also 100% okay by me because with those views she wouldn’t make it past the recruitment process.

However, I have learned to always reapply protection. Know the need going in before engaging, and assess accurately as I go along. As sacred as holding space is during a time of hatred, my friends of colour deserve a louder and quicker voice on the uptake when a loudmouth gains my full and personal attention.

If I keep playing gentle and nice all of the time, I get burned.