"Some good words from my pastors this morning," I smirk as I enter the room where my husband is sleeping. The word "pastors" is slurred into paaaastuers and I'm facetious at best. Not exactly sarcastic, but then, what do I know of the response he'll muster? This one who I've watched wear the title and then discard it (and all its clinging tendrils) when it ceased to fit properly.
He opens one sleepy eye.
But the silence sits on me hard. And I pause. "No. There's something wrong about that," I shake my head and squint at the flecked gold knob on the closet door, bending down to untie the knots in my running shoes. He knows I'm not referring to preaching ministers at a church when I say "pastors," he knows I mean the men and women whose writing I read online and the ensuing conversations which I have come to cherish as part of my spiritual food on a near-daily basis. The threaded laces are stubborn beneath my fingers, but pulling on them somehow loosens me in all the right ways. Suddenly, there's lightning, "I bet they wouldn't like me to call them that ..."
I slide the closet shut around the words. His work boots oppose me, sticking their toes toward the cracks, but a shove does the trick, and she's closed. I turn around and lean against it. Letting the words that just escaped my lips saturate my soul.
Maybe I'm the only one who has been wounded by the power-plays so common among the leadership of the church and the name-dropping and the ladder-climbing. Maybe I am alone here, still feeling the prick of loss when followers of the Servant-King use position as a means of personal gain. Those who, instead of gently guiding their flock, are fleecing them blind for the allegiance they give. For the control that is surrendered ... Maybe. But I doubt it.
And internet writing is a messy, tricky thing. We bring our own back-story and half-healed scars to every piece we read. I can't say that many out in the great cloud of witnesses called the blogosphere have been "pastors" to me in any holy sense of the word, but here and there in a thousand private messages and a million blog comments and a handful of face-to-face meetings, are a good number of those who I would consider to be "friends." And since we're all straddling the overlap between writing and faith - a place brimful with its own brand of power-plays and name-dropping and ladder-climbing - I'd say that's not such a little thing.
In fact, the writers I love to read are men and women who write their posts and sing their songs and live their art not for the respect they can earn or the title they can solicit or the money with which they can fill their pockets. They have a heart to walk alongside. They are knowable, relate-able. They tell their stories with dirt under their nails and southern drawls dripping heavy from their honest, unedited lips. They write from the deep and the burdened places we all know - and they write it real. As real as a hand in your own.
Somehow they seem to grasp intuitively that the greatest gift they can give to the world has a whole lot more to do with sharing the specifics (even the gritty ones) of their personal stories than by quoting the worn-out platitudes or theological moral-isms by which they might exalt themselves over their readers.
No. If that's what "pastor" means, they are never that to me.
I repeatedly watch them take the low road. They don't live for the pedestals or the red carpets. They'd just as likely hug your neck and share a beer as shake your hand and hold your baby. They're not untouchable. They're not perfect. And - by far the most rare - they're not afraid to come out of hiding and let you know it.
And the shower steams hot. While I let muscles relax in the aftermath of my run, I remember my own limitedness and the finite experience of life within this skin. But I also feel the plea for human connection that rises up within my own story, asking to be made known. Why is it easier to give someone a formula to fix their aching heart than it is to get down into it with them and feel ALL THE FEELINGS alongside? I can't say I know. But that is what makes a writer - a professional - cross the bridge into becoming a friend. The telling of the secrets that we think are only our own is the exact reason why I've come to relate deeply to so many whose breath I've never smelled and whose tears I've never wiped, who live worlds away from this mid-western farmhouse.
We are wired for connection, not only perfunctory answers.
For bearing each other's burdens and holding close the broken, not for sanitary scripturized cliches.
Because love is always more satisfying than being right - hard as it is to believe sometimes.
It's true for all of us: the gift of our lives to this world community is not given in spite of our humanness - as if that takes away from the poignancy of the message - but because of it. Because of the Babel places where we try to climb to God on steps of our own making and our Damascus roads where we are blind to all but the frightening light of a hairy paradigm-shift. Because of our willingness to accept ourselves and the dirt under our nails and the ins and outs of our messy narratives.
( ... which might sound a lot like a tiny little mystery known as the Incarnation, if we listen long enough.)
There is a beautiful one-piece garment that transcends the in spite of's and because of's and waits with bated breath for the way redemption will shine through cracks in the one who dares to bare the soul: Whole.
And here I want to turn to you, dear reader, dear writer, dear friend,
I want to say that in the kind of moxie that it takes for YOU to tell your tales and tell them real, I find my own story. Your secrets are mine. Your fallings and failures and glories. It's there that I finger the edges of making peace with myself and an expansive hope comes just into view right next to a love that tears down walls. If beauty bursting through is true for you, couldn't it also be true for me ... ?
All of us belong to each other in this very way. Oh, how the world needs your wild.
Because this is the kind of courage that gives birth to a deeply personal bravery; this is not only the discovery of our humanness - but the necessary making friends with it; this is the kind of being known that inspires the greatest and least alike to call vulnerability out on her dare; to surrender all the ways we try so hard to impress everyone around us with our words and our art ...
And to live as friends.
"I have called you friends ... Now, go and do likewise."
-Jesus of Nazareth
Kelli Woodford considers curiosity a serious expedition and is rarely satisfied with anything remotely status quo. She collects friendships with people as different as they can be and feels all the richer for it, but never experiences "home" so much as when she is with her best friend - who also happens to be her husband. They make their abode in Love, but also in the Midwest with their seven blue-eyed children. You can catch her hanging out on Facebook, Twitter, or see more of her astounding words at her blog, chronicles of grace.