Recently I had two church leaders tell me, “You are
brave.” Both were responding to one of my blogs where I shared more of the story of my child who has transitioned from female to trans-masculine after negotiating an exploratory period as “non-binary.” If you are not aware of the transgender world, I am sure all of this information and language may be a little puzzling to you.
But my blog is not about my amazing child who has led their (preferred pronoun) family on a wonderful, difficult and liberating journey around essential identity. No, this blog is about why, when both of these individuals called me brave, I said, “Thank you, but I don’t feel very brave.”
To me bravery is associated with taking risks. And long ago I discovered that the greater risk was to keep an important part of my life hidden (as if I should be ashamed of it) than it was to risk ridicule, cold shoulders, the silent treatment, or even a 21st century version of excommunication.
Author, M. Scott Peck, in his book The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace speaks of three distinct and revolving stages of community-making: pseudo-community, chaos and authentic community. He also says that the most common way that an organization moves from pseudo-community to authentic community is through truth-telling.
In pseudo-community, he writes, everyone knows what is safe to talk about and what isn’t. On the surface it appears that everyone gets along, there are no (or few) fights, and the group usually describes itself as a close-knit family. That all remains true until one person (or a few) “comes out” with a truth about themselves that challenges the assumed boundaries of who is in and who is out. What ensues is a period of chaos as the status quo is disrupted.
It reminds me of the saying that is built off John 8: 32: “The truth shall set you free, but first it will make you mad as hell.” That line captures M. Scott Peck’s theory around community-making. We move from pseudo-community to a “mad as hell” chaotic period and to authentic community. Eventually, of course, authentic community will settle back into pseudo-community until the next “coming out” disruption occurs. And the cycle repeats itself over and over again.
I said at the beginning that I responded to the two gracious church leaders who called me brave with, “Thank you, but I don’t feel very brave.”
I don’t feel brave because the greater risk for me is to hide myself in order to prop up the presence of a pseudo-community. If I have to choose between being a fake version of myself in order to keep us from chaos and the risks of throwing us into disruptive chaos I will almost always (eventually) choose to reveal my true self in service of moving us toward authentic community.
I write this because every church finds itself somewhere on the continuum between being a pseudo-community and authentic community. In fact, some of you might even be in the “mad as hell” in-between chaotic time. This is the natural order of things to swing back and forth on the pendulum between the safety of a shallow in-authenticity and potential risks of a vulnerable authenticity.
I believe the future of the presbytery and the health of our congregations will be dependent on continually moving toward being “authentic community.”
Is your church an authentic community, as M. Scott Peck describes? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you have personal beliefs that you dare not share among your fellow church members?
- Are there parts of your story (divorces, family dysfunction, financial failures, gender issues) that you prefer to keep to yourself for fear of rejection?
- Has your church nurtured an environment where people can be honest with each other even when it hurts?
- Do you feel that you have to put on your “Sunday face” before arriving at church?
- Do you feel as welcome in the church when you don’t have your life together as you do when you are on top of things?
- Is it just as safe to speak the language of doubt as it is the language of faith?
- Does your church take literally the hymn, “Just as I am, without one plea”?
Am I brave for sharing the journey of my trans-masculine child? No, not really.
I just like how it feels to be accepted for who I am rather than who I am not.
Thank you for loving me “just as I am.”
By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades