Soul Safe as a Prophetic StanceDate: November 21, 2016 By: Fe Anam Avis
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As a “reinvented” person, I have had the experience of living on both sides of the aisle, whatever that particular aisle might be. My parents’ background was Free Will Baptist Appalachian. My initial Christian commitment was made through Campus Crusade for Christ when I was a junior at Ohio State. I attended a more conservative, non-Presbyterian seminary and, after ordination in what would become the PCUSA, I became affiliated with a very strict Christian community which forbade the wearing of blue jeans, birth control, and listening to rock music.
In the 1990’s I went through a significant period of transformation during which I reconstructed my theology to integrate with my physics background, encountered radical poverty in Central America, experienced the power of mystical experience, and, basically, fell flat out in love with people. I didn’t decide to become a “progressive” Christian. I followed the spiritual path that was unfolding before me and ended up where I am now. I had no intention of becoming a different “label.”
I share this as a preamble to this statement: Bigotry has no stripe. In my early journey, I encountered a significant degree of marginalization from folks who would describe themselves as liberal that included politically-blocked committee appointments, passive aggressive responses to mission initiatives that I sponsored, belittling comments about my theological positions, and inexplicable angry outbursts that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Since then, I have had the opposite reaction from folks who are more conservative, some of whom would claim that I have abandoned the faith altogether. In fact, of the hundreds of significant relationships that I have known across the years, only a small handful have “crossed the line” with me. I find that the inclination to exclude, polarize and even demonize is one of the more powerful temptations.
I also observe that neither group is self-aware of its own bigotry, as I am not always self-aware of my own. They are also largely unaware of the effect of their exclusion on the mental health of those excluded, including the increased risk of suicide. The uncomfortable truth for society to face is that many who die by suicide have not been captured by some strange, irrational impulse, but by the steady erosion of hope and human connection, sometimes at the hands of their own community.
In Soul Shop™ we talk about creating soul safe communities. We generally define that as communities where people can talk honestly and openly about all the impacts of suicidal desperation. Perhaps it goes further. Maybe a soul safe community is also one characterized by non-violent communication and radical mundane inclusion. We may have now come to a point in our history where creating those soul safe communities will require nothing less than a prophetic stance. We may have to be willing to pay a price.
As a faith with the cross at its center, Christianity may be particularly suited to this prophetic stance. Since we confess our sins weekly, it should come as no surprise that we have a darker stain lurking beneath the surface of all our communities. Christianity only becomes a threat to soul safe communities if we have traded our self-awareness for shallow illusions of purity.
I draw these days on the soul of Abraham Lincoln. In distinction from those of his time, Lincoln believed the will of God was unknowable. However, he believed that human offences against God and one another were in full display. In what I believe is the greatest speech of all time, Abraham Lincoln wrote: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.”
He ends his speech: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”