Breaking Down Walls

August 25, 2006

Today, in our continuing new student orientation at seminary, we had more faculty introductions.

One professor said something that especially caught my attention.

He said, “We tend to define ourselves by those we disagree with.”

I found myself identifying with that, much as I didn’t want to.

Over the past week, I have been in a place of much movement.  I started on the defensive, and due to a few limited instances of over-analyzing things that I said or heard would be very quick to try and hear things that I disagreed with in an effort to quickly shut-down so as to protect my ideology/theology.  I had been concerned about being in a conservative part of the country, and I moved here knowing that I would potentially have to make a conscious choice to reassert my position in order to keep it.

As the week progressed, I realized quickly that this is going to be a very rough three years if I try to keep that up.  I am not going to be able to learn without opening myself up.  Staying on the defensive takes a lot of mental energy, and prohibits my ability to process information that can also be formative.  Turning on the filter, in other words, filtered out too much.

We had several sessions yesterday that were very inspiring- seemingly direct answers to my prayers about how to deal with this.  I don’t know if more progressive faculty were put in front of us, or if I just felt that way.  But we heard directly about how our experience will be shaped by the fact that we won’t always agree with faculty.  We heard about the need to find our passion- to stay connected with our call- and let that carry us through the difficult times in our ministry.  We heard about the need to trust the process of formation that has been carefully planned and developed not to deliver us into a specific shape or substance chosen by the faculty or anyone else but instead to form us in such a way that we will find the shape and substance given to us by our calling.

That was helpful.  That, combined with some helpful conversations with some students about the diversity and fallibility of all of us, eased my mind greatly and allowed me to relax.

AND I touched based with a few non-seminary people, got off campus a little and had dinner with some non-seminarians for the first time in a week… a little break never hurt anybody!!

All of this is to say that a strictly defensive posturing– building up of walls– is a very exhausting effort.  We’ve all been there, no matter what our “walls” are.  The walls in TEC have been building for a long time.  Fear is a big motivator for the building of walls.  The Groody book I’ve mentioned before talks about the wall of the border with Mexico and compares it to the Berlin wall.  Some people are scared (for whatever reason) and want to build a bigger wall there.  In TEC and the Anglican Communion we’ve got (at least from my point of view) people who are doing the best they can to build a wall to insulate themselves from the contextual theology applied to the situations that apply most certainly to some of our society, trying desparately to apply their context to the rest of the world.  (I know the pejorative use the word context has been given in recent months, but we’ve just spent all morning talking about the importance of context and I think context has been taken out of context in the global discussion.)

Hopefully the discussion framed next month can remove some of those walls.  My fear is that when one comes to a meeting with a wall already firmly in place, it is very difficult to tear down.  Perhaps the best we can hope for is a passage built somehow over, around, under, or through the wall.  But my guess is that the only ones who can tear down the wall are the builders of the wall themselves.

I suppose I do define myself by those with whom I most disagree, at least partially.  I hope, though, that in the process I learn not to build walls like I was doing at the beginning of this week, but learn to break them down, and in so doing learn how to help others break them down too.



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