Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest. (You’ve been warned.)
David Weiss, April 5, 2012
Today, I begin blogging with a new passion: to offer my musings about life and faith “full frontal”—with nothing held back. I imagine I’ll unsettle more than a few of my readers, but I also anticipate that others will be recipients of grace and hope. Which is why from now on I’ll be erring on the edge of honest.
Here we go.
I absolutely need to write. Really. The way most of you need to breathe.
I’ve spent most of my life being appropriate. Polite, reserved, measured. Not always, for sure, but mostly. I’ve tried hard to pass for “normal.” But—
I’m in my 50’s now, and while none of us know just how much time we have left, the undeniable truth for me is that I have a lot less time than I used to. And I don’t want to waste anymore of it being normal.
For most of my life I’ve heard voices in my head. Literally? Well, more or less. I mean, I consider them my voices. But, seriously, I want you to hear this. I’ve spent most of my life knowing that most of the time, no matter what I’m doing, there are conversations going on in my head. Like elevator music that never shuts off, but with words. Always there. Always.
“Conversations” overstates it. More like multiple monologues. Like some part of me just below the surface is always—always, dammit!—thinking and mumbling away in multiple directions at the same times. Voices. Not like I’m talking to myself. More like my inner mind is set on “autopilot” and “multitask” … all the time. Talking to me.
Every now and then I manage to let myself sink inside and actually attend to one of these monologues. I tease it into a poem or an essay or a hymn. But mostly they just echo around inside me until they fade away. Lost.
I’m tired of losing my voices.
In the film Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell seems destined to follow the family tradition and join his sister in the mission field. At one point he tries to explain to his exasperated sister why he feels compelled to run instead. I mean, how is it possible that something like running around a track could be more important than missionary work?! Finally he tells her, “God made me fast. And when I run I feel the pleasure of God upon me.” He goes on to win a gold medal in the Olympics and the story of his faith reaches further than ever … because he dared to run.
For as long as I can remember I have been in love with words. More than anything. God made me a writer. And when I attend to the voices within me and birth them into texts I feel the pleasure of God upon me.
Two-and-a-half years ago, creeping to the edge of normal, I acknowledged to a friend, in an email: I am swallowed whole by the Word, and all I can do with my life is write little words in echo. In every direction, grace. It is all the world.
Honestly, if I never said another word out loud and just wrote for the rest of my life, I would not run out of things to share. That’s not an overstatement; it’s more likely an understatement. Anyway, for far too long—a whole lifetime, more or less—I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by the lure and the comfort of “normal.”
“You’d make such a fine pastor.” “You’ll be a great college professor.” “We could really use your gifts on this committee.” “And this committee.” “And this committee.” Yes, yes, yes. But listen. I have these voices inside me. And they’ve been waiting all my life to get my full attention. And you cannot imagine how talkative they are. And I really think it’s time for me to listen to them—as my first priority. Not as the last thing, the thing I rarely get to because so much of my time and energy is spoken for by other people’s aspirations for me.
So, thanks for all the invitations and praise, but I’m going to do this for a while. A long while. The rest of my life, I hope.
See, if I’m going to die—and that much seems certain—then I want to die writing. I do not want to die having fulfilled all my obligations and commitments to everyone but me.
For about twenty years I’ve had a very simple prayer. A bit quirky, a bit mystical, but it has seemed like the most important seven words in my life: “Papa, bury me into your silence. Amen.” I’ve prayed it for twenty years like a mantra. At times weekly, daily, even hourly. But I’ve mostly kept myself surrounded by noise. As though I’ve wanted to make sure God never actually answers the prayer.
Well, I’m ready now. (Slowly losing my voice, in fact, as my vocal chords continue to deteriorate. Isn’t that an ironic case of not being specific enough in a prayer request!) In that coming silence, I am quite convinced that the cacophony of competing voices in my head will actually become more like a series of concertos in which each voice finally has a turn at being well-heard as I wrap what I hear in words for the rest of you.
I am sure I will still “do” things. I will still be “involved” at church … but I will not let myself feel obligated anymore. I will still teach—I really love teaching. (Although I am humbly promising to use the microphone in the lecture room.) And as long as my voice lasts, I expect I’ll keep on speaking here and there about the wideness of God’s welcome. Although at some point, truthfully, if I can’t figure out what wrong with my vocal chords and reverse it, I think I’d like to save up some of the “talk time” I have left on them for my family, especially my grandchildren. I hope that doesn’t seem overly selfish.
So please don’t be offended if I seem a little preoccupied. I’ve been preoccupied ever since the voices started talking some forty years ago. I’m just sensing now that I’ve let a lifetime slip by while being preoccupied in the wrong place. Cliché alert. It’s time to occupy myself.
I want to die writing. And I do not want to have a bunch of ink left in the cartridge or a bunch of voices lost up in my head. Hell, I don’t even understand all the words yet, but I know they’re true: I am swallowed whole by the Word, and all I can do with my life is write little words in echo. In every direction, grace. It is all the world.
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David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more at http://www.tothetune.com.