Each year at work, there is this specific process performed called “roll forward.” Information from previous years’ work is rolled forward to be inserted into the following years’ documents. From my understanding, it is done with the click of a button. With this in mind, I’ve been listening to a podcast that discusses many things regarding the walk of religious thinking and living. A subject that comes up quite often is the “Order, Disorder, Re-order” understanding of religion.
In my mind, it is a “roll forward” built into healthy religion. It is up to us whether or not we use it.
Here’s a description of these stages from the Center for Action and Contemplation:
- Order: We begin with almost entirely tribal thinking, mirroring the individual journey, which starts with an egocentric need for “order” and “self.” Only gradually do we move toward inclusive love.
- Disorder: We slowly recognize the invitation to a “face to face” love affair through the biblical dialogue of election, failure, sin, and grace, which matures the soul. This is where we need wisdom teachers to guide us through our “disorder.”
- Reorder: Among a symbolic few, there is a breakthrough to unitive consciousness (for example, figures like Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David, the Psalmists, many of the prophets, Job, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and Paul). This is also what some call enlightenment or salvation.
I think the reason this method of looking at religious thinking and living works for me is because it helps me unpack a lot of what my own walk within Christianity has looked like. Even as I write this, I am still in the midst of Disorder, and have been for a little over a year. However, my Disorder stage is finding a calm. Which is why I feel much more comfortable writing to you now.
“Conservatives normally get trapped in the first stage, progressives are trapped in the second, and only a minority of either group seem to get to the third. The last stage is considered dangerous to people in the first stage, and rather unknown and invisible to people in the second stage.”
How true is that statement to you? To me, I feel it in my bones. I spent the first half of my Christian life bouncing around the walls of Conservative Christianity; riding my high horse, finding all the ways to find wrong in the lives of others, and shaming myself for the life I once led and any time I took a misstep. It was exhausting.
Then, the shift. A move to a big, colorful city. A church community that helped me see that riding my high horse around wasn’t exactly socially acceptable. My angelic wings cut and brittle from what can only be described as “My 20s.” This was all necessary. Like Richard Rohr proclaims about transformation, its depths are formed through “great love and great suffering.”
Toward the end of my 20s, though, I found myself with a bitter taste in my mouth. The church that played a pivotal role in my life was changing. It was one of those shifts that you usually see play out over a decade or two, but this took less than five years. Maybe it was the way the current picked up at rapid speed, but I found that keeping up was becoming more and more difficult. I think the difficulty can be attributed to the ways in which I was committed to seeing faith grow and evolve in the same way seeds are planted: seeding, rooting, upward growing, and deeper rooting. When I stopped to look around, I didn’t see deep roots, and that alarmed me.
*I want to pause and say this is not easy to write. I understand there are people in my life who will read this and assume I am shit talking. I want to stop that bullet — that is not my intention. Over my years of being taught authenticity and transparency, I feel it is important to name my process, and that process comes with what I feel is true to me.*
I found myself in a funky place. I was attending, serving in high capacity roles (charged with leadership over other leaders), and feeling an unease grow within me. Asked why I stayed, I reflected on the importance of working from within; to use my roles and voice where I could. But over time, I found my voice was becoming increasingly pessimistic. Much of which was also due to the 2016 election and that 80% of Evangelicals voting for a human that has no right to be President. This combination was lethal to my soul.
The cracks in my dedicated foundation began to form. I was angry, tired, scared … feelings that I had to bottle in order to be wise leader. I pulled back from other roles I served in, and stopped showing up to service altogether. Sometimes the bottle top would teeter and explode and I would defuse it again. And because I am an expert at repressing, I became a full-blown cynic. Nothing would satisfy. I jumped back onto the high horse and galloped into the theoretical woods of Wandering, but Not Exactly Lost.
I have been wandering ever since. Majority of the time, I am at a peace being in this state of religious Disorder. Like a fragmentation — it’s as if I am sorting through a closet and figuring out what fits, what I’ve outgrown, and making room for the new. To be honest, it’s kind of exciting, which is why I think it’s easy to get stuck here. To roll in the pessimism with others who I find myself alongside. What is also easy is to forget the deeper roots — where I am came from. This is the important part that I am in the midst of now.
It would be entirely too easy to say my time at a Pentecostal, Conservative church in Florida was wasted. Or to dismiss my Chicago church home in a hot flash of negativity. But that would be a disservice to myself and to the whole narrative of who I am and who I am becoming. It would not be true to who I am today. Both of those churches shaped me. They gave me an unwavering steadiness in understanding the prophetic and truly miraculous, lifelong friendships, my husband, the referral to my therapist, an introduction to the Enneagram (Technically, I owe this to Sara Duncan as we sat on the floor of a house in Waupaca, WI. But, again, church community.), and the foundation that I needed in my faith journey. I learned a lot about myself and God from the people who were given leadership over my life. Some of these things I will treasure as a part of myself. Others, I lay down and leave behind.
Going back to the metaphor of seeds: if our spiritual lives are anything like house plants — with the help of friends, pastors, mentors watering us — we grow and mature … and, at some point, need a new container or pot. It’s only natural to outgrow what we started in. If we don’t, then perhaps we should figure out what nutrients are lacking (sunlight, water, a gentle touch, the whisper of our Beloved). In this “roll forward,” we are still the same plant, attached to some of the same soil we had in the previous home. Only now, we get a new batch of soil to grow up and into.
I feel myself in this re-potting. Sure, I am not 100% comfortable. I miss my community, the ease at which we dove into the depths with one another. There’s something so special about being unafraid around a table of kindred spirits. But I do trust this will come again. And maybe that’s what this whole Disorder stage is teaching me: a steady hope appearing, teaching me to see contemplatively (or wholly), that everything and everyone plays a part; that God is bigger than “He” or “She” pronouns and I am living in a Christ-soaked world. Everything at every stage matters.
In all its contradiction, perhaps Disorder is all about bringing us to an understanding that it is silly to pretend we have “it” figured out. Whatever “it” is. That all actually can be well with our souls; some perpetual state of letting go.
Maybe that’s when we move into Reorder.