There’s a poem I’ve been living with for the last couple of months. Written by David Whyte, it’s about a pilgrimage in Spain, Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James, and the traditions that have arisen at its end at Finisterre:

The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea,

and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean:

no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,

no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;

to promise what you needed to promise all along,

and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

from Pilgrim, copyright 2012 Many Rivers Press

My family is hardcore fundamentalist. I often tell people that they believe Jerry Falwell started to compromise along the way. It’s funny (not to them), but true. They didn’t jump on the anti-gay bandwagon in the 90s; my step-father built it in the 80s.

They taught me many things.

They taught me that God’s love was great and that he had committed himself to working certain ways, within certain boundaries.

That’s the thing about fundamentalism (and much of Christianity that wouldn’t describe itself as such) — it’s not just people that are inside or outside those boundaries. God’s work is inside them, too, and his only work outside those boundaries is to call people to come inside them to him.

They also introduced me to Jesus and taught me to do what he wanted me to do no matter what they or anybody else thought.

And I followed Jesus to places that stretched them. I went to seminary and got an MDiv at a scary “neo-evangelical” school. I started preaching a little. And they rolled with it.

But then I saw Jesus dancing on the other side of the boundary line, and I knew what it would mean to cross that line, to follow him there. In the end, it was no choice really — of course I would follow him.

But I didn’t know how. The shoes that had brought me here weren’t made to dance, much less walk on across the water.

I didn’t begin to know how to walk across that line.

So with the help of a friend, I began to walk along it — to get to know a community of LGBTQ followers of Jesus who were trying to figure things out themselves. I listened, for months. Some of them came to trust me enough to honor me with the gift of their stories and struggles. They grew to be family to me.

They gave me space to learn to take off my shoes, to learn to walk without them. To let old ways of understanding and believing and relating die, and new ones be born and grow.

And one day, after about a year, I looked around and realized I’d left the line far in the distance. I’d taken off my shoes to find the ground on which I was standing was holy.

That moment was beautiful and terrifying.

I knew what it would mean. I knew that for many of my family and friends, crossing that line meant they would rewrite the story of Jesus in my life as a delusion — if the path had led me here, it had to be false.

And that meant that so many people I love, whose fingerprints I’m proud are on my life, who gave me the shoes that brought me here, would no longer be home for me. Elders whose voices brought deep wisdom to my life would not advise me going forward.

I’d found a new family, new elders, but they will never be replacements.

The shoes that brought me here still mark the water’s edge. They are well worn to the shape of my feet and journey. And they stand empty there in testimony that there is yet more beyond.

…to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

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