As a member of the Living School, Cohort 2020, I arrived in Albuquerque excited, hopeful that I had finally found my people. I was looking for something different than my decades-long dominant culture evangelical church experience. That faith arena, with its heaven evacuation focus, was no longer feeding my soul.
I had also spent 2 decades crafting a different lifestyle. A model that simply did not align with the prevailing norms of the created white race and/or American prosperity generational privilege. So, that too caused me not to fit so well within my evangelical stream, which based most of its beliefs on heteropatriarchal theories and a lot of binary prosperity standards.
Father Rohr talks a lot about the first half of life as a means of creating your personal life container and second half of life views taking a deeper perspective from our lived realities, mainly from our suffering. How we view or hold the world and its people is usually different in the second half of life… well, that seems the hope. However, I have now come to see my life seasons a little different.
I view my American life broken into three seasons; and, this perspective has become very clear to me with Father’s devotions this past Fall and my second cohort year. So, I’m wondering if any other Living School students can relate to this?
1st Third of Life… Elastic Curiosity
My childhood was filled with curiosity. I was raised in a loving home, nurtured to learn, explore and create. My mother was strong, independent and always read a Chicago newspaper to stay current with world events, somewhat unique for a rural working class family. She also took us on adventures to museums and state parks, while my dad nurtured my love of sports.
My biggest challenge with my mom was her guidance around conforming to acceptable social norms. I would always question why we had to do certain things and her response most days was…Because they say so! As a child, I lived with a big “who are they?” mind tension. Yet, my parent’s nurturing caused my thought patterns to still be highly elastic. I was constantly creating to cope with my small town boredom and its homogeneous norms. I carried this elastic, creative and curious mindset with me through college graduation.
2nd Third… Dominant Culture Conformity
My second third of life consisted of learning how to conform to dominant culture systems for “success”. Most of us highly value academic education and vertical leadership within our knowledge-based economy. So, my liberal arts degree allowed me to choose a job with creativity, while still integrating into a corporate culture for security. My biggest seasonal challenge was that I was a strong 70’s woman and my employer was a traditional top-down, male-dominant company focused more on commands, than nurturing any of my girl gifts. So, I learned to conform to their patriarchal ways and deeply internalized prevailing female likeability standards… Another tension. (I really wanted to be a 70’s woman who roared!)
As I see it, this middle season was all about conforming for cultural “success”. I conformed to business norms as well as white dominant culture church norms to maintain my moral and spiritual properness. It seemed, as long as I conformed to all of these norms, things went pretty well for me as a person of the created white race. Well, except that I was bored out of my mind conforming within these “systems” with little diversity or creative disorder!!
In the late 80’s, I finally had a shot for something different. I received a job offer in the city… I jumped! My new sales job gave me freedom to run my day and great money to live in my exciting urban environs. Life was very good; yet, my church-tethered soul strings tugged at my heart. So, I started volunteering at an inner city youth club.
Spending time with those kids started an immersive dive into the reality of systems and systemic injustice. Those kids schooled me on what life was really like if you had no American generational privilege or were not part of the created “white” race. I continued my new journey with one foot in existing dominant culture systems, which gave me comfort and privilege; and, one foot in a whole ‘nother life reality with these kids. The two different realities somewhat drew me to consider what my church called being a “missionary”… that lifestyle, in a sense, seemed way more like what Jesus modeled. Yet, it bothered me that people were paid by the church to live with people groups that were deemed “poor”. Another big brain tension!
Why do Jesus-loving people have to be paid to live that way? Isn’t this yet another form of a dominating posture? Being real, most of the poor people I met had to have huge Jesus faith simply to survive every day. However, my friends who either had some sort of generational privilege or academic education really didn’t have to have faith… they crafted a good life as a result of family privilege networks or their academic education. That also allowed them to choose to live in neighborhoods with people just like themselves, or those a little higher up in socio-economic status. No everyday people I met ever seemed to choose going down!
The Last 3rd: Reframing my Prosperity Lifestyle
Many of us sojourning types seem a tad more intuitively creative and have come to terms with the fact that we just have to walk a different path. My brain and my very “being” have always operated way more wholisitic. I just could not separate my church, business and personal life into different boxes as many of my prosperous, church-going friends. Tension, again!
I eventually married and had a child in my 40’s. With that, my husband and I made a commitment to craft our family lifestyle, reframing our view of prosperity. We committed to living deep “with” others in blended socio-economic community. It was our attempt to keep our heads and hearts attached. It was very clear to us through living in the inner city that once folks started moving up the American dream ladder… well, they surrendered all the “grit” that they previously had lived with. No “rub” remained, so to speak, to create a posture of understanding “with” those that were left behind by systemic forces. (That truth has become ever more clear to me with every year!)
We lived deep within our inner city community and public schools. Was it hard? Of course; but very little in life is truly good without being hard. We could also see that choosing a non-dominant culture lifestyle could have deeper wisdom rewards and maybe give us better Jesus-focused hearts.
For me, the biggest payback of this whole alternative 20 year lifestyle experiment has been this… When my daughter graduated from high school, she had the privilege to choose between a private, predominately “white” liberal arts college and a large public, highly diverse university. She ended up choosing the public university and unpacked it for me very succinctly, “Mom, I had to choose a large, diverse school… because some days I just hate my own race.”
Boom... Well spoken, my dear. Your journey has allowed you to see racism, classism and code-switching oh so well through your formative inner city years. Your diverse urban public school community has handed you great wisdom and it will help you navigate life with way more understanding of the world than your mama had. As well, you are way ahead of most within our created white race with your understanding of country’s dominating cultural norms…
Daughter, may you understand how to craft your own Jesus lifestyle in solidarity “with” others who are not exactly like you… Peace and Presence be with you on your Life Journey.