Bricolage, by definition, is forming something through the use of various materials or ideas, seemingly unrelated at first, but then creates a new understanding through their connection. It’s a new word for me, a “loanword” from the French, used for various disciplines. With the revelation of the word, I find a way to articulate my experience this year with the readings, coursework, and interaction among my cohort. A patchwork of materials, seemingly unrelated, form me through a transformative process. The ongoing integration creates something new in me, while built on what is, through the various disciplines of theology, evangelism, culture, leadership, and virtue ethics. I’m a piece of artwork, a bricolage, shaped by the interaction of knowledge, head-to-heart dialogue, and community.
From this new place of understanding, I enter into situations differently, as this next story demonstrates:
She walks into my office to ask a question. “Do you have a minute?” With my unsuspecting nod, she continues, “After 58 years, I discover from a DNA test that I’m actually a male. Do you have a recommendation for a counselor? I’m not handling this very well.” Everything stops in that moment. My outside appearance may reflect a calmness, but my insides scream, “How does anyone cope with that kind of information, a new reality?” While I know I will refer her to someone with more expertise in this matter, I surprise myself when I ask her a question, “Where is God in this for you?” In my training as a spiritual director, that’s not an uncommon question. What’s surprising is the ability to ask with confidence, not in her knowing the answer, but in knowing, whether she realizes it or not, God is with her, even in this confusing time.
I attribute my confidence to this year of exploring and engaging deeply with various topics – some I agree upon and others I question – that have strengthened my understanding that God works in all things, no matter what the subject: leadership, organizational dynamics, global evangelism, culture, art, prayer (as seen through a non-believing eye), practices of resiliency and slowing down, ethics, an individual voice, and gender issues. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin offers, “By virtue of Creation, and still more the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.” The ability to see more clearly, in the profane and sacred, is the gift of this year’s exploration. Artistically and publicly articulating where I see God at work, I gain a deeper awareness and understanding of God. That doesn’t mean I’ve nailed down my theology about all of these issues, but I do see with more clarity through a lens that recognizes God’s willingness to be active with love in this world.
She answers my “Where is God” question with, “I don’t know.” My previous compulsion to fix the situation loosens its hold, as I no longer need to explain everything about God. I response instead by simply sitting with her in this place of confusion, offering what I’ve seen my cohort offer me – a place to simply wonder, amidst the fear and/or joy of what is happening, and hoping with trust that God makes himself known. The gain of this year is two-fold: not only does it come in the knowledge and clarity of God’s hand in this world, but also it happens in the manner – “the way” – of interaction with my cohort. My life is different because of a community formed in a safe and sacred place. I am more effective as a leader because I see with clearer eyes and I thrive in a cohort of differing voices that speak into my life.
The bricolage created through the materials of this year impact my life, providing a theology that helps me build a practical and authentic practice in ministry. While I have little to offer in the way of navigating a gender identity issue, I do know a God who knows how. That God is no different than the God before this year of learning. But I am different, a bit more aware and sensitive to the power of God’s Spirit to move in and through all aspects of life. To further that growth, I have a community in my cohort that offers perspective, challenges my assumptions, provides encouragement, and above all, expresses love for me, each other, and God. That must be the glue in this bricolage of who I am and am still becoming.