The Power of Engagement / by Jeff Tacklind

“Agreement has rarely been the mandate for people to love each other.”  Padraig O Tuama

I am the master at disappearing whenever I’m tired or nervous or overwhelmed.  I look for a distraction and poof, I vanish.  I have figured out how to protect myself by disengaging.  It isn’t meant to be personal.  I’ve just learned, over the years, that this seems to cause the least amount of disruption.  Or maybe it just feels like the least costly way to manage my own inner anxiety.  When I grow tired or uncomfortable I am looking for the exit.

But the problem is that disappearing leaves behind a kind of turbulence in its wake.  It is a subtle offense, but an offense none the less.  To withdraw, to vanish, is to disengage.  I am seeking safety in isolation.  I am retreating to my island where I’m alone.  I am withdrawing to my safe tower.

In the safety of my isolation I then work through the difficulties and tensions of the world without disruption.  I can dissect disagreements in my theoretical lab without the messiness of other people’s emotions, conflicting cultures, or varying experiences. 

I’d like to think that I’m being objective, but without the accountability of the other, there is very little actual work being done.  Instead, I’m creating inner peace through my own rationalization.  And while I may slowly take steps of growth, in isolation, I risk something much more sinister.  I risk objectifying the other.

Yesterday I was invited to an interfaith prayer rally.  Everything in me wanted to go.  The cause of racial reconciliation has been an increasing burden.  I’ve been feeling helpless on the matter.  Shamed by my own position of privilege.  Cautious of differing political views around me.  And well aware of the triggers that so easily push these matters of disagreement into the morass of deep division and fracture.

I remember listening to Seth Godin speak on fundamentalism and he asked the question, “What is your initial response to a new idea? The curious ask, is it true?  The fundamentalist asks whether a fact is acceptable to their faith before they explore it.”

Right now, we live in a religious and political climate that is decidedly opposed to exploration and curiosity.  It is a time for entrenchment.  Or, at the very least, avoidance.  As I looked at this prayer rally, my heart said go.  But my head ran through every scenario that could create conflict, misunderstanding, or distrust within my own faith community.  My fundamentalism was showing.  And disengagement wasn’t just appealing.  My flight mechanism was triggered.  It was survival.

But there is something deeper going on within me.  Something core to who I am.  My heart beats for authenticity, but also for exploration.  I’ve always wanted to know why.  I’ve always been wired to ask the question nobody else wanted to ask. 

But the urgency I feel about the brokenness of the world isn’t just personal.  I have skin in the game.  I have these three beautiful children that are inheriting this mess.  To disengage from that feels like the worst kind of neglect.  I must engage.

And so Patty and I went.  Such a simple act, and yet it was filled with risk.   I was the only one from my particular evangelical tribe present.  As the clergy stood up, I for maybe the first time in my life, was the minority.  The 6’4 white male evangelical without a robe in the front row. I kinda stood out.

But as I stood, my heart filled with pride.  I was proud to stand with these brothers and sisters of mine from all walks of faith.  It was so moving.

As I sat through the service, I simply opened my heart to receive.  And what I was met with was the warmest embrace I’ve felt in a long time.  Broken hearts, united in purpose, seeing beyond difference to that place of deep commonality.  People speaking their truth in ways that were their own and yet could so easily coexist in the sea of love that embraced us all.  It was powerful.  It was simple.  And my heart was filled.

I don’t want to stay safe anymore.  I want to speak truth, but always in love.  I want love to come first, before even faith and hope.  This is what Paul tells us.  That love is the greatest of these.  And it isn’t safe.  It is messy.  It is broken.  But it is also rich and deep and beautiful. 

I don’t want to wait until I agree to engage.  I want to engage in the midst of my disagreements and let love and truth be my guide. 

Fears are small, and yet, when positioned in such a way, like the moon today, they can eclipse the sun.  Our light is bright, and yet can be hidden.  When we disengage, our light is diminished.  Our love is eclipsed.  But with a simple act of courage, we engage with our hearts.  And the result is something bright and warm.  It illuminates the darkness.  It reveals the hope within us.  And we grow.