An Abandoned Line...progressivism, truth, & opportunity

Posted by: Richenda at Friday August 22, 2014 in


(Abandoned Line by The B’s 2007 Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

I woke today from a teaching-dream, an insight dream that came as well with a lesson of significance to aid in understanding and correct interpretation. These are uncommon gifts, and one I felt was worth sharing. The dream has to do with western rationalist progressive thinking, and how that influences our interpretations of what we see, how that causes value judgments that might not always be that helpful.

I dreamt this morning that we sold our old house, my partner and I. We sold our house in Camas and we moved into a crappy house, to be frank. It was small, like a trailer but not as good. There were three rooms, it was a rectangle. There was a small square sitting room, bland and dim, and a hovel kitchen, and a rectangle family room that looked like it had been used as a meth house or some other failure-of-life situation. It had great swaths of black over walls and the ceiling, as if it had been either scorched by fire or someone with black spray paint had had at it. The paint in general was splotched and awful. The carpet was whole, but torn and ragged at the walls.


(Trashed house by David 2012 Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

There were no windows in the house. This room had three closets that came into the room as protruding triangles. These storage areas were small and ridiculous really, what space was there? I opened two of them. One was a desk with the doors folded awkwardly so as to be a hidden computer & desk area. The other was a closet proper but little space inside. There was stuff it there, our old vacuum cleaner, and some kind of electronic instrument—electric ‘piano’ or synthesizer. These hung on a hook and were plugged in. Someone had left the switch for the vacuum on. It was loud and obnoxious. I could not at first figure it out, but then turned the vacuum off.

I hollered to my partner in the smaller room how much work there was to do here. The room needed painting and decorating and cleaning and the carpet needed to be replaced. My partner suggested the carpet might survive. I wasn’t sure about that. Maybe just good cleaning would work. I looked at the room. The dirt wasn’t so much of the problem, I thought, as much as was the design. It was so badly designed and awkward.

I went back in the small room for a meal. My partner had similarities to my husband about him, but was very different. This man was bulkier, sicker. He was okay personally and mentally, not an oaf but a regular guy, decent, and a good partner. But physically different and really not the same man as my husband.

I sat at a bald table in the dingy room next to a friend from years ago. I can’t remember the conversation.

I began to wake up. Rolling over I contemplated this dream, with its horrible house. I thought to myself, what have I done? I thought of my own lovely-but-needing-a-few-things house in Camas, and houses much bigger and more beautiful I have dreamed of more recently. Particularly I thought of the dream I had at the Commissioning retreat, where I dreamed I had been appointed to a beautiful church…a house turned place of worship… so very beautiful, such affirmation, assurance, and blessing! And I thought, what have I done? I have sold out my beautiful house and taken on this one! I have been working too hard, compromising too much of my own self and spiritual health. I have chosen a professional path that keeps me behind the scenes, and I miss opportunities of promotion and interactions that I value.

I drifted a bit, back into the dream world and the dream house. I thought about something. I thought of how I have been working through assumptions of progressiveness in my life and my theology. I have realized in this working-through that I am not really a ‘progressive.’ What is progressivism, really. Where am I in this? What is their/the/my assumptive ground?

I lack a full definition of ‘progressive’ for myself, but very particularly I resist the thought under-girding progressivism that everything is better ‘going forward.’ I believe true aliveness and the activity of the divine is more cyclical or seasonal, rotational, that sort of thing, than a rising linear line churning a forward wave with expectations of constant improvement. (Don’t tell my wonderful process-theo friends, for I love them I just can’t meet them here.)

From that progressive perspective, this house felt like a ‘downgrade,’ a ‘set back.’ And, those words freighted with the progressive value set says that back is bad, less evolved, less whole, less capable, and less self-actuated (with self actuation always an assumed good, though it is not).

Think of how we western rationalists freight the phrases ‘going up’ or ‘going down.’ Which is ‘better’? And I have noticed this and called baloney on this many times. The freight given to the expression ‘going forward’ can be deserved. ‘Going forward’ can be a good thing and wise-in-action (I like the word ‘wise’ rather than ‘true’ in this example, as we really do not know what is true. Truth as a divine thing inbreaks our world in different times and places so that it does not always look the same to us—individually or collectively. True and real divine ‘truth’ from different perspectives can cause sectarian and ideological conflict. True then, realized, is not always a given good, and that is horrifying to consider.)

‘Truth’ also falls prey to the ‘progressive’ freighting system which diminishes it with the idea that truth itself ‘evolves’ and becomes better over chronological—or even divine—time. Again, this is a dangerous perspective as ‘truth,’ like the divine, is essentially unchanging and eternal. Our view and understanding of truth can change, but not truth itself.


(Cherub rock by INTVGene 2007 Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

‘Progressives’ might freight the change in a human’s understanding of truth as ‘better’ and ‘more advanced’ over chronological time, as well. I would push back against that and suggest we find a way to talk about our own ‘rotating, not developing’ (or even rotating-as-developing) understanding to make room(s) for us to recognize that there are seasons of thought or feeling. John Wesley talks about ‘maturing’ in faith, and maturing is a seasoned activity.

It is a good thing to mature in faith, and we can and do experience chronological time. As long as our faith-language speaks to the goal of clearing and moving faithfully then it can be very helpful language. However, we must guard for ideologies that impose limits, arrogance, or tyrannies.

So this dream exposed another inner tyranny. Though I have mulled my non-progressive self I also recognize how steeped I am in progressive thinking. This dream invited me to see a little more, again.

I recognized that in all the aspects of the dream were things I would associate with ‘down grade.’ The old vacuum (now broken), the synthesizer, the horrible, torn up room, the tiny closets, the crammed in desk (at least there was one!), the awful kitchen, the dingy square room, the less-healthy partner, the less-admired friend.

When looking at the larger room, I had been more optimistic at first thinking that a little paint and brightening up would go a long way. But I was rapidly moving toward feelings of pessimism and regret. The more I looked, the more the trade off seemed awful. We traded our lovely house for this? Really?

In waking I had a chance to bring this contemplation to my waking memory. I listened to this dream conversation and reflective insight that if I broke free from judging with the ‘progressive’ eye I might see the situation differently. I thought, ‘well, if I am not a progressive I do not have to think of a setback as a bad thing.’ That very thought freed me to see differently. I was at this time back in the dream again, and I thought that where I was presented presented not decline (with progressive freight added) but opportunity. I realized that I had the freedom always to see ‘setbacks’ as a working of the divinehood (and manifested in its nature—we are the nature of the divine in that we are the creation) that makes room for opportunity and space for new things, different outcomes, deeper meaning-making.

I know that feels like a big ‘duh,’ but let it sink in. Let it form you. Let it make space within you in a holy way.

In sitting in the pool of this, I then turned back toward the square room. As I did so I saw a new door. It occurred to me that I had not thought of bedrooms before, or any other possibilities belonging to this house. The new door was an open passageway. It was in shadow, but beyond the door I saw there were more rooms. And this, to me, was the validation, if you will. The proof that I had shifted-to-the-good in some important way.

This new sight/site was a gift, a gift that came out of the recognition that ‘set back’ when freed of the progressive gaze gains (invites intentional openness to) the power of possibility. Possibility, then, becomes the primary good over every trajectory of course. Possibility becomes the power-conduit traversed in reaching for a in-or-outbreaking truth. ‘Set back’ then, not only vitally reveals possibility, but it is, as a reduction to the assumption (a descent from the ascension), especially essential to it.

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