A couple of weeks ago, I got to spend an evening with Julia Dinsmore, a woman full of grace and medicine stories whose book you should go buy, read, and share with someone else who can’t afford it. Julia talked about being poor, about living without safety nets, about the genius instilled and necessitated by poverty. She chastised those of us (me) who’d been apologetic about coming from a middle-class family. “Don’t be guilty about that! Middle-class is good! Use it!” Toward the end of our conversation, I asked her what that meant. What should I DO with all my privilege? Is there some way I get to use it to clear space for other people, to make way for those stories to get through? She thought about it for a while, and then said, “Yes. It’s a midwife thing.”
The week before that happened, I was with a bunch of my youth at a big conference in Colorado. In his sermon on the last night, Jarrod McKenna challenged all of us there to commit to radical obedience wrapped in sincere belief in God’s active presence – to live out our heritage as “dunker punks.” The sermon sparked something – or, maybe it’s more accurate to say tapped into some fire already ignited – and people have been working at being present, obedient Dunker Punks in a bunch of interesting ways these last few weeks. My friend Josh works (like I do, but only 1/4 time, you know, so I'm wayyyy less implicated, right?) for “the man,” in the denominational offices in Elgin, and we’ve been talking about what it means for an institution to support a movement. He wrote a blog about a conversation where we stumbled into the idea that the role of a leader in current power structures is to be a midwife, to help birth that new thing, to recognize which pain is the pain of new life and which pain is the pain of something amiss.
In the last week, I’ve had two more conversations about midwifery, neither of which I instigated, both of which caught me off guard. What's up, midwifery? Got something to say to me? And why are you such a fun word to say?
The old is passing away, y’all. Do you feel it? It’s happening in the church. It’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s happening in Gaza. It’s happening every place the cheap veneer of respectability is being torn away from the scarring realities of injustice, irrelevance, racism and greed.
We live in Rome. We live in the Capitol. We live in the center of power, distracted by bread and circuses, hunger games, institutional shuffling of deck chairs. We live in the center of empire, comforted by security systems, cushions of wealth, platitudes of certainty. We live in a constructed reality meant to coddle us into complacency.
When the fabric of these illusions begins to unravel, when something unavoidably horrific happens, we try hard to avoid it, to explain it away, to maintain our delicate balance of ignorance and avoidance. But those moments are irruptions of the real – slivers of what’s true breaking in, breaking through, reducing our arrogant cries of “peace, peace” (when there is NO peace) to what they actually are: pitiful cries for mercy, cowardly refusals to acknowledge reality.
We live among the ruins of every security system we’ve attempted to erect. And the thing is, I think: all this ruination is GOOD. All these lies getting burnt away are part of that process of refining. If we die with Christ, we will also live with him.
I am not a midwife. I don’t understand childbirth. Heck, I’ve only got one remaining ovary and a rather shady uterus as it is. But I’m beginning to suspect that all this pain, all this destruction of certainty, all this ruination of worldview, all these painful revelations may in fact be the pain of new birth. Could it be? Could it be that we’re being uprooted and upheaved in order to usher in some tiny, screaming bit of new life?
That’s the hope I land on after this week of grief and lament. That God might, in fact, be doing a new thing. And this, this right here, is my pitiful attempt at being a midwife. God is doing a new thing. Do we not perceive it?