As a little girl, I wrote stories on wide-ruled notebook paper, spending page after page on character descriptions. Once, I forgot to introduce a plot so entirely that, after reading several pages, my mom gently said, “Maybe it’s time for the characters to . . . do something?”
I wanted to know my characters so much more than I wanted to determine what they were doing. Why care about what they were doing if I couldn’t understand what might have motivated them to do it, why they were acting that way, who they were, how they thought?
This specific curiosity manifested in my early friendships as well, though I did not allow my questions to emerge in conversation like I released them onto paper. I wanted to understand everything, but ask nothing of anyone else. I wanted to already know, or at least unearth knowledge on my own. I wanted to be curious and competent at once—a bitter cocktail of desire. I told myself it was sweet.
I believed that if I took up space in the world by asking questions, I was imposing on others. It was better, I concluded, to go at it alone, and to become a resource for others while never requesting that they be one for me. I would be the one to hack my way through the jungle of knowledge in pursuit of the treasures hidden there, forging a path that others could travel behind me. They could even have the treasure when they arrived. My treasure was in being the one who already knew because she got there first, on her own.
While I would like to say that this corrupted way of thinking began to work its way out of me in childhood, the truth is closer to this—I still wake up in the morning with those thoughts. It’s hard for me to think about having a column, because I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of my in-process thoughts taking up a designated space in the world. I am tempted each day to believe that independence is the highest good, that my value is wrapped up in my knowledge and competence, that I am only worth the concrete information I have to share. The thought of bringing others along on my journey of discovery is terrifying, yet shimmers with simultaneous appeal.
This column is the next step in my journey toward believing that I do not have to know it all, that I can share my curiosity and journey toward understanding with others. It’s an invitation for all of us to leave behind whatever it is that keeps us from traversing life’s overgrown paths together—the fear of not knowing, of relational rejection, of not being the smartest or the gentlest or the funniest—and stop going at it alone. It’s a caravan of curiosity driving to the water’s edge so that we can step into the ocean and linger in the tide.
Maybe you’re like me in some way—a thirty-something, a parent of little ones, a seminary student, a pastor’s spouse, a nonprofit worker, a lover of the places where orthodoxy and orthopraxy meet. Maybe we share an affinity for personality typing, or reading, or The West Wing. Maybe you’re nothing like me, save our shared affection for Fathom. While much of this column will shift in focus over time, one thing will remain the same—I’m setting a long table. Regardless of differences or similarities, there will be space for both of us.
My hope is to share what’s brewing in me by pouring you the first cup—one that will taste like the sweetness of friendship, sometimes mixed with the bitterness of injustice, always evoking the richness of embodied faith and the spice of personality. I’m fixated on us like I am those characters from my childhood—why do we think this way? Who do we believe ourselves to be? What motivates you and me? And I wonder if, by exploring together, we can begin to discover what it looks like to move, finally, into a plot.
Kevin Vanhoozer writes of the Body of Christ “rehearsing the kingdom” together. I hope this column will serve as some notes in the margin of our script, encouraging us as we step onto the stage. Join me?