From 2009 until 2018, I did a lot of work in what can best be described as the “Progressive Christian Influencer” arena. I wrote extensively, publishing articles in national publications and having chapters and essays published in books. I traveled a lot, speaking to audiences as small as seminary classrooms and as large as music festivals and youth conferences. It all seems surreal.
There is no such thing, really, as a “speaking circuit”. But, there is a small group of people who generally make a large portion of their living – directly or indirectly – from public speaking. They generally work in niches – like I was in the progressive Christian niche. And since there is a finite number of speaking opportunities in any given year, and since most events have multiple speakers, many of the folks who speak in a given niche know each other, if for no other reason than we share stages and events.
As I said, I pretty much quit that life in 2018. It wasn’t good for me – I actually think it isn’t good for anyone – and the healthiest thing for me to do was to walk away. But I still have a lot of friends I met on those stages. After all, when you are on the road, staying in a beige chain motel in a suburb of Toledo Ohio, having long conversations in the hotel bar (or, more likely, the motel doesn’t have a bar, so you end up in the Applebees in the parking lot) with other people who understand your life leads to lasting intimacies. Or, at least, it can.
So, a few weeks ago, someone I know well from that time was passing through Jackson. He lives on the other side of the country, and while we have stayed in touch, it had been years since we spent time together. So, we had lunch.
It was nice, catching up. Hearing the stories of his children, beyond what I had gleaned from Instagram. The work he is up to now, the new project he has started. His current interests and hobbies. Eventually, the conversation stalled a bit, and he looked at me. Like, really looked at me. Like he was actually seeing me, or rather, seeing inside me.
“Man, you’ve changed.”
“Oh? I have? How?”
“You’re… calmer? Less angry? Less intense? Something like that. That’s not quite it, but it’s close.”
I knew what he meant. I’ve felt it too. You can most tell it in my writing, I think. It’s not that I don’t have opinions – I assuredly do. And it’s not that I’m not passionate about the things that matter to me – I assuredly am. To be socially conscious and to live in a place like Mississippi is to be enraged nearly all the time.
But I’ve lost all stomach for fighting for the sake of fighting. And over the last few years, I’ve been doing a lot of self-work.
A thing I find helpful when examining a belief I hold is to ask myself what the world would be like if everyone held that belief.
If the answer is that things would be worse than they are now, I work to change that belief, because it doesn’t move me closer to the world I want to live in.
(This does require that you be willing to examine your beliefs in the first place.)
And I don’t want to live in a world where the default response to things that are wrong is that we fight.