The Long, Hard, Stupid Way

This week has been thick and dense, much like the cloud cover and fog that have engulfed the city. So my post is long. If you want to read it, you might want to line your snacks up ahead of time.

This being an odd-numbered month, Heretic School is on tap for early Tuesday mornings at Emmanuel Church. Heretic School makes the fabric of my week so much more vibrant and resilient. Sitting together with people I admire, puzzling our way through texts that baffle, annoy, or outright frighten us, is such a great and generous gift of time and spirit.

Later in the week I heard a great lecture by a designer named Frank Chimero, entitled “Do Things the Long, Hard, Stupid Way.” In the lecture, Chimero tells the story of David Chang, the head chef in the wildly popular New York City restaurant Momofuku. The story, perhaps apocryphal, is that Chang caught his sous chef cutting a corner in preparing a dish and told him:

Just because we’re a casual restaurant, doesn’t mean we don’t hold ourselves to fine dining standards. We try to do things the right way. That usually means doing things the long, hard, stupid way.

Since the “long, hard, stupid way” pretty much describes the way I’ve done just about anything worthwhile in my life, this story appeals to me. It reminds me of the thing my older brother told me once, with which I ended my previous post here. It also reminds me of the time years ago that I heard T-Bone Burnett talk in an interview about how one of the things that appealed to him about Christianity was how difficult it is. These are my people, and they’re singing my song!

So all this was rolling around in my Joybrain this week when I engaged a Biblical literalist on Facebook over the Amendment One vote that’s coming up in North Carolina on Tuesday. A friend of mine had posted this great flow chart on her Facebook page:

One of her Facebook friends responded with the standard line that God made marriage for one man and one woman, “it was Adam and Eve not Steve & Tom or Mary & Joyce.” At first, I thought, no, I’m not getting into this. These types of arguments rarely go anywhere, and they often frustrate and demoralize me.

Without comment, I posted a link to a video that had interviews with a wide variety of North Carolina clergy saying what was wrong with Amendment One and why people should vote against it.

The man responded with more canned argument about how our country has gotten away “from knowing God and his word” and that we need to repent and come to Jesus or we’ll fall under the power of other countries. At that point, it was my bedtime, but I couldn’t resist responding with this before I went to bed:

I’m a Christian, lesbian, and married to my wife for the past 8 years here in Massachusetts. We have three daughters together. I read and study the Bible, go to church every Sunday, pray daily, and know that, like you, I am made in the image of God.

The work of Jesus Christ about freeing ALL God’s people from tyranny, oppression, and danger. Jesus had NOTHING to say about homosexuality, and very little to say about marriage. More than anything else, he talked about not being afraid and about the corrupting, oppressive power of wealth. If you actually read the legislation, Amendment One puts all kinds of North Carolina’s families and children at risk. Certainly not what Jesus would want for God’s people.

I would go so far as to say that Amendment One would make North Carolina look more like Taliban-ruled Afghanistan than any state in this country, which, after all, was founded on liberty for all people. I don’t normally engage with people who claim to know what God thinks, and I may end up regretting this, but I couldn’t stay silent. Silence has never protected anyone.

When I got up the next morning, I resisted the temptation to see how the man responded. I wasn’t sure I was up to what I assumed would be a lot of vitriol. As PW and I drove to work together, I told her about the Facebook thread. She suggested that I was already in the conversation, and advised that I go ahead and read his response, but with as much compassion as possible. And that if I chose to respond to him, to do so from a place of compassion, not combativeness.

His response was to tell me that he is a retired soldier, working with other soldiers, and that he has been to Iraq and Afghanistan and clearly I know nothing about the Taliban, who will kill anyone who does not believe what they believe. His ending surprised me: “May God work in you his will and glory in Christ Jesus.” It struck me as open-handed, which I’m sure was partly due to my adopting PW’s suggested posture of compassion. So I responded:

Thank you for your service, and for your ongoing support for and work with soldiers. My comparison with the Taliban has to do with a religious minority attempting to impose its world view and its rigid perception of God’s law onto a population that does not share its religious views. That is what Amendment One is all about–a religious minority attempting to write into state law its particular religious views.

I encourage you, and anyone else reading this thread, to stop and consider what we know about the universe—it is rapidly expanding and only about 15% of the matter in it is known to humans. If the universe is the work of God, and I think it is, why on earth would anyone assume that God’s only communication with us is contained solely in The Bible? If God’s ever-expanding creation is made in God’s image, then perhaps God continues to speak to us, at all times, in all places, and in ways that we can barely comprehend.

Given what the scriptures tell us, over and over, about what God wants for God’s people, I think that it is safe to believe that where justice, mercy, and love are alive in the world, that is God speaking. Where hunger, oppression, tyranny, hatred, and division are alive, that is God weeping.

I pray that all people in all places may find ways, whatever their path, to expand the realm of justice, mercy, and love, and to shake off the chains of tyranny, oppression, hatred, and division.

As I reflected on it, I realized that the key for me in this exchange was to stay invested in simply standing and representing a different view–to represent possibility, and not get invested in winning the argument, or convincing the other person. Those results would be nice, but, to paraphrase William Stafford as I’ve done before, it’s the process that’s important.

The exchange was also an excellent test of my convictions. Do I really want the realm of justice, mercy, and love to be alive in the world? Yes, yes I do. How hard am I willing to work for it? As hard as I can. Some days there’s more can in me than others. And since it’s not work that can be done alone, that’s why it’s so important to draw strength from others. I draw my strength from people in and out of church, with people I know and with people I have never met, but am connected with by a web of Love.

I know as well as anyone that to take on a label is to risk being pigeonholed by other people’s assumptions. If I’m a lesbian, I probably hate men, or I couldn’t get one to like me, or I just haven’t met the right one. If I’m a Christian, I’m probably an irrational, science-denying person incapable of critical, analytical thought. I’ve heard all that and more.

But see, for me, being a Christian (and for that matter, being a lesbian!) has meant doing things the Long, Hard, Stupid way. It is to willingly inherit an ancient legacy of stories and customs that have been misused and badly interpreted for millennia. It is to share a path with people who, at one extreme, believe me to be unworthy and ungodly purely because of whom I love. If I am to live with any amount of integrity, then I believe it’s essential for me to stand and represent the possibilities inherent in the labels I take on.

Christianity is a peculiar path for me, made all the more peculiar by the fellow travelers. It’s a long, hard way, in which you’re guaranteed to encounter stupidity. So, really, it’s a lot like the rest of life, unless you have figured out some way to live in an echo chamber of genius. In which case, I’d suggest that you’re missing out on some interesting, provocative, and challenging scenery.

This week I found that engaging the more close-minded of my fellow Christian travelers with detachment and compassion can be excellent practice for clarifying my understanding of and my thoughts about this path. It’s also an intensive cardio workout for my compassion, which both feeds my desire to be on the path and makes me better at staying on it.

GForce, age 3, in the suds

While I was taking a shower on Friday morning, I noticed that the new bar of soap was particularly sudsy. It occurred to me that I’ve never heard a singular for the word “suds.” What would the point of a single “sud” be, anyway?

Then it occurred to me that Christianity is like suds, it is inherently and essentially communal. It’s not a path meant to be traveled alone. Which is why it’s difficult. Which is why it demands companionship. Which is why it’s difficult. Which is why it requires companionship. It’s circular like that. Not the least bit efficient.

So here’s to the Long, Hard, Stupid Way. Maybe I’ll see you somewhere on the path, and we can hoist some suds to the journey and our fellow travelers. The first round is on me.


38 responses to “The Long, Hard, Stupid Way

  1. Joy, every time I read one of your posts, I think it is the best. BUT, this is truly moving. Honestly, I never cry. (I think it is due to the meds I take) but this nearly brought me to tears. You are so gifted in so many ways, and I am blessed to be a recipient of this particular glimpse into you.

    • Penelope, I wonder if your geographical proximity to my mother is showing its effects. (: Your presence in my life, and in my parents’ lives, is a blessing to me. Thank you so much for being such a loyal supporter and friend.

  2. Joy, your posts travel farther than you may realize; what a blessing that they do. A mutual friend of ours has shared many of your posts with me and now I’m a “subscriber”. Your Facebook conversation with the military chaplain struck me as beautifully done, precisely because it was done “the long, hard, stupid, way”–emphasizing God’s love and mercy, rather than mounting a smart, efficient sharp-edged attack (as I’m often tempted to do) on religious platitudes and ossified thinking. What your partner-in-conversation received from you was grace and truth, which works its way mysteriously, sometimes slowly, sometimes imperceptibly to change the human heart. I hope this coming week feels lighter, as you have responded to muddied thinking with charitable light. That light will surely return to you.

  3. Penelope Lane

    From the other Penelope, I can’t even imagine being part of a church that didn’t have you in it. I fret away in silence and you express everything that’s important. You give me such courage! What a gift you are.

    • How lucky am I to know two amazing Penelopes! Apparently, you have no idea how much courage you give to me. I do so love that mutual ministry thing we have working between us. xoxo

  4. Your posts about religion renew my faith in faith.

    • Ms. Spy, your posts about life renew my faith in words. I feel so blessed and comforted to move through these spaces and musics where you have been before me.

  5. I am glad you are my friend.

  6. I love you :)

  7. This one’s gonna make me marshall my thoughts into the long, hard [but hopefully not stupid] way to reply to people whose viewpoints I find abhorent. Working on PW’s posture of compassion will straighten my spine for sure. But your example of how to take the long, hard way is beyond encouraging, all the way to desparately needed. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You never cease to amaze, edify, and delight. LOVE YOU. JO

    • LOVE YOU right back! Also, I can’t wait to see your thoughts, post-marshaling. I envision them marching in lockstep, singing six part harmony. You go girl!

  8. Wonderful post

  9. As someone who has always been fairly fixated on doing things the smart way, I haven’t realized before how you’re opening my eyes to additional goals. The long, hard stupid way usually felt like a detour before.

    • I’ve heard of the concept of doing things the smart, efficient way. But I generally can’t come up with that way on my own, and, funnily enough, it feels like a detour to me. So we are complementary pieces of life’s great puzzle. I like that!

  10. Here’s to the long, hard stupid way, indeed. And to you, for engaging in that FB conversation in a way that will open minds rather than entrench polarized opinions.

  11. I was raised in a strict, fundamental home and church. The god worshiped by eveyone I knew had no love for anyone outside our little group; no divorced people, no one who couldn’t stand and testify weekly. Even as a small child, I knew I didn’t fit into that group. I left all church going behind as an young adult and later found comfort and joy in the beautiful order and calm acceptance of the Lutheran service. In the last 20 years I have not known what I believe, where (if anywhere) I might belong. It was in no small part from reading your posts that I realized one can be a Christ-ian without necessarily identifying with any single religion or group. Unconditional love, by definition, includes me, you, everyone. Understanding that is true joy,
    and a relief. Your posts are the closest thing to the kind of “church” to which I would like to belong that I have ever found. Thank you and amen.

    • Judith, I’m always happy, and relieved, to meet fellow travelers. I have always suspected that there are far more of us than we think, but we tend to endure things silently, or just walk away in despair.

      PW preached once in a sermon at Emmanuel that “Believing is not a condition for beloving or belonging here.” I suspect that’s a classic Anglican/Episcopal approach. I also suspect that it’s rare for a priest to say that sort of thing out loud, much less from the pulpit. I also suspect that the way people respond to that indicates that many people confuse religion with belief. To me, it’s always been about finding interesting people with whom to travel the long, hard, stupid way. Thank you for coming here. I hope you will continue to look for others of us on the path. I’m glad to have found you.

  12. Joy, I loved this —

  13. Joy, this post (and your last few recently) have made me realize what a gap there has been in my life (and in many of our lives) when your job has taken the time you used to write posts. This one is a masterpiece; and I want to frame “the long, hard, stupid way” and post it in front of my desk to remind me of tolerance and compassion. And this also reminds me of why I miss you and our church so much. Thanks for this wonderful piece.

    • You are so very welcome, Marcia. Funnily, I had this weird moment today when I could have sworn I saw you across the sanctuary. Wishful thinking, I guess. I hope to see you and Ty again soon. Love to you both.

  14. Wow. Joy, several of your postings have left me stunned but yet still inspired. I find value in them at my own intellectual and spiritual level but, at the same time, I know in my heart that I have a lot of growing to do before I even begin to grasp the meaning in the depths of your writing. This one . . . well I suspect that I will be chewing on the “long, hard, stupid way” metaphor for quite a while. Also, frankly, you are forcing me to rethink my stereotype of a Christian as (as you put it) “an irrational, science-denying person incapable of critical, analytical thought.” Much discomfort there . . . but perhaps I can rise to the challenge. Thank you Joy.

    • Karl, you are very welcome. Thank you for sharing all that. If it’s any consolation, I have found that “stunned but yet still inspired” to be a state that provokes a lot of growth. Maybe it cracks open some cells somewhere, or helps to create new neurological pathways. I have no idea, since I’m neither a scientist, nor do I play one on TV.

      In short, I’ve been in that place you describe. Sometimes, I still find myself there. However, for what it’s worth, my travels of the long, hard, stupid way have helped me become the writer and thinker that I am now. It feels like the right trajectory for me. As long as I’m still learning to shed assumptions and reductive thoughts that don’t serve me (or anyone else), I figure I’m headed in the right direction. And if I can do it, anyone can!

      It’s really comforting to have old friends like you along for the ride, Karl. Thank you.

  15. Just caught up with what you’ve been writing here over the past few days, Joybells. I read back through your profoundly forgiving “We moved the runner over” and lovely Hafiz post to this one. By the time I hit the play button on the video, I was full up, just sitting here thinking about it all, thinking about you—and then Sheryl Crow did that little melismatic vocalise up to a high note at the end of the bridge, and it just ran right up my spine into my brain and out my tear ducts. All I could think was, what a gift it is to have you for my very own sister.

    Nobody knows better than you the long, hard, and very stupid way I came to accept you as you are, which of course made possible a more expansive acceptance of myself. That was your enormous generosity of spirit, your openness, your forgiveness and love of me, at work. Nobody else I know envisions, creates, and preserves relationships in quite the way you do, sister of mine. I love the way you love people. You’re one of the very best human beings I know.

    And I get to be your brother. Amazing.


    • Oh My Brother. Your words just ran right up my spine and out my tear ducts, to quote a wise and wonderful man I know. Thank you for hanging in on the long, hard, stupid ways that we have each traveled. I am reminded of a classic poem:

      “And now, my friendly brother, we’ve a shiny pointy [sibling]hood.
      For years to come, and still through the future
      ‘Twill be strong, because you ‘twould.”

      I love being your sister. How great that we both lived long enough to find ourselves in this amazing place.


    • Oh my goodness, now I’m crying.

    • Oh my goodness, now I’m crying. You are both amazing : )

  16. I think Cheryl Crowe meant to sing “and let the TEARS flow” “and let these WORDS flow” !!

  17. Dear Joy,
    I’m an occasional visitor to the Crooked Line – and am better for the posts I read and doubtless diminished by the ones I don’t – and am so grateful for the Long, Hard, Stupid Way and what is says to me about the Way of Love that in my better moments, I seek to trod. Thank you for both reminding me of and profoundly challenging me with the paradoxically simple truth that the shortest distance between two human points is the crooked line of aimless love.

  18. Love your writings. You have such a gift to share. Thank you!

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