I picture myself on an ancient city wall. I am a "watchman". I grew up in this city. The architecture, the language, the people—for the most part—are familiar to me. I know the key beliefs, the lifestyle expectations. The city is quaint and pretty. People enjoy their lives. Seeing the smiles and laughter of its citizens brings joy to my heart. I do not have to think twice about my being a part of this city, I simply am. Standing on this wall, though, creates a certain distance. While the vantage point is nice and I can see many people and much of the city, it is easy to feel removed from the central life and activity. This felt distance isn't all bad, however, because I am beginning to remember that there are uncertainties and misgivings in my own heart about how the city is run. After all...
I know much of why the wall I am standing on was built. I know the stories. Stories of war. Wars that involve brutal, evil, often impersonal enemies. Wars that required sacrifices and necessitated action. Wars of ideas. Wars of values. Wars. I remember legends of "heretics" and "heresies" in combat with "truth". I remember being told what, and how, to think. Discontent and even anger flare up in me. Looking at the quaint city which, moments earlier had brought feelings of warmth and memory now make me think of hypocrisy and arrogant certainty in the face of what I believe to be valid questions. I can't look now. Forgetting for the moment that I am still in and a part of this city, I look out on the horizon. I see a broad, beautiful countryside, grassy plains, forests with mighty trees and behemoth mountains beyond. My eyes begin to focus in on other clans, other peoples, other cities. Even from so great a distance, I feel that I am almost a part of these different groups. Their language may be different, their beliefs perhaps much different than mine, but I have sensed kindred spirits within these groups. I remember conversations I have had with different members of these communities at the city gate. I remember times where I have briefly ventured outside the city walls (not longer than moments, really) and have been impacted by other people, perspectives, thoughts. Some of these "others" have such a beautiful sense of peace and wonder about them, others have hurt and defiance towards my city and what they feel has been done to them. In hearing such different stories and some of the weight of these others' experiences, my dissatisfaction and anger towards my city flare up even more in my inner being. How can I be at peace with how I am, with the city I am a part of? Must I ignore the ignorance of my community and worse, ignore the atrocities? Must I pretend with them that everything is fine here? How can I?
It is in this moment that I am extremely puzzled to hear a small voice from inside me remind me that somehow, my place is here. This peaceful communication from the center of my being reminds me that anger and hate aren't my code of conduct, and that such feelings are the foundation of my misgivings with my city. I cannot continue to give in to anger, I must forgive. I must forgive those that have hurt me. Forgive those in my city that have hurt others. Forgive the bitterness and resentment of the "others" outside this city and acknowledge the brokenness and limitations in each and all parties. It occurs to me that, ironically, in being a watchman, I just might be of great use in such a time and place as this.
Overseeing the wall, I can fight to keep the city door open to others who could easily be labeled "foreigners" or "outsiders", but may just need the safety and security the city provides. Being on the wall, I can continue to have the meaningful encounters with others outside of my traditions, my city, and can enjoy a degree of kinship even without either party needing to copy or become the other. I can continue to change and be changed without needing to leave my city or become its center. Being a part of my city, I can be more bold with what I have seen from the wall. I can share my stories, my experiences, my perspectives. I can share the dark side of our good intentions, I can share hope in the face of our insecurities. I can do all this in love and gentleness with firmness. Without pretending to know it all or have a solution for everything, I can share my muddled perspectives drawn from my liminality. I can share my questions. I can sound an alarm that I believe we need to ask some more questions for and of ourselves and that there is reforming to be done. I can be content knowing that I don't need to make anything happen, but people who are awakened to and quickened by the love beating in their own hearts will have their ideas, their contributions to make. I can be hopeful knowing that the people I know and love have their own identity and destiny, and that this beautiful intricate story we are a part of will not happen with a new program or only one person's (self-admitted) great ideas.
So I stand with a renewed confidence and full heart, looking first to my city but also to the world at large—this time with a quiet, inner hope. I know where I am and some of what I am to do.
A few years ago, a friend of mine prayed/spoke over me that I am "a watchman". Like all symbols, there are always new ways of interpreting and as my life moves and perspective changes, I see myself and the idea of "being a watchman" differently at different times. Lately, I've been thinking about this identifying term as an interesting picture of where and with whom my life is lived, and how there are times where my head and heart long for what is "different," "beyond" or "contrary" to the social and religious norms of people around me. I'd be happy to clarify in greater detail if people have questions, but for now I think I'll let the picture speak for itself.