With frangipanis on the altar, forty years ago today I made vows : “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love and honour you all the days of my life.” We encouraged each other to be our best true selves, and from time to time that level of honesty and authenticity wasn’t easy to hear or live by. Dissent often arrives when we turn up bringing our truth.
[Dissent is paralleled in formalised sets of relationships that become institutions. The great Australian leader, John Menadue wrote in his autobiography:
All institutions, like people, are in need of radical daily reform. Without dissenters, institutions die. In that respect I became more radical as I grew older. I now believe that the one thing above all else I’ve learned is that we need relationships and community if our lives are to be complete.
The protestant tradition of dissent was the foundations for Menadue and fortunately for us he continued to hold that in his public life. It happens that I live on Methodist Street and I am grafted from the oldest of vines in the Christian tradition. Despite this heritage, I am not adverse to the dissenting spirit and it is taken shape in me over the years mostly with feminist and liberation theology, While I have grown weary of holding myself in the places where dissent is a form of survival as well as a political imperative, it is still there inside of me and won’t go away. ]
Dissent gave me a big God and helped me inherit a deeper more powerful story than I was being offered by clergy. If all creatures are made in the image of God, then the sheer diversity of what we can see and what has been and yet to come is surely the only evidence of a God who has many guises. This really helped me get a deep appreciation for ecumenism and then multi-faith practices.
It is in relationship we come to test boundaries and how much dissent can be managed. [This happens in democracy too – a flawed but vital way we organise ourselves to be free within shared agreed limits. It is fragile and we enlist with our vote and then often leave the accountability to the elected. But we have signed up, and in the conversations and public discourse can shape what happens next.]
I want my relationships to be messy, to include dissent, to take me deeper and to new places, to give me insights and challenges, to help me turn up to my true self. I want a road less travelled and possibly along the way slay a few dragons, cross jungles, ogle at vistas and survey huge horizons in awe and silence. I want a big enough canvas for a God too big to be contained on that canvas, and I want to know in all of this, dissent will strengthen, not weaken. I want to be brave enough to bring a dissenting voice or idea with kindness and compassion to any conversation – big or small. I want to be able to say to myself with conviction and follow through with action: the truth will set you free and being true to your self is a freedom.
Freedom is a gift hard earnt by detaching (and de-cluttering) and in this time of detachment, I am learning some things are easier to let go of than others, including the notion of being true to yourself carefully hidden in the first part of the marriage vow – I promise to be true to you – has the power to mean a fidelity to your own truth … and that is a new dissenting idea in this year of self-compassion.
I can smell the frangipanis.
Vows to My Self
I promise to be true to my self
In good times and in bad,
In sickness and in health.
I will love and honour my self
All the days of my life.