The Role of the Black Sheep and Spiritual Development

On Spiritual Development and the Role of Black Sheep

I just got back from a funeral in Fort Worth. We commemorated the life of my grandfather, a lifelong fundamentalist Christian, revered by hundreds. After my mad dash to leave town, I discovered the funeral dress I brought was moderately see-through in the sunlight. I wore it to hear the preacher eulogize my grandfather and his Obedience To The Lord.

I grew into a Black Sheep at twelve, when imitating Jesus became nearly impossible. I looked askance at the cousins’ hand-me-downs from 1972. I spent lots of time fixing my hair. I found my uncle’s Popeye routine repulsive. The aunts said I was vain and selfish. I should learn to sit beside the kid with the snotty nose and be grateful for decade-old corduroy jumpers. That’s what Jesus would do. Jesus wouldn’t worry about style or catching diseases from people.

I colored my life with rebellions. I left their church. I got divorced. I lived in sin. I made gay friends and Muslim friends and Jewish friends and Catholic, ex-convict friends. None of them asked me to handle snot. They taught me: good people come in all packages.

One day, I posted an announcement on Facebook about The Vagina Monologues. That was the last straw. I got unfriended, dis-fellowshipped, cut off.

At the funeral, their faces looked angry or aloof or something I couldn’t quite tag. They no doubt wondered why I wore a jacket in 95 degree weather. But I had this thought: maybe the Church of Christ relatives are actually scared of me. Like if they get too close, they will catch something.

The Black Sheep is a reluctant leader. She does things the rest of us are afraid to do. She takes an alternate path. She breaks a mold. She burns a bra. She writes a shocking memoir. We give her the evil eye. Because we are intimidated.

In his book, Falling Upward, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, describes how the first and second halves of life involve very different kinds of spiritual development. In the first half, we need an absolute, a container, to hold specific values and ideas. But at some point in adulthood, that container should break, if we are to continue becoming all that we were meant to be.

The Black Sheep embodies this shattered container. He lets go of something. He gives up meat and takes up organic gardening. He trades his SUV for a folding bicycle. He comes out as gay. He builds a successful business and makes lots of money.

If this frightens you, consider your inner Black Sheep. People may watch you closely because they sense the part of you that needs to unfold. Something past its prime…a dogma, a family tradition, a pretense, a food habit…now fits like your junior high gym shorts.

You need change. We all need change. Your higher self calls you to a whole new way of seeing the world.

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