The Problem and Blessing of Transparency
When I started Faith on View in 2011, I wrote on the About page that transparency is a core value of mine and this blog would seek to be transparent. That declaration has been there for eight years now.
Honestly, I knew I was a little nervous about being transparent but I never knew how hard it would really be.
When I started this blog, I had just finished a four year stint heading the Art Department at a very unhealthy Southern Baptist college. There was so much fear in the air at that institution. The idea of being honest and transparent rather than playing to the administration, which I was not good at, was truly a refreshing idea. At the same time, I had applied to PhD programs and the art history world is very secular. I wanted to leave what I saw, at that time, as the oppressive confines of evangelical education. But with my teaching experience at an evangelical school and my scholarly interests in the relationship of contemporary art and religion, I was concerned that I would be cornered into religious work.
At the same time, I was so ready to be me without abandon.
I wish I could say that I have always been a fearless version of myself. But, that hasn’t always been the case. There were times when I held back on putting myself out there. There were times that I didn’t say what I wanted for fear of backlash from family. There were times when I held back on writing about political issues because I was on the job market, and despite my feelings in 2011 I know that a religious institution fits my scholarship best… and we all know evangelicals are doggedly Republican…except I’m not. There was a very real fear that if I wrote more on political issues it would interfere with my job prospects. My political pieces are often popular. Three of my top 10 blog posts relate to politics. Of course, I love when people read what I write, but I also needed a job.
Facing the Risk and Speaking
I already had a huge strike against me when it comes to getting a job at a religious institution. My tenure at that unhealthy Southern Baptist college did not end well. I had stayed quiet about that for a while but when trouble flared up there again and my voice had a chance to help, I chose to write. I wrote a lot. If you missed it; you can read it here. That was very rewarding and it made a difference. I would often get scholars from across the country talking to me about the issues at the college when I was at conferences. But, it was also risky what other professors appreciate and what administrators appreciate are not always the same.
My brother once snarkily responded to a link I shared on Facebook about the situation at the college saying, “What kind of job are you going to get next?” His argument was that to rock the boat, in any industry, was to make one’s self unemployable. I had academic friends who argued with him that the best course of action was to get the truth out. But, it took a long time to get another job so part of me wondered if he was correct.
Plus, anytime one seeks to be transparent there is personal risk. We all have parts of ourselves we like to hide. I am no different. And, despite my efforts to be transparent I fail. I guard myself both professionally and personally. Transparency is scary.
But, it is also rewarding.
I did finally get another job at a university. The school is so much healthier than the one I was at in Louisiana or the one in California that I taught at part-time for several years. Last week, I was talking to one of my new colleagues who was on the search committee that selected me. It came up that he and several on the committee had read everything I had written about the situation at my old college. I asked how close that came to killing my candidacy. The response surprised me a little. He said it actually helped. It gave them more of an idea of who I was, what I was about, and they respected the way I had handled the situation.
That was tremendously rewarding to hear.
The political posting never did come back to bite me. And, it made me a few wonderful connections. One in particular has been a tremendous cheerleader and support as we’ve struggled personally over the last year and a half. There certainly was professional risk but I found even greater personal blessing has come out of it. Oh, and one of the articles got cited in a book which is always cool.
On the Personal Side
Maybe the scariest place to pursue transparency is in one’s personal life. As I’ve written on this blog (here and here for example), we have recently had a hard go of it personally. I’ve had a few people attack me for “airing dirty laundry.” But, it always occurs to me how unhealthy it is to keep things hidden away. That is the natural instinct in my family of origin. But, that is how wounds fester. Dirty laundry left in the hamper stinks, it can mold. I always think about the wise words of the Apostle John, “everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” We should never fear the light.
But, being transparent means risking pain. There were a few times in the last 18 months when the risk didn’t pay off and we experienced great pain and rejection. More often, however, we received love and support. For us, our transparency, or semi-transparency- we had a large group of friends with whom we were transparent on an ongoing basis, though not publicly- was a way of coping. But, I didn’t realize how that could be a blessing to others.
On one social media platform a friend recently said to us:
I’ve been in a dark place for a while. I still kind of am. But your story has added some light and made my place a bit less dark. Watching you all go through what you have been through, and the transparency, and your faith, and so much else, has been extremely inspiring. Someday, in a less public place, I hope to be able to share with you exactly how.
Thank you for being friends… Thank you for enduring, surviving, and sharing your story. Thank you even more for not giving up and losing faith. I know what a battle it is when it hangs from a thread. I know how hard it is to keep fighting the good fight when you just want to give up. I know what work it is to look around and find life’s little blessings, but I see so much of that in your story.
We didn’t know we were doing any of that. We were just trying to survive and sharing our struggles helped in that. But, I think far too often people don’t do that. They keep the laundry in the hamper. By doing that, they at times miss not only the blessing they can receive from others but also the blessing they can be to others.
Some Watch When We Don’t Know
Another friend sent me a message on a different social media platform:
[O]ur connection was born out of a difficult time for both of us, it has been a blessing to see how you have persevered and remained true through what I can only call the darkest of times. You’ve remained true to yourself and to God through great difficulty, and it brings me great joy to see you settling in at Lee Univ. It’s a good school, and I believe you will do well there.
This is a friend who I did not even know was following my story. His words are truly encouraging to me. But, without transparency I would not have received his encouragement nor would he have received to joy of seeing God’s work.
Keeping it Going
I don’t know that it will ever get easier to pursue transparency. I hesitate to say “Be Transparent” because we never fully are. But, I am increasingly convinced of the value in pursuing it.
Most of the Bible is narrative because stories are powerful. The Bible tells those stories with warts and all. The good, the bad, and the really bad are all included. The struggle brings meaning to the triumph. I think that is true in life as well.
Struggle brings meaning to Triumph
When we hide the struggles our story loses power. There are times when achieving ordinary things are tremendous feats of courage. There are times when even just surviving is an act of great strength. It is the context of our story that makes the difference.
I can’t say I will always be transparent. But, I am committed to pursuing transparency. I have seen how the light of transparency can destroy disease and bring healing to me and to others. I now know that my pain may mean good in the lives of others. I pray that I am not so selfish as to hide my pain.