Monday, April 7, 2014

When words build walls

Photo by The Delicious Life
We are sitting in a diner, the twilight sun of a beautiful day shining across our plates as we talk, as we catch up. I am telling her about my current quest to discern where I will fit as a pastor—in which brand of church. I smile and stutter quickly past the main options, knowing all of them will be more liberal than the churches in which she finds herself at home.

She was my Christian buddy at public high school. In between the singing in choir and eating chocolate and walking to the creek to test the water for our science project, I would cling to her and ask, “what have you been reading about in the Bible lately?” and “can you pray for me?”

Now, as we are sitting eating spinach salads and basking in this first warm spring day, I notice that I feel self-conscious about my career path and my church journey. She hasn't said anything to suggest judgment, but even still, I worry that somehow the new trajectory makes me less Christian in her eyes.

In order to justify myself, I resort awkwardly to the old language. “I’m sure God will lead me to the right place,” I say, though the truth is I feel more vulnerable than sure, and I can’t wrap it up so neatly, and I’m not sure these days how exactly providence does its work.


In certain company, I have started to feel defensive about my faith. I feel the need to throw in phrases like, “praying about it” and “God is calling me”—whether or not I’m praying about it, whether it’s God’s voice or my best approximation that I am pursuing.

I’m not sure when it started, but I think it has to do with two litmus-test items in conservative Christianity. I am a woman who decided to become a pastor. And, worse, I came out as a supporter of gay marriage. By simply being who I believe I am called to be, I worry that I have become controversial, maybe heretical to them. They are my friends. I still look up to them in so many ways. They aren't stereotypes (unloving w/ heads in the sand), just as I am not a stereotype (unwilling to take the Bible seriously or sacrifice for faith). I want to stay connected, keep the conversation going. So I feel the need to show them that my faith is still vibrant, real, spirit-filled.

I suspect it is mostly in my perception. There really is no need to be defensive, to throw in the language I usually don’t use anymore because I have become more careful about words and their theological implications. Maybe it is really I who judge myself: I think of how me of five years ago would have looked at me now and wondered about her devotion. Or maybe I am afraid that if I no longer speak my friends’ language, or what I think is their language, we will no longer understand each other. Maybe I am grasping at straws because if I have come to this, there are definitely some ways in which we no longer understand each other, or no longer give each other the chance to sit down late at night and explain where our paths have taken us.

I worry that if I have to prove myself still Christian enough to use those words, maybe I am insecure about something deeper, about my own connection to the source and the ways in which it has become difficult to pray, difficult to hear God’s voice. Maybe that difficulty exists because I am in some kind of wilderness, or because by my pride I have put a wall there, or because I am not trying hard enough, or simply because I am in a spiritual middle where some forms and rituals have to die in order to spring forth again in new life.

I am tempted to end this post by some beautiful description of a transcendent experience in which I show that I am still Christian enough, in which I make you see that I am deeply connected to God, that I am in fact actually more Christian than I was when I used all the lingo without second thought.

But that is not true. We’re on a journey. You, me, the feminists and the LGBT advocates, the ones who have strong convictions against women pastors and the ones who have strong convictions against gay marriage, the ones who believe in hell, the ones who don’t, the ones who don’t know, the ones who are hurting and lonely, the ones who feel like they can touch God when they pray, the ones whose faith is simple and unassuming and matter-of fact. All of us. I have been in different places on this journey, forward and backward and sideways, and I am here now, and maybe we are in the same place or maybe we are in different places, but we are together on this journey. And God is still working, molding us.

So today, it turns out, is really about confession. 

I have not been completely honest. I sometimes use words as walls. I am sorry. 

As our paths diverge and twist and then meet again, I want to give you myself as I am: plain clothes and plain words, weaknesses and deep convictions and wobbly steps towards a kingdom. I hope you will understand and love me that way. I want to share this journey with you, to see you and understand you and love you, just as you are.


  1. Thank you for your honesty and for pointing out that we soft often self-edit depending on our audience. Sometimes, this is ok, because we don't want to offend. Other times, it becomes a wall and a barrier to deeming understanding and communication.

  2. Thanks Anita. I complete agree in situations where it is about not offending someone. But generally with close friendships, I think the trust is there enough to be honest, and that is what I want to shoot for.

  3. Yeah definitely, thanks for pointing that out, Rachel. I think the key is that for friendships and dialogue to continue we have to be vulnerable, be ourselves--which sometimes means elaborate language and sometimes simply silence.

    Thanks for reading!

  4. thanks for this, Katie! i feel like i straddle multiple, sometimes opposed, communities and notice that my language can change from group to group. some tuning is necessary but i don't like the degree to which i do it. so i've been trying to find a language that is genuine, that works across community lines and more transparently reflects my identity and beliefs. you're definitely right that words can be walls.

  5. Thanks for reading, Martin. I like what you said about both being transparent and also working across community lines. It is a tough balance but I think you do it well!