saturday, as i sat in a sewing class channeling all three braincells left in my head toward learning how to use the serger my mom gave me for christmas, the teacher looked at me, shook her head, and said,
“mary allison, why do you have to be so different?”
she was right. the supplies i had purchased were different from everyone else’s. they were passable but different, and my serger came with it’s own unique requirements for threading. these were the differences to which she was referring. but as i answered, i had a whole host of other experiences in mind.
“i’ve been asking myself the same question for my whole life!” i retorted.
of course i know that in the grand scheme of things, i am not so unique. i know a gal who divides her time between climbing rocks in alaska and farming cotton in alabama. i am just a gal who divides my time between mothering, ministering, and co-owning a fabric shop. i am also probably just like everyone else in the world who is struck, every once in a while, by the overwhelming sense that i am an oddball.
but these days, in the context of church, these moments of self-oddball-realization are no longer an occasional thing for me. i have grown to anticipate and guard against inevitable comments about my clothes (yellow jeans! oh my!) and my hair (an unnatural red). but these remarks only hurt me because they are layered on top of the mean things i tell myself about why i no longer fit in in church. i am a bad person because i don’t believe what everyone else believes. on top of that, i am an ungrateful person because i don’t think that church should exist to glorify the church. clearly, i have not become the person those loving church people had in mind when they were contributing to my upbringing. i am so, disappointingly different.
last summer, my friend erin lane asked me to write an essay for an upcoming book entitled talking taboo: american christian women get frank about faith. i was to write about some aspect of my faith and experience of church that seems too shameful or too risky to admit. i quickly said yes because almost every thought in my head about faith and church feels taboo. finally, i had landed in a field in which i am a true expert! i submitted several topics for consideration, all of which positioned me to speak as a christian woman. each time, erin wrote back and asserted that she wanted me to speak as a christian woman leader… a minister.
i tried this. i tried drawing from the experiences i have had in ministry that i imagine closely resemble the vocations of my more normal, less disruptive colleagues. but this felt so inauthentic that i wrote erin and told her that i didn’t think i could contribute to the project. she left the window open for me to participate, and i told myself that if i woke up one morning with an essay idea that would allow me to speak from a place of sincerity and fulfill erin’s requests, i would give it another shot.
as it happened, i did wake up one morning, several weeks after the deadline, with an urgent impulse to write. i cranked out an entire essay in a couple of hours, turned it in, and marveled for weeks to follow about how wonderful it was to feel so at home while doing something ministry-related. i was able to cherish this feeling for a couple of months before my fears set in. in the months and weeks and days before the book was to go to the publisher, i agonized over whether to withdraw my piece from the project. i was afraid then, and i remain afraid, that the level of truth-telling that shapes my essay will translate into a solid and obvious agreement among all parties involved that there is, indeed, no place for me in the faith community of loving people who raised me. everyone will know what i have known for years: i am a bad person because i don’t believe what everyone else believes. on top of that, i am an ungrateful person because i don’t think that church should exist to glorify the church. i am so, disappointingly different.
the book is set to come out in october. my face and unnaturally red hair are on the cover. and inside, my essay is entitled, “my secret buddhist life.”
there is an indigogo campaign going on now to raise money to host conferences and virtual opportunities for women all over the country to
“talk taboo” with one another. perhaps the chance to talk about the ways in which religion has shaped our shameful inner monologues will result in wonderful, at-home feelings like those i had in the few months after i turned in my essay. if this is something you’d like to help promote, please visit the link above.
meanwhile, if anyone knows of an ashram in india that’s got an opening in late october for a woman wearing yellow jeans, please let me know!