Some recent posts of mine have caused a bit of controversy in my congregation. In one case it was my use of a particular word, and in the other it was my reference to some past sentiments in the church as “dying” and “forgotten,” in order to illustrate the present reality which feels much more hopeful.
I’ve edited the first, now, because the one word doesn’t feel worth the trouble. [Y’all know you can curse in front of me if you need to, right?] And these particular issues feel like they’re really pointing to something larger.
I think the root of this difficulty is the tension between the world of the established, institutional church, and the world outside it. However you want to characterize it, there is obviously a significant cultural disconnect for congregations across the country, otherwise the church as a whole would not be in the sort of crisis where we find ourselves.
I have one foot in each of these worlds. I was raised in the church, nurtured in the church, and the church is in my bones. At the same time, I was not discouraged from being part of the wider world. I am a real person, very much a part of my generation at the oldest edge of the Millennials.
I love my identity as a cultural translator, a bridge between worlds. But it is not always an easy place to be.
Most obviously, in my two jobs as parish pastor and campus pastor, I have had to carve out on the fly what I look like and how I speak in each of those roles. They are similar, often, but distinctly different because each group has different needs and comfort levels and expectations. Then throw in who I am with my colleagues and friends, and then who I am in roller derby, and the picture gets more and more complicated.
Each of these identities is still me. I strive to be true to myself in whatever role, and I really value the multiplicity of my identity. I have thought a lot about cultivating my image in different contexts, and I’ve learned some invaluable things that help me to dress intentionally for each different role. Even if that does mean a lot of costume changes.
I am at the meeting place of the culture clash between mainline church folks and young adults, and in some ways my very identity is emblematic of the changes that are taking place. For many people, I am not what a pastor looks like. I am young (in church terms), I am female-bodied, I have tattoos, I am bisexual, I am honest about my own struggles and my own humanity, I am passionate about justice issues and not afraid of shaking up the powers that be — although I’d argue that last one is exactly what a pastor looks like, or at least they should.
And I’m realizing that this very reality is powerful for people who are not served by the church as it is, or the way they perceive the church to be. For people who have seen the church as disconnected from the modern, “real” world, I am proof this reality is changing. People who have said to me, I don’t really go to church but I’d love to hear you speak sometime.
But that same disjuncture – where for some people it is a positive thing that I don’t look like a pastor – presents some difficulties when you’re looking from the other side. Because I don’t look like a pastor.
And there’s nothing I can say that will smooth out that tension, because that is the present reality of the church in the modern world. And that is the reality of my self and the unique ministry to which I am called, somehow bridging this irreconcilable divide.
So I invite you to be here with me in this tension. If the mainline church and the modern world are going to have anything to say to one another, we will somehow have to face these places where our cultures clash and our expectations have to shift, from both sides.
Or, you know, we won’t. But I have to have faith that we can.