Caterpillar: "Who are you?"
Alice: "I--I hardly know, sir, I've changed so many times since this morning, you see."
Catepillar: "I do not see. Explain yourself."
Alice: "I'm afraid I can't explain myself sir, because I am not myself you know."
Catepillar: "I do not know."
Alice: "Well I can't put it any more clearly for it isn't clear to me."
Catepillar: "You. Who are you?"
Alice: "Well, don't you think you ought to tell me who you are first?"
Alice has had quiet the adventure that day, and her adventure has caused her to wonder who exactly she is. She is uncertain of her identity. She cannot tell the caterpillar who she truly is because she has changed so many times already.
Aren't we all like Alice?
We go through life, experiencing changes, and whether those changes are small or large, they still shape us into who we are. Often though, we may not realize how we have changed until we look back and see the person we once were and compare it with who we are now. Like Alice, it can be difficult for us to describe our identity.
This week, I came across two posts by Kathy Escobar about identity. In the first one, Well-behaved Women Won't Change the Church, she wrote that she had always been "the good girl" but when she began some personal healing and became more honest, passionate, and began disagreeing with people and standing up for others, people didn't like it. They liked her being "the good girl" in the church. But, she explains, "I was too far gone. My soul and passion had started to come alive and I couldn’t turn back."
In the second post I read, Be Yourself. Everybody Else is Already Taken. she said this (among everything else, but I couldn't very well copy and paste the whole post now, could I?):
I think that is a very holy and sacred experience on our spiritual journey–learning to find safety and security in who we really are.
Not who someone else is.
Not who we think we should be.
But in who we are.
In another post on the same blog as Kathy's post about well-behaved women, writer Ed Cyzewski says that the one thing that matters about Christian community is life. He says:
Seek community where there is life. Where God is present and free to move. Where people are encouraged to pursue God’s calling for their lives. Where a community moves as one toward God’s throne of grace.I think that this is something that I need to add to my "Church Shopping" list of "qualifications". As we look for a church to attend regularly in our new town, I want it to be a place where the Holy Spirit is present and a place where I am welcome to follow His guidance, even if it goes against what people think is traditional or normal. This isn't necessarily as easy as you might think. In churches, as with anyplace in my life, it is so, so easy to be "the good girl": be polite, smile, be friendly, don't be controversial, keep the peace, etc. I'm a lot braver on my blog than I am in person (and I think I felt braver before people were actually reading it, even though in the big scheme of things it isn't even that many people), especially in person with people I don't know well, and in looking for a new church, I won't know anybody well. It's easy and safe to be like Alice and want to find out who other people are before letting them know who I am. But we can't go through life basing our identities on who other people are.
When it comes to churches, I have, generally, belonged to ones where I have been able to be involved in leadership in various ways, whether it was as a leadership team for a specific program, teaching a Sunday school class, or as an employee. I have learned and grown much in these churches. I was able to explore different areas and was not pigeonholed into one, such as Children's Ministry (definitely not for me!).
I've also been in churches that have said no to women in leadership (and even emailed the Senior Pastor of one after he gave a sermon about the qualifications for being an elder in church, male being the obvious most important one) and sometime, in the early 2000s, I remember reading a book that had a section that outlined exactly why women were not to be in leadership, complete with Bible verses (the usual ones, if you're familiar with the topic). I remember feeling confused and depressed after reading why I was not supposed to be in leadership because I am a woman. Confused, because I had never really heard of this before (the church I went to at the time had a female associate pastor at one point, and even though I grew up in the Catholic church where women cannot be priests, there was still female leadership in the position of Director of Religious Education and girls were allowed to do all the things boys did during the service) and depressed because I didn't understand how God could be leading me into leadership positions if it wasn't something He permitted. In a church like that, I felt somewhat stifled, as if I had to stay in a box. [Note: in one of these churches, I actually did have some leadership opportunities, such as organizing a conference and teaching an adult Sunday School class. Maybe someday they will actually allow women to be elders or deacons or even ordained].
When it comes to discerning identity, when it comes to finding safety and security in who we are, when we can no longer deny our soul and passion coming alive and finding a place where we are encouraged what God is calling us to do and who God is calling us to be, it can come at a price. Maybe people won't like us anymore. Maybe people will think we are going to hell for what we believe. Maybe people will claim that we aren't "True Christians". Maybe we'll be gossiped about and people will be told that we have "shady theology".
As you may or may not know, in February of this year I moved to a new town (hence the whole finding a church extravaganza). I love my new town and have met some really great people. It was very difficult to leave my previous town, though, because I was settled there. I had an identity. And God ripped me out of where I was safe and comfortable to put me into a brand new situation (not like it's the first time, though). However, since I've moved, I'm slowly coming to find out more about who God wants me to be, and maybe it is only through moving that it is made possible. It is only through leaving the safe confines of what I knew and entering into the scary unknown that new opportunities that will guide and shape me will come my way. I don't know what they are yet. I only see little glimpses, here and there, like fireflies on a summer night, of what it might all mean.