Express Yourself

There was a red flag on my psych evaluation for ordination. (To some of you, this may be no surprise.)

It said I was “too open-minded.” It makes sense…to commit your life to a clergy order would mean that you would need to believe in that order and the denomination’s polity and doctrine…so to be “too open-minded” may mean you might one day decide you don’t believe in it anymore and simply walk away (or try to change the polity/doctrine? or sit in the corner and complain? or do the bare minimum and be lazy? None of that happens.). Either way, it was funny at the time.

I’m a classic One on the Enneagram. The Idealist; the “need to be perfect;” the Reformer, “The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic.” I like for things to be for a reason, to make sense, and to be juuuust right (and to be right).

When I started Crazy Faith with my youth, I knew it was risky. Most curriculum has answers to the questions. Most curriculum has bolded words that the teacher is supposed to say, word for word, to explain things; deeply embedded with the writers’ theology, and intended to teach a certain point of view. So Crazy Faith for my purposeful, self-controlled, “wants-everything-to-be-planned-out-and-mostly-predictable” self was challenging at times. I wanted to make sure that as the youth were exploring and asking questions, that they were also guided in a certain framework and that we did actually explore some content of our faith background to tie things together with a nice neat pretty bow. So I would often interject and insert my two cents here and there, offering tidbits of information to help make sense of things.

And the youth called me out on it.

You see, any teacher or youth leader would probably think nothing of it, well DUH – of course you as a the teacher would interject and help the students learn by unearthing unknown content that was helpful and such. But part of the groundrules that we set for Crazy Faith noted that the adults in the room are co-explorers with the youth…and that even though we may have more information and life experience, Crazy Faith was a time for everyone to pose questions and explore and listen to one another…and the process involved using a talk piece. So if you wanted to talk, you must raise your hand and when your turn came, you would get the talk piece. My interjecting was happening too often, they said, and I wasn’t following the groundrules that I expected them to follow.

They called me out. And it caught me off guard.

No question or content we had explored was off limits, so I was ready for anything…but not this. Not being called out, as (one of) the adult(s) in the room for breaking the rules that our community had set for this process of dialogue and faith exploration.

After hearing what they had to say, I excused myself and went into my office and cried. And just a few minutes later, some youth came into my office to check on me.

I don’t remember the exact conversation but it went something like this:

Youth: “Are you okay?
(me trying to hide that I was crying and upset): “Yes, I’m fine.”
Youth: “It doesn’t seem like you’re fine. What’s wrong?”
(me, thinking, “What’s wrong? Are you kidding me? I’m hurt!”): I don’t know, it just surprised me what yall said. I’m upset.”
Youth: “Well why didn’t you say that when we told you how we felt downstairs. Why did you come up here?”
Me: I don’t know, I didn’t want you to see me upset. I’m supposed to be in charge and such.
Youth: “Shannon, We need to see you cry. We need to see you upset. We need to know that you’re normal. Like us. You seem to always have everything so together…it helps us to know that you don’t sometimes. It’s okay to cry. We need to see you cry.”

That conversation changed my life…and especially my ministry. Over the years I have been told (by other clergy, either in exact words or by example) to hide my feelings, to “not let them see you sweat,” to not be vulnerable with parishioners. But every time I’m faced with a matter of how much to share, I remember that conversation with my youth. “We need to see you cry.”

My family has a saying that we’ve said quite frequently over the past year: “you do you.” Meaning, be yourself. No one here’s gonna judge you (or…we might, but we still love you).

I firmly believe that God created us each unique for a reason – we aren’t meant to be the same, a copy of Adam/Eve/whomever. We are one of a kind, created with purpose and intention and with characteristics like no other. We are meant to shine the light that God gave us and in a way that no one else can. I think of the quote “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Be you. Be yourself. It’s okay to share that with others. It’s okay to cry, to “feel the feels” as my husband says.

My youth over the years have taught me how to be unapologetically myself. To laugh when I think something is funny; to name the awkward moments; to cry when something is sad; to share my thoughts and feelings on things even when it may be abnormal or inappropriate or uncomfortable. We as ministers expect and experience people in our congregations and community to share so much; why would we not share of ourselves as well? (I’m not saying there shouldn’t be boundaries; my Masters practicum was on boundaries…I’m just saying that I think sometimes “boundaries” get in the way of us sharing our lives and being authentic, and well, enjoying life.) I encourage my youth to claim who they are as beloved children of God and to discover what gifts God has given them to make a difference in the world…why not model that by claiming who I am as a beloved child of God and for letting my light shine in its one-of-a-kind way as well?

So thank you, Calin and Sable and Leah, for calling me out. Thank you, especially to my youth over the years who have helped me to have courage to be me. Thank you to the adults in the churches that I’ve served who are intense, passionate people who are unafraid of shining their light even though others might see it as blinding. I love you all and am a better person because of you.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson 

Let your light shine. Express yourself!


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