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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

You Just Never Know

I had an amazing thing happen to me this morning. Facebook has become a fun thing in our lives, opening up doors of re-connection with people that we haven't been in contact with for ages. My Facebook "Friends" include everyone from kids at church to high school and college friends and all in between! Every once in awhile a truly random connection comes through and that's what happened this morning. A young woman whom I met about 13 years ago when I was speaking at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California wrote me a note. She mentioned the circumstances under which we met and alluded to the fact that our encounter was important in her life at that point. Of course, there was no way for me to remember exactly who this young student was, but I was touched that she would remember me.
While I don't remember the specific student, I do clearly remember my time at Westmont. I was invited to the campus to speak in chapel, do a seminar on women in ministry and give a talk on Christian Feminism. On the whole, these topics were not popular on a conservative campus such as Westmont and so it was a bit of a lion's den. I remember feeling so challenged as the young students got in my face with their Biblical interpretation of why they felt it was so wrong for women to be ordained pastors. I remember at one point the majority of the group actually confessed to believing that being a stay at home mom was a more Godly life choice than a career. It was TOUGH. Doug was not with me and I just remember feeling so torn when it was over. I was glad to be an ambassador for a new point of view. I do believe this is part of my essential calling in life...to help people see things from a totally different perspective. And yet, to be so challenged is never easy. The fact that this young woman was alluding to a conversation we had shared in the midst of that hot bed of discussion had me intrigued.
I decided to write her an email and ask if she wouldn't mind telling me more about the conversation we shared all those long years ago. This is a portion of the email I received back from her:
"Don't worry, I didn't expect you to remember me personally - that was a really long time ago!! I actually had forgotten your name but then when I was moving last month I came across a tape that I had bought when you spoke at chapel, and so I looked you up here (on Facebook). But I do recall our conversation well, because I had never met anyone like you before. When you were there you hosted a forum on Christian feminism, do you remember? That really blew me away .... I guess it's not so controversial now, but where I grew up in southern california there were such conservative overtones; I mean it was really pervasive... and most kids just spouted their parents' ideologies without giving it much thought of their own. And I hate to say it, but Westmont was even more of the same. It was a great school academically, and the campus is gorgeous, but I really did feel like it was a bit of a stepford wife factory in many respects.
Anyway, I'm sure you can imagine, after growing up in a world where feminism is seen in a pejorative light, it was really refreshing to hear your viewpoints, and I was impressed by your knowledge on the subject, so I asked if I could meet with you.
The stuff that I talked with you about was a little different. Hard, definitely... I knew then that I was probably gay, but was scared to admit it, so I asked you questions about a gay "friend of mine" who was really me. Sorry for the cover-up; I guess I had a lot of internalized homophobia and I wasn't ready to say it out loud. What I really wanted was a glimpse into a world where there might be acceptance of gay people on the part of Christians, wasn't sure at that point if such a thing was possible. I knew that Jesus had never really mentioned it - not that I knew of at least. But I wanted to thank you for your time that morning - it really meant a lot to me - because I walked away from our meeting with a new sense of self-acceptance... that maybe it's okay for me to be who I am.
I've done a bit of reading and a lot of living since then, but I am still not sure what to do with the remnants of my childhood faith. I am still floored when I read the words of Jesus - he was so ahead of his time! To answer your question, I don't know what I believe these days.... I think I have more questions than answers... but Christianity will always be a part of my life journey, I can't help it - because it is a part of me. I do want to thank you though, for taking the time to talk to me that day. It got me started on a very important journey. And it also gave me a glimpse into a part of the church that had not succumbed to hatred, greed, and judgment. it's been a long time since I felt marginalized, or worse, ostracized. I don't think about it as much these days. Haven't really been searching for a church to go to. But when I came across your tape I really wanted to thank you. It was a hard time; I really didn't know what I was going to do, and it was nice in the midst of it to see a Christ-like, human face. Really meant a lot to me."
WOW. How do I respond to that? With humility and gratitude. I feel that I make so many mistakes in life and I put my foot in my mouth so often that I'm surprised half of my foot isn't gone from me chewing on it so much. And then out of the blue comes a person who I really don't even know, thanking me for showing her a bit of grace and taste of acceptance and love, revealing to her a different view of the kingdom of God, that has contributed to her own self development. What a gift that she would take time to write me and let me know who I was to her a long time ago.
It reminds me of a couple of things. First, we should go back through our lives and thank the people who contributed to our lives in significant ways. I suppose if I were to list the 7 most influential people in my life it would have to include the following. (I was going to choose 5, but I have to include my parents or the list would be sorely lacking.) So 1 and 2 are my mom and dad. 3 is my husband Doug. 4 is a woman named Kerry Shield Olson. (When I was in high school Kerry drove at least one hour every week from Los Angeles to my home town of Orange, California to share in Bible study and prayer. She helped lay the strong foundations of the Christan faith that I have today.) 5. Brenda Salter McNeil. (An African American female preacher who taught me a lot about preaching and racial reconciliation. I'm going to get to see her again at a conference in February.) 6. David Scholer (Seminary professor whose teaching did much to advance the case for women in ministry, now deceased.) 7. John Weborg (Seminary professor. One of the world's greatest thinkers. Such a privilege that I got study under him.) There are many others who have shaped my life. I feel privileged that I might appear on some people's list of people who have been influenced by my life and teaching.
The second thing that I take from this whole experience is to never underestimate where you might be making a difference. I had no idea that I had impacted this young woman's life in the manner that I had all those years ago. That she would find an old chapel tape with my name on it and connect that with a warm and affirming conversation from so many years ago, really moves me. It encourages me to stay the course, to keep faithfully pursuing the road that God has set me on and to know that my labor is not in vain.
What a gift from God that is.