One Sunday morning when I was 12, I read the account of Pentecost aloud in church and I was thrilled to be doing it. I have always enjoyed reading aloud, public speaking: there is something about taking the written word and speaking it aloud that has always appealed to me. It’s a tricky passage, and I was honored to have been entrusted the responsibility.
Our district superintendent was visiting that day and after the service was over, he took me aside. He told me he was impressed, that he thought I showed real promise, and wanted to know had I heard God’s call?
I cannot remember what I said in reply. I do remember him repeating his belief I was being called. And I do remember–quite vividly, in fact–walking as quickly as I could to the nearest bathroom where I promptly broke into tears. “Is this what you want from me, God?” I thought, staring back at myself in the mirror. I was distraught, disturbed. I washed my face with a brown, tri-fold paper towel soaked in cold water and put on an unaffected air.
My whole life, I have been taught, encouraged to see that moment as a beautiful encounter with the Divine, evidence of being called to ministry in exactly the way the man who spoke to me (and all the men like him) have imagined a calling to ministry to be.
I am 28 years old. I have carried the pain and profound discomfort of that moment for 16 years. The interpretation of it demanded my mainstream Christian thought has haunted me my whole life since, while every biblical hermeneutic has been used to remind me of all the reluctance of the founders of our faith, my hurt and hesitation used as proof to urge me further on down a road I was unsure of and often did not want.
That interpretation kept me bound to all kinds of awful ideas about who I was, what my purpose was, how to decide whether my plans for the future were holy enough. It derailed my chosen career with the promise of a calling that would be much better anyway. It made me easy prey for church leaders to exploit. And when I attempted to use the calling they said I had to speak up for myself (rather than stay silent in the face of wrongdoing) suddenly no one was there to say I was called anymore.
But in all the work I have done to move out of and heal from the abusive Christian spaces I have occupied, it never once occurred to me that I could choose to define that encounter differently. Me, a thinker and contemplator by nature, an examiner and excavator of narratives by years of schooling: yes, even so, I never thought to re-think this moment.
But tonight, I happened to think on it, and as I did, a thought hit me in a way I can only describe as epiphany: maybe that wasn’t a calling. Maybe I cried and hurt and resisted and felt like I was losing a part of myself because I was being asked to accept a story about myself that wasn’t true. Maybe in that moment, I wasn’t being called by God, so much as I was being found pliable by a gatekeeper of a broken religious structure. Maybe I continued to agonize and feel myself being stripped away because it was agony to lose sight of who I really am.
Maybe God never intended me to fit myself inside a box that She had never intended be built in the first place.
Maybe? No, definitely.
Do I think it’s lovely that someone had the presence of mind to think a 12 year old girl could be a preacher? Sure. Is it incredibly problematic that there was literally never any follow up to that moment or attempt to further explain? Incredibly.
Do I still wish I could speak from the rooftops and make worlds change with my words? Yes, undoubtedly.
Do I have to do that in a way that makes sense to the system of American Christianity, that is built within the borders of its sinfully limited imagination? Undoubtedly, no.
Tonight, I reject that calling.
Tonight, I look back into the mirror at that girl and tell her, “You needn’t agree.”
Tonight, I remember what a holy, beautiful calling it is to simply be who you are, and how revolutionary the intentional existence of your self in a world that demands your compliance can be.
We are all who we are.
You are who you are.
I am who I am.
Has quite a godly ring to it, doesn’t it?
So don’t look for me within the walls of a church or bound up in seminary education. I am busy living as I am.
I figure I owe myself at least 16 years without that oppreasive weight holding be down before deciding how next to proceed.
In the meantime, I’ll be here in this new internet home I am building, writing and thinking and dreaming a a new reality into existence.
I am called Courtney.
It’s a pleasure to meet you.