Sunday, April 15, 2012

Umbrella

About a year ago, I sent out an e-mail to all of the SDA college chaplains that basically said, “Hey. I wrote a book. Can I come speak at your school?” It was weird. It was awkward. But I’m glad I did it. The process has taught me a few things I needed to learn.

I booked a few speaking events and ended up with invitations to come to British Columbia, Tennessee, Missouri, Colorado, Texas, Maryland, and Alberta.

British Columbia involved speaking for two events at Hope Camp meeting. I met some wonderful people and learned, duh, that Canada is a whole ‘nother country (as a slightly annoyed Canadian pointed out when I tried to pay with American currency and use my cell phone).

My next stops were in January at Southern Adventist University where I spoke for several dorm worships, at Collegedale academy, and then at Sunnydale on our road trip home. It was at the girl’s dorm worships at Southern that I recognized how much I care about speaking to women about women. One student asked me how to explain to her family that being called “fat” hurts. Or two women who asked me how to make their families believe that their eating disorder is not just a “cry for attention” or a “pretend diagnosis.” Two women bravely shared their stories with me and have since pursue counseling for the first time. We’ve got so many important issues that we need to be talking about, and sharing my story about disordered eating and our culture of self-hatred only fueled that fire.

Next, in February, I went to Colorado, pretended to “preach” a sermon (wowzy) and spoke at a women’s event that I mistakenly assumed would be comprised of college to middle-aged women. Those senior citizens were dang sweet though and one woman commented to Jeremy, “I have no idea what she was talking about, but I appreciate her story.” I suppose some of our stories are best understand generationally. From here, I made my first-ever trip to Texas where I was warmly welcomed by Southwestern University and Burton academy.

In March, I journeyed to Washington Adventist University and truly enjoyed my short time on their campus. I spoke for a chapel of mostly college-aged students, so I was surprised when a woman (of at least 70 years old) approached me in passionate tears and said, "Thank you for saying what I've been wanting to say to Adventists my entire life."

My last trip this past weekend was to Canadian Adventist Union College in Alberta. I spent time with some academy students, some college students, and some Cree First Nation Indians where I spoke at a teeny SDA church on their reservation.

And now I am airborne, flying home from Canada, my last speaking trip this semester. Out my window, the sun just disappeared behind the horizon and the clouds are now dark as we soar through them.

At first, when I considered traveling and speaking, I was stoked. I knew I was passionate about telling my story. But what I learned very quickly was that all the other work necessary to making that happen wasn’t what I wanted (self-promotion, calling people, setting up appointments, booking, etc.). I learned right away that while I was passionate about sharing my story with people, there was a line to how much work I was willing to put into making that happen. At first I felt guilty about this, but then I realized: this isn’t my only life-long dream. No way. I’m interested, yes. But I’m not looking to make this my career.

Establishing early my expectations on the breadth and depth of this trip was important, because when friends and family suggested ways to be successful in speaking such as joining a speaker’s bureau or taking courses in public speaking, it just didn’t feel right. And that’s okay. The experience has still been well worth it even if this is never my career. I’m too much of an introverted home-body. I don’t know how business people and entertainers do it. Traveling wears me out. Whew.

This experience has taught me three important lessons.

Number one: It’s not easy walking into a room full of strangers and spilling your dirt. And every single time I’ve arrived somewhere to speak, I’d get a look around, meet a few people, get set up for my talk, and like clock-work, get struck with this fear: “Oh gosh, maybe they were unclear about what I came here to talk about. I shouldn’t be here. Who do I think I am?” I would imagine them picking up rocks and hurling them in my direction chanting: “Heathen! Heathen!” (slight exaggeration). But everywhere I have gone this semester I’ve found--time and time again--that people are drawn to honesty. People will say, “Thank you. We need more of this” or “We aren’t talking about these things enough,” as if transparency is a new, revolutionary idea. I suppose—unfortunately--to some of us, it really is. We’re good at masks. We’re gifted in isolation.

Number two: Adventists have got a lot of pain and hurt we’re not talking about: from sexual abuse to pornography addictions, eating disorders to disordered eating, self-doubt to profound shame. No one is immune: not Christians, not atheists, not Americans, not Canadians, not men, not women, not white people, not people of color. Secrets, guilt, and shame: some of the few things in life that are universal no matter who you talk to. So it only makes sense--in my mind--that we should be talking about one of the few things we all have in common.

Number three: There’s this thing called Seventh-day Adventism. It’s a religion. It’s a group of people. It’s a set of beliefs. And sometimes it’s hard for me to find my place there. I struggle to see where I fit in or if I really want to. I used to see Adventism as a thing, an object, made of concrete or steel. Immovable. Unchanging. But now I’ve realized that it’s more like an umbrella. We all fit under its reach in different ways and for different reasons. I was born under this umbrella, others found it on their own. I tend to inhabit the far left side of the umbrella and sometimes it’s difficult for me to understand (or even want to understand) the people who share the same umbrella yet stand on the complete opposite side. Sometimes I disagree slightly or immensely with the people under here and stand outside of it. Sometimes I want to try a new umbrella. Sometimes it seems crowded. Sometimes I want to ditch all umbrellas. Forever.

What’s been encouraging to me in my travels this semester has been the unique opportunity to see multiple varieties of Adventism at work and at play and at worship; from the warm ballads of united voices in D.C. to the softer, more serene prayers of First Nation children in Canada. We’ve all got different interpretations of what it means to be with God. Of what it means to be spiritual. Of what it means to be human. I’ve seen first-hand that the umbrella is bigger than I thought and there may be a place for me too.

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