On letting people see who you really are

On letting people see who you really are

“It doesn’t make sense that only two kids are allowed on the trampoline at a time! The trampoline is so big. So many more kids could fit on there.”

My son Calvin looks at me and I ask him again to put his shoes on. We’re rushing to get out the door to make it to church on time, and my husband and I had been reminding the kids about the rules at the house where we meet. Calvin immediately voiced his disagreement with the trampoline rule.

“Cal,” I begin, “There’ve been times in the past where kids have gotten too crazy and someone got hurt, so now the rule is two kids at a time.”

I catch myself. I notice that my immediate parenting tactic is to try and change his mind, to convince him to see things from my point of view. And then I stop. That’s not the type of parent that I want to be. That’s not the type of relationship I want with my kids. I start over.

“Cal, I hear you. You think that rule is dumb. It doesn’t make sense to you. It would be a lot more fun if more than 2 kids could be on the trampoline at once. I get it. I’ve had lots of times in my life when I thought a rule was dumb and it made me really mad.”

Surprised, he says, “You have? Like what?”

I laugh and quickly sift through my memories visiting two of my sisters at various times when they went to a super conservative Christian college. I got so annoyed every single visit about the seemingly arbitrary rules. I tell him about the time when one of my sisters had a best friend who lived across the country, so she was allotted more over-the-summer storage than my sister (who lived a car drive away from the school). The cross-country friend didn’t need all of the storage space, so my sister was planning to leave a box of books in her friend’s spot. The RA found out and said she couldn’t do that, so my sister “gave” the books to her friend, and her friend “gave them back” at the start of the next school year.

My husband jumps in and the three of us talk a little bit more about how sometimes we're in situations where the person in charge will hear our feedback and change the rule. Other times it feels like our opinion doesn't matter, so we have to decide if we're going to stay in the situation or not. This feels a bit heady for an 8 year old, plus, he doesn't really have the choice to not come to house church in protest of this particular rule, but he seems to get it, and we head out the door.

I've been reflecting and realizing to a greater degree all of the times in my life when it felt dangerous to reveal who I really am or what I really think. I just posted yesterday on Instagram stories that I'm afraid to post my "spicy" content there because I'm afraid to make people mad. Of course, I woke up to 10 messages this morning from people saying they're here for the "spicy" content.

I constantly try to strike a balance between propriety and letting it all hang out. The line is so subjective. I'm sure some people wish I would button it up a little more, and some would totally be here for pretty much anything. Whether or not it is actually dangerous to say what I really think, the culture that raised me definitely taught me that it was risky to do so, when what I thought was outside of the bounds of what they deemed appropriate. There was a lot of encouragement toward groupthink. It drives me crazy to this day when I hear someone use the word "we" to broadly (e.g., "We don't think that.") I remember, particularly in high school, thinking to myself often, "Who is this 'we'? I do think that."

It would take me until I was well into adulthood to start feeling brave enough to say the things that I thought when I knew I'd be challenging the dominant narrative. And still, to this day, there are things I’m afraid to say because I anticipate the fallout.

A confusing story has come out of the American Evangelical world this week. Matt Chandler, a megachurch pastor, is taking a leave of absence for exchanging "unguarded" direct messages (DMs) with a female congregant. According to the reports, the DMs were not sexual in nature, but they were reviewed by a law firm, and they were deemed to be "unwise" because of the "frequency and familiarity" of the messages. If you're scratching your head and wondering how “frequent and familiar” DMs with a friend are grounds for stepping down from leadership of a church–yeah, so am I.

I read a post by Robin Black of Robin Thinks that does an amazing job breaking down and explaining the church service where Matt and team announced this situation to their congregation. I encourage you to read it here. She wrote,

I 100% believe Chandler’s “DM relationship” was exactly what he said it was: not sexual in nature, but instead unguarded. Almost assuredly, Chandler revealed himself to her for who he really is and that is every bit as dangerous, if not far more so, than if he simply had sex with her. If he had sex with her, then they could paint her as being equally in the wrong. Instead, she is simply in possession of his deepest, darkest, dirtiest secret, which is that he is not who he presents himself to be.

All we can do in this situation is speculate as to the content of the DMs, unless they get leaked (please, God, let them be leaked so we can all stop speculating!).

But for the greater culture, we have got to move toward more acceptance for who people really are. We have to stop putting leaders–especially spiritual leaders–on pedestals. We have to let people be human. Messy, flawed, real humans. We have to leave space for admitting our faults and holding two realities at once. We have to stop creating a culture that shames people into hiding their truth and presenting a false or "more acceptable" version of themselves.

Here's where my imagination goes. What if the content of the DM was Matt calling another congregant a "f*cking idiot"? I could see that happening in an "unguarded" moment, if this is a close friend of his and he's just complaining about something another church member did. Is a pastor not allowed to have an unguarded, honest moment of frustration? That feels pretty human to me, I don't know. We all have different standards for acceptable behavior. Who gets to decide? Wouldn't it be better if Matt felt full permission to say admit what he said, apologize for being mean in a moment of frustration, and we could all move on?

As a post-evangelical still trying to live out a healthy version of Jesus/Bible-based spirituality, I get asked a lot about parenting through and after deconstruction. This is one of the ways that I'm trying to do it differently for my kids. I want my kids to be unafraid to show me who they really are. I want them to know I can handle hearing what they really think.

When Calvin started complaining about the trampoline rule, my immediate impulse as a parent was to persuade him to adopt my perspective. Over time, what this approach yields in any system–whether a family or a congregation–is to cause people to go into hiding. Usually, they won't adopt change their perspective. They'll just stop sharing openly about what they really think. I have to keep reminding myself that I would always rather know my children for who they truly are than for them to present a version of themselves to me that they think I'll find more acceptable. I don't want that for them. I don't want that for myself.

Heck, I don't want that for Matt Chandler.