Most of the following questions are based on radio and other media interviews
When did you first realize you were different from most other people?
I’ve felt like a misfit and been treated like one for as long as I can remember, though it’s only been in recent years that I’ve had the courage to use the word to describe myself. Now I actually revel in my misfit nature, because I’ve accepted it and learned to see the humor in it. But that wasn’t the case in the summer of 1960, when I came home from camp unexpectedly to find that my family had moved without telling me. I’d say that was my first true misfit moment: walking into what had been my house, only to discover a room full of strangers who thought I was nuts. There’s more to the story, of course…
Why do so many women feel like they don’t fit in?
I’m tempted to say that most people feel like they don’t fit in at some time or other—even those that I would never suspect could feel that way. There are lots of reasons why, but one of the main ones, I think, is that as a culture we’ve lost some basic understanding of the way life works, but as individuals we think that everyone else understands life better than we do. So whenever we react or think or behave in a way that doesn’t seem to fit the “norm”—whatever that is—we mentally and emotionally retreat into our individual selves and become convinced that we don’t fit in. For women in particular, there’s this idea that every other women has the key to this locked treasure chest of womanly lore. The treasure chest doesn’t exist, of course, but that doesn’t stop many of us from fretting because we were never given the key that fits the lock.
Your disappointing—and at times devastating—experiences with organized religion led you to throw in the towel on several occasions. Yet you always ended up back in the church. Why?
Most of the time I have felt out of place in church, but I want to emphasize that I’m not blaming “the church” for that. The church is us, and we make each other feel out of place. I’m sure I’ve done unto others what I wish they had not done unto me. Again, I think it’s partly because we feel as if everyone else has it together, that there’s this code that everyone else knows, and in our desperation to discover that code for ourselves, we end up hurting ourselves and others by creating this mythical “ideal Christian.” The gospel gets reduced to a call to conformity as a result, and God has to hate that.
Despite feeling isolated, I know that I need the sense of community that the church provides, or should provide. I believe that communal worship is a significant and rich experience, though the church as it has come to be defined in America really doesn’t provide that. Still, I keep holding out hope that the so-called “emerging church” will emerge in my lifetime and restore a genuine sense of worship to our gatherings as believers.
How did you come to see your misfit nature as a gift?
By coming to terms with my misfit nature and essentially befriending it, I found not only the freedom to be myself but also the ability to finally thank God for the way He made me.
I want to be clear about one thing—when I talk about misfits, I specifically mean productive misfits, not the Unabomber types. Productive misfits generally live in society but feel out of sync with it. People who are considered misfits are often those who can make significant contributions to society by bringing about necessary changes to the status quo. Misfits keep the rest of society on its toes. And that’s our gift to society.
Describe your spiritual journey, in a nutshell:
After a childhood spent in Baptist and Methodist churches, at 12 I walked away from organized religion, as I called it, and made a royal mess of my life. I was born-again, saved, whatever the going term is, at 22 through a youth ministry and became an active part of a Baptist church.
Several years later I embraced the charismatic renewal in an independent, non-denominational context. I became disenchanted with the lack of solid biblical teaching and the lack of serious reflection (among many, many other things) but had no idea where else to go. Because I always felt like I was on a different wavelength, I simply stopped attending church, after briefly trying an evangelical church again. I would occasionally attend a liturgical church that incorporated evangelical scholarship and charismatic vibrancy. That church helped me see the either/or dilemma I had created for myself and prompted me to go before God about this church problem of mine. Through specific spiritual direction, I realized that I did not have to reject any of my past religious experiences that had helped me so much, but I also did not have to accept all the baggage that each stream of faith tended to lay on people.
What all that means in real life is this: I have reached a place where I feel just as comfortable in an Episcopal church as I do in a Baptist church or anything in between. I can engage in contemplative prayer or I can hoot and holler with the best of ’em, because God has shown me that my “misfittedness” was not intended to isolate me but to enlarge my understanding of faith and worship. If I had ever felt truly settled in one church, I would never have experienced the fullness of faith that I have.
I do want to emphasize that I was never a “church-hopper.” When I was a Baptist, I joined one Baptist church and stayed there. The same for the charismatic churches and the liturgical church I mentioned above—I left each one only because of a geographic move. I was not on a quest to find the perfect church, only the one imperfect church where I belonged. But God made me realize that I belong wherever He is, whether I feel like it or not.
Right now I’m in a process I call “intentional unlearning.” My head is filled to overflowing with a lifetime of teachings about God and the Bible, and I’m re-examining all of those teachings. It’s almost as if I’ve programmed my brain to stop and do a screen capture whenever another lifelong assumption about God crosses my mind. I “unlearn” what I was taught and start all over again. Sometimes, the process serves to strengthen the belief I originally held, and sometimes I reach an entirely different conclusion. But no matter what, the process has always—always—strengthened my faith in God.
Okay, that was a big nutshell.