I’m just a small town girl, and I guess you could say I’m a little sheltered.
I live 10 miles away from where I grew up, in a town smaller than the population of many high schools. I married at 20, after two years of community college, and spent my twenties having babies and learning how to be a wife and mom.
Many would scoff at that, but early marriage and motherhood were a perfect training ground for me in my bumbly walk with God. I wouldn’t have it any other way; wouldn’t trade my years at home for a degree or influence or a better education.
Oh there were days…but everyone has those days.
I’ve traveled more outside of the country than in it, so I suppose I forget that this rural community I live in is a bit of an anomaly in the U.S. I forget that it’s not in every town that people wave at you on the road – whether they know you or not; where people mostly look the same, talk the same, dress the same.
It’s a little bit Mayberry, and I like it.
But I live just a few hours south of a place that endeavors to be ‘weird’. Oh, Portland – where being yourself seems to necessitate being strange, and maybe I’m just not as weird as I thought. Maybe Portland really isn’t my thing, after all.
I felt weird last weekend at the Faith and Culture Writers Conference, though. I guess I missed the Culture part of the conference title briefly, and I overlooked this tagline from the website completely:
It is a gathering place where we are able to ask questions, listen to differing views, and dialogue with diverse people and still be friends.
I felt old. I felt ultra-conservative. I felt naive and opinionated and rebellious, all at once. I felt like I was wearing a denim jumper at a beach party. Awkward.
It was good.
I could say that writers are weird and the more writers you gather, the more weird it gets. But that wouldn’t be entirely fair, because people are all different, all of us. We aren’t poured into a mold, but made in His image – His multi-faceted, never changing but ever complex, glorious, unique, beautiful image.
We try to out do God with our self-expression I think, but He’s several steps ahead of us.
A year ago I wrote a post about shaping minds and opening our children up to a broader picture of life, something more than just our day-to-day, small town living:
I believe we should talk about things that are difficult for us, read some books that are too hard for us, and have some friends that are very different from us. The challenges are good and we are reminded that we are part of a big picture, not the focal point.
I still believe all those words, which is good because sometimes I do change my mind about what I think, and then I feel wishy-washy.
I also believe we can be different and diverse and still have one mind – in Romans 14 Paul talks about having different convictions and respecting our fellow believers who make choices that may conflict with ours. Chapter 15 goes on to say
5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind [and] one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So we can be different, live different, choose different, and think different – and still live mutually edifying and God-glorifying lives.
I’m not talking about compromising on areas that are clearly sin. I’m going to hold fast to the solid ground of scripture; but mingling with diverse groups of people doesn’t threaten me, doesn’t make me lose footing or question my salvation or the validity of God’s Word.
I don’t feel like I have to agree with everyone, or vice versa.
The conference was full of people designed by God to reach different demographics. The focus was on engaging the culture in conversations about Christ and living the unique calling each of us has been given – not about handing out uniforms for Christian living and prescribing cookie-cutter safeguards.
We were expected to be mature adults who think for ourselves, and while I didn’t agree with every thought or worldview espoused at the conference, I did grow in my respect for those engaging the culture in ways that I, myself, don’t.
We are the body of Christ, and members individually.
Emily Maynard summed it best when, in terms of writing and finding a group to help you grow your skills, she said, “Find those you trust to not edit out your voice.” God has given us each a voice unique to our sphere of influence.
We are called to use it with respect, to sit at the table with those who see things differently, and still be friends.