During a lecture in grad school, one of my professors called me out by name during his class for being a (quiet) contrarian. It happened so long ago that I can’t recall his exact language, but it was something along the lines of, “And then you’ll be saying something and can look at Jenni and know she is contradicting all of it.” And even though I don’t know if that’s precisely how he said it, I do know the first thought that went through my head was, “Me?! No, I’m not!” which pretty much proved his point right then and there.
The funny thing was, until that experience, in my 22+ years I naively assumed that I thought and believed pretty much like anyone else around me. It never occurred to me that someone might take me (well, actually my writing, as I’ve never been very outspoken in classes) as a force of contradiction. In the years since, however, this claim has stayed in the back of my brain, and it’s actually helped me in many ways.
For one, it’s good to know that I have my own voice and that it is worth sharing because yes, it might in fact differ from that of another person. Not that I have to strike out to change their thinking, but that giving my unique perspective is of value because it does indeed add to the conversation. For another, it has helped me – sort of – as a parent because now that I am raising at least one little contrarian of my own, I can find solace in knowing from where it comes, even if that doesn’t do much to help me actually deal with it in real life.
All of this is a very long-worded intro into the fact that as Ben and I are now completing the New Member classes at our new church, First Presbyterian (you guys, I still can’t spell that right on the first try) Church in Hastings, I’ve had some of these contrary student moments that have given me pause and caused me to reflect a bit.
At our first session last week, we were asked as part of our introduction to share what it means to us to be a Presbyterian, and y’all, I blanked. So much blanked that I said, “I don’t know” as that part of my introduction because beyond still not spelling it correctly, I couldn’t tell you what the word itself meant or where it came from, so how else could this contrarian answer but with a non-answer?
Fortunately, we did go over some church history and even the definition of the word “Presbyterian” (ha! no red squiggles!) which has to do with church governance and committees and such , and I walked away from the evening certainly knowing more, but also realizing that I knew more than I gave myself credit for when I first answered.
Another benefit of being contradictory in nature? You learn that you can contradict yourself even, and sometimes fairly soon after a statement’s been made.
You see, as I listened to the others in our group do their own introductions, I realized they were all touching on the very messages/themes that I’ve written about before when I’ve blogged about church, namely being the concepts of love and service. Love and service. It may have been the invitation of friends and the desire to have a church home for our family that initially brought us in the doors, but it is this particular church’s driving forces of love and service that kept us coming back and ultimately led us to become official members this summer. And not just lip-service, either, but actions and actual in-the-world service, which is where my heart lies, introverted and contradictory as it may also sometimes be. [Parenting side note: this too has come up more and more when I address my children because as much as their mama loves words, they have to know that actions matter, too, and often times, even more so than their words.]
In my defense, I was the very first person to share, after our pastor that is, and tired/pregnant mama brain + first-out-the-gate nerves perhaps got the best of me. I should also mention that one of the other questions we had to answer was about which Bible character we related to with a list of examples/qualities to help us, but I still totally pulled a “there aren’t enough women on this list and I’m not connecting with any of the men on here, either” for that one, so yeah….Sorry, Pastor G – there’s that whole contrarian thing again!
But after chewing on these questions for the last few days, and learning more and more about the larger church itself and the actual congregation here that we are now officially part of, I once again land at the conclusion that we are fortunate to be where we are in this community that lives not only by faith but also by love and service. This is the message, the work, and the spirit we want to surround our children with as they grow, and it is how we want to be in the world, too.
And, as I explained in an email to our pastor that he’s most likely not seen yet, but touches on many of these same points, this particular explanation would have been far too long to share with the New Members group (and thanks to my prenatal weepies, I doubt I would have gotten through it one piece anyway), but it is worth sharing here because where we go from here….how we love and serve as a family….well, that’s what it is all about and this is where I share those stories.