“Closing Time” and “Revelation Song” on the Same iPod

 “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

After spending a week in the beautiful village of Mai Ai (see above picture) and enjoying a few days of "debriefing" (a fancy word for taking a break from ministry upon passing the halfway point of the trip to ride elephants, go bamboo rafting, and eat way too much pizza), we began normal life in Chiang Mai again today. 

Rumor had it that there was a temple that had "meet a monk" time each day. And honestly, who wouldn't want to meet a monk? Two of my teammates and I journeyed to the temple to check it out. Lo and behold, there was a big banner that read, "Monk Conversation Club". As funny as this MCC sounded, I don't think any of us were really planning on going over and talking to any of the monks. Monks are forbidden to have any physical contact with a woman (an accidental brush requires the monk to undergo a ceremonial cleansing ritual that takes several days to complete), and the only real reason we were encouraged to go was because we could speak English. With a fear of preforming some huge cultural offense plus the truth that monks are just plain intimidating, I was content to stand and watch from afar, thinking we could just come back tomorrow. Then we all noticed that the banner also read, "Don't just stand and watch from afar, come inside."

It was so goofy, with just the perfect amount of passive agressive, that it worked- we went in and sat down next to a few monks. Don't tell me that God doesn't have a sense of humor. 

After a few minutes of talking, several things were clear. For one, this was a lot of fun. Two, I still have so much to learn about Buddhism. Three, these monks were just normal, twenty-something guys. Conversation flowed easily between us all, and we had a lot in common. One monk in particular became really talkative as we got into the subject of music (we shared similar favorites like Tracy Chapman and Avril Lavigne). He started to tell us that sometimes he danced and sang when he was alone in his room, even though both are forbidden for monks. He said made sure to do both quietly to avoid drawing attention to himself. While he was saying this, I felt myself looking around, trying to see if any older monks were listening and wondering a bit anxiously if this kind of talk was allowed.

How awful, I found myself thinking, to feel like you have to suppress a part of yourself to fit in, to live in this fear that someone might find out your dissension. 

But then it hit me. I do this all the time. My story as a human being has largely been about character development. Donald Miller pointed out that most stories are: perhaps you think you know who you are as a child, then you go through an experience that makes you question that (ex: junior high), and you revamp your schema and start adding more pieces to the puzzle, or arrangle old pieces in new ways to make them fit better. For a long time after becoming a Christian, I thought I had to totally change who I was so I could "look right". Goodbye non-Christian music (whatever that means), goodbye questions about gender equality, goodbye semi-dark sense of humor. All the parts of myself that I couldn't seem to shake had to be hidden. 

Don't get me wrong, God did want to transform and is still transforming every aspect of my life, but the crazy thing is that it turns out He wants to make me more like me, not less. God is helping me become the person he created me to be, the fullest version of myself. And while I'm still figuring what all of that looks like, I'm beginning to see that I like that me. She's a lot more free than the one that tries to live up to her own expectations about what she "should" be. And a lot more honest. God is still coaxing me gradually, lovingly chiding me and remiding me that I don't have to put him, or any of his children, including myslelf, in a box. He urges me to see his creativity in each person, to revel in the differences and taste the possibilities of Him through what I see. Like I said before, I'm still figuring it out. But in the meantime, I am totally, completely free to enjoy to walk. To admire the high art form of a Macklemore song. To desire that the church enter into deeper conversation about the gospel's power to bridge gender, racial, and social gaps. To laugh that the local news decided to warn parents, families, and friends about the swiftly arriving "Kick a Ginger" Day. To keep asking lots and lots of questions. I am so far from perfect, but I want to walk in reality with the God who created it. No more fear, no more hiding. Somwhere along the way I'd forgotten the simple truth that it's okay to be wrong. The reality is that grace provides the ultimate learning curve.

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