No matter where I’m dropped, I always struggle with a sense of not belonging. I’m a gay, half-Japanese, ex-Moonie, college drop-out, Quaker who believes in Jesus, speaks in tongues, and takes communion. I am in many ways a paradox, but more than anything, I’m a really bizarre human being. And my last post about “White Appropriateness” deeply reflects my own exhausted experience in the white mainline Church. Yes, I painted the mainline world with a broad brush. I recognize that I am currently going through a sudden and painful life-change and some of that hurt may have been funneled into my last post. That said, I stand by everything I wrote, and I hope I can clarify a bit on what I mean by “white appropriateness”, and how I have encountered it among liberal mainline Protestants and even Quakers.
“I am not white enough.”
It scares me how often I think this, especially when engaging with my faith community. The biblicism, homophobia, and overall lack of critical thinking were hard to deal with in charismatic circles, but I didn’t struggle as much with shame for not being white enough. Perhaps this was because the charismatic fellowships I was a part of tended be racially and socioeconomically diverse. To be fair, a lot of my experience in Evangelicalism was also haunted by this notion, but not nearly as intensely as I’ve experienced in the past few years of participating in white mainline communities.
For my white readers, I know some of you are thinking, “how often does one’s economic and racial/ethnic background even come up in church?”
I want you to understand that I am constantly interpreting the tongue of white folks. Coffee hour at Quaker meeting is not easy. I listen to Friends talk about summers spent in France, granddaughters at Bard, family trips to Thailand, dietary needs, and Book TV on C-Span. I’ve found that these conversations require deep listening, discernment, and, for better or for worse, self-censorship. It isn’t like people are constantly probing me with questions that expose where I lack privilege (though, I will say, this does happen every time I’m asked about my education, which is every time I go to meeting or church) but I am constantly on my toes, trying to relate, trying to listen, trying to hear, and it is often worth it.
But here’s where it gets discouraging.
When I am myself, authentic and open, sharing my heart or telling my story, talking the way I talk, I’ve often experienced not being heard. I cannot tell you how many times people’s interest in me dissipated after pushing me to tell the story behind my unpronounceable name (which they insist on shortening to “Hye”) and finding out I am an ex-Moonie, or after finding out I am a Christian of a more evangelical orientation, or even when I simply act like me… goofy, emotional, and weird.
By no means do I count “weirdness” as a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a gift Jesus possessed. Perhaps the way he is portrayed as eloquent, constantly centered, and simply carrying a powerful aura that caused souls to yield, is accurate. But I have a hard time believing that he was not at all a freak. He cursed a fig tree to death because it didn’t bear fruit (Mark 11:12-25), which is a bit extreme, a bit magical, perhaps profound, but most definitely strange. His whole ministry path was not exactly typical, sensible, or even rational. I like weird. And thankfully, Quakers can handle weird. We have our fair share of eccentric folks, with strong personalities and brilliant minds and beautiful souls. That said, it seems to me that “nerdy weird” is the tolerable weird in Quaker circles, and that kind of weird, which I respect and love, can be kind of… white.
And I am not that kind of weird.
I’m speaking in tongues, grew up in a cult, openly weeping over my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, amateur Mormon historian, child of an interracial arranged marriage kind of weird. I’m the kind of weird that is often made to feel inadequate for not finishing my college career, the kind of weird that is demanded an explanation for my “exotic” or “funny-sounding” name (actual things that have been said), and the kind of weird that is dubbed by various believers as either too fundamentalist or overly-spiritual, and either way, too ignorant. I’m the kind of weird that feels irrelevant and invisible in a mainline congregation.
And maybe this doesn’t sound like a racist, classist issue, and maybe I am just an over-demanding special snowflake, but I cannot help but see how much the upper-middle class, white, liberal, and (over-)educated have managed to control whole denominational cultures. I cannot help but see how the Other is forced to conform to a certain cultural standard to the best of their ability to enter the life of the Church. And I cannot help but feel, today and too often, that I am simply not white enough to do this.