There are many things I love about the location of the church I serve. From my office window, I can observe water play time at the child care center across the street. I know when traffic is stopped because of a suspicious package. I can see when the weather is beautiful just by looking at size of the lunch crowd at the restaurant across the street. And, when I walk out the doors of the church, I can almost always tell which group is meeting at the Convention Center.
Without fail, the attendees usually have a name badge that tells me their name and where they are from. They also regularly have an identical bag on their shoulders identifying which convention they are attending.
I love our location.
A few weeks ago, there was a librarian convention in town. Many of these individuals were identifiable not because of the bag they carried but because of the way they dressed, the shoes they wore, or the way the styled their hair. On that Sunday morning, we were blessed to have about 8 librarians worship with us. When the worship service ended, someone remarked, "You could tell they were librarians just by the way they looked."
It's been several weeks since this happened, but I still keep thinking about the statement. I keep thinking about it because I am also in a field where people are often known for how they look. Almost half of my colleagues (myself included) could stand to lose more than a few pounds. Some of us wear clergy collars that immediately give us away. Few of us dare to wear skirts more than an inch or two above the knee. Most of us struggle with what to wear - especially if we are a woman.
When I experienced a call to ministry, one of the first things I thought about was how I did not want to be like most of the women preachers I knew. Few of them wore lipstick or toenail polish. I had a hard time finding one that had been able to successfully balance the church, a husband and children. Not many of them seemed to live the life I wanted or appeared the way I wanted to appear. A few years later, I realize how I pray others are not stereotyping me for being a "typical preacher."
But, I keep thinking about the power of stereotypes.
Sadly, the church is now stereotyped by many adjectives that are not so positive. People outside the church see us as anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and many other not so nice adjectives. We have been placed in a hole of irrelevancy. We have been cast aside as part of an organization that is no longer needed. And, I'm learning that it can take a lot to break this stereotype. It can take a lot to show someone a different side of Christianity.
But, I'm trying. And, all the while I am trying, I realize how easy it is to put on a facade. If a church member were to follow me thru Washington traffic, they would quickly see that I am not always Christlike. If someone were to peek inside my closet or see the purses I carry, they would see that I struggle with possessions. If someone were to look inside my heart, they would see that I often struggle just as much as the next person - there are some people that I, too, have a hard time liking.
But, I'm trying. By the grace of God, I'm trying to not live up to the stereotypical Christian but to be the kind of person I see Jesus calling to follow him throughout the Gospels. I'm trying to share more of what I have been given with people in need. I'm trying to watch my mouth - even when an --- cuts me off on I-395. I'm trying to be one who loves God with all I have and my neighbor as myself. I'm trying to be a really good pastor and an even better Christian.
What would happen if we as the church worked hard to break the stereotypes bestowed upon us today? What would it take for us to live our faith with all that we are? How could we better embody our faith in such a way that someone would say, "Wow. That person is really trying to be like Jesus?"