I Want to Speak Out from a Place of Freedom

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Releasing Toxic Souvenirs.

I. Christian Union.

It is early evening, and the September rain drizzles incessantly outside Room 231 in the Students’ Union building. The single-pane windows soon steam up as the room fills with students, the chatter increasing in volume as hugs are exchanged and holiday stories told.

I sit toward the back, making stilted conversation with the girl I came with—the only Christian I’d met so far in my new student dorm. Eventually, a group of people pick up instruments and invite us to stand, and I am swept into the comfortable familiarity of worship songs which remind me of home.

After we finish singing, we take our seats and the Christian Union president stands, Bible in one hand, mic in the other, to welcome us. I am feeling more comfortable now, eager to get stuck into this community, to belong just like the returning students seem to. I am away from home for university and ready to make my faith my own. The president will just begin with a quick explanation, he says, as to who we are as a Christian Union, and goes on to list some core values. My mind wanders as he goes through them, only jolting to a halt when I hear that women will not be permitted to teach at these meetings. Had I misheard? Why was no one else reacting? I had grown up sheltered, perhaps. I didn’t know this was still a posture that any Christian anywhere took in the 21stcentury. Horrified, the rest of the evening disintegrates into a fuzzy blur as all I hear is a faint ringing in my ears.

 

II. Kenya.

We lounge in various shapes in the white tiled room, soporific in the humid night air. We are at the tail end of our trip through Kenya, a bunch of young student lawyers eager to make our work matter to God, spending each day in this beautiful country asking questions about what justice looks like in prisons, in courthouses and over plates of ugali and precious bottles of Stoney Tangawizi. None of the six of us are really in the mood for the group Bible Study tonight, tired and relaxed as we are. Tomorrow we go to the beach for our final day, and our minds are already leaping through the turquoise surf of the Indian Ocean.

I had struggled throughout the trip with the apparent arrogance of the male leader. With his certainty that his particular interpretation of the Bible was normative and correct. With the disparaging comments against any who disagreed with him—our Kenyan hosts included. We have so far avoided coming to direct blows, but tonight, as we continue our study on 1 Corinthians, I wake up with a jolt of adrenaline as I realise we will be talking about what Paul has to say on women’s roles in the Church. As I begin to voice an alternative interpretation to his, he rolls his eyes patronisingly: “Here we go. Go on then, Naomi, let your horse out of her stable …” I was mortified (and aside from anything, this was just a bizarre phrase.)

 

III. Seminary.

There is a pause in the lecture. A student who, through no fault of his own, reminds me of that same leader from that Kenya trip, raises his hand. He asks the teacher a leading question, one that seems to be a trap; a test to check that our teacher’s theology is indeed “sound.” My suspicions are confirmed as my classmate expresses satisfaction that the prof’s theology does indeed line up with his.

We stop for a class break five minutes later and my hands are still shaking as I pull muffins out of my bag to share with a friend. I am so angry at how certain this student is of his rightness, at his apparent inability to consider and value a viewpoint different to his own. My friend reminds me that all of us are on a journey—including our classmate. I agree, but those damp, humid nights in Christian Union and in Kenya—plus many others either side of them—are already flashing through my mind.

 

IV. Release

Snow falls gently outside—as it has done for the past 24 hours. My blank notebook lies open in my lap, but I am mesmerised by the scene outside the cottage window: I have never seen snow and ocean juxtaposed in this way. It is perfect. The longer I watch the snow fall, gathering up on branches and fenceposts, the more I remember my friend’s words: we are all on a journey.

Or in the words of Brene Brown: we are all doing the best with what we have.

I think of how I have been affected by experiences in which women’s voices were silenced; in which the only audible voice was a strident, arrogant (and male) one. And yet, while I don’t want to diminish those experiences, I also don’t want them to rule me. I don’t want to go from zero to a hundred when someone triggers a memory of those places. I want to be a better listener—a more humble listener—and be less fearful of a different point of view. I think, too, of all the times I have hurt someone deeply, by virtue of wherever I may be on my own stumbling journey. I think of all the ways in which I, too, am still growing, still learning, still falling and still rising.

I want to release those memories, clutched in my heart like rotting fruit. I want to offer forgiveness, and ask it from those who probably don’t even know I need it from them. And so I do; I release my right to be angry and resentful. I release my claim over these people whom I have caricatured over the years. I release them, and allow them to release me.

Because we are all on a journey. And when I do speak out for the things that I believe right down to my bones, I want it to be from a place of freedom.

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Naomi Pattison-Williams
My name gives a clue as to the English and Japanese in me, but my favourite thing about it is the Hebrew meaning: “pleasant,” a reminder that somehow I am pleasing to my Creator. My heart is a little bit in the various corners of England where I’ve spent most of my life, a little bit in the cherry-tree’d loveliness of Japan where my family is from, and a little in the wide open spaces of my husband’s native Western Canada where we are now making our home. I am currently studying at Regent College in Vancouver–a dream several years in the making–and feeling wildly thankful for it. You can find me on my blog naomipw.com or on Instagram @naopwilliams.
Naomi Pattison-Williams

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