The thought first occurred to me when I was meeting people at my new job for the first time.
“So, what brought you to London?”
“I’m studying at Huron College”
“What are you studying?”
And just like that, I am the Christian kid. I can see it happen. I am immediately in one of two boxes: the “oh brother, here we go” box or the “interesting, tell me more” box. My time on the West Coast has conditioned me to assume it will always be the former, though I’ve been pleasantly surprised when that hasn’t always been the case.
It is strange for me to be reconstructing myself in a new place. I knew very few people in London before moving here and so have been starting over in a lot of different ways. A lot of the things that were central to my way of life and who I am in community are no longer with me. I am re-finding myself but also reconstructing myself and reconstructing the self that others see.
In my last job in Victoria I was just another person working alongside people with similar values and beliefs. It was over time that it “came out” that I was a Christian and, for the most part, people were pretty cool with that. In fact, it became a great way to break down some of the bad stereotypes of Christians not caring about marginalized populations. However I was able to start from a place of presenting myself without the preconceived notions of who I should be as a Christian person. In my new job I don’t have that and it feels like an added pressure or weight on me as I go about my work.
Every church that I visit in London soon discovers that I am a new theological student and suddenly I am no longer looking for a place to call home and worship but am seeking a potential field placement for second year.
School is the other place where I find myself having to forge an identity. I rewrote a paper three times before submitting it today. It was a reflection paper that was meant to delve into the question “What I bring to ministry” but I did not agree with the starting point for the paper and thus struggled with the whole thing. How does one gracefully reject the premise of the first paper submitted for a course, make a good impression, but not present a false self? On a graded assignment? (That reflection papers can even be graded is another source of tension for me.)
I know that all I can do is “be myself”. However self is formed in relationship with others and when new relationships occur, especially a lot at once, self has to adjust. It is a lot like a mobile: when some of the figures shift, all of them must move around until a new balance is achieved. It is hard not to be reactionary and head to one polar extreme when faced with something so different from what feels normal. It is tempting to be someone I am not just to make the point of what I am really not…
I came to Ontario to challenge my West Coast worldview. I guess I am getting what I asked for!