by Karen Stiller
I’ve just returned from an intense two weeks of high level diplomacy work. Sort of. I’m enrolled in a writing degree program in a secular university. I wanted to go to a Christian-based program in an American school but I couldn’t afford it. So, I packed up my trepidation and nerves along with my laptop and a pile of books and took off.
And I’m really, really glad I did.
As a writer who has been somewhat cocooned in the Canadian Church Press world for years, writing for Christian publications and editing Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine, I was nervous about how my writing would stand beside some truly great writers from across Canada. And, I admit it, I was worried how I’d be perceived. The inner grade 3 me (nerd with thick glasses) still cares a little bit what people think of me now (older nerd with frames that are now, finally in style).
I discovered most people didn’t know the world of faith-based publications even existed. Most people had never met a minister’s wife, or if they had, she wasn’t “like me.” Loyal to my tribe, I assured them the minister’s wives they knew probably weren’t as strange or other-worldly as they thought. It was important to a few people to let me know they were the “least religious people in the world.” And it was touching when a practicing Buddhist student made a point to say hello and share some of what we had in common.
Because my writing project is spiritually-based, (note: I used the word “religion” and was advised that was off-putting to society at large), I talked about my life and beliefs in front of the whole group as we presented our projects. I typically don’t rush to tell people I am a minister’s wife (that’s something I’ll be writing a bit about) because I haven’t been super-fond of the conclusions I believe they quickly reach in their minds: a. this is a super pious person who bakes great pies; b. this is a person who can instantly flip to Habakkuk; and c. likely I have nothing in common with her and she can’t be much fun. Those conclusions can shut down what could be great conversations and wonderful friendships before they even get started.
During this program, I listened to other people’s stories, sometimes in a class and sometimes over coffee. And truly, they listened to me too. They gradually stopped viewing me as if I was from Planet No-Fun For Anyone.
Close to the end of our time together, as we walked for yet another infusion of caffeine, a classmate said to me, glancing at my feet: “You know, your Converse are pretty cool…for a minister’s wife.” Thank you, I said.