“You ask too many questions, you start too many fights, you dream of resurrection but you’re too scared to die.” This is a lyric from a song called “Birds” by The Collection, one of my favorite bands. From the first time I heard this line of the song, I felt moved and somewhat convicted. I felt called out for the way I often passionately speak about the things in this world that break my heart and make me angry, ways that I long for hope and justice to be restored, but how changing my life radically in order to address those things represents a form of “death” that is scary to face and to be honest, easier to avoid.
Throughout my time here in Philly, the song has taken on new, deeper meanings for me and has continued to be a part of my journey. Coming into Mission Year I felt deeply dissatisfied with my faith and I felt a lot of anger towards God for the silence I felt and the ways in which my faith was no longer exciting me or driving my passions. I didn’t expect that Mission Year would solve all my problems, but I knew when deciding to come to Philly that it had the potential of pushing me out of my comfort zones into growth and transformation.
Through a lot of processing, self-reflection, and challenging experiences over the past few months, I have realized how much my faith has been based only on things told to me by others. A majority of those things have been well-intended and things that have contributed to the person I am today, but I never contributed to those ideas, practices, and expectations with my own ideas, critiques, desires, and passions. I think this is why I found myself in a position of apathy and dissatisfaction with my faith. My voice wasn’t part of it. I actually didn’t realize until recently that my voice wasn’t a part of my daily processing of life, let alone big decisions and big parts of me such as my relationship to God and others. Instead, I was listening to other’s standards, judgments, expectations, opinions, etc. which aren’t bad to hear, but I was listening to those voices over my own. Because of the authority I gave those voices, I was taking part in Christianity in ways that no longer felt authentic to me. Things like worship, Bible studies, etc. weren’t exciting to me. I wasn’t experiencing God there, but since that’s where I was told I would and should experience God, I was disappointed when I didn’t experience anything in those settings.
At first, this made me harshly critique things such as worship music, Bible studies, and the people around me claiming to be experiencing God in all these different ways. What I have begun to realize though, is that I was holding myself and God to standards made by those around me instead of listening to my voice and trusting myself to name where and how I experience God. I have felt more connected to God while gardening, on walks home while the sun is setting, and in meaningful conversations with my neighbors than in structured church settings. But because those aren’t the ways that I was told to experience God, I wasn’t giving myself permission to acknowledge those moments as holy and sacred and expecting God to be in only specific settings in specific ways.
With these realizations comes some fear. Fear of letting go of expectations, fear of disappointment, fear of judgment and fear of “death.” As the song “Birds” first stirred up in me, I do dream of resurrection. Not only for this world and for the things that hurt and oppress so many, but also for myself. I long for a resurrection of my faith and passion, which I cannot fully step into until I “die” to the voices determining the expectations to which I hold myself and God. Whether or not people are directly saying these things to me or not, they are things that I have internalized over the years and unfortunately, it is often my own voice holding me back, telling myself I am not smart enough, strong enough, or that my own voice is not worthy of trust. I want freedom and resurrection from those voices so bad.
I know it will be hard work. I know it will require me owning my voice, taking a stand for the woman I am and the abilities I have. I know it will require me learning how to trust myself to name God in my neighbor’s faces or in my newly sprouted seedlings. I know it will require me defeating the ways in which outside voices hold me back and tell me I shouldn’t take the risk or be different. I also know that I can no longer reside in this place of apathy, voicelessness, and dissatisfaction. How can I empower other’s voices without first knowing, believing in, and trusting my own?
Katlyn Zulinke is a current Mission Year Philadelphia team member. Originally from Boone, NC, she attended Appalachian State University. Learn more and support her by visiting her donation page.