I have always been a misfit. At the very core of my being, I knew I did not fit within the structures that surrounded me. Over time, I came to describe it as feeling like a foreigner in my native land.
I felt like an outsider at school, at church, in the Boy Scouts, and even at home. While performing in certain ways and meeting certain expectations cultivated an illusion of belonging, very little of it felt true to me. It was a lonely way to grow up. You could say I was a square peg in a round hole.
One of the clearest moments where I truly felt seen came while, of all things, watching TV. In 1997, the year I turned 23, Apple released their iconic commercial, “Think Different.” Even as a diehard PC user, I listened to those words and lost myself in the imagery. I knew there was something in them that was true about me.
Becoming a Spiritual Misfit
Once I embraced my misfit self, I spent years trying to embody it, yet it often felt forced. Like the Patriarch Abraham viewing Ishmael as the child of promise or Moses seeking solidarity with his people by killing an Egyptian, I forced thinking differently into my current framework. That meant taking conservative Lutheran theology, something that cultivates shame by starting with human depravity and trying to make it winsome.
What I failed to realize was the vile impact of this belief system on my soul and my relationships. Lutheranism’s focus on depravity convinced me I deserved my childhood trauma, amplifying the resultant depression and anxiety. Then, when I engaged in dysfunctional coping mechanisms, quick to forgive Lutheranism dismissed the pain I caused others. After all, Jesus died for that sin.
Spiritual misfits often struggle with Western Christianity. For some, it is the conservative takeover of American Evangelicalism. For others, it is the obsession over seemingly impossible moral standards or demonizing certain groups of people. Still more see a faith that looks nothing like Jesus. Then there is the notion of a loving God sending people to hell.
While those were not my issues as I sat down to write my dissertation in the summer of 2015, I am amazed at how seeking answers to my questions addressed many of these issues. In the end, what was supposed to be the culminating project demonstrating my mastery of spiritual formation turned into an exercise in spiritual deconstruction.