I preached my first sermon at the age of 15. I can still remember standing up, shaking like a leaf and beginning to speak what I knew about Jesus. I fluttered and flustered through a message with a cracking and nervous high-pitched voice. I remember saying,
And lowering the microphone. I remember how large everyone’s eyes were in surprise and awe. I remember there was what seemed like a long silence and then a standing ovation.
And in that moment my whole life changed.
I went from being Tiffany, a normal average and unremarkable teenager to
As Minister Tiffany, I was required to change drastically. Everything had to change to suit my new role. There were no models for 15 year female ministers so I had to become a 40-year-old woman over night.
“You have to dress modestly,”
was constantly said to a girl with great legs who preferred short shorts.
“You have to wear closed toe shoes,”
was constantly said to a girl who just learned to walk in every kind of high heels.
My mother would bring home new clothes, more appropriate attire for my suddenly new preaching life, and I’d try the clothes on
and too old
and I’d just cry.
“Why do I have to be someone else?” I sobbed.
“Because you are a preacher and preachers are supposed to be holy,” was the constant reply.
Thus began a life of resentment. Of guilt. Of not measuring up to the role I was called to fulfill. Thus began a life of compulsively pursuing perfection and approval at every turn.
I began preaching when I was just getting to know myself and the world around me. I was reading Rene Descartes and John Locke and discovering politics and philosophy. I was feeling the consuming fire of passion for the boy who I let kiss me in the locker room. I was becoming.
Who was I becoming? Who knows.
But as soon as I put on the cloak of righteousness, all becoming ceased.
I had to speak not for me but for a people.
I had to speak not for me but for a God.
Me got lost in shame and sin. Obeisance and Obligation.
Me got lost in every prayer and sermon.
Me got lost in every tear spilled
for having any desire at all.
for wanting any pleasure at all.
For needing to be human at all.
I lived a life of guilt. Everyday, to feel happiness was to feel selfish and sinful. Everyday I had to stand, speak, dress, and sit
before I could drive a car, vote in an election, or take a shot of whiskey.
And it nearly killed me.
I had no idea who I was except for who the church told me I should be. And I would contort myself into a pretzel for the approval of the Christian community.
I started coping with an ever-present sense of core-shame and self-alienation in very unhelpful and unhealthy ways. Every attempt to express my true sense of self was met with:
“But you’re a minister. You can’t do/say/wear/think that.”
And that’s what we do to young people who have any spiritual inclination. We try to control them and kill their spirit. We tell them who it is they can and cannot be until they run away from the church, substance abuse, or kill themselves.
We talk about the trauma we do to preacher’s kids but little is told of the story of kid preachers who, once they are given a microphone, their lives become trauma and abuse.
As a kid preacher in recovery, I’m opposed to the notion of stifling a young person’s expression- artistic, sexual, stylistic or otherwise- for the sake of Christian groupthink.
It is killing us.
Not long ago, I was asked to lead a conference to a group of teenagers who were discerning a call to ministry.
I got behind the microphone
and it took everything in me not to yell,
“Run! Get out! Go make disastrous mistakes. Go get a DUI, get pregnant. Drop out of college and then enroll again. Go be selfish and stupid. Learn what the truth is and what it isn’t. Go find yourself before you give yourself to God, country, and community because once you give up your youthful right to folly you can never get it back again!”
I didn’t say that. Because I wouldn’t get my check if I encouraged minors to get a DUI and drop out of school. I wanted to though. I wanted to tell them that you cannot offer yourself to the Lord if you do not have a sense of self to begin with.
I didn’t say any of these words. But I did tell them that my generation took many bullets for them. Therefore, they no longer had to sacrifice their authentic selves to be leaders in the Church. I told them that they could love God and love sagging pants or short skirts. They could love God and trap music. They could love God and let the boy kiss you in the back of the locker room.
You can celebrate the divine and
celebrate your humanity
at the same time.
The administrators of this conference said that nearly 80 young people came forward to become ministers that night, the largest number in the history of the conference. I merely told them what I wished someone had told me when I was their age.
I’ve had to learn the hard way. I’ve had to teach myself. And I have had to go back and reclaim the girl behind the microphone who was only just beginning to know herself, her God, and the world.
And for the first time in more than 15 years that girl is no longer shaking like a leaf, no longer fluttered, flustered, confused and ashamed.
For the first time in 15 years that girl is
whoever the fuck she wants to be.
In Jesus’ name.