Challenging cultural, religious approaches to identity
As the daughter of a Mennonite preacher, Melanie Springer Mock learned at an early age how damaging unfair expectations can be.
Now an author and English professor at George Fox University, Springer Mock sees similar harm springing from some aspects of American and Christian culture .
In her new book, "Worthy: Finding Yourself in a World Expecting Someone Else," Springer Mock exposes how the self-help industry and several Christian practices and concepts are antithetical to Jesus' teachings because they ostracize people simply for being themselves.
"There is a certain script we are given as men and women in our culture, a script that we're given if we are Christian, and if we don't follow that script, then somehow we're placed outside or seen as not enough for being exactly who we are," she said. "So the general message of the book is that if Christians truly believe that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, then we need to make space for people to be who they are and not insist that they become somebody else to be worthy of inclusion."
The book, which will be published April 3, was an outgrowth of a web article she wrote on the bathroom gender controversy for Christianity Today in 2016.
In what ended up being the site's most read story (http://bit.ly/2Dg0TjL) that year, Springer Mock shared how she had been consistently mistaken for a boy and castigated for having perverse motives to be in the women's bathroom from the time she was a child through to her college years.
Mennonite publisher Herald Press approached Springer Mock about a potential book and she started writing it in the fall of 2016. It expands on the idea of harmful expectations in the culture and affirms self-acceptance and inclusion as the healthy and Biblically-supported approach.
Because man was made in God's image, Springer Mock presses that all people have intrinsic value and therefore deserve love and acceptance, not judgement and exclusion.
"I think there are lots of ways in which we tell people they're not worthy and that they have to change if they want to be made worthy of inclusion," Springer Mock said. "I don't think that's what the Bible tells or what Jesus expresses in his ministry."
Springer Mock herself felt damaged because she did not live up to many of the ideals Christians establish for women.
"There were expectations that I would immediately after college get married and start a family and immediately abandon my career," Springer Mock said. "None of those things happened for me. So I often felt like because those things did not happen for me, I was an outsider in Christian circles and that I wasn't following my true calling."
She had similar problems in college, where the sharing of one's "conversion story" was very much in vogue, which propagated not only unfair expectations about herself, but also problematic ones about the nature of Jesus and what one's relationship with him should look like.
In part because conversion stories were not a part of her own faith tradition, she questioned why Jesus hadn't showed up in such a big way and drastically changed her.
"I think the problem with those narratives is that it compels us to not see the smaller ways that Jesus shows up to us and that we're changed moment by moment," Springer Mock said. "Even when Jesus shows up to us moment by moment, we're not changed completely. We still sin. I think the faith stories that we (see) set up expectations that nobody can meet and that instead we need to change how we understand and talk about our faith."
Even the language people use can help establish expectations and mindsets that are misleading and contrary to nature of God, which is why Springer Mock no longer uses the language of "being blessed."
She uses the example of her adopted children, which often elicits comments of them being blessed to have joined her family or vice versa.
"But for them to be orphaned and available for adoption means that somebody else, some other mother somewhere, lost the opportunity to raise these children," Springer Mock said. "I don't believe in that kind of God who would bless me as a white, wealthy woman by taking a child away from a poor non-Western woman. So I think the language of blessing is problematic."
Plans are currently in the works for a local book launch or signing, but have not been finalized. For updates on the book, visit www.heraldpress.com.