As far as I can recall, the last few weeks have contained my first ever interviews. This sounds quite a bit more impressive than it is or was. One was forty-five minutes in a Tim Hortons coffee shop discussing my time in Colombia last year with a local reporter who is preparing a small booklet as part of an upcoming relief sale put on by Mennonite Central Committee. The other was ten minutes or so in front of a camera in Montreal as part of a feature about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission being put together by Mennonite Church Canada. We’re not really talking a big stage here. But still, kind of interesting experiences.
Today the finished product from the second of these interviews came through. Most of what I said didn’t make the final cut, but this wasn’t terribly surprising. We knew they would have to be highly selective in the editing process to get things down to a manageable size. And I know that I have a tendency to speak too quickly—especially when I’m put on the spot and I’m trying to figure out what I think by saying it out loud :). I tend to cringe whenever I see myself on camera or hear myself speak out loud, so it’s probably for the best.
I discovered that it’s an interesting thing, this being interviewed. In both cases, I found myself wondering, about midway through the process, what these sincere people were doing interviewing me? Do they know how little I actually know about these issues? Do they realize that I am embarrassingly naïve and idealistic? Why would anyone want to hear what I have to say about massive and complex global and historical realities? I’m just an ordinary guy who was inexplicably given the opportunity to wade around in the shallow end of a rather deep and disturbing pool. Nonetheless, I did my best to sound learned and socially aware. I did my best to show myself worthy of the time and the questions.
Last night, I watched a movie called The Words. A young writer who is having a wretched time getting published ends up stumbling upon an old manuscript buried in one of the pockets of an old briefcase. He is captivated by the words he reads and, through a series of missteps, ends up passing the story off as his own. The book becomes a bestseller. He becomes the famous author he had always wanted to be. Everything is going along wonderfully until he is confronted by a broken down old man who we soon discover is the real author of the story. The film portrays a remarkable story of love and of longing, of stealing someone else’s story because it’s so much better than our own. It is a story about the things we think we want, the people we think we want to be, and about the unexpected journeys that end up defining our lives.
I didn’t steal anyone’s story, but during both of the interviews I recently did, I found myself subtly trying to project a more confident and authoritative version of myself than I really am to those asking the questions. I wanted to come across as “the sort of person whose words people feverishly scribble down,” the sort of person who belongs in front of a camera. Instead of just worrying about coming across as who I am and talking about what I experienced. No more, no less.
Surely, this is all any of us is ever called to. To be the people God has made us to be in the times and the places that God has placed us. This is what it means to bear witness to the grace of God. Not to endlessly strive to be what we are not or to conform to some idealized conception of who God (or others) want us to be, but to simply speak and live plainly and truly, confident that we are already accepted, already forgiven, already loved more than we can ever imagine.
Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted.
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel