As soon as I read Outside In, a fabulous little book about groups of people who feel excluded from the church, I knew I wanted to interview Cindy Brandt. Cindy Brandt is as sharp and insightful as they come, and I’m a huge fan of her writing. I’m excited to host this exclusive interview with her today – take a cup of tea, sit down and join us for a chat!
T: Hi Cindy – lovely to have you here! To start with, tell us three adjectives you’d use to describe yourself.
C: Thank you so much for having me! Hmmm….three adjectives,
- Go-getter: I am textbook type-A personality, driven, overcommitted, task-oriented with perfectionist tendencies. This is why I defy the stereotype of non-aging Asian women and sprouted grey hairs early.
- Compassionate: I am a big softie, despite a confident demeanor. Especially for the underdogs, marginalized and the suffering.
- Thinker: I analyze EVERYTHING. Driving myself and anyone who will listen to me crazy. This is why I write, it’s an outlet for all my thoughts.
T: I can definitely relate to the compassionate one! And tell us – what are your three favourite ways to spend your spare time?
C: Let’s see…
- Books: I have always loved to read, but lately, social media and articles online have shortened my attention span to be able to read long-form writing. I am doing everything I can to remedy this problem.
- Family: I have a little family, one husband, two kiddos, and a tiny Yorkie. I love them very much and we like to hang out.
- Friends: I am extroverted! Can’t go too long without being with people! I like small groups, deep conversations, but also laughing together.
T: Hurrah for extrovert writers! You’ve written a book about how the church can be more welcoming to ‘outsiders’. What about your background and experience has made you feel like an outsider?
C: I am a Third Culture Kid, which means kids who grow up with the influence of more than one culture. Some classic examples of TCKs are missionary kids or military kids, whose parents may be from one country but they grow up in other countries. Often, they spend time in more than one culture within the span of their childhood.
Although I was not an MK or a military kid, I fit into this category because of the significant influence of two distinct cultures in my life. I am Taiwanese, but I was educated in an American Christian school for missionary children. I became a Christian as a child because of this school so my conversion and discipleship formation took place primarily through the lens of American Christianity.
I think often Americans don’t realize how much their American culture shapes the way they practice their faith. When they transport their faith to other cultures, they often bring a lot of their American-ness to their converts. In my case, I internalized that being Christian meant acting like an American, and because I am in fact, not American, I often felt like I don’t belong to the Christian culture.
However, more and more I am discovering that following Jesus has very little to do with belonging to Christian culture. On the contrary, I believe following Jesus means dismantling the walls that are erected to determine who is in and who is outside of Christian culture.
My hope is that the book, Outside In, serves as a call to tear down some of these walls so more people can be included in the community of Christ followers.
T: That’s fascinating, and makes me wonder about you and your husband, as I know you’re from very different backgrounds. When do you notice the differences?
C: I think most people assume our differences come from our cultures, him from the suburbs of Colorado and me from a large city in Taiwan. But actually, our differences arise from our personalities. For instance, Jason is very introverted, and I share my life with people on the internet!
T: Ha! (Me too.) So how do you work through those differences?
C: The way we work through our differences isn’t unlike other couples: through a lifetime of learning about each other, communicating disagreements, compromising and giving lots of grace. I write more about our international marriage here.
T: Can you tell us about a specific time when you went into a church in America and felt like a real outsider?
C: Every time I go to church in America I feel like an outsider because I am literally a foreigner to the country. What creates the dissonance in my experience is that I have an incredibly intimate knowledge of American Christian Culture having been raised in a community of American missionaries in my home country. I am fluent in evangelical speak. I can sing all the worship songs and I can pray just like the Americans, but there is a huge swath of my cultural upbringing that finds no overlap with the people sitting in the pews with me. I suppose it’s a bit like Americans going to England or Australia, where the language is the same, but the culture is different.
T: So, in terms of church I guess people can feel like an outsider for all kinds of reasons. Which types of ‘outsiders’ do you write about in your book?
C: I identify ten types of people who may for one reason or another feel alienated by the church. They are people who are:
- too doubtful,
- too sad,
- too busy,
- too single,
- too funny,
- too digital,
- too disabled,
- too depressed,
- too old, and
- too smart.
T: This is a great list, and some on there I definitely identify with. And it was great to read my name in the chapter about disability – thank you! One thing I noticed – you don’t write about race or sexuality, which are two big reasons people often feel marginalised by church – was there any particular reason you left those out?
C: Both of those subjects can become very contentious quickly and I felt if I included them in the scope of my short chapters, it would not do the subjects justice, and that they would become the only parts of the book people might talk about.
Another reason I have chosen not to include them is because as a straight, cisgender woman, and someone from outside of America who doesn’t have to confront the history of racism in the country, I have to be careful not to speak into situations I haven’t earned the right to. There are many authoritative and prophetic voices talking about these issues, and I would rather maintain a posture of listening to them instead of speaking for them.
Having said that, systemic racism and marginalization of GLBT persons in the church is a justice issue. Just because I haven’t included it in my book does not mean I don’t feel passionate about calling for justice within the church. But I do want to be a thoughtful ally and be intentional about my role in the conversation.
T: In the book, you quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talking about ‘the danger of the single story’ – why do you think this is so dangerous in a Christian context?
C: I think the danger arises when a dominant narrative subsumes the stories from the margins. When there is no space for diverse people to live true to their own selves, their own gifts, their own experiences, there remains two unfortunate options. In the first, they assimilate and conform to the majority so as not to ruffle feathers or make people uncomfortable. This results in erasing a large part of their identity and humanity. This is harmful and unjust. Second, they may leave altogether. This is a travesty and loss to the Christian community. I argue in the book that the way to be a more faithful community is make room for minority voices. We, as Christ followers, ought to be more concerned about the marginalized, whispered stories than appeasing the needs of the crowds.
T: These are great points. What would you say to pastors who are looking to give a welcome to those who feel unwelcome in church?
C: I think the best way for people to feel less unwelcome is to foster a diverse community. Move away from a homogenous church where everyone in the congregation is from the same demographic: same race, same age, same socioeconomic status, same political leanings, etc.
I don’t expect to walk into an American church and find people who can relate to my specific background as a Taiwanese TCK. But if I see that a church has a posture of embracing differences, I feel safer.
T: What would you say to those who have left church because they didn’t feel welcome there?
C: I’d say, ‘I know how you feel’! I’d also say that life is hard and it is a bit more bearable if you can do it alongside other people. In my “too digital” chapter I talk about the importance of physical community. Thankfully, I do believe “church” isn’t confined to a Sunday Service at a building. Some people have found community with their AA group, local reading club, or just a group of friends. Wherever your life journey takes you I pray and hope you will find God’s love through a community in the most unexpected places.
T: Finally – how can we get hold of your book?
Cindy Brandt writes about faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. She is more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing, a social justice Christian, and a feminist. She blogs at cindywords.com, tapping words out from the 33rd floor of a high rise in Taiwan, where she lives with her husband, two children, and a miniature Yorkie.
Over to you:
- Which of Cindy’s ten categories of people who may feel excluded from church do you most relate to? – too: doubtful; sad; busy; single; funny; digital; disabled; depressed; old; smart.
- What do you think pastors can do to foster a more diverse community?