Autoethnography presentation

Anvil journal of theology and mission

Autoethnography presentation

by Maddie Thorp

  • Read more about autoethnography (studying culture and beliefs through examination of your own story) in Anvil vol 36 issue 1.

I’m three years old and in the hospital
Holding my brother
The warm yellow light of the lamp is highlighting us
On the armchair of this room
As I look down at this baby sleeping in my arms
We are equal and there is nothing different about us
Made of the same flesh and genes

I’m five years old and at the kitchen table
My brother is nearly two
I sit teaching him what I learnt at school
Just an infant, he doesn’t understand the letters I do
But it’s okay because he’ll learn
And I’ll keep teaching him until he can spell our names the same way I can
Because there is nothing I can do he won’t be able to
We are made of the same flesh and genes

I’m nine years old, my brother is six
We both play the same sports and fight the same fights
We are equal and there is nothing different about us
Made of the same flesh and genes
We talk in unison, and I teach him how to play the games us older children are playing
I teach him how to dodge the ball better
How to throw the ball better
And he teaches me patience

I’m fourteen years old and at my karate class
My brother is eleven and one of the seven boys I’m trying to teach
They’ve all started getting taller than me now
But they still listen when I speak

I’m eighteen now
And the boys I teach now spread across ages
I teach a seven-year-old how he should curl his tiny fingers to make a fist and his first instinct is to try it on his twin
I teach a fourteen-year-old his next kata
I teach the nineteen-year-old what it’s like to fight someone smaller, quicker
Someone who can duck the punches and kicks and get him to the floor before he’s even blinked
The adults listen in as I share what I’ve been doing for the last ten years
They’ve only just started and want to know more and don’t mind that it’s coming from me
Even my fifteen-year-old brother listens when his sister teaches
Because we are equal, there’s nothing I can do that he can’t
We’re made of the same flesh and genes

On the weekends I’m at church
My friends invited me, and I found God or really he found me
And this messed up eighteen-year-old knows
That God sees her and knows her
That God created her
And gave her gifts and words to do all these wonderful things
And I sing, and I teach, and I learn, and we engage together and it’s good
And still, there is nothing here I can’t do that my brother could
Because we are made of the same flesh and genes

I’m nineteen and at university
Trying out churches my youth workers helped me find
But they don’t feel like home, and I don’t really understand why
The congregation doesn’t feel right, my voice isn’t always heard
When I’m asked what I think the pastor sometimes shrinks
And tells me we’ll speak over coffee when it’s quieter and we can both think

I’m twenty-three and working in ministry
The pastor of my friend’s church that I’ve visited a few times
Invites me for coffee “so we can talk theology”
We meet in the city that is the centre of the Anglican community
Go into a small bar that’s recently been done up
I came here with my parents six years ago
As I sought to learn more and grow,
I’m still here, seeking to learn more and grow
The green walls are new but the sticky arms of the chair I’m on aren’t
The paintings around us feature people whose eyes never leave us
Lying in wait and I think of the Hebrew of Genesis
Qavah lying in wait, like the waters at the beginning
Waiting to teem with life

But it’s not a fair comparison when the words spoken
For thirty excruciating minutes
Are not teeming with life, but make some God-given part of me shrivel and die

And it’s like time has slowed
Whilst I listen to the words
Unravelling twenty-three years of life and encouragement and nurture
But God has called me to teach I try to speak
The words feel clunky in my mouth in a way they’ve never felt clunky before
I’m stuck in the chair and can’t move my feet
My mind goes back to all the words of affirmation
That these words “spoken in love” are sledgehammering down
And it’s like the words of affirmation are now covered in a shroud
I can’t remember a single good thing anyone has ever said
And I’m terrified that I’ve made God angry and mad
That I ever had the gall to think
That my brother and I were the same, there was nothing he could do that I couldn’t
“We may be made of the same flesh and genes
But it is not permitted for a woman to teach”

I’m twenty-four and sat on my living room floor
Trying to find it in me to forgive this man
Who reads the Bible differently and is convicted differently than I am
And I pray for his daughters
Who won’t grow up with parents or a church that tells her she can do anything her brothers can
Because they are not the same
They may have the same flesh and genes
But the X signifies a cross unpermitted to speak
Whilst the Y of her brothers signifies, he may, always, preach.

About the author

Maddie Thorp is a youth ministry coordinator near Southampton and is currently undertaking the pioneer MA in Theology, Ministry and Mission.

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