Saturday, May 8, 2010

The unfinished story.

Time to break the silence.

How could I catch up on all the things that have happened since January and February? There's been much—too much. But one of the funny things about writing a blog is that it's not like writing something like a journal, or a novel. It's a window into your life for the rest of the world to peer into. At least, that's how I've always wanted to write any blog I've kept for myself. I value the honesty of it, the upfront-ness of it. But you can often run into the blogger-privacy-dynamic. Sometimes you don't tell the same thing to every person—it is not always appropriate across the whole spectrum. We all deal with this, of course—but unfortunately for me, when it comes to writing, or at least blogging, I'm compulsively blunt and honest. This dynamic begins to creep up on you when "bigger" things start to change in your life that not everyone is aware of or, arguably, need to be aware of. Or—perhaps they do need to be aware of them, but that issue may be in the eye of the beholder. Dizzying, right?

Well, no matter worth considering too long. I'm here to catch up on everything that's happened so far. So let's start with the basics.

The rubber finally met the road, financially speaking, and I can say that things have changed radically from my last blog post. The stress of not knowing where your next batch of rent money is coming from has thankfully passed. Not only can I breathe easier, but I can dedicate time, and thus money, to the pursuits I really want to be engaging—such as painting, or writing, or transforming the backyard of my apartment, which is little more than a vacant dirt lot, into a flourishing garden.

On top of that, a trip up to the great white north to see family and old friends proved be a great time of introspection, self-reflection, and relaxation. It gave me time to think about the new developments in my life, and also where I wish to be headed as an artist, as a designer, as a writer, and as a human.

Finally, being in a healthy and happy relationship has been a godsend—perhaps literally—and saying that I'm thankful for that doesn't really match with what it actually means for me, nor how deeply it's impacted me.

What I can say is this: a new path is charted. I'm not entirely sure where it is going to lead me, but something that was lost has been found, if I could put it that way—and not just from a few months ago, but from a few years ago. I'm still seeking to understand it, what it means for me, and trying to pinch myself as to how real it actually is. And this I mean in a spiritual sense. I had never really counted how deeply growing up within the christian institution had affected me. But now, certain bonds have been broken—and re-tied, perhaps, or they will be re-tied, but not in the conventional ways. If there is such a thing as spiritual growth, it must mean that we grow tired of our old shells and grow a new one. This molting process may seem difficult for us, but more it may be more difficult for others in fact who are not going through the same transition. They may not understand it, it might not be for them—they might not even need it. But the fact of it is that what I believe, and what I believe I am, is not and cannot be contained by typical Christian theology. While I understand that others are very comfortable in this realm, I was never one to stay comfortable, even from when I was young. I think back to the first days where it struck me that I "could" or "should" be a Christian—walking out of Sunday school classrooms at four or five years old, pamphlet in-hand explaining that Jesus loved me and had suffered something deeply for—what? Me? Something I had done? It was never explained what. Only later did I understand that via something called "original sin", which smacks to me now of an intellectual conjuring rather than an intuitive truth, could I understand how a four-year-old could be responsible for the brutal and execution of a man two millennia ago. St. Augustine called every infant a tyrant, and it seeped into every "good" preacher's thought process since it was made sacred dogma. And while I think it is true that humanity has lost connection with spiritual realms, essences, and truth, I think this obvious disconnect has been compressed and mutated, transforming into an unbendable doctrine that, because it is unbendable, acts more like a brace than a channel. This is what original sin is. It is reflective of truth—but it is not truth itself. This is the great bait and switch Christianity has played on itself. It was an intuition, unstable and profound. It should have remained there—but as soon as it is canonized, it becomes foundational, immovable, and unshakable—and thus, brittle and empty. Like a vein that could carry valuable blood and nutrients, but is now clogged up with "junk" truth that masquerades as the thing it should only be representing.

I think of how I went to church on Easter—first time I'd been in a church for many years. Stranger still, that it was the same church (or, the same people, the building had just changed) I had remember from childhood. I actually looked forward to the sermon, wondering what this teacher would say about what christians believe to be the most pivotal moment in history—the death and resurrection of their god. I didn't have any expectations, but I did have hopes—I hoped for poetry, I hoped for celebration. I hoped for an expression of this great and powerful truth for the mystery of what it was.

While I was unsurprised that, I was still shocked that what instead the teacher spoke of was the mechanics of theology. As if he was picking apart a car, he explained to a quiet congregation the inner workings of the mystery, which was not a mystery at all. Each piece of doctrine, each intellectual morsel, was thoroughly oiled and fit neatly with the other. Nothing was out of place, nothing out of the unbreakable circle. And, most curiously, he was so passionate about the completeness of the system that, seemingly, by virtue of its completeness, its weight should be pressed on every person within the room—certainly the ones who did not believe it to be true. Like a scientist dissecting the anatomy of a highly complex animal, he completely and utterly dissected the meaning of the Christ and his work, so on and so forth.

And as I sat there I wondered, for all the mystery and all the passion, all the pivotal moments that had led up to that day two thousand years ago, all this man could talk about was what it "actually meant". As if the events were a metaphor for the system, and not the other way around.

I thought it funny that while Jesus had spoken completely in metaphor and mystery, almost intentionally confusing his listeners, that now it seems all his teachers can ever talk about is the exactness of things. Jesus was an elusive figure—a wanderer, going from town to town, performing miraculous feats none of the teachers of his day could replicate. Whenever he spoke to the people, it was in strange lessons and stories that even his closest friends couldn't understand. He was a man possessed—possessed by power, possessed by truth, possessed by some kind of reality far beyond the scope of what any of the approved teachers, with their highly systematized and clearly explicated lessons, could stomach. And it was not even the radicalness of the truth that he spoke about—in the end it was the politics of what he said that got him killed.

I find it ironic then that the modern teachers of this "word" have gone and done the same thing the his enemies had done. Jesus is a mystery. He always was, always will be. I find it funny that we may worship the mystery, and then deny there is such a thing as mystery to him. What do we worship then? The system that defines the mystery?

This is why I no longer call myself a Christian these days. I can't get around the fact that I believe Christianity is at ends with the Jesus it surrounds. It is not simply that all institutions, in the end, fail their purpose if grown to large or deep—it is the extent to which Christianity has gutted itself, and its God, of everything that is worth worshipping.

So now, you may ask… where does this leave me? Or, perhaps, lead me? I'd rather take the mystery on its own terms, with a healthy dose of salt. Maybe I'll write more about my research on the subject here. However, I don't believe that the writings in the Bible are completely god-inspired. They were written by men, and while there is spiritual truth written in those words, the fluidity of that truth oscillates with the humanity possessed in the hands that wrote them. To call something like the Bible the word of God is another bait and switch I find so incredible that it disheartens me—not because I don't believe it to be true. But because it is only half the story, and less than half of the word of God that is scattered everywhere else in the world—and beyond simple books, but in reality as we experience it. The quietness of things. The shifting of the world, and the depths of the mind, which stir with restlessness when put under a lamplight. There are hidden things we don't understand, don't want to understand. Sometimes life will kick us over the head when we're not listening. But most often, the rest of its lessons come in a quiet whisper. It is our job to read the signs… to see the symbols, to understand that if we were to push against the walls and veils of this life, we would find the borders to be pliable and flexible. Maybe, if we were so humble in our own life and had learned enough lessons, we could even reach deeper, and pierce that fabric, reaching down and below.

The simplicity of understanding life at its surface is easy. That's why people do it, and remain there. For others, it is not that it is easy, but because it is all they need to learn this time around—which I believe to be fine. Like a grueling lesson plan we can only understand in small amounts, I don't believe people are to be faulted when they stay in what they know, because it is all they know. But I will fault them when they stay in what they know, and are bold enough to declare it is all they ever need to know. The Bible has its own lessons about pride.

So… what does all this have to do with me, in my life, now?

Simply that I need not be bound by the religion of my youth. As we grow spiritually into adults, even Paul teaches, we move from spiritual liquids to solid foods. Not that I'd be bold enough to claim I can eat a steak these days—in fact, my spiritual stomach is so sensitive that whatever I take in I have to take in bite-size morsels. But I will not live on bread alone… it's time that I moved onto something much better and tastier. In fact, I think I should have done so years ago.

It's exciting. It's scary, it's fruitful. I have to have my wits about me and I have to be aware of my surroundings. But I never was easily satisfied with simple truth, I think. Was it my own intuition, or was it simply watching what my family went through? I think the latter… but I always suspected truth was much more complex than this.

And yet, again, it comes back to the simplicity. The ease of it. Almost as if we have to regress. Back to childhood. The child can't comprehend original sin, but what of it, when the adults are taught that they must become like children?

My greatest hope is that I need not be always bound by the religion of my youth, because while I may claim I've moved beyond it, and I have, I still feel its tether via memory. Is that because I should come back to it? Or is it just because it is too strong to let go of in two months' time?

The story is unfinished. But then, isn't that how it's supposed to be? I'm not sure if I'd like it another way. It's always more beautiful when it's unfinished.

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled across your blog back when you had just left Arcosanti (my wife and I were there in 2007). Last night I re-stumbled across it while running through my bookmarks, and found myself in some deep deja vu reading your latest post.

    I also left the faith of my childhood (fundamentalist evangelical; GARBC if you are familiar with Baptist sects) after going through much of the same struggles you did. Five years in, the fallout is still on-going with family and friends, but it gets better the more time passes. Some of the books that helped me clear away some of the cobwebs after 40 years of indoctrination:

    The Five Gospels (Robert Funk)
    The Acts of Jesus (Robert Funk)
    Who Wrote the Bible (Richard Friedman)
    Who Were the Early Israelites (William Dever)
    The Gospel of Judas (ed. Kasser, Meyer, Wurst)

    While still in Arizona, my wife and I attended a concert (Mark Schultz) at my wife's coworker's church, the first time we had stepped foot in a church after several years. It was surreal, to say the least. We had a good time; Mark is a great person who is one of the few who "get it" in a very real and personal sense. But being there as two complete outsiders, listening in on all the "God talk" around us, was eye-opening and more than a little sad.

    Anyway, good luck and glad to hear things are settling for you!