That’s Me in the Corner

let it shine, this light of mine...burn it down...what?!?

let it shine, this light of mine…burn it down…what?!?

“Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” –Napoleon Bonaparte

I haven’t been here in a while. I’m sure my absence has not gone unnoticed. My hands can feel the lack of intimacy they once enjoyed with my laptop. They are fumbling and clumsy and my brain struggles with both recalling ideas and monitoring my two left, thumb-heavy, hands. Some topics are harder to live with than others. Every time I come to the thought of this post, I find something far more satisfying to think about. This is my rationalization, in a paragraph or less.

I’ve given you a summation of my faith as it was influenced in my youth. This post is about my own journey into Christianity.

Like all worthwhile things in which a young male can find himself entangled, my Christian faith began with a girl. More to the point: a girlfriend. Her sister–who was ten, or so, years her senior had taken her to a church service. When she returned home she called me in an excited state. She was raised Catholic-ish and this church was an entirely different experience from that. She had enjoyed her time at Family Worship Center.
Family Worship Center was an Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Bible-Preaching, Pentecostal-Leaning group of people who were, and still are (as far as I know), being manipulated by a portly, affable, charismatic man, and his family. I wouldn’t learn that for a few years. When my girlfriend called me she invited me to a meeting. Looking back, it seems to me that, given her excitement, a young me might’ve had a hard time turning down such an invitation. At that time in my life I sought any excuse to leave my parent’s house and hang out with my girlfriend. I had little trouble. The conversation ended in what could be best described as an adolescent tiff. Read: deeply unsatisfying.

After the phone conversation, my girlfriend and her sister prayed for me. This was revealed to me after I had reconsidered my initial reaction to her invitation called her back and accepted. My young mind had a hard time contextualizing this fact. Once I had given my life to God and asked Jesus into my heart, I put my girlfriend’s prayer in the “miracle” category. It was the first sliver of evidence that God had any interest in me. As I age I’ve come to realize that my reconsidering an irrational reaction to an invitation does not require divine intervention. I react irrationally then reconsider said reaction all. the. time…it’s how I roll, to use the parlance of the youth of a decade ago…

Boring. I started this post 6, or so, months ago. It felt like a good idea. I felt an obligation to explain something about myself. That obligation was made up…it was manufactured in my 41 year-old child’s brain, not to say I have a 41 year-old child. I, at the age of 41 (and into 42), have a child’s brain. Not to say that I extracted the brain of a living, healthy, and happy child and put it in a jar and added that jar to my collection of jar-bound treasures. I mean my brain is child-like.

I’m reading a book about writing a good memoir…I know it sounds like a circle-jerk, but it is a tad more satisfying, trust me. The author writes that the secret to recalling a memory is to hear the screen-door slamming. I agree with her: sound, or certain smells, or the mental image of the glimmer in a friend’s eyes are very reliable place-holders for memories. This is why I spent most of my twenties and the bulk of my thirties trying to forget most of those things. I hate letting all that hard work go to waste.

It’s like a detox…why would I want to detox? I spent a lot of money on those toxins. What kinda scam you runnin’ here, doc?

I regard my childhood memories like a street-person who has a vibe that can only reliably be described as: unhinged. I don’t want to be disrespectful, and as such, I want to acknowledge their presence. But I don’t want to lock in. I do not want to be the Hanoi landing-pad for their cerebral refugees.

My memories are like a distant cousin who went off his meds, against the wishes of everyone, save the voices in his head. In this scenario, I am me–nursing my third Ranger IPA because we are at a family reunion and I’m starting to catch a buzz and I need to keep my shit together (those of you who know me get that joke). The fresh beers are across the room–behind me, and I’m headed to the bathroom with one half of one warm IPA. My un-medicated cousin is standing on line for the same bathroom which originated my trip from being cold beer-adjacent to being loony cousin-adjacent. Then, he turns around and starts explaining the minutia of President Obama’s birth-certificate. And some things he’s been reading about Operation Jade Helm 15 on the web. So I’m stuck drinking a shitty beer and listening to things that I don’t believe or care about.

My childhood is like 9/11: of course I have questions. But I don’t want any fucking answers. You need to have your larger can in place before you start opening cans of worms like some kinda asshole–it’s just common sense.

So I’m not writing that post. Not now, maybe never…because I don’t have to. I went to Kaua’i to help build a Christian church community and during that time I realized: “I don’t give a fuck if anyone believes in the saving power of Jesus’ sacrifice”, because I don’t believe in it. It was just something someone told me and I believed it (and I mean, really believed it) for a couple of decades because it was a great distraction from life. At least it was for me.

I’ve gone into every situation thinking that it’ll work itself out. That is my resting face, life-choices speaking. That idea was never more challenged than when I went to Kaua’i as a church-planter and came home as a Deity-indifferent alcoholic. That shit did not work itself out. What the fuck, life? But life knows that I play the role of bully and victim seamlessly. I come by both honestly, and I’ve no predilection to apologize for either.

I do not regret going to that beautiful island-county, don’t get me wrong. I learned one very important life-lesson. I have no real sense of who I am. I don’t never know if I ever did. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing an impression of the person that the people around me wanted me to be. And I don’t know why that is. I know the blame falls on me. The onus rests on the individual to be said individual. That is true. But, why would I do the foot-work for a therapist who is destined to relieve me of a hard-earned buck or two? Or, mayhaps, I’ll die and it’ll still be a mystery. Either way, I’m no fan of spoilers. Let me enjoy the movie.

I am not a Christian. Nor am I a materialist. I’m comfortable with a reality that transcends my understanding. But, I’m not gonna try and figure it out. I figure that if that transcendent entity has an interest in me, it knows where to find me. If that happens, I suspect it’ll have some questions for me…I will have some questions too. You see: I’m a lover, not a fighter…but I’m a passionate lover. So, pack a lunch. Either way it goes down, calories will be burned.

One other thing, to nobody in particular, don’t give a person self-awareness and then demand that they deny themselves…that’s a dick move, bro…(or sis, ladies?)

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That’s Me in the Corner: Prologue

courtesy of morguefile.com

courtesy of morguefile.com

“Look, as sentient meat, however illusory our identities are, we craft those identities by making value judgments: everybody judges, all the time. Now, you got a problem with that… You’re livin’ wrong.” –Detective Rust Cohle form T.V.’s: True Detective

I recently-ish received a text from a friend (I think) that read: “I just can’t figure out why you’d uproot your family and move to Kaua’i”. That was the gist. You know me, I don’t do research and I don’t remember quotes. I remember the general feel. I’m a wordsmith; I don’t need exact quotes. My answer to the text was dismissive as I felt that was the tone of the text-volley. But as I studied on it, I found it to be a good question. Not that the text was a question or even good. But it led me to a good place of introspection. The text would’ve been better if it had read: “Why would a person, of seemingly sound intellect and pure intention, uproot his family and move to a small island under the auspices of helping to start a church community only to return six months later with no allegiance to that church or any church whatsoever?” Now that’s a good fucking question. But that’s just one man’s biased opinion. And there’s a good answer. That may also be one man’s biased opinion. I can sleep with that.

This series is called: “That’s Me in the Corner”. It is in reference to the R.E.M. song titled: “Losing My Religion”.

There are those among you who may have a knee-jerk reaction to the term: “religion”. I get it. I know I’ve said in conversation: “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship”. I hope that is true for you. It turns out it isn’t for me. Were it a relationship, personal to me and my dear savior Jesus Christ, there would be no reason for me to be reprimanded for suggesting that–for example: the story of Noah wasn’t an historical narrative or for positing the idea that maybe Christianity isn’t the exclusive route to reconciliation with God, the God of the Bible. If there are people who feel obligated to hold me to a specific narrative concerning my rapport with one of my friends, in this case Jesus. I have a hard time parsing the distinction between a religion and a relationship. Maybe that’s just my ignorance. I trust you’ll forgive me.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.

I’ll never forget my first interaction with the Evangelical Christian Church (I’m sorry if it annoys you, but I am going to err on the side of caution concerning capitalization in this post. I don’t mind offending with my ideas, but I’ll be goddamned if I’m gonna offend with semantics. Whether or not I’m goddamned for my ideas is an issue for another post. I will not be the author of that post.). My mother had involved herself with a para-church (a para-church is sub-set of the church proper which operates under its own rules…but that leash has its limits) organization called: Aglow. She invited one of her friends from this club to our house when I was tweenish. Her friend was a Spanish-Catholic woman named: Dora…I shit you no (which is Spanish for: not). Dora traversed our house in a tambourine-jangling holy-water-sprinkling one-woman parade-boogie. It was a cleansing. She even blessed my ZZ Top El Loco poster which featured no less than 100 pounds of weed in the foreground. My brother Ryan and I found this hilarious. It was a cleansing that I was glad my dad didn’t witness. Who needed that shit-storm?

My dad had his own ideas about how I’d relate to the babe in the manger. There was a stint when we had to go to an Evangelical-Free church (there is no reality where-in I could understand the distinction nor explain what Evangelical Free actually means…my best effort: boring as fuck) on account of the fact that his boss went there, and–I imagine–my dad felt guilty for one reason or another…at any rate: we had to go. The only upside: cinnamon rolls and hot cocoa at the Manchester Inn. Yes, that Manchester Inn. At that church I was forced to go to a Sunday Skool Klass. I remember having a sense of separation anxiety that I cannot, in my present state, justify and which seems laughable at this stage of my life. I can remember not wanting to go because one of the “students” was the first bully that I encountered against whom I gathered the courage to sucker-punch one day at recess. He was a dick to me…then I made him cry in front of our entire class. So that was awkward. One day, out of the clear blue sky (in the interest of full discloser on the ambiance tip, the sky was probably gray and precipitous), my dad decided that my Guns and Roses poster was “satanic” so he tore it down. The poster was a cross with the death’s head depiction of each of the band’s members lined up in crux fashion. You know, the cover art for the album: “Welcome to the Jungle”. This concludes my dad’s influence over me, spiritually speaking.

I’ve had my own forays into the faith. This is a prologue. The dirt is yet to come. I have nothing against anyone who felt it important to introduce me to Jesus, or encourage me into a deeper understanding of the gospel. I have also felt that compulsion. I still do, if I’m being honest. Which I rarely am. Leastwise, not compulsively. We’ll get to that…

I/m O-Thomas You/re O-Thomas

The actions of a person who never questions their actions...

The actions of a person who never questions their actions…

“There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.” –Maya Angelou

I’ve been thinking a bit about Thomas.  He was a guy in the bible who hung out with Jesus.  Lots of Christians call him “Doubting Thomas”.  They call him that in a sort of judgmental way…but a Christian judgmental way.  Like: “Hey bro, I get it, I don’t know what I would do in that situation.”  Meanwhile, they totally know what they would do in that situation…crush it.  It all comes down to this story in the bible about a meeting with Jesus a few days after he had died.  Thomas was out doing some stuff, and a bunch of his friends were huddled in a hut…or a flat…or a shack.  It was a structure.  The door was locked because they were all scared about what the religious ruling-class was going to do to them.  Then Jesus pops in and says, “Peace be with you.”  Which is Jesus-speak for: “Sorry about your soiled ephods”.  He then showed them various evidences that he was the guy who died a few days earlier.  When Thomas returned his friends told him what they had witnessed because Jesus had already bounced.  Which is Patso-speak for: “He had taken his leave of them.”

Thomas didn’t buy it right off the bat…he was standing in a room with a bunch of people who were recovering from losing their shit a couple of days earlier when their worlds were turned upside down.  He was standing in a room with a bunch of guys who had spent the last three days proving to Thomas, and one another, that they don’t always understand what’s going on–even when they say they do.  The whole time that these guys were hanging out with Jesus he was telling them: “Hey I’m going to die but don’t worry, I’m going to come back to life three days later.” (Patso abridged)  Then, when it all started happening, the disciples were all: “What the what?  Let’s get outta Dodge!”  So Thomas comes back and they’re like: “You’ll never guess who stopped by.”  Of course he was skeptical, given the witnesses he was left to believe.  I think Thomas’ inner-dialogue was conflicted.  On the one hand, he knew that he’d misunderstood what Jesus was talking about when he was hanging out with him.  On the other hand, he knew that that was true of everyone in the room.  Added to that was the idea that if what they were saying was true, it would change everything.  I think Thomas was the guy who took seriously the implications of the news that Jesus was risen.  So he said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Eight days later they’re all hanging out in the same dwelling…still scared.  This time Thomas is with them all and Jesus pops in again.  And Thomas has a chance to see and believe.  Jesus tells him put your hands in his wounds.  He tells him to take it all in…to look dead in the face of the evidence.  Thomas does and says: “My Lord, and My God!”  Have you believed because you’ve seen?  Jesus asks of Thomas.  Then Jesus told Thomas blessed are those who believe and do not see.  There are a lot of things I don’t understand about the term “blessing” in the bible.  I don’t think it was a rebuke.  Thomas only wanted the same evidence that everyone in the room had received eight days earlier.  Let’s not forget that everyone in the room had evidence that Jesus was indeed risen and their reaction to this news–this upturn of world-view–this redefinition of authority–was to stay locked in a shack for eight more days.

I identify with Thomas.  I would be the guy saying: “Are you sure you saw Jesus?  You’ve gotten a lot of things wrong the past few days.”  There are a lot things about Christian Dogma, particularly American Christian Dogma, that I don’t buy.  This is not because I am a naysayer…or maybe it is precisely because I am that.  But it’s also more than that.  I have a lot of history with my church…and there are hundreds more years of history to be read and it is a history of a people who consistently misunderstand what God is telling them.  It is a history of folks claiming to love God and people with their words and showing the opposite with their actions…a pantheon of hypocrites…just. like. me.  I’ve believed in things I haven’t seen.  Does that make me more blessed than Timothy?  I don’t think it does.  Jesus doesn’t seem to make a distinction between my relationship with Himself and Thomas’, if we are to believe that the blessing in question pertains to the relationship that Thomas and I share with Jesus.  It seems to me the blessedness in question could be summed up thusly: “Thomas you have seen and have believed, that’s great, but blessed are those who don’t see, because they may not have the choice.”  It is not a statement that makes a distinction in quality, rather it is a distinction in reality.  Thomas had a blessed reality, he got to see for himself the evidence of Jesus’ claims.  I have a blessed reality, though I haven’t seen, it has been seen to that I can believe.

The story of Thomas is not a cautionary tale of a disciple with the audacity to ask questions.  It is not a fable about the virtue of willingly suspended-disbelief.  It is a story of a God willing to answer questions–not required–but willing.  In the midst of my disbelief over topics that have made their way–legitimately or illegitimately–into the canon of Christian dogma, I have no need to fear.  I know that, in as much as I’ve made a commitment to God, He has also made a commitment to me.  If I’m honest with Him, He can correct me on issues that I’ve misjudged.  He does this in a myriad of ways…His word…the community in which He has placed me…and other ways that are at the employ of a sovereign being.  In some ways God is still in the business of saying go ahead, put your fingers in here…