Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"An Open Letter"

Dear Cynicism,

I am writing to tell you that I am leaving you. I am moving on. I am moving out of our one-bedroom apartment that has neither a sunny windowsill on which a mint plant can grow nor a sunny room in which imagination can be cultivated. The reasons are as follows: you smother innocence and beauty and emotion, and I find this to be oppressive. As such, I am moving on--severing ties--casting you aide. All the best to you. Godspeed.

You scoff, of course. You're always so quick to scoff. Truly, these castigations are not news to you, both because you revel in your smothering and because I have told you these things before. I may have substituted fennel in the place of mint and emotion in the place of imagination, but my sentiments were the same. I was moving on. Setting sail. Hopping ship to Tarshish. Leaving you. I began to tell my friends that I was trying to "transcend Cynicism." "Who says that?" you jeered, appropriately. No one should say that. No one ought to tell another that she is transcending anything. It is both too enlightened and too pretentious for another--for even me--to swallow.

Frankly, Cynicism, I scoffed as well. I will admit freely to you that I was skeptical of my capacity to shed my crunchy coating and become, at will, a person who has hopes and dreams and beliefs and passions. I was skeptical of my capacity to evaluate the religiously observant in a positive manner. I was especially skeptical of my capacity to experience emotion during worship.

More than all this, though, and I only tell you this because I will soon have left you forever, I think I was scared. I was scared that upon abandoning you, I would find myself doing the two-handed surrender while sweetly singing "I'm forgiven, because you were forsaken; I am accepted, you were condemned." If I left you, I might turn into one of "them." If I allowed myself to experience emotion during worship, I may just as soon be wearing a "Got Jesus?" t-shirt and believing that the dinosaurs fit on the ark because they were teenaged dinosaurs. How I feared believing in teenaged dinosaurs. And so I continued to cling to you for your protection.

I should make it clear, Cynicism, that you did play a role in my life for which I am glad. After meeting your eyes during a discussion of epistemology my freshman year, I knew you were the one for me. I knew I wanted you always at my side. I wanted to put you in my pocket and keep you there, and so I did. That day in freshman philosophy, Cynicism, I tucked you into the left pocket of my purple t-shirt and carried on with my day. Carried on with my life.

But now, Cynicism, I am taking you out of my pocket and I am moving out of our apartment and I am shutting the garden gate on you and I am moving on. It is true--both you and I know that it is true--that I will walk haltingly away and will sometimes fiddle with the latch on the gate. Sometimes, I will even invite you back up to the apartment for a nightcap and a spot of dialogue. Most times, I will continue to cross my arms obstinately during worship or prayer (God forbid we be singing "Blessed be the Name" or "How Great is Our God.") and direct close-lipped stares at my fellow worshipers so that they might truly see that I am not one of "them." Most times, although I have given you a side-hug and have told you "Goodbye Forever," I will forget that I have ever done this at all.

However, I hope for the good days. Now that you are gone, it is okay to hope for the good days and know that they are coming. Even though my leaving you has by no means been successful or sudden, I need to tell you that I am already finding that I do not delight in you so readily these days. Your presence does not make my eyes gleam or my mind burst with delirious self-righteousness as easily as it used to. I am sorry to tell you all of this so candidly, but it is true. And because it is true, I am happy.

This is goodbye, then. I don't want you to try to contact me. I have changed my phone number and I am wearing a hat and I am speaking in an accent and I do not want you to look for me. I do not want you to call. I do not want you to write. I do not want you to think of "us" as living in the subjunctive mood. There will never be an "us" again. And if you see me someday, Cynicism, and I am doing the two-handed surrender or singing "Blessed be the Name" (or God forbid, doing both at once), then I will have you know that perhaps transcending cynicism is possible.

It is, at least, my intention to try.

Goodbye forever,

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"The Enduring Truths of Christian Radio"

Dear friends,

Today, I learned how to cook meth and how to render a genitive absolute with a concessive function. Today, I learned that tuna does not come from dolphins, and I learned that slavery in North America was born not in racism, but in greed. Today I pet a rat on my kitchen table and learned that the process of importing Africans into North America brought about the death of the African gods.

Today, I spent my day at divinity school.

Roughly 5 years ago, I sat in a green-backed chair and drank a cup of coffee brewed from concentrated-coffee-water and told my AP that it sure would be nice to be a biblical scholar. Then I ate the rest of my english muffin and made small talk about Rob Bell.

If you are unfamiliar with contemporary Christian parlance, an AP is an Accountability Partner. APs go out for coffee and talk about lust. Or just sin and failure in general. Contemporary Christians LOVE this because they are given an opportunity to sit around and say things like: "Last night, the Accuser threw a real thorn in my path."

As a freshman at a Christian college, I loved this, too. I had no frame of reference for what it meant to talk about the Israelites (until someone recommended that I watch the Prince of Egypt), and I'd never heard of Ananias and Sapphira, and I didn't know that the Gospels were written after Paul's epistles, but I had a vague sense that it was important for me to read my Good News Bible and to heed the verses that I had double-underlined. I also had a vague idea that my biblical knowledge was lacking, so I remarked flippantly: "It'd sure be nice to be a biblical scholar. It sure would be nice to know the answers to all these questions."

And later that day, I slept through chapel.

Today, however, I did not sleep through chapel. I sat in chapel and analyzed the planning of the worship service and the efficacy of the sermon delivered. Today, I spent the second Thursday of my second year mastering divinity. I sat amongst Christians and made small talk not about Rob Bell or lust or my personal devotions, but rather used words like 'pejorative' and phrases like 'adjectival use of the participle,' and at times I even pretended I was doing the work of a biblical scholar. That is, until I went home and watched a television show about drugs and thugs.

Why am I pondering this progression of events?

Probably because I am an arrogant son-of-a-bitch. And pretentious to boot. Only a graduate student would spend their time narcissistically reflecting on the second Thursday of her second year of mastering divinity. [For a derogatory but humorous representation of grad students, click here-->http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XViCOAu6UC0.]

But beyond these endearing qualities of mine, I am reflecting on this progression of events because I have been trying to take the providence of God seriously these days. I have been trying to really believe that God has and does take a divine hand in my life.

I was listening to Christian radio in my car today, as is my habit (I am repeatedly drawn toward bad movies, bad books, and bad radio), and the announcer told one of those cute, silly stories about kids that is supposed to convince you that God is real and good and true for everyone. Apparently her son was playing on the playground equipment in Chick-Fil-A and while in a green, plastic tunnel, he started yelling, "WHERE ARE YOU, GOD? WHERE ARE YOU, GOD? WHERE ARE YOU?" The mother-turned-radio-announcer stepped out of the backdrop of the other moms, who probably just wanted to tell the kid that God was dead and he'd better just shut up and eat his nuggets, and she yelled, "GOD'S IN THE TUNNEL WITH YOU, BUDDY! HE'S IN THERE! GOD IS EVERYWHERE!"

If I had been in that Chick-Fil-A, this exchange probably would have been the highlight of my month. It would have been like Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul had just occurred while I had sat there eating my waffle fries.

But I was not there. And besides being a little repulsed by the evangelical-ness of it all, I think that the happy-Christian-mother-and-son-duo embody some of the most basic realities of a Christian's existence.

We cry out to God.

"Please, God, I do not want to work at the Chinese or the Dutch restaurant again. Please give me a future. Where are you, God?"

"Please, God, give me a spirit of prayer and a heart for you. Where are you, God?"

"Please, God, I enjoy none of this, where are you, God?"

Maybe we just feel a little too alone inside the green, plastic tunnel. And we forget that we need not blindly grope about for a God who has toes and plans and veins and love because this God who has toes and love is all the while groping about for us. We get a little panicky, wanting to touch this God and know this God to be there. We forget that "God's in the tunnel with you, buddy."

I imagine that although this all sounds a little magical and dumb and over-the-top--although it smacks a little of all these things--this simple idea is also profoundly true for those who are and who are to be ushered into the fold of salvation.

God is everywhere. God is in our kicking off of the sheets and God is in our flipping off of terrible drivers and God is in our baking of banana muffins and God is in our everything. We crawl around and we yell and we murmur and we pray, and God swirls us around in providence.

I am in divinity school because God is everywhere and because God has toes and love and is in my everything.