Sunday, 20 May 2012

It's Worse Than That

  I'm going to write as if to myself, age 17, some more.  It's effective for some reason.

  You live with a constant, slight, under-the-surface fear that maybe the atheists are right.  Maybe there isn't a God?  Maybe someone is going to somehow, sometime be able to prove it, and you'll have to take it all back.  Maybe your life will be manifestly pointless and misguided.  High school science teachers certainly feel that they've got it all figured out. Star Trek movies have it all figured out.  Far Side comics have it all figured out.  Maybe you're going to be forced to give up your God.
  Actually it's worse than that.  Thing is, there is a God, and He isn't who you think.  At all.  You worship a simple God, a God who is nothing more than a photographic negative of you, put in authority over you.  You follow a God who, should you want something, forbids it; should you dread, fear or loathe something, requires it.  You are devoted to a God of your own devising.  An idol.  And there is a real God.  And you don't know Him. At all.  Anything He is that your father is unable to be is something you can't believe He is.
  For one thing, He made your joy response, and now your genetics, family, culture and church have shattered it.  The God That Is made all kinds of things in the world, and is seen in all kinds of things that happen daily.  And you're not really keeping up.  You drive a powerful old black car at 100km, straight into a golden-ruddy sunset, sky framed by a bristling black border of silhouetted trees and reflected in a myriad creeks, rivers, lakes and ponds scattered around you as you go.  And you don't see any of it.  You whisk off into it, unseeing, heart bowed and focused on your adolescent anguishes. You don't feel the joy that is the intended (and the only healthy and sane) response of a person who understands about God.
  You see girls and women, filled to overflowing with life, firmly rounded in haunch and bosom, and your passion and appreciation is instantly swamped with shame and regret, obedient to your tradition.  The idea that God Himself, let alone the girls, might want you to appreciate this handiwork?  Something you might be able to accept in theory, with a "but" affixed to make it safe.  But?  You can accept it as an idea, but not in your heart.  Not deep down.  Girls are to you lovelinesses your job is simply to not enjoy.  And you excel at your part in that equation.  And you know that their loveliness gives them power over you, and you judge rather than embrace this.
  You think that your part, in everything, is to say "no."  To everything nice.  All the time.  You fear that someone is going to somehow, sometime be able to prove that really, there is no right and wrong, that nothing is forbidden, that you're wasting your time and your youth not enjoying things, that you can do whatever you want, instead of obediently, cravenly clinging to all those reassuring unwritten rules which form the walls of the pen in which you were raised.  You fear you will be asked to embrace anarchy.
  Actually it's worse than that.  You are required to be free, to be at liberty.  And not sneaky "giving it all back to God" either.  Thing is, there is a God, and there are likewise good and evil, and they are so much higher and deeper and greater and more multi-faceted, multi-coloured and manifold in their aspects that mere "right and wrong" are baby-talk by comparison.  There are people and forces for whom the word "wrong" is woefully inadequate.  God and Jimi Hendrix and Leonardo Da Vinci and Bobby Orr aren't merely "right."  They are excellence, they are undeniable unique worth.  The word translated "virtue" in the bible isn't about piety and saying no to stuff.  It is about excellence and worth.
  Way toward the start of God trying to deal with his barbaric, nasty children, He gave them a law and commandments. They were a nasty, barbaric little tribe of children, apt to fall into human sacrifice and other primitive excesses.  He gave them dietary restrictions, gender roles and a structure within which one could divorce ones wife, or take ones revenge on an enemy, but with a limit set of only an eye taken for an eye lost, only a tooth taken in retribution for a tooth lost. 
  But there's so much more to being human than obedience to rules.  God and people and the bible aren't just about ethics.  It's not about doing nothing except what one is ordered to do, and then obeying that, and using all the spare time that will be left over to throw shame on the people who are doing stuff.  What servant, employee or soldier is ever allowed to do nothing except follow instructions?  Each would lose his position very quickly if he acted like a toaster or other appliance, mostly doing nothing, and never taking initiative to do good things, to look after his master's interests, even if not explicitly told to do so, each time.  And you aren't an employee.  You are a son.  Your bosses at the restaurant and your father in the fields are alike unable to respect your training, which is to do nothing whenever possible, to do nothing until explicitly told to do something, and then to spend a great deal of time asking questions and making certain you understand exactly what they expect.
 You've got a problem.  You have being obedient down.  You do it to such a degree as to be barely sentient.  You never break a single rule and you are useless.  You have to learn to see and do good, like a living creature.  You have to learn to be useful.  You were meant to pursue excellence, not compliance. You were meant to make and do things which are of worth, and not merely correct, right and according to instructions.  Your father resented you wanting to understand "why" certain rules.  God is different.  He likes conversations.  And negotiation.  Even wrestling.
  You fear that the few hopes you have been given are going to be taken from you.  That somehow, someone somewhere, sometime is going to come along and take them away.  Your hopes are few.  Your hopes are to keep your life free of drinking alcohol, of going out to movies, swearing, drinking, smoking, dancing and fooling around with girls.  Your hope is to be able to someday present your life untarnished and unlived to an appreciative God who wanted that of you.  You're afraid someone is going to take that from you, and prove to you somehow that you need to give up those hopes.
  Actually it's worse than that.  Hoping in "nots" isn't good enough.  You actually are going to have to learn how to hope.  Hope for today, for this week and for this decade.  Hope you will do various things, rather than that you won't do things.  You live in a home which is suspicious of goals, ambitions, dreams, aspiration.  "He's crazy!" you can all say, should a person hope in a way that seems unlikely to come to fruition.  "Who does he think HE is?!" you can all ask, should a person hope in a way that might.  You need to be a person.  You need to risk things.  You think that you are avoiding disappointment.  Trust me, you are not.
  You fear that someone, somewhere, somehow is going to dig up something and invalidate the whole bible.  You fear that someone will prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the entire thing was written in 1973 by three guys in Tucson, Arizona.  You fear that you will have to give up on it entirely.  And you've read the whole thing.  And you remember the weird parts.  So many, many weird parts.  You are afraid it will all be taken from you and you won't be able to feel like you can put your hands on something sure, something you understand, something that answers every question a person could have.  That's how it's always been marketed to you. 
  Actually it's worse than that.  It has been edited and translated, and Isaiah almost certainly didn't write the entire book of Isaiah, as it reports his death.  The Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and rather than showing just how much any original message has degenerated, it simply provided more evidence that the ancient words have been manifestly successfully delivered, more or less intact.  The hard part is, you've been fed "explanations" for almost every part of it.  Every "bible story" has had a moral tacked sloppily onto it for your edification ("And so from this story about the children of Israel, we can see that God wants you to wash your hands before supper when Mum asks you to. And don't like Star Wars.")  You will never be able to read it without those voices, of old men long dead, creaking away in your ears, telling you, a verse or two ahead of the one you're reading, what the next part is about to say, and more importantly, what they insist that it means.  It turns out the bible isn't a magic book written long in the past, expressly for our use, and directed at us, about us and for us.  It requires application.  It requires digestion.  There are cultural, historical and philosophical expanses of wasteland between us and it.  It isn't God's Slow Striptease.  It provides, as Jesus generally did to those who came to see him, better, deeper questions, rather than answers to our childish, stupid questions.  You were raised to shamelessly cut and paste bits of it together to Frankenstein evidence that we were right about anything anyone might be momentarily interested enough to challenge us about.  This is called proof-texting.  It is making a personal secretary/lawyer out of the bible, expecting it to get you off with anything.  It doesn't allow it to speak.  Sometimes it really is setting up how to take sex slaves when your country invades another one, and this isn't a metaphor.  Sometimes it really is glorifying the pleasures and excellence of oral sex, and this isn't a metaphor either, and anyone trying to make it "about Christ and his church" is going to look pretty silly.
  You fear that somehow, someone somewhere is going to show you that the brethren doctrine of "separation from the world and its evil and the people in it" is going to be something you will have to give up.  You fear that this very safe lifestyle of shutting out everyone and everything except the leaders of your little group is something you are going to have to give up.  You fear that you will have to be ordinary, that you will dissolve into the world like a sugar cube in hot coffee, losing your cultural identity.
  Actually it's worse than that.  You will see that one of the main reasons you are even on the earth is to reach out to others, and to reciprocate their reachings out to you, to connect, to be one.  You have been raised not to do this, and you are a child of your heritage.  You were not homeschooled, because your parents knew that, even surrounded by Pac-man playing, Ghostbusters-watching, swearing, smoking, drinking, tripping, fooling around kids, you would never feel comfortable with attending a high school dance, let alone a party of any description.  You were supposed to be better. "Better" will end up meaning a complete inability to be at ease and connect with celebration of any sort, really.  In your circle, funerals are the occasions most likely to draw people, for a couple of hours, together.  It will turn out you can't connect much to anyone, inside the church or out.  You will be able to report your feelings, but not express them.  Your bad feelings.  The safe ones, like sadness, frustration, anger and outrage.  The others (affection, appreciation, joy, hope, triumph) will always be locked away, to slowly rot and stink.  You will have to learn to grow beyond all of that.  You will never be in any danger of melting into any group of people. You are like a Rubik's cube in a punchbowl.  You need to learn to mix, to let others in, to take others in.  To touch and taste and feel and mingle.  This isn't in your nature, yet you will need to do it.  You will never have a family of your own, one you can form the centre of and which forms up around you.  Other people generally will, and will move away and forget you entirely.  If you want to have people in your life, you will have to keep meeting new ones, mix their lives into yours, and deal with them as long as they're around.
  You fear that all of your doctrine is going to be somehow, someday proven to be wrong, and you'll have to give it all up and not have any of it.  Eternal Security, Double Sanctification, Eternal Sonship, Separation from the World, The Special Position of Correctness Before God of the Plymouth Brethren Being The Only Right Place To Worship, The Secret Rapture Occurring at least seven years before the year 2000 when the Millennium starts,  Predestination, Eternal Damnation, all of  that.  You fear someone will show you, using either the bible or a calendar, that it's all hogwash and you'll have to simply give it all up and have nothing and melt into the world.
  Actually it's worse than that.  Much of it will manifestly ring wrong as you read the bible.  You will actually have to reconstruct your own doctrine, leaving big Under Construction signs around everywhere instead of having answers to everything.  Many Christians who go to Bible School, when confronted squarely with what the bible says, rather than what they've been told it means, and facing the process of rebuilding all of their doctrine, just toss out the baby Jesus with the bathwater and become atheists or agnostics, or worse still, fake Christians going to churches to express their support for teaching stuff that's good to listen to, but isn't true.  When people ask "Are you clear on the doctrine of the Divine Ground of Gathering which makes it wrong to worship with any group other than us?" you will have to sometimes not know.  They will know.  They will always know.  If you want to learn anything you will have to stop knowing everything.
 You fear that somehow the nasty, petty little sins you feel you have committed will someday turn out to have not been taken care of by the work of Christ, and you'll end up in Hell.  You fear someone will show you that you were supposed to have done various ritualistic and magical things, and that as you neglected to do them, the work of Christ will not have worked, in your case.  
  Actually it's worse than that.  It's not just that you fuck up sometimes.  It's that you are fucked up.  All the time.  Deeply.  We all are, and you manifestly so.  Christ didn't die only to "wipe the slate clean" or other unbiblical, folksy axioms.  You need to evolve as a Christian.  You need to adapt or die.  You need to grow.  You need to come out of yourself.  You need to connect.  You need to mature and abandon the nipple of your crazy cultish sect for beer, potatoes, hamburgers or steak.  The enforced infantalizing of your faith, the ecclesiastical playpen is something you will be punished for leaving, but leave it you must.
  What you fear is pretty common.  But go big with what you fear, because it's worse than you think.