Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Shout it from the Rooftops

I think I owe Linda a thank you note. Perhaps a fruit basket, too. There are many storytellers I like. There are a few I’m not so fond of. There are also a few I have a tremendous amount of respect for. Linda’s in that third category. I was at Guild tonight. For the first time ever I told two stories. We’ve got the Fox Valley Folk and Storytelling Festival coming up and this time, dammit, I’m going to try to get my ghost story out there. So I told that right off the bat. I was flat and kind of slow. It occurred to me immediately afterwards that one of the main differences between storytelling and the variety of public speaking I’m best at is one of pacing. I was going to be a pastor, after all. I was also thinking of being a teacher and am still thinking of being a professor. These days I have to give webinars, too. All of those varieties of public speaking are about pacing. You need to be deliberate, focused on getting the information across above all else. Storytelling is different. Storytelling is performance and the teller needs to convey mood, setting, place. I told a heavily modified version of my new story at the end of the meeting. I’m attempting to do something I haven’t done so far and tell a story with funny elements. There’s a lot of humor and anachronism on the front end, but then it downshifts and becomes serious. There’s a point to the story, after all. Generally I stick with a single mood. Even that can be trouble for me, since I’ve tended to tell stories in much the same way I’d offer a history lecture. Actually, that’s not wholly accurate. I think I’ve tended to tell stories like I’d give a sermon. Either way, I got done with my new story and Linda gave me a piece of advice she said she hadn’t been prepared to hear when she got it. “We want to see you out there,” she said. “It seems like only the story is there and you’re not.” I couldn’t fully process it when Linda offered her feedback, but that was exactly what I needed to hear. In fact, that’s what I’ve been needing to hear for the last year and a half or so. I can mark the time from the first occurrence of the “Loco to Stay Sane” tag on this here blog. For the last year and a half I’ve been trying to find my voice. I don’t think I fully realized what that means until tonight. I also don’t think I’d really given myself permission to do so. See, growing up in the fundamentalist circles I had to forever attempt to subjugate myself to god. Everything was supposed to be done looking to the place where Paul said he must diminish that Jesus might increase. Having no self-image was the ultimate goal. I suddenly realized tonight that the attitude of my church also informed everything about my relationships with women. The two I wrote about on Monday completely illustrate the point. Both of those relationships were all about her. The first girl was shallow, manipulative, and selfish. She still is. That’s why nine years on she still thinks that she can email me and I’ll drop everything and, um, make her life better or something. I don’t know. I don’t care. But she doesn’t realize that because in her bizarre little world I still give a shit about her. In truth, I never really did. But that’s neither here nor there. The second was selfish and manipulative, but not necessarily in the same way. Everything was about her and she expected me to drop what I was doing if she was in trouble or needed something. Meanwhile, I don’t think I ever trusted her to do the same for me. She was certainly more than happy to keep jerking me around at the end of her string. And if anything went wrong it was my fault. Period. Full stop. As long as she thought I was working on being a good little Christian she supported me. The farther I traveled away and the more I developed my own thoughts and attitudes and the more questions I asked the less satisfied she was with me. This brings me to god. I was supposed to cast off everything about myself in some attempt to become “like Jesus,” whatever the fuck that means. Any time something good happened it was the work of god. Any time something bad happened it was because I wasn’t doing things right. Or the devil, I guess. My theoretical chosen profession of pastor was interesting. Sure, there are plenty of people who do it because they want the influence or the power. But the ideal, and one which I strove to achieve, was this weird little prayer about allowing god to speak through me. I knew plenty of pastors and lay leaders who would pray for that particular skill. So the idea was that anything good that came out of my mouth was the work of the holy spirit. Anything bad was either Satan getting in the way or my own pride keeping me from letting god do the anointing thing. I wasn’t supposed to develop my own voice back when I was in church. I was supposed to let some other voice speak through me. I wasn’t supposed to develop my own voice in my relationships, either. I was just supposed to say, “Yes, dear.” I guess I wasn’t quite through with the Critical Mass posts on Monday. Honestly, that doesn’t surprise me. I think I need to make that obvious mental break so I can step back, look at the situation and realize, “Oh, shit, that’s what this all meant.” I actually think I still have one more to go, although it wasn’t exactly on the same lines as the previous Critical Mass posts, anyway. But that’s for tomorrow or Thursday. Tonight I took a step I didn’t realize I had to take. Hearing someone say they want to see me, want to know that I’m invested, that I care, that it’s not just words to me, but something that matters, is kind of a big deal. Hearing people say that they want to hear my voice, not just my story, matters deeply. I still occasionally hear from people I used to go to church with. That’s become kind of a strange issue on occasion on the blog itself. It specifically comes up with jessa, who pretty much approached me in all the ways I’d say were wrong about a year ago. But I didn’t get mad at her then and I’ve always had a hard time figuring out why. Like I said, I still occasionally hear from people I used to go to church with. I generally intentionally ignore them. I couldn’t have explained why until now, and I certainly couldn’t have explained how their approach to me differs from the one jessa used, especially since she used many of the same words and phrases. I understand why that is now. Jessa never made any assumptions when she contacted me. The people I ignore try to get me to tell the story they want to hear in the voice they expect to hear. In fact, most of the time they make assumptions and spin their version of my story from their set of assumptions so I feel perfectly fine allowing them to just talk to the version of me that exists in their head while I go do things I actually care about. That, too, is a part of finding my own voice. I think there’s this weird, default assumption that I want to proselytize in the name of atheism or skepticism or something. It’s like they’re daring me to hand out free thinker tracts or something. I don’t care. I’m not here to convert anyone. I’m just telling my story. I’m just trying to find my voice. I think I took a big step towards that today. Perhaps it’s the most important step. I can’t find anything until I’ve given myself permission to do so. See, that’s the thing, too. It’s not like Linda had to give me permission. She just had to voice a desire to hear me. It was entirely up to me to say to myself, “This is okay. This is good. You need to make sure everyone can hear your voice.” It’s a good place to be. It certainly beats being back where I was.


jessa said...

When I first showed up again after not seeing you in a long time (although I still haven't *seen* you), though I still considered myself a Christian, I had also already transitioned away from Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christianity. I wish that I could say that I would have been as open as I was even if I hadn't made that transition, if I was still E/F, but that openness is simply incompatible with with E/F Christianity. Even if I thought I was still E/F, being open would probably mean that I was beginning a transition away from E/F. It's sad, really, that it is so impossible to bridge that divide (and not the "Great Divide" for which the cross supposedly serves as a bridge).

Okay, you and I both understand why E/F Christianity can't handle openness. But there are plenty of E/F Christians who were formerly open, so why can't they understand why we have such trouble with their closed-mindedness? That's what I don't understand. I understand why someone might not be able to understand the other side open/closed-wise if she never experienced it. But why are open people able to remember being closed but closed people can't remember being open?

Geds said...

I honestly think there's a balancing act that I was really bad at achieving. The only way you can hold to E/F Christianity is by remaining closed. So basically you have to either not hang out with anyone outside of the group or only engage with people outside the group in limited ways.

I always had non-Christian friends. I've now come to understand that I was often a gigantic ass due to the whole Christian thing, but it force me to see other view points. I also never chose my entertainment or education options from a particular Christian perspective. I was public school, community college, and state university all the way. I learned lots of things that aren't church approved and I also came to conclude that those things were right. Eventually I had to choose.

I remember at some point in the not-so-distant past I learned that someone I'd known since high school was going on about how Christians are and should be seen by non-Christians. This is a guy who went to Christian college and started working in a church and, to the best of my knowledge, has not had a single educational or employment experience outside the church in about a decade. I also knew him and many of the other people in his peer group well enough to know that his close friends are all probably Christians.

I'm actually deeply confused how someone who might not even know a non-Christian can accurately explain to anyone what it's like to be a non-Christian and how people who aren't perceive Christians. It's made even more complicated by the spectrum. Is the non-Christian a Muslim, a Buddhist, someone who grew up in the church but didn't care, a former committed Christian like me, or someone who grew up in a completely non-spiritual house? It requires a great deal of open-mindedness to simply explore the implications of those questions, let alone the bigger ones of, "What does this person want or need?" "How has their previous experience with Christians shaped their opinion of Christians today?" and any number of other questions.

It's an impossible task. Yet preachers and evangelists attempt to distill everything in to a single, half-hour message. All anyone's going to get from that is caricature and the promise that the reason people aren't Christians is because they haven't been properly presented by the gospel at the correct time. I think there's more to it than that...

Also, I love your final question. I wish it was possible to offer an answer.

Fiat Lex said...

Another good Geds post, using the storytelling skills on yourself for main justice. Aww yeah.

And I agree with both comments! These are questions that I wish I could've seen being asked and honestly confronted when I was a Christian. The various denominations I had occasion to experience all had an odd kind of tunnelvision. A tunnelvision in which the spiritual lives of other Christian denominations might be acknowledged to exist in a vague way, and the spiritual lives of The Unsaved essentially did not exist, unless they were being actively deceived by Satan, or conversely convicted by the Holy Spirit towards joining Christianity.

The socially closed lifestyle of so many American Christians just blows me away with how unChristlike it is. For goodness' sake, what did the Christ of the Gospels do? He went and spent his quality time with the people nobody else would give the time of day. He was nice to prostitutes and tax collectors (which latter I gather were something like repo men on steroids) and dirty foreigners, all the people your stereotypical fundagelical wouldn't be caught dead touching with a ten-foot pole. Unless, you know, the pole had a tract on the end of it. The only people with whom he was actually harsh were those who used their religious authority as an excuse to boss people around and make them jump through hoops. And with those guys Christ was totally ruthless.

My dark suspicion is that the really closed-minded so-called Christians fear spending quality time with non-Christians because all they have is buzzwords and pat answers. In the book, Christ was able to get through to all the "unsavory" characters he befriended because he actually cared about them as people, was interested in their lives, was willing to come over to their houses for dinner and just hang out, without treating them like their unpleasant profession or uncool ancestry or past bad actions made them somehow diseased. He even hung out with people who were diseased, whom others avoided through plain and simple fear!

Opening yourself up to another person makes you curiously naked. If you want them to share their heart and their innermost self with you, you have to be equally willing to share. People who are intolerant and condemnatory of any viewpoint or social group that raises their "icky" hackles, in my opinion, are those whose religiousity is only skin deep, and have nothing worthwhile to share!

Michael Mock said...

Geds: "I’m just telling my story. I’m just trying to find my voice.

"I think I took a big step towards that today. Perhaps it’s the most important step. I can’t find anything until I’ve given myself permission to do so."

Hell, yes. Go for it!

jessa said...

Sort of related bits:

+ I lived mostly in the realm of secular culture, too, while an E/F and even while attending Bible school. I actually found much of E/F culture creepy and overly optimistic, more so than (wait for it) mental health care.

+ I remember a certain former high school pastor saying once during a series of sermons on other religions that it is better to learn about other religions from inside sources rather than from things written by Christians. I don't know how much he actually acted on it, but it is clear that most E/Fs don't.

+ Because I had a conversion story, a lot of the E/F kids would tell me that they wished they also had a conversion story and that they had as "fresh" an outlook on faith as I did. That always struck me as inappropriate and somewhat like people who want to lose weight and say, "I wish I could be anorexic." I also suspect this wasn't so much so that they could understand nonChristians so much as it was to serve as an evangelistic tool to show nonChristians that conversion can happen and to be able to make better arguments.

+ I don't remember if I've mentioned this here before or not, but I get perverse glee out of thinking about publicly comparing modern E/Fs to the Pharisees because any argument they could come up with I could probably counter with, "I bet that's what a Pharisee would have said too." (Also, tangentially, I make a lot of Pharisee analogies that people never seem to understand. This happens with my analogies to Temple Grandin's Squeeze Machine, too.)