Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nothing is Lost to Memory

Can you walk a smithereen Can you walk a smithereen Closer to me? Could you love a thimbleful Could you love a thimbleful Harder for me? --The Waterboys, “The Charlatan’s Lament” I’m apparently still not quite done with Critical Mass. I guess that’s okay. It’s my blog, after all. Besides, things still come up that remind me of my time in church. That will probably happen forever. I spent about a year going to one particular InterVarsity Bible study out at school. One night I walked in with a CD of Pearl Jam tracks I’d made for one of my friends who didn’t know Pearl Jam from a hole in the ground and had recently decided that was something he should change. I’d had a particular Pearl Jam drive mix and he asked for a copy of it. I walked in that night, plopped the CD down on his lap, then went and sat on one of the couches next to a girl who was, shall we say, sheltered, and proceeded to explain to my friend how the CD I’d made him was different from my Pearl Jam drive. Mostly I’d picked different bootleg tracks that I’d gotten and liked more since/realized were better than the ones in the original. I’d also cut out a song or two. I explained the reason for this quite simply: “I cut out [I dunno, a song] so that I could put ‘Fuck Me in the Brain’ so you could have your very own copy of the shoe rant.”* Now, you know how people say, “I wish I could have seen the look on your face,” after something crazy happens? My buddy still insists that I missed out. See, the couches were shaped like a U. He was sitting on the couch that formed the bottom. I was sitting on the far end of one of the other couches. One of the girls in the group was sitting on the other end of my couch and looking directly at my buddy when I said, “Fuck.” The thing is, I didn’t actually need to see her face to know how she responded. The body language was astounding. Her entire body tensed up like I’d just dropped an ice cube down the back of her shirt. We still laugh about it. And neither one of us can figure out how it is that a four-letter word could freak someone out who’d spent three and a half years at a public university. Another night I walked in to that Bible study after my buddy had apparently had a really bad day. One of the other girls in the group kept doing the, “C’mon, smile,” thing and trying to force him to feel better. It annoyed me. These, and so many others, I suppose, are memories of an enforced orthodoxy in to which I never fit. I was reminded of it last week when I saw this Chris Hedges article at Truthdig. Lawrence Weschler handled the topic in his usual spectacular way here and here. I suppose it’s something I’m forced to come to terms with. Everything is a story. No stories are intrinsically good or bad. Some are more or less entertaining. Some are more or less correct. Some are more or less accurate. But as far as value judgments go we have nothing to go on. All stories are useful in some way, shape, or form, and being useful all stories are morally and truthfully neutral. So why do we relentlessly focus on certain stories? Why do we lend more weight to some stories than we do to others? Why is it that for the first twenty-five years of my life I was constantly told that there was a story about a Jewish guy who lived two thousand years ago that I had to base my entire existence upon? Why is it that the story of the Jewish guy then had so much piled atop it that I wasn’t allowed to say, “Fuck,” and my friend wasn’t allowed to be unhappy at a Bible study? Ultimately, why is it that the people who think have to be outcasts? It’s the same story over and over and over again, too. There are those who want conformity, and it doesn’t matter whether they do it in the name of god, the party, or the company. Dress codes and bright, smiling faces are all that matters. Unquestioning obedience is all that counts. But why should we care? What does conformity get anybody? Ask somebody to love you That takes a lot of nerve Ask somebody to love you You’ve got a lot of nerve --Paul Simon, “Look at That” The thing is, I don’t think anybody ever seriously questions the notion that god is love and that it makes perfect sense to have a god who demands love and worship. At least, the people who stay in church don’t question it. Because that question breaks faith. I think about it this way. It’s like Paul Simon says… No. It’s not. I think I just got the song. I’ve always taken that statement as a negative, like, “You come in here, you ask me to love you? You got a lot of nerve, punk.” But that’s not it at all. The question is, “Do you love me?” The more important question is, “Will you love me?” That does take a lot of nerve. A lot more nerve than, say, “Love me or else.” That’s not love. That’s abuse. See, the entire Christian story is one sided. God doesn’t ask, god demands. And if the answer is, “No,” then it doesn’t matter why. The only response is damnation. That’s not love. There’s not a single thing about that that gets within a mile of love. That’s the thing about enforced conformity as a whole. There is no risk on the side of the powerful. They’re not asking for assistance or support, they’re asking for unquestioning obedience and anyone who disagrees can go rot in the fucking cold. That’s the opposite of love. It’s actually, I think, why all my stories of leaving Christianity seemed to loop back around to Her. It’s why I needed my breakthrough from last Tuesday to really see it. I asked, “Will you love me?” and the answer was, “No.” See, she said she loved me. She also said that she could stop loving me at any point and I’d never know it until she was gone. That was the exact same tension I lived with in my life under god. It’s the same tension I think a lot of the believers I hung out with lived under and, for the most part, still live under. A simple word like “fuck” was dangerous. Being unhappy was dangerous. It was somehow the sort of thing that would cause god to withdraw, take away that protection, make the loved in to the hated. And I think that for all her insistence that she believed in a god of love, she was actually in worse shape than I was. Her dad, after all, was a pastor. Questions, open rebellion, would cause a loss of love, not just from the heavenly parent but the earthly parent. So in being constantly prepared to leave me she was simply mimicking the possibility of the withdrawal of god’s love. It was easier to lose me, to hurt me, than to risk the loss she’d experience on the other end. Now I feel kind of bad for her. But mostly I’m still glad she’s not around anymore. It’s not worth it. She’s not worth it. Really, nothing’s worth that. Why would anyone want to live their life that way? I tried it for years and I still don’t understand it. But the crazy thing is, sometimes I still think it would be easier. Go back to church, play the role, meet someone, start a family. It’s all so simple, it’s so much easier than the life I lead now. But, of course, the only thing I’d have to offer in that case is deceit. To ask somebody to love you takes a lot of nerve. To ask somebody to love a lie that you call you is monstrous. ------------------------------ *The shoe rant was one of the best things to ever get recorded at a concert. It was from back before Pearl Jam became the biggest act on the planet. They were opening for someone or other and in the middle of the show someone threw a shoe at Eddie. He proceeded to stop and say, “Me and Jeff, we’re gonna go to the front gate and when you guys leave we’re going to beat the shit out of every one we see without a shoe.” This was the beginning of an epic, impromptu, five minute clothing drive in which Eddie tried to get people to throw shoes and clothes on stage. My buddy and I regularly said, “Shoe the shoeless!” to each other after the “Fuck Me in the Brain Incident.”


The Woeful Budgie said...

That does take a lot of nerve. A lot more nerve than, say, “Love me or else.” That’s not love. That’s abuse.


See, the entire Christian story is one sided. God doesn’t ask, god demands. And if the answer is, “No,” then it doesn’t matter why. The only response is damnation. That’s not love. There’s not a single thing about that that gets within a mile of love.

Back when I was questioning, but still a Christian, it occurred to me that there is no respectfully disagreeing with God. There is no discussion. There is submission, or there is rebellion.

Basically, I realized I had a much healthier relationship with my earthly father than with my so-called heavenly father, mainly because my earthly father allowed me to be an adult.

Geds said...

Basically, I realized I had a much healthier relationship with my earthly father than with my so-called heavenly father, mainly because my earthly father allowed me to be an adult.

Preach it!

Actually, that was one of those red flags back with her. I was living with my parents at the time I met her, except when I was out at school. Then I graduated and still lived at home due to my lack of ability to get a job that didn't suck.

Her parents lived two states away. She called them to ask what to do about everything. I mean, she was having a hard time deciding between two classes and she said, "I've got to call my parents."

Now, the funny thing about it was every time she did that she'd come back and tell me her parents had each taken an opposing position and she still didn't know what to do. I'm absolutely convinced they did that intentionally because they, y'know, wanted her to grow the fuck up and make her own damn decisions.

I, meanwhile, never asked my parents what to do. I'd ask for their advice. I'd tell them things that were happening and listen to their opinions. But ultimately the decision was mine and I'd often do something completely different than what they thought I should do.

She thought I was disrespecting my parents. I thought I was paying them the ultimate respect because my parents wanted me to be an adult and adults make their own decisions and live with the consequences.

I was having dinner with my parents one night right after I'd realized all of this. I said, "You know, I might still live with you guys and she might live two states away from her parents, but I've gotten way farther out of the house than she has." They agreed.

That story, I realized some time later, is also a perfect metaphor for the kind of Christianity in which I grew up. God was daddy. At no point was anyone allowed to make any decisions without asking daddy if it was okay first. Anyone who did was disrespecting the heavenly parent and would surely get punished for relying on their own understanding.

It's a stupid way to live. A good parent would never want their child to live like that.

Fiat Lex said...

In the immortal words of Tom Waits,

Lie down, baby,
Your love
is a faucet

Turns on. Turns off. As is convenient.