Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Cross and the Glyph, Part 2

I call upon my demons as I call upon my saints
I lend an equal ear to each and I suffer no complaints
When the furies be your ushers and the shadows be your guide
The best way out of hell is through the other side

--Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, “State of the Art”

It always amuses me when I miss my own point.  I write or say something, then go back and think, “Wait.  That’s totally not where I wanted to go with that.”  Most likely, too, by the time I get around to getting back to my point, I’ve forgotten what it was again and managed to go off on some further rabbit trail.

Although, really, I consider this a good thing on some level.  In writing you need two things: an idea and a framework.  I often have one but not the other.  It’s also likely that I have ideas that don’t fit the frameworks that are currently on my mind, either.  My general response to that in the past was to force it.  The result would often involve me getting my point across but writing a deeply, deeply unwieldy piece.  I’ve learned, slowly and haltingly, that it’s best to just let the ideas lie for a while.  Eventually a framework and an idea will combine.  Sometimes, too, it won’t fit together perfectly, but in modification I find harmony and beauty, but have to leave something on the cutting room floor.

That’s okay, too.  The idea will come full circle eventually.

I had to do something in order to hit this point in my writing, however.  I had to stop writing for someone else.  There was a time when I said that there was no reason to write if you weren’t intending to sell the thing you wrote.  It was too much work, too much bother to do otherwise.  Not surprisingly, I didn’t write much then.  I didn’t like writing.*

There was also a time when I wrote with the intention of being able to present anything I’d written to a test audience of pastors and junior high youth group kids.  I literally wrote with the thought, “What would my junior highers think if they read this?” in the back of my mind.  This goes far, far beyond the simplistic, “Well, just don’t put swears in to it.”  There’s a lot of explanation that can go in to this, but suffice it to say that there’s a specific framework that all Evangelical Christian entertainment is supposed to fit and all ideas have to fit that framework.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  There’s a reason that one of my most frequently cast epithets about that world is “artless.”**

Then I started this blog.  I worried about hit counters and whatnot.  I still kind of do.  But I don’t write anything on here that’s not, ultimately, what I want to write.  Writing for Right Behind was much the same thing.  There’s a story I was working on over there that I really want to continue, but I haven’t had time.  Same with The Repository.

But, really, Accidental Historian is where it started and where it remains.  Ultimately I tell stories here, and they’re the stories that interest me, whether I’m talking about the history of Persia or my own personal history.  Every post is a little bit of self-reflection, a little bit of therapy, a little reminder that, above all, I write for me and I do it because words flow through my veins.

It’s also why one of my favorite RCPM lyrics ever comes from “Lemons:”

I am the fat native, skinny-dippin, semi-professional tourist…
a gold watch at the bottom of the sea
Tis time I depose of those petty tyrants
One on the throne, One inside me

Two petty tyrants.  One out there, one in here.

That petty tyrant inside?  Yeah.  I know that guy.  He’s the one who says, “No, don’t do that.  If you do that no one will like you.  Be this way, instead.  Be like everyone else.  It’s the only way to make it.”

He’s much harder to get rid of than the tyrant on the throne.  I suppose that’s the advantage of living where I do.  Some enthroned tyrants are more imposing.  But this one?  Not so much.

It’s why I’m so offended when I get asked if I thought about what my leaving Christianity did to someone else.  That’s the tyrant on the throne speaking through his self-appointed agents.  I mean, think about it.  Christians are supposed to consider Jesus the king of their lives and live out their days according to his whims.  Evangelicals take this to such an extreme that they create a police state in the church and are attempting to bring that police state to the, well, state.

So when I’m asked if I thought about what my personal decision would do to someone else, I know it’s that god tyrant thinking that I no longer listen to but can still hear.  I also know why it’s supposed to be a slam dunk argument.  You’re encouraged as long as you remain in the Evangelical circles to be constantly paranoid about how others are looking at you.  It’s not stated in those terms, but there’s a constant reminder to be a witness and to be a good role model, by which they mean, “Follow all of the arbitrary rules,” not, “Show people how to truly live.”

This is the topsy-turvy world in which Tony Campolo once famously said to a group of college students that (and I paraphrase), “[X number of] starving people have died while I gave this talk and no one here gives a shit.  And what’s worse, you’re more concerned that I just used a four-letter word.”

There’s a reason I regard leaving Evangelical Christianity and leaving Christianity as completely separate events.  There’s a reason I still like Fred Clark and respect my parents’ church back in Wheaton.  There’s also a reason why I try to make it very clear that when I mock Christianity, I mock the Christianity I once knew.

My supposedly loving savior was a petty tyrant who needed to be cleared from his throne.  And I’m not really entirely sure that most people actually, honestly believed in him.  Or it.  Whatever.

I delved ever so slightly in to this in the post I didn’t know was part one, but it’s worth looking at again.

I don’t really think that most people I used to go to church did much of anything for or because of god.  I think that when we sang we did so specifically to get that feeling that meant, “The presence of god is here.”  I think that when we prayed we did it because we believed it would get us stuff.  When we behaved it was because we knew someone was watching and we’d hear about our transgressions.  It’s just that it was the other people in the room who were watching and them that we’d hear from.

Eventually that petty tyrant on the throne installs another inside the believer.

I think we all have one of those, anyway, so there’s a constant conflict.  It’s called a conflict between “spirit” and “flesh,” but I think it’s really our internalized insecurities and desires against our socialized insecurities and pressures.

I’m told that I left so I could sin.  I’m told I gave up on god so I could go live a life of selfish hedonism.  I always shake my head at that assertion, since the only “sin” I engage in is the one where I reject god.  I’m also reasonably sure that I have a steadier moral compass than I ever had before, back when I was mostly concerned with looking good instead of being good.  And I certainly like me more than I did before.

So that brings us, inevitably, back to that switch from the cross to the Glyph.  I offer, again, words from “Lemons:”

Bring on the change
Let's keep it simple now
Don't confuse your wants with your needs
Believe in Love, forsake your greed
And give away what you want to receive

Again, it’s not that I’ve chosen Roger Clyne as my new god.  It’s that in the words of Peacemakers songs I find all of those things I wanted to say but couldn’t find words for.  Believe in love, forsake greed, give away what you want to receive.

I no longer write or live for an audience.  And what I get in exchange is worth way more than a book deal or the sure knowledge that everything I do is a-ok for an audience of sheltered thirteen year-olds.

I’m still finding that the petty tyrant inside of me had a decent grip on things.  I suppose he’ll always be there to some extent.  But little by little his influence weakens.

I suppose it helps, too, that my former audience is now a thousand miles away and I know that if they notice me or think about my changes there’s naught to do but shrug or fume with impotent rage.  I moved to Dallas and found I’d finally escaped from Christianity.  Funny, that.


*I just realized that I’m following that same exact pattern in storytelling right now.  It’s not so much about “selling” as “being able to tell at festivals and whatnot.”  So I’m not actually exploring ideas so much as intended audiences and things that can be communicated in seven minutes or less.  Gaah.  Bad Geds.  Bad.

**To be fair, there are artists who manage to avoid this.  I tend to point to Over the Rhine, Andrew Peterson, Eric Peters, and Mitch McVicker when I need an example.  They’re not mainstream.  There’s a reason…


Bruce said...

Great post, my friend.

I did an interview the other day about the Independent Baptist Church movement. I told the interviewer to the Independent Baptist world "perception is reality."

The amount of dishonest fakery (not a word my spell checker says) :) was astounding. I did it, my wife did it, my kids did it, everyone did it.

I am not totally clear of this thinking now. I do try on my blog to be honest and open. Of course that brings out those who attack me then for that honesty and openness. Sometimes I slip back into the "perception is reality" mode.

Last year a pastor friend (now an ex friend) told me I should never tell anyone about my loss of faith. After all "think of what that will do to others?"

I told him "if their faith is so weak that it can not withstand my defection from Christianity it is not worth having."

I prefer our world now GEDS. Getting too old to keep working on the facade.


Janet said...

Thank you, Ged, for posting your stories and musings out in the open where they can engage and amuse. I am glad the trolls haven't found you here. It's a cozy place, informal and congenial.

I may not be maintaining a facade, but I find it difficult to live outside of my fortifications. For nearly a year I've used blogger as a private journal where I rant and sing and give advice to nobody at all, because I lack the courage to knock down the walls.

Part of it is that tyrant inside, asking me what my father would think (in his voice). I rationalize that a public blog might become a different sort of tyrant, and steal me away from the real world. But I gravitate here anyway, when I need to sort out my thoughts. I doubt going public would make a difference.

But then, I wouldn't know.