Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Cross and the Glyph

Had I not known the darkness
I could not love the light
Were it not for gravity there would be no flight
Had I not lost the path, I’d have never found my way
Equal parts my heart I gave to bloom and to decay

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

It’s strange, I suppose, being as comfortable as I am with my most glaring (at least to me, I suppose) weakness.  I have different terms for it depending on the day and how I’m feeling, but the idea boils down to this: I’m pretty much emotionally stunted.

I used to think that I was emotionless, but I’ve come to admit that there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary, so I’ve realized it’s something else.  It’s more about protection, really.  I wouldn’t be surprised to find out, for instance, that it’s a good part of the reason why I’m so damned enthralled by The Crazy.  Crazy Girls are the female equivalent of the Bad Boy, forcing you to revolve your world around them and never actually committing to anything.  There’s a sort of inevitability about the bitter end, but there’s also a weird comfort.  When all is said and done you can blame everything on them and bask in the glow of your friends saying, “She wasn’t good enough for you, anyway.”

As long as it’s “her” fault, then, I never have to confront my own issues.  I’m your fairly typical commitment-phobic guy, I suppose.  But I’m definitely not out sowing my wild oats and living it up, crazy bachelor style.  I’m worried about how choices limit options down the road.  If I do [this], then it will limit my ability to do [that] and [the other thing].  It’s why I had a hard time buying a new car.  The potential future realization of, “Oh, crap, I can’t do this because I have a car payment coming up,” constantly threatened to override the potential pleasure of having a new car.

There’s a reason why I couch my decision to leave Christianity behind in the terms of a bad break up.  There’s also a reason, I’m finally realizing, why those from my former life who approach me on the subject do so in the way they do.  Much like I don’t want to have to confront my commitment issues, they don’t want to confront the doubts I once did.  My story is scary to those who want to stay in the embrace of the Christianity I left behind.  I know this because my story was once scary to me.

But that is ultimately what makes it so interesting, too.  See, people love to tell me why I left Christianity.  I wasn’t around the right kinds of Christian.  I just wanted to go off and sin.  I was never really a Christian to begin with.  There’s probably someone out there who thinks it’s all because of Satan, too.  I tend to ignore such things, since I’m 99% sure they’d never understand the real issues even if they sat still long enough to listen.

Moreover, every once in a while I impinge myself upon the consciousness of my former brethren for a bit.  When that happens I find out that I’ve changed.  I find out that it’s sad.  It’s depressing to the people who remain in church that I’m a different person, that I left.  Alternately, it makes them angry.  They want to know how I could have done what I did to them.

Maybe god isn’t the crazy girl in this situation.  Maybe the church is.  As long as my life revolved around my church it was okay.  As long as I wanted to do everything for god it was okay.  But as soon as I said, “Nah, I’m good,” I was a pariah.  I was persona non grata to all but a few.

Really, though, if you want to be objectified, there’s no better place to go than church.  If you’re respected you’re a “great man/woman of god.”  If you’re not you’re a sinner.  If you leave you’re a missions project.  If you’re not there yet, same thing.

I was one of those “great man of god,” types.  I was always up to help, to volunteer, to do the work that needed to be done.  I was regarded as having Biblical knowledge and wisdom to be emulated.  But when I left my church I was ignored.  When I went public with my lack of faith I was approached with a barely modified version of the shtick presented to the unknown, nameless nonbeliever.

I was even told by one person that we’d never actually been friends.  For a while this hurt me, until I realized he was right.  I was an object to him then, I’m an object to him now.  It’s just that the sort of object I am has changed.  Such is life, I suppose.

The fact is, though, that my lack of ability to go on a second date should tell you something.  My lack of ability to get a new car without worrying about the outcome to the point of distraction should, too. No decision that I make is made lightly.  I didn’t leave Christianity for shits and giggles.  I didn’t do it just so I could sin without repercussion, either.

Fact is that it’s not like there was a shortage of sin then or a surplus of it now.  I don’t do anything now that I didn’t do then.  Really, the only net effect of leaving church for me is that I no longer go to church.  I even still get up at church time on Sunday mornings.  It’s the best time to go grocery shopping in this god sodden city (back in Brookfield I generally did it at 7 pm on Sundays.  Take from that what you will).

It’s the dirty little not-so-secret of Evangelical Christianity.  “Sinful behavior” is rampant.  Everyone is just really good at rationalizing it, explaining it, and promising to do better the next time.  Then they find someone who is even more of a sinner and secretly (or not so secretly) find relief in that.  Apparently god will smite that other person’s sin first or something.  Hell, I’m not even entirely sure that there’s a strong god belief in Evangelical Christianity.

Seriously.  Follow me down the rabbit hole for a moment.  There are twin obsessions that occupy the time of a huge chunk of people in Evangelical Christianity: trying to prove god and trying to find other people who are more sinful than yourself.  As such, faith is placed in simplistic “proofs” of god’s existence.  Belief is phrased in requests for the Holy Spirit to show up and show god’s power to the assembled multitude.  Conversation then revolves around how everyone felt when the Holy Spirit arrived.  I could do a similar trick without god, though.

Pretend I want to impress some friends and am hanging out with a bunch of people who have never, ever seen a basketball game.  I could tell everyone about Michael Jordan.  Then I could quote some stats and give the years of the championship seasons.  Then, once everyone was suitably impressed, I could claim to be friends with Michael Jordan.  I could then call Michael Jordan, hand my phone around to everyone in the room one at a time, and have him say a few things.  I could then have everyone sit down and say what Michael Jordan said to them and how they felt.

Now let’s pretend that I don’t actually know Michael Jordan (okay, it’s not so much “pretend” as “admit reality”).  I’d actually just changed a buddy’s name in my cell phone to read “Michael Jordan” and called with a pre-arranged “pretend to be Michael Jordan” thing going.  It’s all a giant scam.

I haven’t actually proved Michael Jordan exists.  I haven’t introduced anyone to Michael Jordan.  But I have tricked them in to a belief in Michael Jordan.  And that I have a direct line to him.

Welcome to church, Evangelical Christianity style.  It’s all a lot of smoke and mirrors.  But the way they keep you in is by telling you that Michael Jordan, erm, god, will be pissed if you leave.  Or express doubt.  Or masturbate.  You definitely shouldn’t masturbate.  And don’t even think about masturbating while thinking about two dudes doing it.  Two chicks is probably okay, though, for reasons I’ve never really been able to understand.

Also, if you do masturbate (and by “if” I mean “when”),* never, ever admit it to anyone.  Ever.  Period.  And get really uncomfortable if anybody else brings it up.  Sex is evil and icky and disgusting and gross.  Until you get married.  Then it’s awesome and everything will work perfectly the first time around with no problems.

Anyway, the larger point to all of this is pretty simple: I didn’t leave Evangelical Christianity because I liked sin.  I left it because I like sanity.  Then I left Christianity in general because it didn’t make any sense.

I used to wear a cross on a gold chain around my neck.  I took it off one day and haven’t put it back on since.  Some time later (I can’t really tell you when, but it was a minimum of six months) I replaced it with this:

That’s the Glyph, the official symbol of Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers.  It’s hard to explain why, really.  I wasn’t able to figure it out, since I’ve never had an overwhelming urge to wear Local H or Idlewild jewelry.  So I’d toss out a generic, “They’re my favorite band.”  Or, “It’s a reminder to live life to its fullest.”

Yesterday I was listening to “Mekong” and it finally hit me.

I came all the way
From Taipei today
Now Bangkok's pouring rain
And I'm going blind again
And I haven’t seen my girl
For fifteen thousand miles

But is it true
It's always happy hour here
If it is I'd like to stay a while
And as cliché as it may sound
I'd like to raise another round
And if you bottle’s empty
Help yourself to mine
Thank you for your time
And here's to life

And, of course, there’s “Better Beautiful than Perfect.”

we can hear the bossa nova
we can sway the night away
the steps to the dance are best left up to chance
better beautiful than perfect, anyway
and while the moon wanes and waxes
death and taxes are lurking out there
Life is grand, Love is real and Beauty is everywhere

There’s “State of the Art,” too.  And a dozen others.  Almost everything in the library, really.

I didn’t start wearing The Glyph because I needed something to believe in.  I didn’t turn to RCPM to give me meaning.  I did it because Roger Clyne gives voice to something I wasn’t allowed to believe before.  Happiness comes in spite of pain.  Beauty exists in spite of perfection.  Taking a chance is way better than waiting for certainty.  It’s all about raising a glass and toasting life even though it seems like there’s nothing to do but complain.

But why complain?  Why worry?  Life is much better when lived and lived well.

I grew up in a church that taught me to cover my flaws and pray for the next life.  I was told that the only thing I could do with the pain and doubt was give it up to Jesus, let him take care of everything.  And if I still worried, if I still doubted, it was because I wasn’t good enough.

But crying to god felt like Jon Favreau calling his ex in Swingers.  I’d call and call and never get an answer, never get a return message.  Except you know that bit where he finally decides to move on and --  exactly as predicted -- she calls?  Yeah.  My phone still hasn’t rung.  And I’m pretty sure that it’s been predicted to me that I’d be getting that call on the god line.

It hasn’t happened.  And I’ve moved on to smaller and better things.

So raise another round.

And here’s to life.


*Should any Christian who’s where I used to be read this, I have something to say:  it’s okay.  I know how it feels to be sitting there in “admit your sins” times and “accountability partners” times.  I know how much it sucks to not actually admit the real sins because you’re terrified the other person will put you on the “sinners” list and look down on you.  The person sitting across from you plays with him- or herself, too.  I can practically guarantee it.  There’s a reason for it, too.  It’s fun.  Anyone who tells you different is asexual or lying in between bouts of whacking it.

And, seriously, for the guys out there, girls like sex, too (I mean, I don’t have direct proof of this, but I’ve heard it from any number of impeccable sources).  Now, they might not like having sex with YOU, per se.  But that’s okay, too.  It happens.  Either way, if there’s a surplus of beating off in your world, it’s not their fault for being all sexy and just letting their boobs be all, you know, in existence and stuff.  It’s because they’re attractive and you’re normal.  They’re probably feeling the same exact way about someone right now, too.  Maybe even you, but I hear Naveen Andrews and Daniel Dae Kim are all the rage these days.**

Also, I suddenly feel like starting a career as an old-timey Revivalist preacher for masturbation.  That would be the awesomest altar call ever.  You know, until everyone whipped their junk out.  Although even then it could be awesome, depending on demographics and seating charts.

Further, the whole, “Never admit you masturbate,” thing has such a strong grip (pun intended) that even now there’s a little voice in my head saying, “Whoa, buddy.  You should tone this down.  Maybe erase a couple paragraphs…”

Ain’t it grand?

** Ironic, really, considering that I run hot and cold with Yunjin Kim and am part of that, “I just want someone to kill Kate right now,” cadre.  So now that Juliet is dead and Emile de Raven seems to be wearing a bird’s nest as a wig, I watch a show that’s pretty much all man candy.  And considering that Sawyer seems to be allergic to shirts, I’m pretty sure that if I were gay I’d have known it sometime around Season 2.

Aren’t you glad we have these talks?


Fiat Lex said...

The line right after the one you quote from State of the Art is one I think on often, especially now that, with my big sister going Catholic, I am learning more about actual saints. "I call upon my demons as I call upon my saints / I lend an equal ear to each, and I suffer no complaints."

*pets the Geds*
If you do not wish to accept imaginary pets, please, simply imagine yourself smacking my hand away from your fluffy head. :D Plenty of memories of that to draw on.

Right on with the self-analysis part. You have lots of emotional capacity, just very little you have enough faith and trust in that you are willing to spend emotions! XD Much easier, lazier, to surround oneself with Crazy and let them do all the emoting. Less fulfilling, though

Maybe the buddhist proverb "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear; when the teacher is ready, the student will appear" can apply also to relationships.

It does seem, though, that a lot of strains of American Christianity, especially what Fred Clark calls "Real, True Christianity" isn't especially Christ-following or even god-believing. Those folks seem to be all about social norms and the enforcement of those norms through shame and superstition.

They've got all this great invisible-stuff tech that many people use without realizing what they're doing. Your Michael Jordan analogy is exceedingly apt, since the groupthink "entity" arising from some congregations I've been part of has been...well, pretty much the opposite of the god their words described.

Geds said...

Eh, I'm good with imaginary head petting...

And I realized this morning that I didn't quite go where I was intending to go with this post. That requires a follow-up. And I'm pretty sure that the other verse of "State of the Art" is exactly the way to frame it. Although it isn't really RCC approved, I'd say.

Speaking of Fred Clark, I think he's my best counter to the, "You just didn't know the right kinds of Christians," claims (you know, except for the ones where I get those claims from people I went to church with. The counter to that involves laughter). If there is a "right kind of Christian," I'd want it to be Fred. Quite frankly, I admire his faith in the face of all of the things he realizes about the faults in Christianity and his own intellectual honesty and education. I often found myself wishing I could have the faith Fred Clark has.

It's beautiful, in its own way. And when the occasional Slacktivist poster shows up with an ever-so-smarmy, "Well if you're so smart, why do you still believe in the sky fairy?" sort of question, I'm the first to respond with a, "STFU."

Well, I used to be. I don't post much over there any more...