Friday, August 24, 2012

Clear as Mud

It can be hard to know what to blog about. Shoot, it's hard to know how to relate to people in general sometimes. I'm always asking, "How much do I share?"--wait, scratch that. I'm usually gripped by a sensitive subconscious screaming "Don't share too much! Hide!" Sarcasm works. So does pouring my energy into writing about something impersonal like movies. But what about me? What about the real me? Not the digital avatar of my Facebook profile, not the film critic, not the theology student, not the prospective priest. Mike. Me.

I have a good group of friends, and I think we love each other. That's not a dis against any of them, but I wouldn't say my friend group is especially close. I think, though, that some of them would be surprised if they were to meet the me of before seminary. Especially the me of college. They would notice maybe an unfamiliar reticence, an uneasy shame of my deep-seated nerdery, a naive optimism and the nagging leftovers of fundamentalism.

One reason I am thankful for my friends right now is because they are generally a people with whom I can speak my mind--being Christians, nerds, intellectuals none interested in pursuing de facto American evangelicalism as the church's future. I really appreciate the greater freedom I have with them to speak my mind, to emote and react, but having suppressed the tensions between the expectations of church culture and my own raw impulses for so long has left me with little discernment as how to be authentic without devolving into self-indulgence.

I recently came across this piece at the Burnside Writer's Collective, a Christian website which has published some of my film reviews this summer. I laughed and drank in the encouragement as I read it, thrilled by the author's evocation of a very familiar church subculture and her humanizing rebellion from its absurdities. She writes directly, honestly, and with earnestness about faith and navigating between self and church culture.

I appreciate her strong authorial voice because, at least to myself, I have felt so much in lack of my own. There have been influential individuals in my life who have done much to shape my view of the world, my view of God, Christianity and so on; influential such that my own perspective has often been a triangulation of multiple sources rather than its own thing. I have been by turns fundamentalist, liberal, anti-intellectual, intellectual, charismatic, traditional; at once gleefully optimistic and deeply afraid; prudish and licentious; sometimes disciplined but always a raging train wreck.

As I have been through a process of stripping away my past, I have had to say, "I will no longer listen to this person or that perspective just because." And as the layers peel back I fear more and more there's nothing at the center of the onion.

Except, and my sole comfort is this, that half-forgotten somewhere in my formative years are the moments that infused me with faith. Call them mystical experiences, private religious experiences, whatever, but they're mine and no one can take them away. It's a terrifying trust I enter into to try and move forward with the God who speaks to my heart, believing he's the God of Judeo-Christian Scripture, trusting that his creational authorship implies he and he alone holds the keys to wise living in a messed up world.

It's a terrifying trust to take him at his word with the way of life implied by the Bible. The life Jesus exemplified. That I'll really be better off loving him and loving others instead of myself. At the end of the day he's what I have--"To whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life." I'm trying to move forward, to grasp God and who I am and what I love doing and what he's getting up to in the midst of that and I have no idea where it'll lead me. Maybe I'll become a priest one day, maybe I'll be a Starbucks lifer who watches a lot of movies and loves role-playing games. Whatever I do, I'll be trying to do it god-ward, and I'll be doing it as myself. Whatever that means.


Seretha said...

Sounds like you are going through the process of identity formation. But I think its easy to make the same mistake that Descartes made--thinking that by stripping away things of the external or passable (or in this case, things that "aren't you") world you can come to the core of truth. You have to figure out ways of integrating things that have come from the outside into your life and your thought and taking them for your own. This person says x, but I also say x because y. Or given that x says y, I say b. After all, the voice of God is a voice that comes from outside of us, and who speaks Words to us through others.

Mike Radcliffe said...

Sounds somewhat analagous to when I've previously talked about "first principles" on this blog: