Thursday, July 09, 2009

by J

When all else fails, proof text. Right? That’s the CoC way; when logic, morals, and consistency let us down, we can always pull out a verse or two that protect the status quo.

And it’s natural after all. It’s a conservative church. Not just in recent politics, but in the simplest sense. The CoC is a church that tries to conserve a tradition, so its reflexes are always to protect whatever’s always been done.

So I learned to proof text the hell out of everyone. Proof texting was like porn. I was just gazing at a bunch of dismembered parts, treating them like object(ive)s, getting the rush I craved, then feeling a little dirty afterwards.

I felt dirtier when I learned some Greek. I learned past the point where I knew just enough to be dangerous and actually had some budding hermeneutic chops. My writing was clumsy, and I still was mostly reading through a centuries-old haze of conservation, but there were signs that I was starting to reassemble the parts, glimpse a wholly different text than the hol(e)y one I had been working with.

I felt even dirtier when I wondered about the tutor for Greek. I never used the tutoring section because I really enjoyed Greek, so it wasn’t hard work. But I noticed that the tutor was a woman, my age, who had been in the program a little longer. And she was trusted with teaching the rudiments of Greek to a bunch of would-be youth ministers who saw the course as an impediment and who, as soon as they had gotten their Cs, would revert to their proper authoritative place over her. She was good enough to teach us all Greek, but it was time to shut up on Sunday morning.

I wish it had been that simple. But proof texting is a hard habit to break, and, besides, I barely knew the tutor. She dated and eventually married a friend of mine, but I never had to actually confront the paradox of her position.

No, the CoC pews became too hellish for me a few years later, sitting beside my wife, who is smarter and more creative than me in ways that are too numerous to count. It was sitting beside her and hearing her silence that I finally realized what I was doing to her. Trying all week to live up to our equal partnership (it’s a thing with us), then trudging to a church that had us behave otherwise. And for what? Ultimately just to have our souls nibbled away. A few pieces here, struggling to figure out what to do with the church of our youth. A few pieces there, hearing our parents tell us we were hell bound. A few more pieces there, hearing those same sentiments over and again, being called a disappointment, having our son marked as religious territory to be exploited.

The definition of Christian is hotly contested in the CoC, and it isn’t just one’s gender that gets in the way. It’s political affiliation. Language. Music preferences. Sexual preferences. It’s everything, all the way down. There’s a checklist of what counts as Christian, and I and my family are decidedly not measuring up.

Go outside the CoC, and checklists still apply. The otherwise profound and kind Episcopal rector tells me my son needs to be baptized instead of asking us what our choice (not to mention his!) is. The generous Catholic friends want to make sure we don’t raise our son to be the wrong kind of black. And many churches - even many progressive churches - send missionaries to the other side of the world to convert people to Christianity without once asking what these cultures have to teach us about spirituality.

All these lines are tiresome. I see Christianity defining itself narrowly in US politics, showing its ass to the whole world without the slightest bit of self-awareness, and I think that I should be hot and bothered. I should be out there reclaiming the word Christian for something better, something more inviting, something that, for Christ’s sake, includes women!

But I don’t feel it. I’ve decided somewhere along the way that God’s a big girl who can look out for herself. I’ve realized that I’m dealing with a church that will psychologically abuse my wife and my son if they go back, and I’ve started to lose interest in being a party to that sort of fate for them. I’m not even 30 yet, and already I feel too tired for the kind of fight required when one squares one’s shoulders to the CoC.

The problem is…I’m a young educated white guy. Just the sort of person who’s allowed to talk in CoCs. Just the sort of person to whom much (undesirable privilege) has been given and, therefore, of whom much (what? What’s my obligation?) will be asked. So maybe I should be in the CoC mix, fighting the good fight.


I’m not a victim of the CoC’s bias. I’m its instrument of oppression. I’m the one who’s handed undeserved power because of the random specifics of my inception. The best I can see to do is throw it down and walk away.

Think we’ll turn into a pillar of salt?

Not likely.


JTB said...

J, this takes my breath away.


TKP said...

I second JTB's motion. Thank you for this beautiful, wonderful writing.

Carolyn said...

Thank you, J. I feel torn between staying to fight, and leaving because it's just too painful having the soul "nibbled away," as you so perfectly described.

J-Wild said...

Thank you for writting this. I hope you can find a spiritual home that restores what's been stripped away. You and your wifes departure is a loss for the CoC. Perhaps someday the bleeding of people like you from our churches will stop. We can only hope.

*K* said...

sitting, teary-eyed at my desk at work.
thanks for the series JTB. thanks for being awesome, J.

stan said...

Thank you J.

Thank you TKP.

jduckbaker said...

Thank you.
Thank you for you truthful, hard, raw writing.

Kile said...

J, I don't think we know each other. In fact other than Mrs. Baker, I'm not sure that I know anyone here. Though I read JTB's stuff often. But your raw emotion resonates with me, my friend. You have literally taken some words right out of my mouth.

At this point in my life and after having struggled so much I've gotten to the point I honestly don't care enough about the C of C to fight anymore. I've checked out.

And the strange thing was it happened so fast. Just two years ago we (my wife, son, and I) were part of a vibrant active progressive congregation. We moved away due to a new job. We looked for another congregation and found that, in the area we moved to our choices were extremely limited. We chose the best of the bad and settled in. I knew the congregation was going to be much more conservative than our last and an order of magnitude more conservative than me. But I thought I was ready. We had feasted on spiritual food so richly at our previous congregation that I thought I could survive some lean times. In fact the Elders came over one evening very early on in our tenure here and we talked for a long time. I told them that I was very likely going to disagree with a lot of things and was never afraid to share my opinions. They didn't seem to ahve a problem with that. But now, after being a member of a congregation who has no interest in being the hands and feet of Christ but rather are just interested in behing his wagging disapproving finger, I'm done.

I didn't want to be angry or frustrated on Sunday's anymore so I just stopped caring. I would walk away from the C of C but my wife isn't ready and I'm not going to be the husband that sends the wife and kids to church while he sleeps in on Sunday. Perhaps I should, for all the good attending is doing me or anyone else. I've lost the will to care about my congregation and my brotherhood and I am ever so slowly losing the will to care about the Kingdom at all. I pray with and over my son with fervor and that's about it anymore. I don't deny Him (or Her as you so eloquently put it). I still love Him. But I don't think I've got anything for Him, at least not now. That probably doesn't make Him very happy. But damn it, I'm not even sure if I care about that all that much either.

In the back of my mind. In the recesses of my soul. I want to care. I want to feel my spirit stir. I want to engage my intellect. I want to serve. But I don't. I don't do any of those things.

I am unwhole. I am broken. I feel these things. I know these things. They torment me some nights as I try to sleep. But apathy is a damn powerful thing.

Anyway, thanks for your words. Thanks to all who have written here.

JTB said...

Kile, can I repost your comment as its own post?

It's just too important to leave it buried in the comments where others might miss it.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for speaking.

God has heard the cry of dereliction before: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I pray that you will experience your own resurrection soon.

God bless you. Soon.

Kile said...

JTB, you certainly may repost if you would like. The funny thing is that I actually came back, just before heading off to bed, to delete the post. I felt like I had intruded on your very important conversation with concerns of my own that were off topic. But if you want it, it's yours. You can edit however you would like.

Kile said...

JTB, could I ask one thing if you are going to repost my confession. Please add something less depressing as a next post. So many of your wonderful posts express many of the same frustrations that I'm currently feeling. Yet so many of them find the beauty that God places before them. I'm not currently seeing or feeling that beauty but I do know it's still there. I know His love is still there. And anyway, I hate to be a downer. May I suggest posting a review of the new Dirty Projector's album. It's transcendent. Plus it's got a good beat and you can dance to it.