I gotta admit to you that I do not read a lot of blog posts, but Ethan Bryan has this way with blurb-quote tweets. So today he got me with “There is no Photoshop for the soul in the desert,” and I found myself reading this blog post instead of getting started mixing like I was supposed to.
The post, called “The Desert”, connects various Biblical images of deserts & the folks who found themselves within them, with a metaphorical “desert” state of being, which Ethan outlines in the post. It’s a highly relevant post, as I’m sure many people are familiar with this. I would say that I have been in a desert similar to what Ethan describes since I dropped out of college two years ago–separated from most of my friends both physically and with respect of interests/efforts/lifestyle, so I definitely relate to this post personally, even though I don’t identify as a Christian anymore.
That’s the most striking thing about Ethan’s writing to me–that it’s still able to connect to me. Several years ago I confronted a few major internal conflicts I had with Christianity–my faith perspective since birth, though it took many forms during its course–and I ended up in this sort of spiritual no-man’s-zone; or, a Desert, if you will. What I ended up with is just whatever grew up out of the ruins–a spirituality without any sort of name or well-defined guidelines, but one that works really well with me.
The thing about falling out of Christianity, though, is that it left me with a great deal of aversion to it. I knew that it wasn’t fair, and it really frustrated me, because I knew from experience that Christianity has a lot of good to offer. I’m also of the opinion that faiths are the frameworks or languages of a larger, more ambiguous spirituality, and that a certain religion itself isn’t intrinsically Good or Bad, though there are certainly things that I find positive and negative in their individual implementations. Still, whenever I heard people speak from the Christian perspective, it always stirred up the old conflicts for me, even though there are many implementations of Christianity that don’t uphold those issues at all.
As time has passed, my aversion has subsided quite a bit, though I still find that I don’t relate as well to Christian expressions as I might to something from a faith that I don’t have personal experience with, and I think that is in part because of a lingering hesitation I have to really engage the Christian language.
Ethan’s writing, though, has always been extremely approachable to me, and this is what I find so amazing about it. I had the pleasure of editing Run Home and Take a Bow only about a year after my transition out of Christianity. It’s a book about Jesus and baseball, neither of which were topics of any interest to me at the time, and yet I still found myself connecting to both.
It is my goal to be able to engage Christian language as I would any other faith or perspective, because I think they all have something beneficial to offer, and I don’t want to be shut off to that. I’m sure I have some more ground to cover on that front, but I think as long as folks like Ethan keep doing what they do, then finding a way to approach Christianity as an Outsider won’t be hard at all.
November 27, 2009
Technically, Thanksgiving ended for the Midwest about three hours ago, but, I spent those three hours being harassed by vending machines, scraping ice off of a car, driving home, and cleaning up a hideous amount of canine waste products, and was therefore unable to reflect upon my thankfulness until now. I did, however, manage to do a great deal of complaining–probably enough to merit its own holiday. However, I would feel incomplete if I did not take such an opportunity, so I would like to do that now.
I’m not going to order this by priority, so first of all, I would like to thank you for cats. Never before have I seen an animal be so deliberately obnoxious as Zoey, save perhaps for the squirrels that throw acorns at people from the safety of the treetops. Thanks for them, too. Thank you, also, for Don McLean’s “On the Amazon”, Colin Meloy’s “The Bandit Queen”, and for Kimya Dawson, in general, for teaching me that music does not always have to be serious. On that note, thank you for Beret-wearing Existential man, and Randall Munroe for thinking him up.
I would also like to express my appreciation, amusement, and general slack-jawed awe-strickenness at your handywork in setting up the Earth’s orbit to be just the right balance of variables so that our water molecules would bounce constantly between states, which would, in turn, have them, not only forming a great deal of our ecosystems, but also floating around in the sky, then suddenly falling out of it. Quite frankly, if this were a planet in a science fiction novel, The Water Cycle would surpass my willing suspension of disbelief. On that note, we had some fog at school the other day, and I feel like it was just too darn thick to be realistic. But thanks for making sure that reality stays unrealistic, just to keep us from getting too level-headed.
Thank you for 3/4 time.
I also appreciate the night time. I would guess, rather astutely (just like anything else I think or say), that you put some sort of spell over it, or a perfume of sorts, that, when inhaled, causes us to become so silly that we laugh at all sorts of things, and finally let our guards down enough to open our hearts to one another. Thank you for the majestic stillness of the nocturnal air, as well as its mystery and wonder. I suppose that’s another thing I should be grateful for about cats: they don’t mind getting up and hanging out with me in the middle of the night. It’s nice to have that kind of company.
Thank you for that paradox which we call Love; the bargain in which we gain through the gains of others, and they through ours. Somehow you managed to code a blatant infinite-loop error into the Universe without causing it to crash–maybe that is why we are still going.
As much as sometimes I do not appreciate it, thank you, and this Love, for every time it viciously massacres its way through our bubble-wrap worlds and reminds us that so many of our loved ones are suffering horribly, that so many of our brothers and sisters had barely anything to eat today, while we feasted on all sorts of wonderful foods. It’s painful contrast, God; I won’t lie to you, but I appreciate it ever so much, because that is Love and I could ask for nothing more.
Thank you also for the dream of your Kingdom, which takes these painful realizations and uses them to set us into motion, giving us the hope we need to survive such truth without being drowned in discouragement, because, with you, we can help bring the beauty of your Kingdom into Earth, and truly live out that Love.
I have a question. Do plants ever get bored, not being able to move and all? I sure hope not, but either way I appreciate them, especially seeing how much of my survival depends on them. But I also think that they are quite lovely, like little cities built up all around us. I used to watch the bugs fly around, like little spaceships in some crazy, science-fiction metropolis, taking off from the launch pad on one flower-building and soaring neatly onto another (or clumsily, in the case of june-bugs).
Thank you also for my ridiculously generous and loving family who not only understood (mostly) when I ditched them to visit a friend over Thanksgiving, but left me with a huge container full of my favorite food in all of my extremely limited frame of past experiences, Vegetarian Divine Runzas.
Thank you for limericks, God, for showing us that poetry doesn’t always have to be serious, either (though, really, limerick is a very rigid form of poetry). The same goes for made-up words.
It may be materialistic of me, but thank you for dice, harmonicas, cards, writing utensils, and small pads of paper. There are so many things that pack almost infinite entertainment value into a tiny object, and I appreciate them immensely.
And thank you so much for music. Really, I don’t understand what is so appealing about creating patterns in sound vibrations, and layering the waves to fit together neatly (or just a bit off of neatly), but, for whatever reason, it seems to be the only way that I allow certain parts of my soul to escape their tangible anchors.
Finally, thank you for the all things I don’t understand. It is wonderful to be so much smaller than the Universe. Whenever Christmas comes around, I always find myself imagining what it would be like to be the size of an ornament, to get to climb around through the tree. I would be surrounded by the giant green needles and outstretched bark branches. I would visit the lights and find them to be giant, illuminating the entire area around me in red, yellow, blue, or green. The tree would be my fortress, my city, my own little world of adventure.
Well, God, I am smaller than ever, and the Universe is my Christmas tree. Please don’t let me take it for anything less, because, really, it is so much more wonderful even than that.
November 15, 2009
I realized tonight that I don’t love all people as much as once I thought I did. At least, I don’t love them nearly as much as I ought to, nearly as much as they deserve. Honestly, I don’t think I could handle it, but I still believe there is a way, and I still believe that it is something for me to always strive toward.
I started learning about love from my church, and it was there that I came to believe that love, without restraint or requirement, is the force we need to heal the world. I learned about another level to this love from my friends at college. These friends are my family (my family still is, too, though my sister argues that I don’t come home enough), and even when I go crazy and try to push them away, they don’t let me. I’m glad they don’t. But I’ve been learning what it is like to really love people with these friends, and, quite frankly, I am pretty lousy at it. But, if nothing else, I have been learning.
Tonight my friends are in The Pit. At this point in the evening, most of them have been working in the theatre for 13 hours, and, according to one of their estimates, many of them have another four to five hours to go. And tomorrow they start another ten hour shift at 9 a.m.–after 3-4 hours of sleep. I’m not involved in the theatre, but I hate show week, because of what it does to my friends. It is so hard for me to sit here, with only a few writing assignments to work on, while my family is working away for hours and hours, and I all I can do is pray.
This is why it occurs to me that I do not love all people, because my Family is always in The Pit somewhere. For many of the members of my Family, these working conditions are a fact of life; many of the members of my Family are in worse conditions–starving, freezing, sick, forced into war or prostitution or slavery–but my heart does not ache endlessly for them, because I am so distanced from their struggles.
This is why this Love is so important, because without Love our hearts cannot span the distance, the thick bubble-wrap walls that keep us from knowing the pain that fuels our comfortable lives. Without the Love, we are neglecting our Family, and we are incomplete.
So, as much as I hate to feel the way I do now for even a week, Lord, teach me to really love.
August 30, 2009
In this story, I am going to imagine heaven. And along with that, I will indicate some of the ways in which this heaven operates. It is important to understand the weight I put on the word imagine, because I am, by no means, trying to portray this as the way heaven actually is. All I know of heaven and the way that heaven operates is from what I have read. In this story, I do make an effort to stay consistent to these elements, but I also portray them very differently than what is standard. I hope that you will not find this to be offensive. I also hope that, if you do, you are able to overlook these details and still be able to appreciate the overall themes.
On a Low Bank of Clouds
My name is Annie, and I killed myself when I was twenty-five.
I had my reasons, but I’m not going to talk about them right now. Instead I’m going to talk about what happened after that.
I was kind of expecting to find myself in hell when I first came to, but I didn’t. It wasn’t heaven either. It was something of a meadow made of clouds, and there were quite a few other people, of all different sorts, around. In the middle of the meadow was a courtyard, which served as the beginning to two roads that led off in different directions, one leading up into another set of clouds, and the other leading down into a valley.
There wasn’t anyone facilitating, but somehow we knew our turns. I had just arrived, so I could tell I had quite a while to wait. I found a clear spot to sit, off by myself, but suddenly a kid came up to me. He was tall, with long hair. He smiled at me when I looked up at him, but he looked pale and weak, and he seemed to be fighting back a tremble.
“Could I sit here?”
“Uhh, sure,” I said, kind of wishing he wouldn’t. He sat on the ground, with his arms wrapped around his legs and his head resting on his knee.
“Have you tried it yet?” he asked, after a minute of silence.
“To go in. To heaven.”
“No. I’m still waiting. I just got here.” I didn’t really feel like talking, but he kept going.
“Oh. I just tried. I had to let them skip me, because I couldn’t make up my mind.”
Now I was curious. “What do you mean you couldn’t make up your mind?”
“Well, it was my turn, and I went up there, down the heaven road.” His words tumbled over each other, “I figured it would be pretty easy, because I really do love God, and I figured I’d been pretty good and all. But I started getting close to the door, and I got this feeling. I realized that He’s there.” He stopped to think, and to catch his breath. “Like, it sounds weird, because we always figured He’d be there, but He’s actually there, through that door. I started feeling it as soon as I got close to the door. It was like light that you see with your emotions. And as I got closer I could feel His presence, and I could feel my presence. And against all that light, I was so—horrible. I was all pride and apathy and, oh,” He stopped for a second, and then picked up again, at his previous pace. ”And here I was, this horrible thing, about to walk through the door to all that light, and I couldn’t do it. So I started wondering if maybe I was supposed to take the other road, but at the same time I could tell that He wanted me to go to Him, but I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I had them skip me for a while. And now, well, I don’t know.”
This didn’t seem right. “You mean, you get to pick which way you go?”
“Uhh, well, kind of, I guess.”
“So what’s stopping everyone from just picking heaven?”
“Well, we’re stopping ourselves I guess.”
I still was unsure about the whole thing, but I could tell that the kid was too worn out for me to be interrogating him. I went off to wander, and eventually I found some other people who had also committed suicide. When they found out how I’d died, they invited me to come with them to watch the world that morning. I didn’t have anything better to do, and I still had a long wait, so I agreed, and they took me to a low bank of clouds, overlooking the planet.
Looking at the Earth from the Heavens, or at least the outskirts of Heaven, is different than the view from space. You can still see the planet, but you can see everything in detail: every person, tree, car, animal—everything. It was amazing, but when I looked over at the people I was with, they all looked miserable. I didn’t understand why, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask them, so I just watched the planet. And then I saw it. Or I felt it, or something.
I saw the people I knew, and I saw what they were feeling. It was loss and emptiness, anger and sadness; it was unbearable but inescapable. It was consuming them, and I could tell that it was because of what I’d done. I didn’t have a problem killing myself, because I didn’t care about myself. But, really, I was stealing myself from the people who cared about me. The weight of my suicide hit me, and I was crushed beneath it. I felt awful for what I’d caused, but I couldn’t offer any remedy. I took their beloved, and I would not be able to return her.
And then there was something else, too. It wasn’t worse than the guilt, but it was just as bad. I saw my friends and family, and I felt their hurt, and I realized why they were hurting. They were hurting because they loved me. They loved me! And, I realized, I loved them. There was all this love and I threw it all away! I didn’t think anyone cared about me, because I didn’t care about myself, so I threw my life away. But all of these people did care about me, and now I had hurt them and I couldn’t take it back. I could have lived in that love, but I refused to see it until it was too late.
My stomach felt sick, but you don’t throw up in the heavens, so the feeling just lingered in me. I thought about what the kid had said. I figured I didn’t even need to try to go into Heaven; I could see from here that I didn’t deserve it.
When my turn came, I took the Other road. It was long, and wound down the cloudy hills. I was a ways along when I saw the man, but I think he had been walking by me all along. When he saw that I noticed him, he looked at me, saying, “I’ll walk you to the door, but you know I can’t go in.”
I didn’t know what to say, so it was quiet for a while, until he spoke again.
“You know my story, Annie.”
“Yeah.” My voice came out all funny.
“You know that I went through all that so you wouldn’t take this road.”
“But.. What I did–” I couldn’t seem to get my thoughts out, but, in retrospect, I don’t think I needed to.
He just stopped and looked at me, and I turned around to look at him. He held out his hand to me, and I took it. He led me along the road to Heaven, but when we started getting close, I felt the same thing that the kid was talking about. I could feel God, and against that feeling, I was this wretched thing. I felt so sick I fell down. I wanted to turn back, to just take the other road, but he looked over at me. “Will you still come through?” he asked.
I felt like He wanted me to come to Him, too, just like the kid had said, but I was so disgusted with myself. The whole time, while I was on the ground, he held his hand out to me, looking me in the eye. I felt like he should be looking at me with disgust, but there was only love in his gaze, so I took his hand. He picked me up, because I couldn’t walk, and carried me toward the gateway. The feeling was most powerful right at the doorway, and I felt so wretched in comparison that I stopped him. I started to try to say something, to try to get out of it all, but he spoke first.
“It was worth it, you know. Everything I went through–it was worth it.” And he stepped through.
June 8, 2009
I found myself nearly falling asleep this afternoon, but I have been sleeping in excess lately, so I chose a bike ride over a nap. I started by riding to the bike store, to ask about clipless petals and helmet-mounted mirrors. After that I wound a largely residential path, aimed loosely at reaching the bike trails at Legacy Park. I never made it, but it was not a bad ride, overall.
There is something about biking that detaches me from the concerns of my life, and when I ride I am left with nothing but God, the bicycle, and the beauty around me. In its ideal form, riding my bike is like meditation or prayer. Today, however, I messed it up.
I have a cycling computer mounted on my handlebars. It measures and reports my current speed, my average speed, my distance traveled, and various other bits of information. Today’s ride would have been better had I just left it off.
Somehow, the measurements consumed me. I was constantly checking my speed, hoping to improve my average. I tried to climb each hill in the highest gear possible. I spent nearly the entire ride thinking about how far I’d go, and thinking about how to tell people how far I rode without revealing what a biking wimp I am.
Today there was God, the bicycle, the beauty around me, and a cycling computer. My problem was that I only ever saw the cycling computer.
I wonder how God felt about that. Here He’d finally gotten me to go on a bike ride with Him, and I was so preoccupied with my data that I forgot He was there.