"If two things are equal," our ten-year-old exclaimed, "I just want somebody to tell me what to do." He was trying to make a decision, and our parental efforts to walk him through the decision-making process weren't helping. Why, he wondered with quintessential ten-year-old frankness, do we have such strong (and often contrary) opinions when he knows what he wants, but get all wishy-washy when he genuinely wants to be told what to do? The Nietzschean in me wanted to cry out that he should take charge of his life as a work of art, or invoke the neo-existentialist mantra of The Iron Giant: "You are what you choose to be," but I know that choice to be hard sometimes myself.
Sometimes I long for a spirit-guide, a personal genius to light my steps, and I wish I were properly New Age to make sense of that longing. My wife is of good Celtic stock, with their appreciation for both the natural and spirit worlds and connections between the two. Surely my own Native heritage (my great-(great?)-grandfather was a Miami chief -- no lie) would give me some kind of purchase on the issue, but alas that doesn't seem to be the case. It appears I'm stuck with Jesus, which gives me plenty to work with but he's not showing up in my dreams to feed the multitudes and heal the lame of my subconcious. I'd complain to God but he's busy telling the president who to bomb.
I've been trying to reduce the ambit of my perennial pendulum-swinging -- wholesale skepticism one moment, blind ideological devotion the next -- reining in the extremes on one hand while, on the other, trying to find an intellectual playground big enough for my perigrinations. It's like a deal I'm trying to strike with my soul: I'll carve out a nice big space for you to frolick as long as you stop going places that require a radical re-thinking of my identity. I don't think it's unreasonable.
We're still going to to church, most Sundays, which for me is both a forum for making music and fodder for cognitive dissonance. One day, comparing me to our pastor, who is a friend, Doris said "He's fed his faith; you've fed your doubts." She said it matter-of-factly, and without judgment as far as I could tell. And she was right; as much as I like feel like I'm "discovering" new reading material that yields fresh new insights, I'm just as likely to find something interesting and obsess on it, gobbling up everything I can find. I like to try on ideas to see if they fit, and I have an insatiable appetite for novelty. Then, when I'm bored, I find something to counter it and purge myself by feeding the other side. It reminds of a writer I heard of who drank coffee and did cocaine during the day, and had to come down at night by drinking and smoking pot. Mine is cheaper, thanks to the library, but no less neurotic.
I figure if Marcus Borg, which doesn't get me invited to speak at men's fellowships but of course I never go to those anyway (I'd rather go to Wal-Mart). I have no hope of truly fitting in at our church, but to be honest I feel that way anywhere.can be a believer, I shouldn't write myself off too soon, though he gets to be famous and I don't. (I'm not really complaining; he has to travel and meet people; I don't even like going to .) I don't mean to cast aspersions on McLaren's work -- I think it's fantastic. Even he is a little too literal for me sometimes, but he's helping to redefine the boundaries of the Jesus tradition in ways that leave room for folks like me, and I appreciate that. Plus, I'm hardly more "liberal" than a Dominic Crossan or a
I've also been spending time talking theology on a message board -- I know, I know, but the truth is I like theology and biblical studies. Shades ofnotwithstanding, I'm comfortable with the idea that theological language means something, and means something important, and besides, deconstructing from within is more fun than abject denial. I like to spar with people who can take a punch.
But it seems I've been too enthusiastic, like Lenny from Of Mice and Men who unwittingly mauled a puppy to death out of misplaced exuberance. I've been pouncing on topics, a sabre-toothed tiger who forgets he's not a housecat, clubbing people with intellect and erudition until it occured to me that I'm effectively shutting down conversations. Not exactly the spirit of open dialog.
I used to say I have the emotional intelligence of a tree stump, but I believe I've made progress: I'm somewhere on the level of a six-year-old. And sometimes, despite the self-delusions I've tried to dispel, regardless of the extent to which I've disabused myself of some of my personal mythologies, I am (or can be) still the same self-important narcissistic asshole I've always been. Give me honorable mention, at least, for consistency. Is this what I've chosen to be? Maybe, but I think it's an uninformed choice.
Maybe there's grace in recognizing that, if whole-cloth self-construction is a bit pollyanna (there are things I'm pretty sure I can't be) we at least have options. If a spirit guide is too much to ask, at least I'm learning to recognize when I'm being an asshole. It may not be enlightenment under a banyan tree, but I'll take what I can get.