I had a series of interesting experiences over Christmas and New Year this time around. I wouldn’t call it stressful at all. And in fact, most of the family with which my wife and I interacted would probably not have any clue that what they were saying or doing was interesting to me. But, while I did have fun and got plenty of sleep, I would say that enjoyable edge, you know that untouchable thing that makes gatherings a really, really good time, was not there. I enjoyed myself. But it wasn’t awesome. Let me enlighten you.
On the 26th we headed to Manhattan to spend some time with Karmen’s family. One of Karmen’s brothers and I have over the last couple of years planned a gag gift for our straight-laced brother-in-law. In the past it has been funny to me. This year not so much. Why? Well it has centered around getting him some form of alcohol and a cigar or two and slipping them into his stocking which makes it appear like they were given by Karmen’s mom when of course everyone knows that they weren’t. The only reason why this is even funny in the first place is because the families that both Karmen and I have come from see alcohol as devil water, our brother-in-law especially. This year we decided to put up the any and give the gift of 3 little airplane sized bottles of 80 proof stuff. Definitely a step up. It was modestly funny. But the whole time I was thinking two things. The first: isn’t it sad that a ton of evangelical Christians will eat themselves to 350 pounds and see no problem with it but cannot even begin to think about a glass of wine with friends. They are killing themselves faster with food than they would with alcohol. And if they trusted themselves enough to drink a glass or two of wine even every day, they would actually be improving their health. The second thing was how much fun it would be if everyone had had two shots of rum prior to opening our gifts or playing games or whatever. So while the gift was funny, it was also a reminder of being closed inside the fundamentalist box. I have worked very hard to get outside of that box although I will confess that getting past the alcohol issue was not all that hard. It is partly just common sense.
Karmen’s other brother is especially tight so we don’t tease him much, although he is a very nice guy for whom I have a lot of respect. He is from Illinois and has a Duke University MBA. Smart guy. Because of the Illinois governor thing he was asked what he thought. His reply was that he didn’t think much about it. He was asked if he voted for the guy. His reply was no. He was asked why. His reply was that he didn’t need to know much about him because he was a Democrat and that was enough. You know, I really should expect this kind of thinking from him knowing from where he has come. It is representative of the thinking through the entire church from which we all came. But I was really surprised and taken back a bit to hear it actually come out of his mouth. Three or four years ago, maybe not so much. But now it as though I am seeing it from the other side. I have worked hard to get out of that box.
Now Karmen’s brother who went to the devil water store with me to purchase 80 proof, he is a bit more relaxed in some ways, but as I soon found out, a bit more wound in other ways. They live close to Little Rock, AR. We were talking about schools and such and the issue of gun control came up. He is pursuing a conceal and carry license because “Obama is going to take our guns.” And he really believes it. As does his wife. Somehow this led into a discussion of social justice, I don’t remember how it got there, and as part of that discussion how America treated the Native Americans when we spread out over North America. His opinion was that we have given those people everything, and they have just squandered it. And he believes it. I was actually shocked to hear these words from him. That is an awfully closed box he has there. I have worked hard to get out of that box. He and his wife went on to say that their little community was forced to allow some government supported apartments go up and how those people just love saying that they are from this little community. A really tight box.
My wife and I didn’t see the point in seriously challenging anyone on these statements and behaviors in this setting. All it would have done is taken a slightly tense environment where everyone is at least acting happy to one where the tension is out in the open with everyone yelling and angry. This is a very opinionated bunch with not much out of the box or different box thinking going on. No one is going to change their mind. Their theology is wrapped up and packaged in a neat little binder and there is no need for them to change it. I would even go so far as to say that it is working for them right now. Why should I push them off the edge? So we packed up and left for Colorado at our appointed time. The next part of the story begins.
My parents live in Colorado and we always make a point to get out there to see them over the Christmas season. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect this year because I think my parents don’t quite know how to read me right now. When I started this blog, they viewed it regularly, and my dad commented often. But I imagine I have said some things that they think are flat out wrong theologically speaking and have really pushed many other boundaries. In the last 2 years I have questioned much, almost everything I have previously thought to be true. And I think that has made them nervous and afraid. And maybe it makes them feel like they have failed me in some way. But I don’t know those things, I just suspect them. I don’t know because they have quit engaging me in any way about this kind of stuff. For awhile they did. But is has been 6 months or more since they have done that. If they are concerned I would much more greatly appreciate their engagement on a deeper level as my equal than I appreciate their silence. And maybe they are reading these very words. I have taken a risk in putting this out there. Maybe they are reading in their silence. If so, I hope they are hearing me.
My dad has been sending, via email, a bible verse with his thoughts on it most days since he retired nearly a year ago, and I don’t quite know what to make of them. Occasionally there is other stuff life book reviews or reading suggestions or little articles. It could be read as just him being kind to his kids and offering something that he thinks is helpful. This is how I have chosen to view it. But some of it also seems to have a theme to it almost like there is an other purpose behind it so it also could be that he really is very worried about me and my relationship with God and is sending me things to try and help me see what he thinks is the truth. If the latter is true, again, I would much more greatly appreciate the engagement and the discussion. So I have taken a risk here by putting this out there. I hope it is productive rather than destructive.
So our time in Colorado was mostly pleasant but not much deeper. We did some shopping and enjoyed a day in Estes Park. We ice skated and went to see The Tale of Despereaux (which is has an amazing message about getting outside of the box by the way, something I found very ironic while sitting there with my wife and my sons and my parents). We ate some good food. We exchanged some nice gifts. And it was pleasant. There was one curious incident with one of my boys asking his mother while pointing to a picture of devil water at Texas Roadhouse if she was going to get any. My mom definitely saw the exchange and said nothing. We have been trying to educate our boys about it resposibly and not out of fear and ignorance. An interesting exchange to be certain. But we had to get back home for the last part of the story.
On January 3rd we attending a wedding. It had been on our calendar for quite some time, and we wanted to attend. A really quality young couple whom my wife introduced was getting married, and we wanted to support them. The only catch was that the ceremony was at our old church. That meant that a lot of our old church friends would be there. We have heard from several various sources that many of them think that what I have described above as getting out of the box, they think of as us going off the deep end. They think we have fallen away from the truth. And this has come at us from several different places. So I was a bit nervous about showing up in their current back yard, our former back yard. In fact, I expected to be very nervous.
But it was different than I expected. As we were driving there, I didn’t get nervous. And as we arrived and parked in a full parking lot indicating that there were probably 600 people there, I didn’t get nervous. And as we walked inside and the usher led us up the side aisle to about the 5th row from the front, I didn’t feel nervous. And as I sat there with all those people looking at the back of my head, I actually felt very strong and very brave and even a bit proud of myself. Karmen and I with our boys between us looked at each other and smiled. Our presence there actually seemed to be saying that you know, we are OK. In fact, we are good. We are fine. We are where we want to be. And as the ceremony went forward, I actually enjoyed being there. And I gave a few hugs and a lot of smiles and few hand shakes and had a couple of good conversations. And yeah, a few people seemed to avoid us. But in the end I was glad I went, glad I have worked so hard to get out of that box, glad to be strong where I am, and glad to be continuing to search because I think that if I ever quit searching, it is at that point that I am lost.
This all came full circle last night as I was reading in a new book, The Fidelity of Betrayal, by the Irish philosopher Peter Rollins. I am only about 40 pages in but already it is challenging me, again rearranging the walls of my box. Because it is really quite impossible to completely be outside of a box, I at least want my walls to be comfortably movable and very short so I can see over them easily. This book will help me with that, and I could probably write a post on every page of it because it is so rich with ideas and new things. In chapter two, the author talks about wrestling with God and gives a couple of examples from Genesis. Concerning Abraham and his argument with God persuading him from destroying Sodom, he makes two points: one, that Abraham felt that he was in essence free to question God and two, that God did not seem to mind being questioned. The author then moves on to the case of Jacob actually wrestling with God. When Jacob discovers who the stranger actually is, he is unrepentant that he has wrestled with God. God then blesses him with a new name that comes to represent all of Jacob’s descendants. Rollins then comments that this must bring us face to face with the idea that possibly God wants a fight. And as I look back on my fight to get out of the theological box I was in, and as I look at the way we have to struggle in this world to gain any ground, and as I look at how sometimes we experience pain, this makes a whole lot of sense to me. The fight helps us.
I have said before and will put again here that I don’t think God is threatened by my questions. And maybe Rollins is right when he says that God actually wants me to question, and could it be that God actually likes a fight. In his previous book, Rollins touched on a similar topic when he put for the idea that God is actually found more in the searching than he is found at the end of the search. I like that. And I like where I am at the end of 2008. And I like the fact that I am searching and learning and that you all are a part of it. I am OK. In fact, I am strong. I am right where I want to be.