Nobody but ourselves

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Pic: 1d'n

“to be nobody but myself— in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else— means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting.”
--e.e. cummings

I love my blogroll of inspiring thinkers and dreamers. Big smoochy kiss to all of you. (I guess it's kinda helpful if you like your own blogroll - what's the point of having one you don't like, in a world full of millions of the little tackers?)

Lucy began yesterday's post with that ee quote; Barbara started hers with that photo. I adored swimming in both of these posts. I love the space between the two thoughts of them, the space ~ a massively unbreachable one within Churchianity ~ between on one hand the fight to become ourselves and on the other being fashioned by God. Anyone who reads here regularly knows that the spaces I love swimming in the most are those between two apparent opposites. Methinks the space between those two is unbreachable only from within the system. Outside of that system, in reality space, kingdom space, Godspace, mesuspects it turns out to be a much smaller space than we have been taught.

Lucy asked many good questions in her post. Here were two of them: "Do you choose to fight the battle to be yourself? Or do you allow others to make you into someone else?"

I watched a show last night about a Christian college in Washington that trains up young future political leaders. And my toes were curling. This college is raising up bright young things to reclaim the US for the Lord, apparently. Why were my toes curling? Must be my rebellious spirit. Or maybe it's just understanding, after seven or eight years out of the 'system', how often it is that love actually just ends up being coercion or manipulation in that kind of environment. And how system living breeds more system living. And even more sadly, understanding how alike those two systems are - political and religious - and fearing what it is that those systems do to people, how it molds people so much that those people can come flopping out years later, like fish on land, realising that they don't even know who the hell they are outside of the Mothership. Yikes.

What curled my toes almost back into themselves was the covenant the new freshmen had to sign upon entering the college. I'm sitting there thinking, "Let your yes be yes and your no be no" while these teenage kids are being forced to sign pieces of paper declaring and avowing that they will not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, take drugs, have sex outside of marriage, etc etc, while they are members of this college. Abstaining from any of those things are good things in themselves if that is where you are at. What is particularly bad is being coerced into declaring you will not do things that your maturity or self control may not enable you to uphold.

Well, you know what? I think those sorts of fights are between those kids and God. They're fights that get won through growth in love and in your faith, and in understanding what it means to have so much freedom and grace in your life that you start to understand that there is nothing you can do that will keep you from God. It's also, I suspect, the very fact that we sin and fall down that is one of the biggest things that God uses to demonstrate to us the difference between law and grace. It's that sort of thing that changes you, coming smack bang up against love. It's not pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and forcing yourself to be something you may not be, so that you can get sucked into the system make a difference on Capitol Hill for Jeeeeeesus.

But that system so often ends up promulgating the opposite behaviour in its people, doesn't it? Instead of this school being about the freedom humanity has been given ~ the freedom that we don't often get to live under out there in society but which get whispered about in art, in our hearts, in our yearnings, in the natural world ~ instead it was simply a reflection of society, a tightly controlled hotbed of conformity, with a whole lot of little Stepford people being taught that suppressing your stuff means it's not gonna come back and bite you on the bum. This college aims for its young people to be 'above reproach'. It's why whenever one of them stumbles and breaks their 'covenant', they are brought before the group as a whole and asked to give account. They are in effect shamed. Because the system knows everything about shaming. It's actually the capital it deals in, all the while banging on about Christ and the cross and how it's set them free from their sins and blah blah blah.

Sigh. I get tired of rabbiting on about this stuff. It does my head in, knowing that there is no way you can reason with people who are stuck in the middle of Churchianity. Because it's not an intellectual thing that makes you start suspecting that there are other ways of doing this life thing, ways that give you so much freedom that you actually get to become yourself, and become responsible for yourself instead of toeing the line to please the people around you so they don't shame you or put you in the metaphorical stocks. It's not that this college or these kids are necessarily doing anything wrong in themselves. People are so different. What makes my toes curl is the perfect place for other people. But it's the motives and the intent behind the system that stresses me. It's the control/fear/coercion model, over and over and over again, that changes nothing, that only feeds up and doesn't feed down. That completely misses the point and strains gnats and swallows camels and breeds people who don't seem much like Christ as far as I can see, even though they are saying the words and strutting the stuff. Regardless of what these people think, the religious system is as flimsy as the Wall Street economic system of lies and greed. And they're all gonna come down.

But writing all this stuff is in some ways just pissing in the wind, preaching to the choir in large part. The only way you start to step out and go against the tide of public Christian conformity is when the stuff inside you, the God speaking personally stuff, becomes more real than the people in the name of that same God telling you what you can and can't do. Because yes, those moral dictums are in the Bible. But obeying something simply because it is in the Bible doesn't cut it. Not because what is in the Bible is wrong, but because if that's the only reason you are doing it, at some stage you may find yourself falling down and doing exactly that thing that has always been inside you.

But that's okay. Really. It's part of the fashioning process. God won't send you to hell because you're off sinning. The story is a bit broader than that. If God exists, then she knows what is in people's hearts. I think the problem is getting us to see and admit what's in our own instead of conforming in polypropelene environments to do what is expected of you. You can't be real inside the system. You just can't. It's the nature of the system.

So yes, I do choose to fight the battle to be myself. It's a rather unattractive one at times, certainly. It means I would be unwelcome inside that college, and inside most church buildings. Which is fine with me. This fight to be myself is in harmony with the belief I have that I am being shaped by God. The two seem entirely contradictory in these days of confusion. It takes courage and openness and a belief that God is good, and the ability to be real, and flawed, and to fall down and make mistakes to be yourself.

The freedom I have out here in the wild is so much larger than was is taught in the unreal battery hen environment of Churchianity that in some ways I am grateful for the contrast. Makes the air smell fresher and the grass look greener and the messy people I meet who are all struggling to be born in some way even more lovelier. Heady freedom. The freedom to be real, to fight to be myself. Paradoxically, it's the thing that has most opened me up to the desire to be shaped by God. Knowing that I get to be myself, that he is okay with that ~ that freedom opens me up to her in ways that conforming never could. Kinda nifty. Reality is much less flimsy and I am not so sinful and disgusting that I can't throw myself around in it with something approaching abandon at times. Now, that sounds like life to me. Bit more fun than being drip-fed :)


  1. great post, sue. glad to be a jumping off point for this one :-) your mention of the college reminds me of a young woman i am working with who was coerced (my word) into "confessing her sin" through a whole hierarchy of "good Christian people" who "knew what was best for her." All I can see is the shame it produced along with harm bordering on abuse. the cool thing is that she is now fighting her own good fight to be true to herself and in the process she is becoming closer to the God who formed her in the first place.

    peace to you, ms. rabble rouser :-)

  2. I love your anti-systemic shpeels and posts.
    The whole Churchianity thing is maddening. Same with the bible college system. I went to bible college for a year and a half and quit! (10 yrs. ago) I didn't fit in and didn't want to. There were some good people there looking to know and serve God... but of course the system sucked. It looked like a pretty package on the outside, but that's about all it had to offer (a false promise of security). It bred cold pride for those who associated with it too much. It didn't take long for me to see that.
    Was my whole time there is vain? Not totally. I think it was part of the process of God showing me things, things I wasn't expecting to see. I thought maybe it would be like a heaven on earth there. Far from it! So you live and you learn.

    I LOVE the last two paragraphs you wrote here.
    It is wonderful wading and then starting to swim in this freedom. I'm really liking it! : )

  3. "God won't send you to hell because you're off sinning. The story is a bit broader than that. If God exists, then she knows what is in people's hearts. I think the problem is getting us to see and admit what's in our own instead of conforming in polypropelene environments to do what is expected of you. You can't be real inside the system. You just can't. It's the nature of the system."

    Yes yes yes! This is what damned near killed me, and I had to get out to stay alive.

  4. Whenever will people learn that God seduces us? It is all about love -- accepting God's love (warning: not easy) and that then allows us to love more freely, i.e. without controlling.
    You are sooooo on the right track here, sue.

  5. I saw that show and it would have been funny if it wasnt so bloody scary!!

  6. Lucy - bless your friend. Bless everybody who is stuck within the confines of "good" Christian people imposing their shit on everybody else :)

    Manuela - I don't think anything is wasted. Especially not time spent within Churchianity's clutches. Sometimes I even wonder if it's there for a reason ... :) Yeah, swimming in freedom. Nice. Here's to somersaulting and divebombing as well.

    Erin - yes, it does damn near kill you, doesn't it? Thank God you got out. What drives me crazy is how undoable the whole thing is, how people will insist on only seeing what they want to see because "this is the way we've always done it". So bloody what? Sheesh.

    Barbara - I think so many people think they know what love is, when in fact we have to be taught what it is. Thank God that s/he is Italian in his/her wooing :)

    Monk - yes, I couldn't rouse myself to laugh much either :( That young blonde pastor's son - sweet young man, obviously with a faith of his own. But what's he gonna do when he runs into real people in his life? What happens in his dad's church when some dude comes in who's off his guts on meth, or something? He'll need a plastic bag to stop himself hyperventilating on reality. Best for him to go to Washington, I s'pose :)

  7. Well, a paper bag, actually. Paper bags for stopping hyperventilating.


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