Back in middle school, when I first watched Jurassic Park I was most fascinated by the raptors. Particularly how one of the characters explained that they were always jumping into the electrical fences that caged them in, always looking for weak spots until they broke free.
I’ve always been like that, constantly jumping into the fences surrounding me, testing my boundaries. From childhood through to the beginning of college the fences around me were made up of my duties and obligations to my family, friends, church and God. Also, by their expectations for me. Though there were times that I was so winded and sore after jumping against the fence that I’d wished the fences didn’t exist, overall I found it comforting to be thrown back onto my butt.
Then I came to college. I kept jumping at the fences here but the voltage wasn’t as strong anymore. Eventually I built-up a tolerance for the weak jolts that I received and I began to rip through the fence. Instead of finding freedom and release, I got caught in the twisted metal. I went too far. Now I long for that old comfort that I’d found each time I was thrown back onto the ground.
When first I began tearing through the fence it was more out of protest than a desire for revolt. But my act of protest became an act of self-destruction.
Christian university has been a disillusioning and disheartening experience for me. I came here hoping for so much both from my education and from the Christians here. Instead I feel like I found Christ’s bride in bed with another lover. She’d given up on the Good News and abandoned her call to be a witness and live a life worthy of her calling. And after three years, I found that I’d given up myself. Eventually, when I decried others apathy and hypocrisy I was only indite myself.
For a while I was able to successfully fool myself into believing that I had not gone too far. That I had only given up on God’s people and not God himself. I justified my sin (arrogance, disobedience, irreverence) by others. Then, I began working on a creative project for my Postmodernism class.
Dr. Bonzo assigned a creative project as the final for the class. I decided to do a series of drawings titled Post-secularism and to redo my painting of Past Redemption: My Red Crucifixion. My thought was that the artwork would be postmodern in structure but also a critique upon certain aspects of postmodernity that I find appalling – mainly universalism and pluralism. While I worked on the art I began to feel that I was going too far, but I persisted.
The evening after I presented my art I had a talk with someone from the class about it. The first thing he asked me, very seriously and sincerely, was if I loved Jesus. I’ll admit, it was a surreal moment and a shocking question to be asked. The conversation that followed was just as unsettling (convicting). There were moments when I felt as if I were listening to Jonathan Edwards’ charitably telling me that I was dangling by a thread over the fires of hell. Yet, he was right. My art was an emblem of my hypocrisy and faithlessness. As I worked on it I joined the list of desecrators that I was critique, what they did with words I had done with images (I had mixed religious figures and images: mocking the Pieta Shiva was holding Christ, mocking Michelangelo’s God and Adam, the finger of God was pocking Buddha’s stomach, etc).
Any gaps left in that conversation were filled the next day as I listened to a sermon by Pastor Rick McKinley, from Imago Dei Community Church out in Portland. The sermon is titled Playing God. His church is going through a series on King David’s life and is sermon is on his affair with Bathsheba. As Pastor Rick explains, King David’s act was deeper than the physical acts he committed. All of his sin is rooted in a desire to be like God, to be his own god. At that, I was convicted. He had named my sin.
I’d felt that more than my irreverence and foul mouth stood between God and I but I hadn’t seen that I was repeating the first sin. Finally, I received the voltage that I needed to knock me back.
So I began singing David’s psalm:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities…
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.(Psalm 51 excerpt)
Since that night, I’ve been coming back to God and to myself in him. I’ve found hope again, maybe even enough for his people.
In truth, all of this has been more complicated than just disillusionment with the Church and Cornerstone. I’ve been heading toward this moment since September of my sophomore year when I took Hemingway’s advice and wrote the truest sentence I knew:
Last night I almost renounced my faith. I almost walked out on the God of Abraham and Isaac. Almost turned my back on the Great I Am. Not for lack of belief. Not as a sort of “Fuck you” for all of the pain and cruelty in the world. God just felt so far off and I so impure.
This cloistered community and its low standards allowed me what I’d always wanted, maybe, an environment where I could rebel without remorse. My rebellion was more than an act of protest against them. I didn’t want to forgive God for taking away, for calling me to bear His yoke. So I cast it off.
I didn’t rebel in the typical was (drug-abuse, alcoholism, sexual immortality). That’s not my style. I gave myself over to arrogance and absurdity. I stopped speaking into others lives so that I wouldn’t feel that burden of being an example. But being my own god was not as rewarding as I had hoped.
I felt like Hesse’s Siddhartha.The world seemed like a horrible delusion and I was sunk in despair. I knew he’d give me hope again. He’d make me see beauty again. He’d remind me to love again. To forgive the world for being imperfect. But I couldn’t even forgive myself for being imperfect, and the world tasted bitter and life felt like torture. My shame kept me further away from God.
When I finally asked God for forgiveness I realized how much I had to forgive Him. It seems absurd to forgive the God of the Universe for wronging you, but then I’ve always been bad about holding grudges against authority even when I know they have my best interest at heart. In the process, I often conveniently forget that they do know best.Tonight, I realized how much God has transformed my heart over these last weeks.
As I was journaling in my personal journal. I found myself trusting in God’s providence, trusting that he wants to give me chocolate cake instead of tofu (to use my friend Lucy’s adorable illustration).I haven’t really believed that for a long time.