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The Cloak You Should Have Mended

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A world in which you are allowed (and increasingly expected to) publically opine on every issue whether you have expertise or not is going to perforce lead to radical generalizations.The ongoing debate over the Park 51 community center has shown the currency of the concept of Islam not as a different religion but as the diametric opposite of Christianity in the roster slot that was held by the very very mythical Satanism in the 70’s, transitioning to “New Age” in the 80’s and neo-Paganism in the 90’s. Every angel needs a devil for context.

Folks build systems of belief (and unbelief) to give their lives structure and to give their lives meaning.

Let’s start there. Let’s start with what I consider an unassailable position.

It is good for a life to have meaning.

Most of my current friends and acquaintances do that through creation of some sort of art.

Most of the friends in my older life did that through devotion to God.

My circles have always been composed of people trying to make more out of the breath they’ve been given.

In the age of self-selected media and underground tunnels between philosophical enclaves folks never come into contact with others that they disagree with except on the battlefield. And my old friends and new friends largely do nothing but lob bile grenades at one another. The grossest characteristics of any given ideology of belief set are applied in full to anyone exhibiting the smallest scintilla of a group identity.

To the standard pinko commie artist there is no such thing as a normal every day devout Christian… “they” are all gun waving Tea Party Birthers with Thomas Kinkade paintings of Jesus Riding a Dinosaur over their fire places. To the average charismatic evangelical Bible-believing Spirit-filled born-again there’s no such thing as a patriotic, conscientious, neighbor-loving, other-focused, everyday Joe liberal artist. Just the perpetually wasted, tree-hugging, America-hating, orgiastic abortion monkey.

Oddly, there is some wiggle room in the middle. There are also behaviors that could perhaps ratchet down the tension in the country,

My primary goal is Light Most Favorable.

The law of the land decrees that in certain instances the evidence presented be held in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, in others to the defendant. Action item number 1: Hold the presented statements of the opposition in the light most favorable to them before lobbing a brickbat. Or maybe in the words of my wife, you could, just for a minute, pretend that there’s the possibility they could be right.

Remember that there is a difference between an  actual devout practicing Christian and a cultural Christian, just as there is a difference between an authentic working artist and a hipster at a gallery opening.

Action Item #2: stop assuming that just because I don’t have faith I’m a gleeful god hater.

I love people of faith. TRUE people of faith. I love authentic devotion to anything really.

My problem with religion was generally lack of devotion and asceticism. I felt from an early age that if you professed to love the Lord Thy God mind|body|soul that you should be willing to… I dunno SHOW it somehow. You don’t need a hair shirt, but maybe you don’t need the spinning 18 karat gold rims that say JESUS SAVES when they spin. They’re not an evangelical witness. Yes I’m serious.

I thought that the practice of faith should be

a.) a process that

b.) set you apart from a world trying to make every dollar it could and

c.) be hard.

I never lived up to my own standards. I never succeeded at the faith I believed I should be living.

And then I lost it. It’s one of the great disappointments of my life.

Why would I be a god hater? I no longer believe that I can know whether he exists. But he hasn’t done anything to me. I often hate religious people but that’s because I don’t like YOU not your faith or your God. I think that YOU are a hypocritical, narrow minded, weak-faithed bigot. When I hate religion I hate it like I hate guns. I hate guns because of Dylan Klebold, not because of Smith and Wesson.

Anyway.

Action Item 2 is for the believers, stop assuming that my rage at the worst of your kind means I hate all of your kind. I am not a gleeful God hater. Quite the opposite. I miss him. If you’re out there? Call.

This video is a little dated. It’s Steve Taylor’s “Harder to Believe Than Not To”.

From the liner notes:

[the] song takes its title from a line found in the collected letters of Flannery O’Connor, acclaimed short-story writer and novelist from Georgia. Her literary friends in New York had a hard time believing that a writer of her caliber could profess to be something as common and unfashionable as a Christian. She reacts in her letter to the criticism that Christianity’s primary function is as a crutch for the weak-spirited, writing how they don’t understand the cost involved in following Jesus, that “it’s much harder to believe than not to believe.”

The quote stuck. The cost of discipleship–the ideal of taking up your cross everyday and following Jesus–makes it hard to believe, because Christianity demands things from us that we don’t naturally want to give. In the words of playwright Dennis Potter, “There is, in the end, no such thing as a simple faith.”

Action Item Number 3 is for non-believers. Stop assuming that the devout are all simple minded and that every talking head who claims Christ means it.

There are millions of Christians trying to legitimately live God-centered lives while providing for their families and you aren’t better than them simply because you sleep in on Sunday, The desire for ritual and higher purpose is a real thing and you don’t get to mock it because you chose a different ritual and a different calling.

Action Item number 4 is for everyone. Engage with “The Enemy”.

Actually go somewhere with someone who disagrees with you.

Hang out with the Godsquad or the Odinist down the street. Hug a hipster (is you can find one).

Make fun of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann and latter day reactionary Rev. Al Sharpton but have a real life reference for the real lives that their rhetoric parodies. Stop negating others’ humanity out of a need for expedience.

And Action Item #5 is also for everyone.

Pray for each other. In whatever manner that prayer exists for you.

Sincerely, authentically wish nice things for others. Whether you use a spiritual intermediary or not the sooner we stop defaulting to hate and spite the sooner we get to the healing and ice cream.

.

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  • I am very moved by this, Travis. (Partially kicked in the butt, partially inspired.) Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • I hope that in your vernacular “kicked in the butt” mean challenged and not chastised.

    We are allowing ourselves to be divided on straight-line identifiers, when in terms of most social justice issues you seem to be more in line with centrist Christians than the average trust fund artist. You want Miller Mamet mashups? I want to see what happens when people hop out of the top level taxonomy game.

  • Thank you for this stirring essay, Travis. Although we have never met, I feel as if I know a part of you I never could have imagined from your #2amt identity. Your disappointment upon losing your faith is palpable, and it is no wonder. You would have been one powerful preacher. Still are, I guess.

    It is refreshing to read such a substantive plea for tolerance.

  • Thank you for that Ann. I’m trying to unpack my relationship to faith and the faithful because I think there’s a lot in the charismatic/evangelical movements that is cross-applicable to the small/indie theatre movements both in terms of adherents and in audiences… the more of myself I put on the table the less it has to be about general “other”.

    It’s funny. I lose track of where people have run into me and which mood they most often catch me in.

  • I do mean challenged.

    I don’t know who I’m in line with. I’m a devoted ontological empiricist, a skeptic, a questioner, a passionate extreme liberal with a commitment to reason. If any of that sounds “centrist Christian,” I’ll take that as a compliment. In my experience, there’s a fundamental dividing line between naturalists (me) and supernaturalists (many, but not all, believers)… but I have learned (and continue to try to put into practice) to find what connects me to the people on the other side of that line, rather than what separates me from them. And there seems to be a great deal there. More than I realized.

  • Good.

    I mean heart you seem to have for others, and in the protectiveness you exhibit for people. I think those internal dividers are real and valid, but I’m not asking the atheists to marry Christians:) I think that the broad center of Christianity has a true heart for helping others and I think that’s true of the broad center of liberalism. I would love to get THOSE energies together ans see how many people we can help.

    I thinkif we all keep putting into practice the hunt for what connects us, we all win.

  • Theater Lackey

    Interesting and moving post, Travis. I feel somehow closer to you.

  • Thank you sir. I hope to continue to make myself more available again.

  • Theater Lackey

    Do you mind if I post a link to this post on the School of Sacred Ministries’ FB page?

  • Not at all sir, I’d be honored.

  • Me too! And what I’ve learned is that no matter what the mood or issue, it is all part of me.

    I agree with you re: “…the more of myself I put on the table the less it has to be about general ‘other’.” The more specific you are, the more more universal it becomes.

    I look forward to meeting you at come point. DO you ever get back to New Hampshire?

  • I keep trying to find a place to have the best of both & haven’t yet figured out what that is. But its great to see other people looking for the the answers. In both circles I am something of an enigma: to my family (especially the extended family) there is no place for my art making in their Christian world. I’ve been straight up asked by my grandmother if I do “Christian plays or just really immoral ones”? In the meantime, my friends in the world of theatre don’t know what to do with my faith – hell, half the time I dont’ know what to do with my faith. But giving it up isn’t something I’m ready to do yet.

    Either way, its great to see that someone else is asking the questions and exploring the possibilities.

  • Thank you.

  • I don’t get back much. Quick strikes for holidays or weddings mostly. But if that changes I’ll definitely let you know.

  • Whatever_and_ever

    Alright you ignorant atheists… if there is no god, then HOW DOES THE SUN KEEP ORBITING THE EARTH? BAM!

    Of course atheism is a religion, because it requires just as much FAITH to BELIEVE in it! They are FUNDAMENTALISTS!

    If we came from Monkeys, then why are there still monkeys? My grandpa doesn’t look like a monkey!

    Evolution isn’t a fact, it’s only a theory! Why should I believe that theory instead of the one I was taught at church?!

    And on that note…

    Dunt dun duuh DAAAAHHHH!

    !!!!!!!!!MY ATHEIST STORE!!!!!!!!!

    Aristotle’s Muse

    This is my store. If you’re as irritated by this kind of mindless banter as I am, speak your mind. Maybe wearing an atheist T-shirt won’t change the world, but enough of them just might help.