I hate referencing my writing in my writing. It feels kinda like breaking the fourth wall. Like you’ll all forget that this is a written medium if I just don’t mention the mechanics of it, or you’ll fail to notice sudden, long, unexpected silences (like, I don’t know, the last few months). I also don’t really like referencing my “audience,” such as it is, since I am under noooo illusions about the extent of my influence and I realize that most of my readership is not internet strangers who think I’m brilliant, but people who like me for other reasons and happen to sometimes graciously glance over the things I say. I’m about to do both (reference my writing and my audience), but probably this will bother no one so much as it bothers me.
Once when I was much younger and I was in a little prayer group at a bible quizzing retreat, someone asked me how I was and I said I was a “happy kid” and I didn’t really have anything I needed prayer for. If you discount my paralyzing fears of being ineffectual, failing, being irrelevant, getting Jesus wrong, making the wrong life choices, making people mad at me, and alienating people I love, (you know, trifling things) I really am still a “happy kid.” I have friends I love and I have a sweet little first-apartment life and I grocery shop for one and I’m learning to exult in my own singleness. I write a novel and read novels and I go on adventures and I’m starting law school in the fall and summer is coming. I have a little church family and I think a lot about my own convictions and how I can be Jesus to the people around me. If you time-lapse over the boring parts of the weekdays, which I spend filing and answering the phone and doing data entry, and if you play some indie music and make an artsy movie montage of the 10+ hours every week I spend on public transit, my life is very happy and pretty and inspired and independent.
It’s just apparently also not easy to write about, lately.
I wish my silence were just a byproduct of a happy, simple, drama-free life, but I don’t think that’s what it is. I think perhaps I have come to the end of topics I can write about without offending someone. I have over two hundred drafts written, but I am cripplingly gun-shy. I write a few sentences about things I am passionate about, and then I abandon the endeavour because I am afraid that the things I am passionate about now may come as an unpleasant shock to anyone who has known me for a good chunk of years, and I am not prepared to deal with the emotional backlash.
I’m not the same person I was when I was eighteen. I used to be (and I am used to being) the Responsible One, the Principled One, the Upstanding One, the core youth group member and the leader and the Good Example. I’ve changed my mind a lot, and I’m not talking changed my mind about what my favorite color is and what TV shows I like and whether I’m a cat or a dog person. I’m talking CHANGES. And I don’t feel ready to be The Disappointing One. I don’t want to feel like The Wayward One, The Fallen Away, The Heretic.
Here is the concerned message I imagine from a reader of my blog after I write about these changes:
I saw your latest blog post and I just wanted to address a few things that concerned me. Speaking the truth in love, I hope you know that people who believe [____] and [____] like you do aren’t actually Christians and are going to hell, [according to interpretation of bible verse]. You’re on a really slippery slope and I’m really disappointed that you’ve given into cultural pressure instead of holding out for the truth. I was praying for you and God told me that you really just need someone to give you a wake-up call and remind you that you can’t just pick and choose the parts of the bible you like. If you need someone to remind you about what truth really is I’m here for you.
In His Grip,
[name of reader]
(Don’t write me this. I won’t respond.)
I knew all the viewpoints I had before really well. I knew the talking points. I don’t know these new opinions as well, and I also don’t eagerly seek out debate the way I used to. My opinions used to be weapons, and now it’s like they’re flowers, and I don’t want to give them out because I’m afraid they’ll be trampled all over with words like “salvation” and “sin” and “watering down the gospel” and “falling away.” I don’t want to argue any more, partially because I no longer think I have all or some or even a good chunk of the answers. I am afraid to be asked, and I am afraid of saying “I don’t know” and I am afraid that my justifications for what I believe now will not be sufficient. I am afraid that I, my self, my identity, will suddenly turn out to be deficient, and that I will lose the love and respect of others because I’m unable to lay out logical maps for all of my beliefs. I want to find ways to love people. I want to find ways to be Jesus. I want to figure out why I’m here and what I’m supposed to do and whose life I can make better.
And I really, really, really want to write about this process. I want to be part of a worldwide community that goes through life asking “How can I be like Jesus? How can I serve the widow and the orphan and the oppressed? How can I be part of making the world new? How can I be a light in a dark place?” I want to ask questions, and I don’t necessarily want to know answers—I just want to feel free to listen and say, “I don’t know, I’d like to think about that.’
I just feel like I can’t describe the new things I believe and the new ways I want to live out my faith without inviting a whole bunch of conversations that I’m just not ready to have, emotionally or theologically. It’s very easy to hurt me with words. Sometimes I dare to wander into the comments sections of controversial blogs, and those places make me terrified to open my mouth (well, figuratively speaking, since I’m moving my fingers) about Jesus or the church or my faith ever again.
So far, these fears have kept me silent, because silence is easier. If I am not vulnerable, I don’t need to worry about being hurt. If I am not honest, I can keep holding myself responsible for managing others’ emotions instead of trusting them (you) to be gentle with the person I have become. I want to write so badly. I want to be passionate and I want to question and I want to keep knowing myself better by sharing myself with people who read my writing. I need to be honest. This will be the first of many posts to come in which I WILL be honest. Those posts will be for The Internet and any strangers who care, but they will also be for everyone who knows me, so that you can know and understand me better, because so many of you have loved and encouraged and invested in me—and it isn’t fair to keep hiding myself from you. It isn’t fair to assume you will judge me, and it isn’t fair to assume I will disappoint you, and it isn’t fair to assume you will not respect me and my convictions.
I am about to tell you How I Changed My Mind, and these will not be arguments. They will be stories. (Because I like stories, and also because sometimes it’s a little harder to argue with them.)