fond goodbyes, in the modern sense

It’s the morning of my last class at Biola. Or maybe I should say “with Biola,” as Downing College at Cambridge University is literal and metaphorical worlds away from the evangelical Bible college of Southern California. Contemplating the past over a celebratory breakfast of coffee and avocado toast,  I am struck by the distance I’ve come since first enrolling in the University.

When I first graduated from YWAM’s Discipleship Training School in 2013, I was in danger of losing myself and my religion if I ever stopped engaging with the charismatic Christianity they taught me. This is not a criticism, but rather a reflection on weaknesses in my own faith.  Through the (often rough) ministrations of my Torrey and music professors, God put me through a metaphorical furnace that taught me to trust “even when … led into dark and wild places.” The further I get into this affair, the more I realize that to do the “Christian” thing well is going to require a lifetime of attention – and even then I’ll still be a rank amateur.

We’ve been reading Ephesians daily these last three weeks, and I think that 4:1 has adopted me as a sort of thesis statement for the upcoming year. I want to walk in humility and gentleness, in patience and love, attempting to live in peace and unity with my fellow Christians. Let’s be honest, I’ve probably failed already. But that’s the thing: I know this project is worth doing, even when I do it poorly.

The year ahead is one I have not planned for. It’s a great Unknown, a time without order or plan; a monkey-wrench in my 25 year plan. But I think that I can honestly say that I do laugh without fear of the future. Biola has not been kind to me, but it has been good; and for that, I give it my thanks.

I am reminded of TS Elliot: “Time present and time past//Are both perhaps present in time future. ” And so I trudge on into the unknown, carrying weight of time on my shoulders, tracing and transcribing the ancient patterns.

Culture Clash

I’ve been in the U.K. for exactly a week now, and must confess that my head is packed full with thoughts. They are rather like a handful of necklaces, tangled up and so intertwined that the untangling seems almost impossible. So instead, I will choose an arbitrary beginning and work from there.

A new friend told me about her surprise that here in the U.K., “whiteness” does not mean what it means in the States. Unlike in the US, the uniformity of skin color does not imply uniformity of culture – whiteness says nothing about country of origin. One might see 15 white people in a room, but one family could be British, another French, and another Swedish and they will all act differently.

Similarly, it seems that any assumptions about nationality are either non-existent or much more subtle than they are in the US. Someone that, were we in the States, we might call “African-American” or “Indian-American” or “Mexican-American,” people here just call “American” (or “French,” “Swedish,” etc.). There’s no “Pakistani-French” or “Algerian-English.”

I’m absolutely certain that prejudice does still exist here, but it doesn’t seem to be nearly as obvious or overt as it is in the US. Granted, this is the observation of a white bystander, but the friend who pointed this out has experienced such things firsthand.

The parts of the U.K. I’ve had the opportunity to experience has been much gentler than what I’m used to back home. The catcalls have better vocabulary (last night I was told that I was causing a man to be “positively lascivious”), people generally leave each other alone, and, provided you are not too loud, are quite willing to help when asked.

No wonder they consider Americans to be uncouth and uncultured. I visited the first English monastery yesterday: established in 598 AD, it was demolished and rebuilt by the Norman conquerors after they deemed the Saxon building too primitive for the saints interred there. That was in the early 1100s. That means that the Saxon monastery existed for twice as long as the USA has been a nation before it was destroyed. That means the destruction of the first monastery occurred almost four times the years my country has existed.

No wonder we seem brash and tacky to the rest of the world. We have the Declaration of Independence from the 1700s: they have the Magna Carta. We have the Jefferson Bible: they have the Codex Sinaiticus and the earliest known scraps of the Epistle of John. Granted, they were essentially stolen as part of the English Empire, but nevertheless. How egocentric is it for the US to boast of being the first among equals, when we quite literally did not exist for the majority of those “equals'” history? Our nation is the result of the Empire, stolen from the indigenous nations and formed in the image of Britain. We’re nothing more than the four-year-old insisting that “I’m not a child: I’m all grown up.”

Don’t take this to mean that I’ve converted to the cult of Anglophilia: I am not obscuring the complicated and sometimes vicious history of these islands. However, even if I get nothing else from this trip (which is an unlikely turn of events), the perspective itself is highly valuable. Without going too far into the details of how this statement is misinformed, I believe every American with the means and ability ought to be required to visit Europe.

I’ll have more thoughts later.

A Whirlwind Tour

Tomorrow, I leave for Cambridge. I’ll be gone for the entire month of July, and when I get home, I will have completed the final four units of my degree. The month of June has been a gracious liminal space, a time to transition from full-time student to almost-done student, with the growing expectation of being a student no longer. Well, that’s not entirely true. I will always be a student, but I will no longer be an undergraduate student.

How time flies.

the long road home

IMG_2641

I graduated. Despite the odds, I graduated. And I promise, I will come back and write a better post about it than that, but for the time being, it is enough to know that I did it. When I first went to California for university, I called that first road trip “the long road to purgatory,” which is, I think, indicative of a general, permeating pessimism I carry with me. Having graduated, I’ve come to believe that life is both the long road to purgatory and the long road through purgatory. But I digress.

I’ve come home. Or rather, I’ve come to the shell of a home I once had. The room I once called mine is like the mausoleum for another person, one I never met. She liked her knick-knacks, and had a fondness for dried-up, dusty flowers. She kept things I have no use for. And so, for the last few weeks, I’ve been exorcising the ghost of who I once was. Sure, she still lingers in the corners and the closet, but she’s no longer hiding under the bed. There is no bed for her to hide under. This cleansing, purging, exorcising has made me ruthless, and yet it seems to be a ruthlessness driven by necessity. I’ve come to the shell of a home I once had, a shell that must be repurposed and recategorized for the time being. For you see, what once was my home must become my home again, and for that transformation to be completed, I must burn with fire.

Before I can venture into the next unknown, I must confront the unknown in my once-room, once-home. The stillness of deep ocean and the flotsam of a tropical storm collide in this space and in my head: the tempest and the tea-kettle both invade and demand space. The old skeletons stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the new bones of a new life, and they all sway in the meaningless dance of things. IMG_2641

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

In my beginning is my end. 

The Stillness of Deep Ocean

I’ve reached a point in my life where the only thing I am certain of is that I have doubt. I doubt what I think, I doubt what I feel, I doubt what I say and do. I doubt my faith, I doubt my lack of faith.

 

I think, therefore I doubt. I doubt, therefore I think.

 

The clamor of my surroundings has moved from the external world into my internal one. Focusing is hard: when I start to move my attention to one area, another comes into focus: like seeing through broken glasses, discreet ideas keep fracturing and turning into new ones, brought in and out of focus by the smallest of shifts.

 

I am writing a symphony. Every day, I sit down at my computer and tear my ribcage apart. I then reach inside the gaping opening and dig until I find my heart, and then I pull it out, and squeeze every drop of blood out of my heart onto the digital paper, until my heart is dry and the page is wet. I replace my heart, and let it fill again with more blood as I attempt to arrange what is already spent into a meaningful sacrifice. And when I am done squeezing and arranging, and squeezing some more, I gently push my ribs back together and sew myself up until tomorrow. I am weary; I am poured out; I have become numbers inside a machine.

 

It’s an act of devotion, I think. To whom or what, I couldn’t say. My suspicion is that I am offering some devotion to humanity. Or maybe it’s a requiem, a mass for the dead. Forgive us, for we know what we do.

 

There’s a colorlessness that defies understanding, hidden in the deepest parts of the ocean. A whale that refutes all that we’ve ever known and believed. An apotheosis on open water, awaiting those intrepid enough to forsake the safety of land.

 

It’s calling me.

A November Christian

In my school’s chapel program on Friday, I got to see two of my friends lead worship for a gym full of regular students and visiting guests attending a racial reconciliation conference. It was a beautiful worship service, helped by the fact that these two friends of mine are music majors, gifted with trained voices almost as beautiful as their souls. As I was sitting there, thinking about how lovely these two friends are, I had a thought that I feel like sharing.

My mom has always encouraged me to become friends and emulate a certain type of woman. They tend to be extroverted, bubbly, carefree, with the sort of faith that comes easily and freely. From all external appearances, they have very blessed faith lives, with any crises of faith being minor or hidden away. They don’t swear, they listen to Christian radio, and they display all the other virtues of good, American, evangelical women. To put it simply, they are very much unlike me.

I struggle with my faith. It’s so far beyond messy, my extensive vocabulary fails to find an acceptable substitute. My faith is not the praise and victory of the Summer Christian; it’s much closer to the anguish, doubt, and pain of the Winter Christian, though I have briefly assumed to mien of a Summer Christian when social pressures exceeded my stubbornness  (see  particularly my time in YWAM). Even having experienced those things that Summer Christians emphasize (the activity of God in the world, the providence, divine intervention, and healing), my heart continually leads me to a posture of winter worship.

My faith could be best characterized by a series of upheavals, and I know my family sometimes worries about me because it doesn’t match the example of those role models I have been pointed toward. The truth is that I struggle with reconciling my faith and my life experience because I deeply, deeply care that what I believe to be true accurately and adequately explains my experience of a deeply broken, deeply messed up world. If I did not care about the truth, I would not struggle: instead, I’d end up tossing my faith to the wind as an irrelevant moral system incapable of addressing the problems of the world.

It’s been a major source of mental anguish and emotional turmoil that I could never even begin to approach that standard of the Summer Christian- I have been measured and found wanting. This feeling of inadequacy has prevented me from entering into relationship with those godly women, and while I’m working on leaning into that discomfort, I find that there is some fundamental gap in experience that often interposes itself when I find someone who has not been touched by winter.

So as I was sitting on the wooden bleachers, watching my two lovely, Summer Christian friends (who, as an aside, are engaged and are ridiculously amazing for each other), I was suddenly struck by a thought. It’s okay that my faith may never see Midsummer. If the seasons of my faith go from September to April, it is still as valid as those whose faith lives from May to August.

I don’t have some grand conclusion to the thought, just a little more peace.