Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wisdom form a Wayward Boy


I’ve been working on my book Wayward Son and wanted to share some of my favorite passages.

On being a missionary…

“My wife and I were a particular brand of missionaries called 'Bible translators.' As a part of that very specific goal, we’d joined the Summer Institute of Linguistics (typically referred to as SIL) and come to Ethiopia to help fulfill its mission of documenting the complex interaction of the one hundred languages in the country, their status as either literate or preliterate, and then determining the possibility of developing a writing system for them. Once a language has an alphabet, speakers learn to read and write it. Then, they develop a body of vernacular literature by writing down their oral traditions, by encouraging indigenous writers to create texts, and by translating texts from other languages—such as health and government documents, and, for our purposes, the Old and New Testaments. Bending a few facts here and there and conveniently leaving out certain information, it’s not difficult to make all of this sound really good on paper, but as with the majority of issues involved with intercultural relations, it’s fraught with all kinds of hidden agendas and opportunism, which tends to generate certain controversy. A lot has been done over the centuries in the name of loyalty to Christ and his message—from the Crusades to Vacation Bible School—that a good number of people are reluctant to label 'good' and 'noble.' Missionary work is included on that list, not far below the Crusades.”

On marriage…

“Experts call these relationships 'codependent.' I suppose that label works well enough. In the years to come, I was the screw up, the fuck up, the jackass who could never seem to get it right, whereas Faye was the strong, motherly type who knew how to make it all work, kept tabs on all the goings on, and held me accountable to the system of rules and principles that kept her life running smoothly—at least as far as she was concerned. And thus, early on, before I even had any idea that a relationship was developing, we established the rules of engagement for what our relationship would be. A tacit pair of rules governed our interactions, one being that in times of uncertainty, Faye would make the decision, and the second being that I had to intuit Faye’s decision from her cryptic clues and verbalize it so that it appeared that I, the man of the family, had made the decision.

On growing up…

“Adults in my world made little sense to my childish brain. They exploded suddenly into fits of rage. They complained incessantly how inconvenient it was to have children. They always seemed worried that I’d play with my penis when they weren’t watching, or see my female cousins naked. They always seemed angry and unhappy, except when we went to church. Magically, upon stepping through the front doors into the narthex, they suddenly became smiling, easy-going people who talked about Jesus and how wonderful it was to be 'saved.' (That’s insider lingo that means, 'being a Christian.' The idea is you are saved from going to hell.) It’s funny how family life in working-class family culture is consistently labeled “dysfunctional.” It’s really super-functional. What person with high self-esteem, who knows his better qualities, and has had encouragement and opportunities to practice and hone them, and who has hope in a kinder and gentler world is going to readily work in a factory or join the ranks of the enlisted military? Working class parents perform their societal duty in consistently producing young people who feel it is somehow right and fitting to waste their lives doing menial work or risking them for sake of the State and its imperialist agenda. For these people, Christianity offers hope of heaven after we die. It doesn’t have to be much to be better than what we have on this earth. For a low-down, dirty, disgusting sinner, what more should I expect anyway? Thank Jesus I’m saved.”

On reasons to become an Evangelical…

“Over the years, I’d heard a number of stories of people getting in trouble with the law, tripped out and fucked up on drugs, lost in prostitution, lost in the wilderness, and being crippled, maimed, or made grotesque in freak accidents. What was it going to take for me to live my life for God? The question hung in my mind like a threat. I imagined Dad losing control of the car and he, Mom, and me being rushed to the hospital on bloody gurneys. Among my most cherished abilities was playing the guitar and drawing pictures. What if I was crippled and could no longer enjoy these activities?”

On the motivation for religion…

“‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,’ Proverbs 1:7 reads. If 'knowledge' is a body of teachings that requires the learner to see herself as a human turd with no intrinsic ability to know, as a reprehensible sinner with no hope beyond some outside force transforming her into something worthwhile, then whoever wrote that proverb is right. We begin at a place of deficiency and end up under another human’s control. ‘The LORD’ is nothing more than a cardboard effigy that the teacher points to for credence. ‘Religion is the opiate of the people,’ Karl Marx wrote, a kind of sentential synonym of Proverbs 1:7, a rhetorical counterpart. To stupefy people with religion, there must be some underlying fear in them, a fear directly rooted in the inability to trust your own sense of things, to be in a place where someone else has to tell you what truth and knowledge is.”

On the death of a friend…

“So many years later, I could stop feeling angry that Rachel had died and realize that there were so many more people out there in the world, outside the church, on a path to knowing themselves, finding, identifying, and sticking to the core of truth that exists in each one of us, the truth that’s mirrored and reflected in an unspoiled night sky, in a majestic comet, in the vast and fathomless ocean, in the beauty of nature, in the golden sunlight dancing on the waves of a crater lake, in the weight and warmth of my newborn daughter and son lying in my arms, in the warm and tender touch of a lover’s hand against my cheek or playing with a lock of my hair. After so many years of casting myself against the jagged rocks along the shores of Evangelicalism, I finally found my courage and swam away. I listened to the very message of God to me in the words of a Classic Rock hit and carried on into the mystery that had drawn me since those days as a boy, when sitting in the silver maple looking to the blue hills north of town, I felt the pain of it’s call and knew something good was happening deep down inside.”