Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Has the Time Arrived to Get Wild?
Last week, I was kind of flustered because I am truly sick of being stuck in a never ending eddy of disappointment, despair, and inability to see my way out of this mess that my life has been in for three years now. In spiritual books I've been reading, many of them say that this period should be considered a refining period (and not "failure") in which I learn what I really want. I've been doing a lot of that in the past three years. One thing that keeps coming back to me is the boy I once was. I've always been more comfortable around foreigners and other minorities than I am among my fellow Americans. Though I'm mixed-race (Asian and Caucasian), I was raised in my father's white, Midwestern culture, so I identify as "white." This culture includes the church that I've been a member of all my life (I'm fifth-generation). However, since I moved out to Oregon, I never felt particularly welcomed by any of the congregations here. The church members are a lot more cliquish and emotionally colder than members in other parts of the country. But maybe its me they just don't like. Let's face it...there is very little diversity in our church here. The average demographic would be a white, 65 year old woman.
So I keep asking myself..."Why am I loyal to a church that doesn't seem interested in me?" You'd think that with my involvement with the Young Adult groups, the testimonies I've shared, and the creative services I've helped put on, that it would have led to congregational members wanting to get to know me or making me feel at home. Nope. Instead, I feel like a leper at church. I recently saw a movie where a black kid wanted to swim in a pool during the segregated era, and you never saw white folks moving so quickly out of the "contaminated" water! Is that how they view me? An oddity to avoid? How Christian is that? And these people keep wondering why our church is DYING or why young people leave and never come back!
On my Facebook, I posted a comment to test the waters and see what kind of response I'd get. The comment was along the lines of "I'm shopping for a new religion. Here's your chance to make a sale on why an introverted, multicultural, progressive, internationalist like me would be a good fit in your church or religion." I was hoping that some old friends from high school might have posted suggestions. Instead, the first comment was a huge surprise to me. It was a Mormon friend from the Washington Seminar program. She knows full well my frustrations with the Community of Christ. In the past, she sought to exploit this by enticing me into her church. Now, she knows better and I thank her for that (a sign of growth in our friendship, where she knows that I wouldn't be happy in the Mormon church).
A church member and young adult leader in Seattle made a comment that proved that he still doesn't know me well (he only thinks he does). He seems to think I'm some sort of dilettante, flitting from one religion to another to suit my whimsical fancy when things don't go my way. WRONG! Fortunately, one lady defended me with her correct view of my personality and spiritual views. My biggest problem is that I'm loyal. To me, the Community of Christ is not merely a religion or a church...it's my TRIBE, my family. But let's be honest, my spiritual views have evolved too far outside of what is considered "the norm" for mainstream Christian thinking. I'm far too "new agey" for most people in the church to be comfortable with. Several young adults in the church have told me as much.
I've been wondering for weeks who I could talk to that really understands me at my core and would say the thing that needed to be said in order to push me into a new direction. Then it hit me...Brooklyn! Another Mormon friend from the Washington Seminar days. How ironic that there was not a single person I knew within the Community of Christ who I could turn to for spiritual advice, thus I had to go looking for my Mormon friend, who has New Age spiritual beliefs similar to mine. If anyone could understand my predicament, its her! So, I called her up and we had a great conversation.
Is it possible for one conversation to change the course of your life? I hope so. And I hope that her advice marks a break from the past for me. The following day, I had the morning off so that I could attend a booksigning at Powell's City of Books. Writer Dave Eggers was in town to sign his books, but the event was held at the unusual time of noon, rather than the evening. Since I had been wanting to meet him for almost a decade now, I figured that this was my chance. He's the writer that I selected for my 2002 Nonconformist of the Year as well as Best Writer of the Zeroes Decade.
I got to the store at 11:30 and there was no line, but several carts of his books (as well as old issues of his quarterly literary magazine McSweeney's). Because I did not have receipts of my copies of Dave Eggers' older books, I could not bring them to be signed, so I had to buy one. I don't have The Wild Things or Zeitoun, yet, so I was standing at the cart full of books being indecisive until I settled on The Wild Things. I got in line and a young lady with the cutest dog got in line behind me. A store clerk came over to inquire about the dog and the lady told her that the dog was a therapy dog and approved to be at the store. I waited in line and moved along, wondering what I might say to this lady. The dog was a great way in to a conversation. I hate striking up small talk (life as a celebrity would be much easier for me, because people would approach me to initiate a conversation. But then again, I'd have to deal with other issues, such as people assuming that they know me well enough to assume things about me). I asked the lady what breed of dog she had. She didn't know. I told her that I thought her dog (named Magnum) looked like a cross between a labrador retriever and a German shepherd.
She explained to me what a therapy dog is (I thought it was a seeing-eye dog at first, but she wasn't blind) and I must admit that her dog's mere presence has a calming effect. The reason why she brought the dog along was because she claimed Magnum loved Dave Eggers' books and stories. She reads Eggers to her dog every night. How sweet is that? We got to talking about traveling and college majors. She kind of reminded me of SNL comedienne Molly Shannon (I'm not a fan of that actress). She was changing her major from biology because she found the talk of climate change and polar bears drowning to be too depressing. Yikes! Her travel experiences are quite extensive, so we talked mostly about that. It was a great conversation.
When I finally arrived to have my moment with Dave Eggers, I asked him about the publishing policy of his McSweeney's. His political views and topics he chooses to write about indicates that his publishing company would be a good fit for the kind of writing that I want to do. I think my novel would be a great addition for McSweeney's, so he said to send it in because he has people on the lookout for a unique novel that fits the company's mission and worldview. I also asked about getting his 826 National organization to Portland (writing labs for high school students). I want to get more involved in writing. Someone at work suggested to me that I should be a writing tutor for people because of my "impressive" writing ability. There's actually a story for that, but I won't be blogging about it because, well...let's just say that I'm a lot like C.D. Bales in the film Roxanne. That's all I'll say about that.
I wished Eggers well in his career and told him that I enjoyed reading his books and looked forward to his next one (though I still need to buy Zeitoun). After I paid for my copy of The Wild Things, I walked outside to catch the streetcar back to work. A solicitor got me just as I walked out the door of Powell's, wanting me to sign up for some petition. I usually ignore these people, but he captured my interest when he mentioned my Congressman David Wu (whom I have never been impressed with and have been wanting some Democrat to challenge and defeat him in a primary). This guy was gathering signatures for a candidate to run against Wu in the primary. He gave me a flyer of the Democrat who is running and I was impressed: a Navy veteran. Here I was, wondering how I might support a Navy veteran who is running for Congress in Florida (who knows the Chief Petty Officer I worked for in Italy). This might be my ticket to Washington, if one of them wins and is looking for loyal staff members. That there is a viable candidate in my district means I have found a candidate to volunteer for (I haven't been too impressed with Bill Bradbury's campaign, unfortunately, even though he is picking up momentum with the teacher's union endorsement).
At work, I learned that I had won a prize in the monthly drawing (a $15 Olive Garden gift card, which I'm saving for my possible D.C. trip in late April/early May). A volunteer had submitted my name with a nice compliment. I was surprised. Could Friday get any better? And did a simple conversation with a spiritually compatable friend spark some changes? I hope so.
In the book The Wild Things, Dave signed it: "To Nick -- Stay Wild." Awoooooooooooooo! Maybe its the time to get wild, to cut loose, to forge different paths. Also last week, before I went to bed, I had prayed to God for what direction to take in life. I had a vivid and colourful dream that took place in a Unitarian-Universalist Church. Maybe that's where I need to look for spiritually like-minded people. The one downtown is a ten minute walk from my apartment and a nice, large building. Why be loyal to a dead or dying church? I love the Community of Christ...but their lack of love for me is pushing me out the door. It might not matter much anymore, because if one faction or another has their way at the World Conference next month, the opposing faction may leave the church. One would think that a church facing mass exodus would value members who are loyal. Its not too late, but the door on my loyalty is closing. Loyalty is a two-way street. One sided loyalty is stupid. And I'm done with being stupid. I need to feel the love, people! I'm tired of being the giver all the time. A new me is being born. We'll see if this self-interested me is more successful.