This one time, my senior year of high school, some kids from school showed up at my house on a Saturday night. They had seen me drive home from school earlier in the week and realized that we just lived down the block. They invited me to go bowling – and it freaked me out. It was bad enough being put in public school for my final 2 years, but so far I had gotten by without having any social interactions. These were heathen, public school kids. Surely they drank, cussed, fornicated, and did drugs – and they were going to try to force me to do the same… weren’t they?
That’s the twisted perspective on the world that I grew up with. And as much as I hate to admit it, I still carry a lot of that baggage today – even if I’m the one drinking and cussing.
A funny thing happened, though. They didn’t corrupt me. In fact, they were pretty cool and made me feel really welcome – even though they probably were doing those things listed above.
Flash forward a year and I’m living in the dorm at college. I had gotten involved in the Baptist campus ministry and mostly avoided the heathens. Then one night some guys from my floor invited me over to eat dinner with them in the dining hall. “You ever play Goldeneye on N64?” “No,” I said. “You should come play after dinner.” So began 3 years of daily dinners and video gaming with the dorm guys, punctuated with breaks to go to class and campus ministry. Over those years the ministry friends were ever-changing and I always felt like an outsider despite my constant involvement. Meanwhile, I never lacked a friend to eat dinner with or a seat at the tv to play Mario Kart.
BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS
I grew up in a really controlled environment. I went to an ultra-conservative, suit-and-tie, King James Bible, Baptist church up until high school. It was a “you’re either with us or against us – in which case you’re going straight to hell,” environment. I went to a Christian school (which was housed at a Pentecostal church, we’re pretty sure they were going to hell). And I lived in a rough part of town. I was obedient mostly to a fault (because I didn’t want to go to hell) and I just trusted what I was told.
Sure, I could talk to you about how my theology has adapted over the last 7-8 years, but none of that would have even been possible without the sea change of relationships during high school and college. That was the first (second, really, but we don’t have time to dig into deep-seated parental issues) chink in the armor of my upbringing. It was the first lie that got exposed: These people weren’t inherently bad. In fact, in many ways, they were far better friends than the church people I had sought out and tried to force myself into relationship with.
And so began my double-life.
I say that to be dramatic. It wasn’t a double-life. I was authentic in both circles, I just didn’t play them up to one another. I went to church and led Bible studies. I hung out with pot heads and guys who had pre-marital sex. I went to an extremely conservative Baptist seminary. I stopped off to close down the bar on my way home from classes. I played guitar in the band at church and ran a drunken karaoke show at the bar. [I eventually disclosed this to a mentor-type guy from church and he looked at me like I was an alien.]
On the outside, by virtue of my gender, sexuality, education, income, and religion I should be primed to thrive. But you see, since that fateful night of bowling I’ve always felt more at home with those outside the church than those within it – which is insane given my upbringing and continued devotion to the church. However, my ability to hold those two worlds side-by-side has also allowed me to question, challenge, and redefine what I believe – without ever losing it. It’s why I can hold on and let go. And it’s why I’m so saddened to see people abandon the church altogether, rather than forging their own path forward.
These days, my Facebook feed is bizarre. I’ve silenced some of the most extreme voices, but there is still a very broad gap between the ideas, values, and language that I see and hear every day. And I’m so thankful for that. I sometimes cringe at some of the ideas that are presented and I often want to say “I thought you were cooler than that.” But I’m still grateful for the diversity.
QUANTUM GOD AND CHAOS FRIENDS
Recently I’ve been digging into this physical idea of a “quantum God” – an immanent God pervasive throughout the very atoms of all matter. But even beyond that, for a very long time, I’ve been a fan of the quantum God at play in the world around me through what some might call “chaos theory” (others might call it “providence”).
- Why did that guy ring my doorbell to go bowling?
- What if the guys hadn’t invited me to eat with them and play video games?
- Why did I go to that Christmas party and meet that guy who became my best friend – when neither of us should have been there? And how did we get separated for 7 years only to come back together closer than ever?
- Why did that guy message me on Facebook and tell me he liked my blog only to become one of my closest friends and biggest encouragers?
- How did I end up living across the street from a friend I hadn’t really talked to for 3 or 4 years who would turn out to be a sounding board for my crazy faith questions?
- How did I end up in the office breakroom at the same time as the guy reading a Peter Rollins book?
- Why did a lady from the UK invite me to join a Facebook group for faith explorers in a time of upheaval and isolation?
Like the tiniest pebble creating the most massive wave, life changes almost imperceptibly through the tiniest interactions. It sometimes takes decades to realize the full weight of what has happened. All in all, I’m taken with the theology of things, but more than that, I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for the people God has placed along the way.