Thursday, January 20, 2005

walking opposite the flow of traffic is hazardous to one's health. (or perhaps it's the cigarette)

As I pulled up, Morgan was walking toward me on the opposite side of the street. Of course I didn’t know then that his name was Morgan, I only knew what I could tell from his appearance. Better said, I only knew what I made up about him based on his appearance. I stared at him as I would stare at any out-of-place object, trying to figure out where he was supposed to be, or whose place he was in, or maybe even if I was in the right place. He wasn’t supposed to be in front of the church. He wasn’t supposed to be in front of the church because he didn’t want to be there. I didn’t know that he didn’t want to be there, he just looked like he didn’t want to be anywhere near a church. Maybe I decided this because he had his hood pulled tightly over his head to keep the rain from dousing his cigarette. No one with a hood on could want to be near a church.

As I stopped driving, he stopped walking.

As I got out to walk opposite the direction I’d been driving, he turned around and walked toward me, still on the other side of the street.

As I crossed the street, he turned back around and fell in-line behind me.

As I walked inside, he continued to tail me. He followed me up the stairs, a few paces behind, and through the doorway into the worship center. Once inside I headed to the front—to the stage—and he sat in the back. My comfort had stayed behind me in the car, so I grabbed my guitar to ease the tension in my own mind. After a few notes—notes that didn’t ease any tension whatsoever—I put the guitar down and moved to the front edge of the stage.

As I sat down Morgan lost status as an out-of-place object, his voice ringing in the empty room.

“What’s your name?”

“Cornelius,” I said. “What’s yours?”

Social convention was introducing us.

“I’m Morgan.”

As Morgan named himself he became completely human. He was no longer an out-of-place object, but he was still out-of-place. Our dialogue continued, and I tried to make sense of him being inside the church.

“So, what do you believe?” he asked me.

How can I answer a question about belief when there are so many different things to talk about? I believe in the creeds: One Father, His eternally begotten and only son, the Holy Spirit, which proceeds from both Father and Son, the Virgin birth, the holy catholic church, the death on the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, and the future glory. I believe that relationships are more important than tasks. I believe that I am screwed up.

That’s a good place to start.

“I believe that I’m pretty screwed up. I mean, I do a bunch of stuff that I can’t even understand, and I don’t treat people the way I want to treat them. So I believe that. I believe that God was gracious enough to make a way to fix everything that I’ve messed up. With some great sense of divine irony he sent himself—only not the way I would send myself somewhere—to his very creation so that he could save me and a bunch of other screwed up people. Somehow he died. I don’t know how a living God could die, but he did. And he didn’t. He conquered death so I didn’t have to. So I believe that.”

“Well I don’t really believe that I’m screwed up. I think that a bunch of things that most people call sins aren’t really sins.”

“Wow. I guess I think that the way I’m most screwed up is in how I treat people: the fact is that I’m a huge jerk and I don’t love people the way I should.”

All the beautifully vile and utterly meaningless evangelical rhetoric came rushing down the stream of my mind, but somehow the dam of my mouth was closed. Morgan did not want me to tell him how Christ had saved my life. Morgan didn’t even want to be loved. Morgan was only interested in a philosophical discussion. Worse than that, Morgan didn’t have any trouble with pain or suffering. Apparently he’d never thought about those things, because he didn’t really think that there was evil in the world. This conversation was going nowhere.

“Actually, I don’t really believe in Hell,” he elaborated. “I mean, I believe in Satan, but he’s more about keeping us from being the people we should be than trying to draw us away from God.”

Wow. He just said some of the very things I think, but with a different perspective. Satan really is trying to keep us from being the people we were meant to be. He wants to keep us from reaching our end. But for Morgan that had nothing to do with God. Aristotle even thought our end had to do with God. Morgan must have been a lot smarter than Aristotle. With the knowledge that Morgan fancied himself smarter than one of the most important thinkers ever, I stopped contributing to the conversation.

“Actually, I think I’m an angel,” he said.

“Umm, I’m going to have to disagree with you there,” I responded.

“With all of the things that have happened in my life, I must be an angel.”

“Yeah, again, I don’t think so. I think you have a pretty poor theology.” And there it was: I pulled the theology card out, how terrifically superior of me. In all the effort to keep the dam shut on meaningless evangelical rhetoric, the spillway had been filled with my intellectual arrogance, and that arrogance couldn’t be held while the rhetoric was being stalled. Never fight a war on two fronts.

“Well, if you only knew what I've been through, you’d think I was an angel too.”

“I really don’t think I would.”

With that the conversation ended. I turned and walked back up onto the stage. Morgan stayed seated in the back and said hello to various other members of the band as they walked in. After fiddling with some switches on my amplifier I turned around, and Morgan was no longer there I don’t know when he left. I don’t know why he left. Maybe he realized that he didn’t belong in a church. Maybe he decided that he didn’t want to be anywhere near a church.

Or maybe my theology is the one that’s off. Maybe Morgan was an angel. God put him there to wake me from my dogmatic slumbers, as Kant would say. After talking with Morgan I had to think about my view of others. I had to think about my hypocrisy of being prejudiced against meaningless evangelical jargon while being wedded to meaningless academic jargon. I had to think about the way I talk to people, and not just making statements like the one I made to Morgan about not loving others enough.

Probably not.

Even so, Morgan made me think, and I’d rather interact with another broken human who makes me think than an angel who tells me what I want to hear.

1 comment:

Krispin Mayfield said...

I love it. I suppose you're probably not a highschool student at Beaverton that could be published in 'Overneath', huh?