The State I Am In (or, I’m so bored with the C.E.E.)

“And so I gave myself to God; there was a pregnant pause before he said…’Ok.'” — Belle & Sebastian, from ‘The State I Am In’

For a while now, I have been feeling somewhat disconnected from the theological tradition in which I was raised—namely, conservative evangelicalism (or, as I suspiciously call it now, the Conservative Evangelical Establishment).  When I described my religious views on Facebook a while back as “evangelical-esque,” it became even more clear to me that I was uncomfortable aligning myself with a term that most of my community seemed to embrace with no anxiety.

It wasn’t that my conservative evangelical church or my friends were the problem, though occasionally my squeamishness would rear its head in those contexts.  My contention was more with certain types of people who seemed to speak VERY LOUDLY (or at least wear their merchandise) in the public square as representatives of all evangelicals, and even certain leaders within the movement (and I’m not talking about Pat Robertson and the “God Hates Fags” nuts, cause I’m pretty sure they are universally despised).  The types of people I was looking to distance myself from (and I KNOW this is going to be incredibly patronizing, harsh & self-righteous) include, but are not limited to the following:

  • “know-it-all” dogmatic polemicists (usually those who aRE FORMED in a certain theological system—ouch, sorry Calvinist buddies [not because you are this way, but these may include some of your heroes]—but also including a fair share of thinkers of other stripes, who like to think they are God’s gift to orthodox doctrine and love the way the words “heretical” and “heterodox,” if not “compromised Christianity,” roll off the tongue)
  • zealous morality crusaders (whose calling it is to inform non-Christians how they ought to behave as if they were Christians [Yes on Prop. 8 fanatics…and I mean the ones who acted like the world was going to end if it didn’t pass] and to remind loose-living, backsliding “carnal” Christians what a wet blanket, parade-pissing killjoy Jesus wants them to be)
  • Americangelicals (a word I believe I just coined, describing those who believe America is [or should return to being] a Christian nation, flag displayed in the church, patriotic songs sung in a worship service while F-22’s soar behind the projected lyrics, who usually end up acting as useful idiots to the Republican Party—ouch, sorry GOP buddies, of which I have been one my whole life!)
  • sentimentalists (collecting Precious Moments figurine versions of Moses, Jesus, and probably Satan) and other cheesy, tasteless simpletons (unlicensed stickers of Bill Watterson’s Calvin praying on the rear window, NOTW belt buckles, Left Behind novels, Contemporary Christian Music—ouch, sorry 80% of my extended family and acquaintances!)

Obviously these are caricatures of modern conservative evangelicals—however, you’d be surprised at how little scratching at the surface of the seemingly normal Joe Q. Evangelical in the pew next to you it takes to reveal the crazy-eyed & mushy-brained undercover fundy-brother beneath!  (If you doubt me, watch the documentary films Jesus Camp or Hell House, or read the article ‘Jesus Made Me Puke‘ or the book The Unlikely Disciple.  I know some may think I’m a-feared of “the world” thinking that I’m different and ashamed of the gospel, but I’m more scared of my children ever behaving in a manner that anyone with two neurons to rub together can readily see as gross over-simplification and reductionistic pig-headedness!  NOTE:  It has occurred to me that perhaps I am over-simplifying too.)

SO what’s to be done, I ask?  I’m obviously bitter (mainly because these kinds of voices tend to hold the power and the pocketbook in C.E.E. institutions) and disenfranchised to a great extent (this comes as no surprise to those who hear this whole tirade in reply to the question, “How are things going?”).  Where do I go, what do I do?

Do I bail from the C.E.E. and forge into other religious communities (the high church, the paleo-orthodox, the liberal)?  Do I try to work out my issues within the C.E.E. system while experiencing this incredible and often unbearable theological and intellectual, not to mention aesthetic, cultural and moral tension (the whole, “the church is a whore, the church is my mother” high-wire act)?  Do I go into exile from my community for a period and either come back head-in-hands repentant or fire-breathing prophetic?

I’m not sure as of yet.  And I ask all of these questions rhetorically and with only a mild sense of the exasperation that my critical, angry-young-man posture must produce in those who have sat and listened, responded patiently and gently so many, many times in these past years and even read this now.

In the midst of all of my frustration with the evangelical label, I am so grateful for the thoughtful brothers I have who will hear me bark and scowl and rage and who will even then pray for me, even in the midst of their own frustration WITH me, and whom I believe God will use to help me sort this out…my dear Matthew, Ryan, Dan, David, and Wade.  I definitely need to spend some time with Les & Steve in the near future, and am so grateful for my flesh & blood brother Mark, who is sometimes a comrade-in-arms, sometimes a sparring partner.  Finally, I am thankful for the inspiration of my dearly loved Elijah, who is so much younger & so much wiser than I am, sadly thousands of miles away.  I love you all and ask you, along with any dear reader to come across these longing and hurting words, to hope for me in figuring out where I am, where I am headed, and where I am wrong-headed…in the state I am in.

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12 responses to “The State I Am In (or, I’m so bored with the C.E.E.)”

  1. Greg says :

    I forgot to thank the Academy…

    PS Michele said I’m more “angry-tubby-middle-aged-man” than “angry-young-man.”

    • Mark says :

      I am so bummed that you wrote this, because I was going to roast you on this. How dare you steal my mocking thunder!!

  2. michelestump says :

    um….hi everyone…

    GREG! I did NOT say that!!!! All I said is that we are not really young anymore. And that your age is more close to middle-aged than young. I did not say any of that other stuff!!!

    Just wanted to set the record straight and preserve my fragile reputation…

    • Greg says :

      Ok maybe you didn’t exactly say those words…perhaps you glanced at my rotund mid-section as you were saying your comment and I was putting words to your non-verbals. Seriously, some days when I consider my girth, I feel like I “VIII” King Henry!

  3. Mark says :

    As for the state you are in, I would say that I hope you stay within the evangelical realm to help battle it out. If you seek “your own kind” then it is like white flight, and you just leave the c.e.e, as you call it, becoming even more like what you hate.

    I would agree with you on all the groups of which you are frustrated. I share the same thoughts, though since I am not a theologian they don’t pass the annoyance phase with me into a philosophical struggle. As you know I love a debate, and so I don’t mind engaging with those folks (say the prop. 8 gang) and laying out my thoughts for them to counter. But I could see how an endless string of debates could wear on someone.

    And actually now that I think about it more, maybe I shouldn’t say you should stay… but just note that any group you find solace in, may soon arouse different objections. Just like in The Screwtape Letters you may find yourself bouncing from community to community.

    I am a part of a widows ministry with some fellas I have drastically different views with, political and some faith-based. And we will discuss this and maybe argue, all while we are serving the widow… which is the main point. We can still serve while having our differences. So I just hope you find a place that you can successfully serve, whether it’s in the c.e.e or elsewhere.

    • Greg says :

      Thanks for the thoughts my brother. Being that I’ve been up to my elbows in the C.E.E. my whole life, it may just be something I need a breather from, in order to re-engage in the convo later.

  4. Steve says :

    Greg,

    (I need to go back and read the other comments too, but don’t have time right now!) Thanks for including me in your process my friend. My label for your “CEE” lately has been “churchianity,” perhaps “evangelical churchianity” (don’t know if anyone else uses that term, so don’t necessarily connect us!). I could probably add a few descriptors too (if only there were time!). I would love to dialogue more in the near future about these things–when I think of the Bride of Christ as described in Scripture theologically I think along one track. When I look at the jacked up reality (including of some with whom I agree theologically), I wince at the very least. Without trying to sound trite (though probably succeeding!), I have found myself having to hang my hat on Jesus himself of late–or more like to cling to Jesus with my fingernails, like the little kitten hanging from the pole in the poster crying “never give up!” (I only use that image because I KNOW how much you resonate with THOSE icons of our culture too!!). I love you my friend and want to process with you trusting we follow a God big and gracious and loving enough to give us freedom to lack understanding at times and to to even rant in that sometimes.

    • Greg says :

      Yep, Steve, thas what I’m on about! Churchianity!!!
      And I’m completely with you on clinging to Jesus (HANG IN THERE!).
      I definitely need some connection/conversation with you & I am trusting God is in this too. I know that I’m probably on the tail end of people complaining about these things, but it’s just feeling pretty REAL to me right now!
      Love you bud,
      Greg

  5. dstump says :

    I can CEE why your in the state your in, hope we get a chance to hang out soon brother.

  6. Leslie says :

    Greg, I feel your pain but probably not as acutely. Part of the blessing of living in a completely non-Christian context is that I don’t have to interact on a weekly basis with much of the silliness that parades around as Christianity in the U.S. That Rolling Stone article was PAINFUL! All I can say is:

    On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not uprophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

    I long to see you my brother.

    • Greg says :

      Me too bud! I definitely need some LESTERspective on the situation! (Although I have to say that posting this was quite cathartic and helped alleviate some of the bitterness that was boiling up!).

      See you soon my dear friend…

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