American bookshelves of the twenty-first century describe fractiousness, reduction, hurt . . . There is no shelf for bitterness. No shelf for redemption. Richard Rodriguez
Growing up in a liberal county, in a conservative community, has made me overly aware of the contradiction it is and the contradictions in me.
I live in a private community, home to a Christian Camp and Conference Center. Since childhood, it has always felt the reverse: a Christian Camp and Conference Center that is also a private community.
“Christian” does not inevitably mean conservative. It just feels that way. Evangelical is the same. The camp is “non-denominational,” but generally non-denominational churches, organizations, et al lean to the right. In this county, evangelical Christianity almost inevitably tends to the right.
I live in a reactionary community and county. Students versus authority. Sacred versus secular. Evolution versus creation. Us versus them. You versus me. Everyone has a patent on The Truth. It’s, well, stupid: we somehow fly between extremes instead of experiencing the whole pendulum swing. In skipping the ride, we don’t note all the ground in between.
And this is where I feel caught with my writing. A “liberal” mind with a de facto “conservative” religion. Sacred subject matter punctuated with secular language. And vice-versa. It isn’t like this everywhere. But here in this county? Worse, in this community?
The church does not approve of my language. Or my habit of addressing mental heath with brazen, uninhibited emotions screaming towards God, dismissing the Bible, and chiding Jesus, as if I know something. I find myself self-identifying as a heretic, for reasons Barbara Brown Taylor best describes:
. . . the issue is that [self-described heretics] believe more than Jesus. Having beheld his glory, they find themselves better equipped to recognize God’s glory all over the place, including places where Christian doctrine says that it should not be.
The county, the secular, is okay with my conversation on mental health. The shame and stigma has shrunk. But not so with religion. I find it almost necessary to preface my writing with an apology for religious content. And then apologize for “secular” content.
Forgive me, atheists and liberals, for I have sinned: I believe the Jesus-shit.
Forgive me, Christians, for I have sinned: I have sworn, “taken the Lord’s name in vain” (as if you really know what that means), mocked you, mocked the Bible, hated God, and embraced the forbidden fruit of the “secular” and “liberal” and loved it.
Forgive me, world, for I have sinned: I agree with Madeleine L’Engle that, really, “in the garden of Eden there was no separation of sacred and secular; separation is one of the triumphs of the devil.”
So where do I belong? How can my writing exist and flourish outside of Eden? No. It can’t, not really. It has no place in the bookstore or library; there are no tags for online data-bases to classify and sort this confusion and pain.
There is no shelf for bitterness. No shelf for redemption.