Remember that idealistic thought in November about me participating in National Novel Writing Month? Well, I didn’t really. I got about a week into it, got ridiculously busy, life fell apart, baby niece and Thanksgiving happened, and then it was December. Seriously, NaNoWriMo — pick a month that doesn’t have a major holiday in it. Like June.
Despite typing only 10,000 words in the month of November itself, I haven’t stopped work on this novel. It’s helped me explain and work through my questions about faith and life.
Plot summaries always sound stupid, so to protect my pride, I’m going to give you a vague one: A girl is told she has a special, amazing gift and goes off to receive training for it –- but she finds that nobody there, including herself, possesses a “special, amazing gift” at all. Their gifts seems like ordinary human faculties that anybody could possess –- not something objectively impressive or miraculous. She must begin the hard, dangerous work of sorting fact from fiction. What’s fake? What’s real? And what’s potentially real?
Sort of like Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games, I found myself thinking back to ultra-spiritual personal moments and wondering, “Real or not real?”
I wonder that every day: real, or not real? I think that I’ve encountered lots of “not real” in the Christian community and in my own faith — both flat out lies about science, others, God, and myself, and more subtle deceptions that I participated in.
As a young Christian blogger, I would share my thoughts and breakthrough moments about my relationship with God. I’d write a post about my conviction to read through the Bible, or my realization that it’s more counterproductive to bash yourself over the head for not praying at 5 AM that morning rather than just kneeling down right then and there to pray. Even then, I remember a little voice suggesting that, perhaps, it was a little dishonest to write about those things with any sort of authority, since, you know, I never actually developed a habit of reading Scripture and praying.
And I never did develop that habit. My breakthroughs and thoughts never helped me. But I’m sure it did accomplish one thing — convince other people that I had some semblance of a habit, perhaps guilt people into wondering why they weren’t as passionate about Jesus as Bailey Bergmann, maybe inspire them to have their own one week of fire for Jesus before disillusionment took over.
I would write and tell and teach about a relationship with God without really having that relationship.
I do the same thing with exercise. If I write a post about my new exercise regime, don’t be impressed. It’ll last a day or two (okay, really only one day), and then I’ll be back on the couch. Until I write a retrospective post on my months of training for a marathon, don’t attribute any sort of athletic self-control to me.
In the same vein, there’s a fad of genuineness going around the Christian world, where people are honest about their spiritual failures and shortcomings, and honest about their resolutions to change. But it’s all present tense — I am getting up at 7 AM to have morning devotions, for instance — and that could honestly be talking about one or two days, for all the reader knows. Not really impressive, not really helpful, but certainly discouraging to those of us who think they’re able to sustain a daily devotional habit.
We have a spiritual idealism. We talk about our ideals, what we should be doing, what Christ calls us to, etc., etc., but nobody — and this was my frustration with Christianity from the get-go — nobody knew what they were doing. Nobody knows what they’re doing, and everybody thinks everybody else does, so everybody feels guilty and inadequate for not doing what everybody else is doing, even though nobody is doing it.
And because idealism isn’t sustainable, the idealists get discouraged and burnt out and trash the whole project.
I get so disillusioned whenever I read a new work by a new author talking about his newfound discovery of some theological tenet or spiritual practice that’s got him all excited, because just like I don’t sustain my excitement about exercise or daily devotions, I question his ability to change just because of this one new thing.
That’s why I like reading mystics and saints and Ann Voskamp and Sarah Bessey. They write from a past tense of actual experience, not idealism. And even though I’m never going to be like them, it’s nice to think that a real relationship with God seems legitimately possible for some people.
With all of these thoughts rattling around in my head, I’m toying with the idea of starting an interview series with ordinary people about their ordinary faith. Their actual devotional life. Their actual doubts. Their actual beliefs. Their actual habits. Their actual gifts. The real, not the not real, not the idealism, not the right answers. The real.
I’m sure another major holiday and babies and life crises will prevent me from getting on with this idea, but, as an idealist, I’m asking, would you be interested in this series? Who would you want to hear from?