It was easy to be rebellious and individualistic and iconoclastic in that bubble. It was like a test flight, baby steps. Nothing terribly bad would happen to me there. And nothing terribly bad did happen to me there. And I started to discover my own voice, my own beliefs, my own thoughts. I didn't have to go to church if I didn't want to. I even told my mother that I didn't want to be a lawyer – I wanted to be an English major and be a writer and teacher. I rejected the fraternity system that, at the time, was about looking like a businessperson (businessman, actually) in a navy blue blazer and oxblood loafers with a corner office, or someone in a navy blue blazer and topsiders with a yacht. I grew my hair out. Hung out with funny troublemaking young men. Dipped snuff, drank beer. Many of those men went on to be very successful in business in life. At least on the outside. That wasn’t for me.
But what was I going to do? I hadn’t a clue.
I was talking to a friend yesterday, thinking back to why on Earth I went to a Christian university at all. I was so damn tired of church and why it was so important to me to get away from the mindset of the world I grew up in.
As I said in going native part 1, I grew up as the world was changing. I became infected with this change – and then became a carrier.
The churches we went to when I was a kid were nice, white-bread, thinking, club-neighborhood-churches establishments. Traditional. Stained glass. Organ and piano music. Hymns. Pastors in robes. Pleasant people.
As it turns out, they were people who were, often, nice and sweet on the outside, and bitter or angry or sad or addicted or lonely or broken on the inside. The inside part came out when they were at home, or alone. Secret places.
The system they were a part of, and which at that very moment was being rejected by a whole group of people in this culture, was performance-based. One’s responsibility was to serve dutifully. To do what one was told. To behave. To obey. And at the same time, to be individualistic, to succeed, to climb every mountain, to make the world better, to raise perfect and happy families. Fit in, and do your part. But be your own person and find your own path to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
That is a total mindfuck. It’s impossible. It’s exhausting. It’s what St. Paul called “the Law.” Following the rules and being good. Paul said that the Law cannot give life – it only produces death, spiritual death, exhaustion, fragmentation. A deep sense that you're not good enough no matter what you do.
(I have never met someone who came from that cultural mindset who was peaceful about him/herself. Wait, that’s not true; I have met them – but they are in the smallest minority. And they are always those who have come to terms with the reality that it’s okay not to be perfect. For life not to have turned out as they had planned. For it to be good enough, that they were good enough. Usually this acceptance comes from a deep sense of faith and trust in something large. God, America, goodness, truth, beauty, honor. I think that’s very, very cool. I respect that.)
And while I was growing up, that system, that way of seeing the world, was under siege. Hordes of people were turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. Reading poetry. Wearing weird clothes and hair. Not playing by the rules.
America was at war; these people decided it was an unjust, immoral war, and they said so. They asked questions that no one had permission to ask – about the systems of the world, about the leaders of the world, about the way the world worked and thought.
When I was a teenager, I just wanted to hang out and have fun.
When I went to college, I wanted to be free like that.
The Summer of Love was, by then, ten years back, and lots of the hippies had turned into corporate drones, and music was 80s big hair bands.
And I was just turning into a hippie myself and had no clue about what to do.
I didn't believe in God anymore. I was just learning to believe in myself. I studied philosophy and literature and history. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I was figuring something out.