old feelings

The other day Heather was telling me about what she was going through during the same year that I was AWOL (which I mentioned in the last entry). She was in a new high school, and extremely unpopular. It reminded me of my own high school days. Days I've done my best to forget.

But I began to wonder if there are some buried emotions from those formative years that have been influencing me lately. There's a guy I know who just came out with a new book, published by a huge Christian publishing company, and it's been the talk of people I interact with. He's pretty popular right now. And the book is marketed to young people, with unconventional layouts and an edgy, hip look and language. Meant to be very cool, obviously. A lot of the things he writes are quite similar to what I've written here; the book challenges the church for being too closely tied to the state, and to power politics. So you'd think I'd like it, like most of the people I know do. But it's been really bugging me. Really bugging me, more than it should, so I started wondering if it was somehow stirring up some forgotten emotions in me.

Heather's comments about high school seemed like a clue. I suffered a lot in high school, often at the hands of those who were more popular than me, sometimes just feeling ignored and left out by them, or angry at them for the social system that they seemed in command of, which was such a source of pain for me. As I thought more about it, I recognized that I had had a lot of anger towards the popular people. And maybe that anger is still there.

Back then, I just had my experience and my feelings. Now I see that there were very legitimate reasons for my anger. I don't think the popular people were actually in control in the way I thought they were then, but they did use their power for their own benefit and left a lot of us out. And by using that social (political) power, by playing the game well, they encouraged and supported the system as it was, making it that much harder for those of us who could not (or would not) excel according to those social rules and standards. So even if they didn't create the system or control it, they did contribute to its overwhelming oppressiveness.

Now I see a popular guy, a naturally charismatic guy (who found it easy to be one of the popular people in his high school, he once said) trying to use his gifts to spread a radical Christian message to a wider audience. And he's gaining a national hearing now with his books and speaking engagements, almost making following Jesus seem like a cool thing to do.

And I'm feeling angry.

Because the most radical edges have to be cut off for it to be as cool as he's making it. Because the audience is young, middle-class, mostly white, the privileged and cool. Because the big publishers are begging for it. Because he's using the money of the big publishers and his popularity to try to promote a gospel given to the poor and outcasts.

Because all this glorifies the people on top and their power, no matter what the book says.

But, while I think there's some legitimate cause for anger, now I realize I need to get past the anger. It helps to recognize it for what it is, rather than just stewing, getting madder, and not knowing why. I think the wrong has been understood, though, so I need to move on to trying to understand the person, and forgive. I know this guy does a lot of other good stuff in his daily life, reaching out to the poor and some very unpopular people in society. And he faces temptations that I don't have to deal with. Because of his natural gifts he has enticing offers and opportunities that I don't have to struggle over. Jesus was able to turn away from those who wanted to elevate him, to choose not to use his popularity, or the power of the crowds that were drawn to him. But that's such a rare thing, even among Christians. It's not so hard to understand and forgive when gifted people stumble and take the impressive offers that promise so much good.

How did Jesus turn away? How did he justify squandering all the popularity and support he had—when he knew it meant the end of his ministry?

And how do we follow his example?