AND ANOTHER THING
By John Thomas Tuft
In March, when the clouds descend and hide the mountains and impose a gray-white lid in place of sky, leaving early blossoms on the trees feeling a bit naked and afraid, sending jonquils and daffodils bending low near the earth in the chilly breeze, the hope of spring may falter. The trees that are still naked, the empty nests of birds and squirrels exposed, stand stark against the dome reminding all who care to ponder it of their own seasons of endings and beginnings. In this age of believing that Everybody is Entitled to Know Everything About Everybody and measuring our worth by the number of clicks on ‘like’ and comments left as glittering gems of inanity on our posts to social media, we seem to feel ever more removed from the concreteness of our own lives and the inevitability of their seasons.
A woman sits alone in an oncology office, feeling the growing fear and anxiousness within, the haunting loneliness welling up to spill from her eyes. Feeling the certainty of what she is feeling, she reaches into her bag, pulls out the phone and pushes ‘record’ then uploads the video of her worried face to TikTok as proof that she is…what? Human and needing confirmation of that fact? She eagerly checks her page for the little hearts and comments of concern and commiseration, and finds, as well, umpteen suggestions that she should try as alternative treatment, or ‘if you ate what I eat this never would have happened,’ or the conspiratorial ‘all western medicine is controlled by big pharma,’ or fill in the appropriate boogeyman. The woman hits record again and documents her anger and disappointment at how nobody understands her trauma, posts it, and the cycle goes on and on.
Having reached my late sixties, I am well aware that I am of the boomer, older, ancient, generation born right after the Second World War. As such, there is a certain built-in quality to the generational divides that have always been noisy and, well, divisive. But in the society in which I find myself, a society increasingly enamored with celebrating its stratification into small, flattened layers of shared sameness insistently called ‘diversity’ and ‘individuality’ I feel less and less like turning a camera on myself and asking the world to tell me if I really do exist and do I exist in the appropriate fashion or expression of human beingness.
Nobody wants to admit it, but all divine worship is performative in nature. Singing together, reading together, listening to sermons prepared and delivered for a specific performance designed to elicit a tried-and-true response of come back for more next week and please don’t forget to put your money where your mouth is on the way out. Call it spiritual and, miraculously, it is automatically deemed beneficial. Go to a beach or a mountain top to do the same and it is still a performance. Trying to convince ourselves that we have contacted that unknowable side of the cosmos or that we have touched the eternal nature of our conscious selves is a solitary play acted out for an audience of one– Karl Jung, enneagrams, Myers-Briggs, and the whole field of spiritual director-ing notwithstanding. Human beings like to perform.
When I was banned from posting my stories to the Presbyterian Facebook group I was told it was to protect the established tone of the membership. The admins didn’t want to rock their comfort zone and wanted to protect me from their ‘decently and in order’ Presbyterian wrath. I kid you not. Guess I can check that one off of my bucket list: challenge groupthink and, by association, group-feel. The picture posted with this is of me, the night before my high school graduation. Seventeen years on this planet, full of curiosity and fears. Stuffed to the gills with biblical knowledge and definitely not a rocker of boats. Since then, I have learned that human beings learn to swim by getting wet. In deep waters.
Once upon a time I kept prayer journals. I sat down with pen in hand and small notebooks and recorded my prayers. Every single word. Every single thought. Every single earnest desire. Every single ask. Every single disappointment. In others. And in myself. Until I had boxes and boxes of these little notebooks. Do I still have them? Hell, no. Did I learn anything from that about God? Nope. Did I learn anything about myself? I learned to think about others as much as I do about myself. I learned that it is difficult to achieve a high level of honesty in life. Particularly about myself. I learned that pain is not a lesson, or a plan, or a teaching moment. Pain hurts. Pain hurts a lot.
And I learned to laugh. At the absurdity of things like “name it and claim it” faith. The absurdity of prosperity gospel. The absurdity of wishing for more. More faith. More hope. More joy. More attention. More gifts from this holy pooka we attach to our idea of God. And especially, to laugh at the blatteroons for Jesus, who if there is anyone who ever needed a trigger warning attached to his story…