6357752799664482331782856383_337b27a39cf1198c_meangirls3.xxxlarge.imgopt1000x70A few years ago I received a comment on my personal blog appraising my writing as too “depressing.” People were starting to talk, according to the commenter–an acquaintance brave enough to, ahem, virtually step forward. The message, enveloped in faux concern, delivered an insidious warning: you’re not saying the right stuff. P.S. Keep it up, and you can’t sit with us. I remember wavering between amusement at the projective nature of the opinion and rage at the idea that I could spend an afternoon writing a thousand heartfelt words only to have the verbal equivalent of a bag of flaming dog poop left right underneath them. That was the day I learned that Salt-n-Pepa were right about opinions and assholes–and that the internet has a distinctive way of summoning both. Myself included.

The situation defused rather than becoming a major conflagration…outwardly, at least. Inside, I seethed for awhile. The comment left a scar partially due to its hurtfulness, but more because of a sense of violation, much like the time my branch of the post office in Manhattan refused to hand over the DVDs my sister sent of The Office because she had addressed them using my nickname. My freedom felt curtailed; what had been rightfully mine–words, a box set of DVDs–was being (mis)handled by others. I didn’t like it.

And it wasn’t the first or last time I would be accused of being, much like Lin Manuel Miranda’s version of Angelica Schuyler, intense. My desire to write was born of an early-and-often sense of being an outsider, which led me to develop observational skills at a rate that far outpaced social strengths. Never one to boldly try out for cheerleading or kick ass on the debate team, my show of courage became putting pen to paper long before I offered the ensuing words up for public consumption. This simple act of autonomy transformed into a method of survival–of the psychological sort at least–as the computer monitor has become a place where I work a lot of shit out. So when people begin to speak into that, despite the fact that my own finger wittingly clicks publish, it still catches me a bit off guard; I mean, sure, I left the counselor’s door open, but I didn’t expect anyone to actually walk in on our session.

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I find that this intensity born of feeling out of place is common among writers. T.S. Eliot himself, as mentioned by Scott on the podcast recently, said that “the purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink.” One doesn’t get to the point of being willing to open a vein without a certain amount of angst already present. All of which makes it both laughable, and ineffective, when people respond to my writing with pithy maxims like “chill out” and “lighten up.” You think I haven’t tried? Over the years, though, I’ve come to recognize such clichés as just more expressions of the ubiquitous Law–a standard I can never expect to fulfill. 

But we all have our blind spots, right? I suspect one of mine has to do with an elevated opinion of my own brand of humor, reflected in my disdain for sitcoms with laugh tracks (sorry, Big Bang Theory–I just don’t get you). Oh, and maybe that annoying tendency I have to secretly think I run the universe. We all have our One Thing (in myriad forms) that we find ourselves clinging to instead of Jesus–our personalized shortcut to salvation that bypasses the often painful and messy work of grace in our lives. Because that’s the deal with grace; even its joy component is inseparable from pain and suffering. It’s why the cross was a death scene and not a victory march: the orientation of this Kingdom is upside-down and paradoxical. Strength displayed through weakness; triumph appearing as loss. The Gospel is too beautiful to be contained in a monolithic representation, even when it’s a (debatably) funny mask or (inarguably) poignant blog post of mine.

Time spent on the internet can serve as entertainment, or education, but can’t it also–like everything–be a method of bolstering our personalized Law? We don’t go to the web so much to feel more as to feel better. This is why objective and polite disagreements are so rare online–there is an emotional nature to our protests that belies a need to be understood. Not that I’ve ever jumped into an online fight defending, for example, a favorite theologian by telling his naysayers to go to hell. Or anything. Not that I’ve ever approached a message board as though my verbal communique there will secure validation that, ultimately, I can only find in one location: at the foot of a bloody cross.

Adam Phillips provides an interesting philosophical rationale for complex viewpoints: “You can only understand anything that matters — dreams, neurotic symptoms, literature — by overinterpreting it; by seeing it from different aspects as the product of multiple impulses. Overinterpretation here means not settling for one interpretation, however apparently compelling it is…The interpretation might be the violent attempt to presume to set a limit where no limit can be set.” But, and more relevant to this discussion (not to mention closer to our hearts), there are the implications to faith. The “you’re only allowed to feel one thing” mentality lands its pendulum swing squarely in the zone of prosperity preachers, who tell us that God’s love can ONLY look like success, or favor, or happiness. 

In my experience, though, and that of Nicole Cliffe (already mentioned here but bearing repeating), it looks more like this:

I have been asked if deciding to become a Christian ended my exciting new crying-multiple-times-a-day hobby. The truth is that I continue to cry a lot more than I did before..I am more undone by love, or kindness, or friendship than I would have thought possible. Last night I tried to explain who Henri Nouwen was to some visiting cousins, and they had to bring me Kleenex, which they did sweetly and cautiously, as though I might melt in front of them…I never possessed much chill, to be honest. Now I have none whatsoever.

You and me both, sister. (By the way, I wonder if, through the Kleenex, she explained that Henri Nouwen is the one who told us that “joy and sorrow are no longer each other’s opposites.”)

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When Christianity is sold as a bill of…well, goods (in both senses of the word),  its representatives come off sounding like kale chip salesmen: the product is always going to be disappointing. Maybe this is why the Gospel, unable to be contained by such small parameters, is pervading some of the least likely places. I am, of course, talking about Keanu, which my husband and I saw recently. Our blind spots and sin may be ubiquitous, but grace is even more so, because when a buddy drug movie contains a scene depicting self-sacrifice in the form of one man jumping in front of a bullet to save his friend and getting shot in the hand right where a nail mark might show up, you’ve got to wonder if Hollywood (inadvertently, perhaps) understands Good News better than we do. Because at the end of the day (forget that, at the end of the 6am hour when I’ve already yelled at my kids, taken my husband for granted, and forgotten God’s existence), I might find a cat video uplifting. But it crumples under the weight of my own guilt and need–and this is when a Savior in the business of crying at deaths and resurrections is not just my safest bet, but my only hope.