It’s rare that I write so little. I’m so ridiculously busy of late. Full time student and full time employment. Yesterday I was switched from 12 hour nights to 12 hour days. I was so tired when I got home I could barely eat supper. Then instead of playing with my daughter I let her watch a movie while I slept on the couch. Then I got up, put her to bed, and went to bed. I slept 11 hrs and 45 minutes. Now, it’s breakfast and I could eat a horse raw.
I’m coming out on the other side of arguing atheism with my parents. I mean, obviously, they think I’m wrong, but it’s not quite as painfull as it was before. I’ve only got 2.5 more weeks of class and then I’m done with class for a month. (I messed up signing up for the next session.) I’m thinking about friendship. Becoming an atheist and telling my friends has really been a tough row to hoe. It means talking the total honesty that I give my wife and expanding it to the rest of the people I care about. It means being really vulnerable to people.
And some friends have responded really well. Some haven’t. Some have responded so well, actaully, that I am closer to them then ever before, my brother and sisters for instance and my friend Jason. Others have responded with fear and a sort of emotional hardshell. They’re there, but they’re not.
And it makes me think about heaven. I wish I could believe that there is this perfect place that we could go to when we die. I wish over didn’t have to mean over, but honestly I think when your gone, your just gone. So am gentler to my wife, and more cuddly with my kid. I wonder though, I sat and tried to work through something with an old friend yesterday, is it worth it?
When my life on earth is a just short few years do I really want to work through stuff with people who only tolerate me, when they’re are people who really love know me and I really love knowing? And why don’t I work harder to make new friends? Why can’t have more friends like my wife, like Jason, like Alex? People who love me from who I am instead of inspite of it?
So the other night, my wife and I stayed up late talking. First, we talked about the choice I make everyday to ride my bike to work or not. Usually I do ride it, which means that I ride 6 to 7 miles there, then back at the end of the day. I don’t always, I had a touch of sun stroke today and asked my wife to pick me up. The 0630 ride being a good deal more comfortable than the afternoon one.
Choice is funny, though. When I lived in Kansas City I lived significantly closer to my job, but I refused to ride a bike. We desperately needed money, yet I insisted on driving my car the 3 miles to work everyday. Now, we don’t really need the money and I ride. When we don’t feel like things are being forced upon us, it is so much more personally rewarding to do them. So then we began discuss the failings that we were having at that time.
I guess I thought I was entitled to car. So I had a car. We lived about 2 miles from a grocery store, and about three miles from work. We had no reason whatsoever for a car, yet I had a full sized pickup, which got about 12 mpg. I had an apartment. And I had debt. Up to my eyeballs.
I look back, and what I should have done is soooo obvious. I should have moved in with my parents. I should have gotten a job working nights in Des Moines. I could have rode into work with my dad. I wouldn’t have needed a car, and my room and board would have been about $100 dollars a month. I could have paid down my debt, then began to save. Within a year or two we would have been OK. During that time we could be searching for the perfect place in Des Moines to live. But we didn’t. We were too proud. Of what I am not sure. The image that we could take care of ourselves, I guess. I say image, because obviously we could not take care of ourselves, we were making one crappy decision after another.
But why were we there in the first place? I had failed college. Was this my fault? Absolutely, and at the same time no. I really did do my best at the classes I had been assigned (it wasn’t good enough). However, I didn’t choose my classes. I blindly accepted that whatever the nice lady told me to take, I should take. I didn’t know my limitations and I couldn’t be bothered to learn them. (This leads to one of my favorite quotes [which is on my facebook page as well as other blogs]: If you insist on being an ignorant ass, you will be consistently rewarded with failure. You have no right to decide the performance of something you cannot be bothered to understand.) I did my best at classes that I did my worst to chose. I wouldn’t trust a cell phone salesman to tell me what I need. I wouldn’t trust a car salesman to tell me what I need. Yet I trusted a complete stranger to sell me an education.
Then, to top it all off, I did something really, really sick. When I failed out, I blamed God, but not blamed God in a manly, angry way. No, I blamed God in a sort of half-assed wussy way. I said that it was his will. That he called me out of college to minister to the church in Kansas City.
My brother in law is a radical believer. He yells at people who say that God lead him smoke pot, get drunk, and punch strangers so that His glory could be revealed. He says “God didn’t give me a great testimony. God saved me from my testimony. What sort of God would beat me up just to look cool?”
In similar path to being saved from your testimony he had this to say:
“Believe with your heart in power of God to change things, but work your ass off to change them.”
So, this blog becomes yet another midnight confessional. Oddly, even though everyone reads this, this is just for me:
I accept full responsibility for my failures. No devil made me do it. No “will-of-God” bologna. No “the-sin-of-X-was-controlling-my-life” BS. Nope. One person failed Israel Walker. And that person was Israel Walker.
But you know the funny thing about choice?
It doesn’t have to stay that way.
So for English I had to write one of those “who I am and where I came from” papers. I talked about my childhood a bit. I’ve an odd relationship with my childhood: My parents were pretty different. They made an interesting home life for us and all of us kids grew up a little confused about our place in the world. Through it all, I think they meant well, though. Yes, they held some odd viewpoints and values, but I think that they did everything they did because they really loved us and wanted the best for us. I think that’s why we all turned out OK.
But as anyone reads this blog or knows me understands, when I was kid I thought I had all kinds of problems. As a young adult my biggest problem was all the problems I thought I had. (Which disguised the fact there were actually somethings I could work on, but I wouldn’t find that out for years.) But as a 14 year old I was a bundle of insecurities and self loathing.
So, when I was 14, I visited Emmaus Bible College where my sister was a freshman. I met a lot of people there, but most importantly for this story, I met Jason, Tyler, Sarah, and Paul. Jason is still one of my closest friends, a crazy home experimenter and hacker. Paul is also still one of my closest friends, my go-to-guy for anything I need career advice on. While I was finishing high, school Tyler and Sarah fell in love and got married.
My senior year of high school I was dating this girl from my hometown. One night I had a vision. I saw her getting pregnant and us buying a house behind the window factory, where I was would live for the rest of my life. That didn’t appeal to me. I had around $4000 I had saved up throughout my short life. I had been alternating between wanting to use that money to (1.) buy a used airplane and teaching myself to fly or (2.) going to Pittsburgh, legally changing my name, and inventing a new life for myself free of the constraints Christian living. Both had problems: if I bought the plane, I would not have enough money to leave home. I would have to stay with my parents “forever”. (Forever being more than 2-3 years to an 18 year old.) If I moved to Pittsburgh and started Me 2.0 I thought I would probably do such crazy sinful things that I would kill myself because of the guilt (or at least that was the plan. I was 18, don’t judge.) If I went to Pittsburgh, I was going launch into crazy orgies and stuff, if I stayed home I was going to start sleeping with my girlfriend. (My apologizes to the good people of Pittsburgh. I don’t know why as angry young man, I fixated on Pittsburgh and not New York and LA like everyone else who wants to leave a small town and go to the big city. I don’t know why I thought orgies would be particularly available in Pittsburgh either. ) Either way, I was getting laid and feeling icky.
But I had a third option. I could take my $4000 and pay for one semester of Bible college. It was the path of least moral failure. But I still didn’t feel really good about myself. We went around the auditorium and said why we had come there. Everyone said “To learn more about JESUS!” I knew for a fact at least one of the guys on my floor was there because his parents told him that if he went to a year of Bible college they would give him a Jeep Wrangler. So when it got to me I said “I’m just here to meet a nice Christian girl and marry her”. Now this wasn’t strictly true, I was there so a girl back home didn’t get pregnant, but I really didn’t mind the image I thought this gave me, and I was uncomfortable about lying about Jesus. Lying about God to impress your friends just seemed (and seems) like a really awful idea.
Well, it turned out, not surprisingly, the guy who went to Bible college so he wouldn’t join (or start) a sex cult in Pittsburgh was NOT really cut out for Bible college. I met a girl there who was much life myself (named Lydia): a basically kind person who life had beaned her with a series of complicated hard to deal with things. In that environment of judgment, conformism, and emotional and sexual desperation we found each other and leaned on each other to survive.
And the person who was a life line to us: Sarah, Tyler’s wife. Now, I’d known Sarah since I was 14. She’d come to Emmaus with her own story of what she wanted to run away from (something I would not find out until years later) and when she had met geeky, awkward, bespectacled me, I reminded her of her brother Paul. So she was really nice to me. She was always really happy to see me and listened to all my silly talk warmly. Gentle reader, do you remember when you were 14? How would you have felt if an attractive, street smart, 20 something women treated you kindly? If Sarah had told me to cut my right arm off and give it to her I would have.
Well, then I was 18. Sarah opened her home to Lydia and me. She trusted us, listened to us and gave us a home. That last bit is more important that you can imagine. Both Lydia and I had good reasons to never want to go back home. We both had loving parents who meant well but just didn’t get it, and “Christian” friends who characterized the Sanhedrin a lot more than the Son of God. (Her more so that I. Everyone has a different burden to carry, I’d be lying if I said hers wasn’t heavier.) Sarah’s house was warmth and honesty and openness. It was the place we could go and be our real selves instead of the Christian selves we had to be at Emmaus. Sarah was my hero.
When I broke up with Lydia I was so ashamed. I was ashamed of what I had done. I was ashamed of what I had not done. I was ashamed of breaking up with her in the first place. I was ashamed that I hadn’t done it sooner. And I didn’t want to go to Sarah and Tyler’s house anymore. They had seen me as my most honest self: a good man but not a Christian, desperately lonely, easily hurt, and high strung. Every time I saw them, it was like looking into a mirror of who I really was.
But not who I wanted to be. I wanted to be Amazing Christian! I wanted to love Jesus so much that I didn’t sin anymore. I wanted to be GOOD man. I wanted to be rich, or have the capacity to be so and not take it because I choose poverty out of love for Christ. I wanted to be the best Christian in the world. And every time I looked at Ty and Sarah, I saw the people who saw what I really was.
So, gradually, I stopped calling. Stopped dropping in. I moved. They moved. Time passes.
Now its 2008, nine years after I left Emmaus. I don’t want to be Amazing Christian anymore. More than not caring if I meet the churches ideal, I now consider meeting the churches ideal a moral failure in and of itself. I find that I really care about the people that loved me back then.
So I called Tyler and Sarah up. Sarah answered. We talked. She’s having some problems. She had rough life physically and emotionally when she was a kid, and those scars run deep. Sarah’s strong, she’s holding up. And Tyler is a good man, always was. He takes good care of her.
But they could have had one more friend helping shoulder the load. One more person to listen. One more person to cry with. And I pushed them away. On purpose, because horror of all horrors, they saw me for what I was instead of who I wanted to be.
So, to Sarah and Tyler, Anna and Joe, Ben and Heather, Scott, and anyone else who I have forgotten, or purposely not put on this list due to its public nature.
Thanks for trying, and I am sorry I pushed you all away.