On being late to parties

It often happens to me that I come to a particular conclusion on my own in isolation, only to find out much later that not only are there educated people who are thinking the same way, but there have been educated people thinking about it for years and have a formal way of talking about it.

When I was a child of eight or nine, I formulated a set of principles regarding how to describe the sounds we use to form words; I tried explaining them to my parents, who didn’t understand anything I was saying, patted me on my head and treated it similarly to when, at age five, I told them I was going to build a time machine. (Long story. Short version: I built it, but it didn’t work.) When I was seventeen, in my freshman Italian Diction for Singers course, I learned the International Phonetic Alphabet and was floored to realize this was exactly what I was trying to explain to Mom and Dad ten years earlier when they were giving each other looks saying, “Are you sure this is our kid?”

When I was thirteen, I discovered this awesome movie on VHS that neither my parents nor any of my friends had ever seen. It was called Blade Runner. It was 1990.

When I was sixteen, realizing I was extremely hard on my footwear, I shopped around for a good, durable shoe that could last me a couple of years. After a bit of research, I bought a pair of Dr. Martens, only to discover that the alterna-kids had been wearing them for a couple of years by that point.

Then there are parties to which I’ve been late as an adult.

All of this is to say — because I’ve evidently been far more sheltered than I realize, it’s always a shock to me to find out that there are smart, credentialed people out there who have had “my ideas” — well before I was born, in some cases. It’s a good shock, more often than not; it tells me I’m not as crazy as I sometimes think I am.

So, with that as background — my whole life, I’ve felt quite conflicted in terms of where I fall on the political spectrum. In broad strokes, we may say that I’ve never felt conservative enough for the Republicans or liberal enough for the Democrats, or at least never on the right issues, for either platform to particularly want me. I’ve often self-identified as a “moderate,” which I’ve sometimes joked as meaning “Everybody wants my vote but nobody wants to admit they agree with me.”

Let me give an example to demonstrate how this is problematic. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that I’m pro-life, but I’ve further concluded that in order to be completely consistent and intellectually honest, “pro-life” can’t just mean “anti-abortion.” It has to mean pro-life. All life. Therefore, if abortion isn’t justifiable, neither is capital punishment, nor war. However, insofar as “pro-life” means “anti-abortion,” I vehemently disagree with people who blow up abortion clinics and attempt to kill doctors who work at Planned Parenthood. I would rather see about volunteering at a Crisis Pregnancy Center (which is itself problematic, partially because I’m a guy and partially because many of those places are set up around an Evangelical Protestant paradigm and want you to sign a “Statement of Faith” which includes things with which Orthodox and Catholics disagree) or supporting peaceful, positive events like the Walk for Life or some such.

Anyway, the point is, already I’ve taken a stance that pretty much rules out any ability to identify with Democrats, and also eliminates the Republicans as political allies, by and large.

This has had no small impact on how I’ve practiced my faith; there was a point, particularly in my late teens, when I was hesitant to identify myself as a Christian, because the biggest and loudest examples I saw of Christianity were abhorrent to me. Particularly given how I grew up, I knew of only three ways: Evangelical Christianity, which certainly had the most airtime and seemed to yell the loudest, but which also seemed to put forth the most effort in pointing the Almighty Finger; Roman Catholicism and anything which looked, sounded, or smelled like it, which I had been carefully taught was not Christianity and was potentially the most dangerous force on earth; and finally, the blatant non-Christian cults, which, I had been taught, included Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, and Unitarian Universalism. My Evangelical friends didn’t understand my discomfort with identifying Christianity with the Republican party OR with the handwaving and shouting that went on at the church at which I (sort of) grew up; my liberal, “spiritual but not religious” friends didn’t understand why I couldn’t see that Christianity was fundamentally stupid and evil.

Over the years, these issues have sort of shaken themselves out. When I first discovered Russell Kirk and his six tenets of conservatism, I thought to myself, “If that’s what a conservative thinks, then I guess I’m a conservative.” Kirk’s classical conservatism was radically different from the angry, anti-intellectual neo-conservatism to which I had been primarily exposed growing up — a philosophy that steadfastly refused to define itself any further than, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Kirk, Orthodox Christianity, Crunchy Cons, G. K. Chesterton — these have all to some extent provided answers and explanations, if not easy resolutions, to many of the tensions I perceived growing up. If they haven’t provided answers, they’ve at least given a window through which I can see the other people who are thinking the same way I am — however few there may be.

Having developed at least a loose framework for the way I’m learning to see things, I have two words with which I want to leave off for now.

Those two words are: Christian communitarianism.

So. Discuss. I think I have a bit of reading to do, on the other side of which it might turn out that it’s nothing. Or, it may very well be another party to which I’ve simply come late, in which case let me know, and then give me a few minutes so I can run out and bring back some beer — or at least read some Wendell Berry.


1 Response to “On being late to parties”

  1. 1 dangreeson 9 February 2008 at 12:42 am

    I have come to the same conclusions, but through different ways. Mainly through Stanley Hauerwas (high church mennonite wanna-be) and John Howard Yoder (mennonite). And then I came into Orthodoxy.. oh and reading people like Wendell Berry helped out to.

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