So I've been working on a screenplay the last few weeks about my time in school. I went to a tiny, very conservative little Bible school in the plains of Wyoming in the mid-90's. It's been an interesting journey trying to piece together things from years ago... trying to find themes in my life. It's also been a journey remembering who I was and what I valued all those years ago. The struggles of a 19 year old. It's strange... I am still very much that kid and yet very much am not. Here I am driving my little hatchback around LA imagining myself to be this hipster urbanite actor-type, still trying to connect myself with the friends from those days, now scattered around the world as missionaries and pastors and popping out hundreds of babies. I wonder what they must think of me now, if they are impressed or disappointed.
I spent 13 years in the ministry. Not as a priest, as most people understand that term, although for a couple years I was a preacher. For a couple stretches I was interning at churches or working part time at a church while doing other things. A lot of the years I was traveling in an improv group, just trying to be funny. But even then we were playing many churches, seeing twenty thousand youth group kids a year. And there I was still working out what it was I thought I had figured out years ago on the prairie, taking time out each show to share what I understood to be a message of love and hope.
At the school, the message of love and hope was there, but it was also infused with a thick layer of guilt and rules and a strict sense that God works through perfect morality, which I could not live up to. (I didn't realize then that no one could and it was all sort of a group-induced fairy tale.) It was a time of moments of breathtaking freedom during just crushing years. Maybe that's not actually how it was. Maybe that's how I grew to remember it. It doesn't help that a 19 year old kid is already the victim of paralyzing self-doubt and insecurities. Much less the idea being reminded daily that the Creator of the Universe, the God of Isaac and Abraham, Yahweh, the Judge of all men's souls knows I masturbated and WAS NOT PLEASED.
It's been so nice the last couple years to finally take off the mantle of "professional religious guy." I still very much value those years and value the great things I got to be a part of. But it is rad to just be able to live, and not live on a pedestal. (Cause sooner or later you're going to fall off that thing and you're either going to have to act like it never happened or disappoint a lot of people who really dig following people on pedestals.) And it's been nice to feel that I can finally begin the journey of figuring what I do and do not believe. It is scary, though, but nice. It is a secret burden of people in ministry that they are made into guardians of doctrines and truths that they never really get the freedom to decide if they buy it or not. You get paid to preach the Trinity and the hypostatic union and original sin, kid, not to understand it. You sort of get handed a big book of theology with the w-9.
Anyways, I just discovered that the Google Maps van, for some reason, made it's way through La Grange. There are a lot of new buildings, but all the old ones I spent my years in are still there. And it's strange to see the new students walking around, just acting like they own the place. I wonder if they struggle with the things I once did. I bet a couple, at least, sure as hell will.