CALEB JOSEPH WARNER
If you were to ask me what I have been thinking about recently, it has been something like what my life is supposed to look like after the apocalypse. I believe many of us are living after some kind of personal apocalypse and we’re not quite sure what to do with ourselves. There is the collation of resources, the sharing of testimonials with one another, and the constant fear that some radiation might still be threading itself through our veins. Some or few of us are able to find an abandoned house or such and move in, filled with strong visions to renovate it for the sake of the lost, old world. Some of us struggle to recall the visions that motivated us in our lives before the apocalypse and wonder if it is even worth it to retain and mature our youthful visions. But the world after the apocalypse is the world that desperately needs our vision, or some vision, for how it ought to be.
The apocalypse could have been anything. For me, it was not leaving college but it certainly was that for some people. Getting the heck out of college was one of the most exciting moments in my life. For some people, the apocalypse might have been marriage, or maybe a relationship gone bad. I think in general what I mean with the term, if I were to hold onto it for its personal application, would mean something like the end of things for the individual desires. Or it could refer to the experience of having gone through a kind of death. It can be as ambiguous as, “Nothing feels like it used to anymore. I don’t know why I am here and this place seems so empty” to “I didn’t know I would still be alive. I didn’t know I was going to be living in North Carolina. I didn’t know I was going to be working as a marketing consultant. I didn’t know and I didn’t want this, I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t even imagine this place.” Maybe this apocalypse is just the future, I don’t know, the future we can never be prepared for. We planned for the future, but some other thing revealed itself and it is far more barren than our daydreams.
Regardless of what my apocalypse has been, regardless of the beautiful and confusing spiritual states it has brought me through, regardless of all those moments I wish I could actually go back to, moments of sublimity that I will remember decades from now, I have in my life after the apocalypse been struck by the sense that it is my choice to do something with the pieces remaining. In my life previously, I have looked for momentums, forces, feelings, inspirations, cultivated desires, or life decisions to give me focus. They were my spiritual food for a time. I could sustain myself for months after being in a movie with Kirk Cameron, as ridiculous as that sounds. I could sustain myself by finding purpose—not just in a project or a short story—but by declaring to myself, “This is the season of failure for me. Okay. I can bear it.” Or: “This is the season of my ascension. I know what I am to do.”
I no longer know how to place myself, but I know what I am supposed to do. And I will choose to follow my marching orders and live my life faithfully, despite how I feel and despite my inability to know what is going on. I’ve lost track of the story, I’m not in control. I’ll figure it out later. Maybe that’s part of the apocalypse, the fact that we don’t know what’s going on. It’s been wonderful, truly. So much has been clarified for me and I cannot believe that God is still treating me with such gentleness and kindness. I know how I am supposed to be living. I pray that my feelings will align themselves with a joy more lasting from day to day and unfold as clarity where there is deep and thick fog.
Speaking of fog, gentleness, and all that, I remember a time when I was very critical of my pastor and pastors for speaking how they did on blogs about sin. I was critical of the general use of rhetoric that deliberately chose offensive terms and phrases as grenades to lob at people in an attempt to see who gets hurt. The idea, I believed, with much of this rhetoric was that if you successfully hurt someone, then you’ve hit your target and had succeeded. Huzzah! I utterly despised this kind of thing and it made me sick that a Christian would make the Gospel seem so unappealing and cruel to the people who needed it most.
But I’ve changed. I don’t know what the lines in the battle are, I don’t know what the battle is, and I don’t know who I am in fighting it. Except I know that the Gospel I adhere to is not palatable. But it’s not just the Gospel. People who adhere to the Gospel and constantly badger us with, “It’s offensive! It’s offensive!” but never extrapolate exactly why it’s offensive are doing no one any good. What I mean is that some people say in one breath that it’s offensive, but in another refuse to let that Gospel actually be offensive. The Gospel, while at it’s baseline, is that Jesus loves you and died for your sins, the conclusion and realities of this love do have an effect on the world around us. Fundamental effects. Effects so deep and profound that they will root out families, divide brothers with a sword, and cause people such impalpable offense that they will hate the idea of Jesus until the end of their lives.
When we express the influence of the Gospel on our lives, that is the grounds on which the world starts to hate us. The Gospel of Jesus implies that homosexuality is a sin that at its core uproots what humans are built for, implies that transgender thought is a lie and a sin, implies that fornication is deserving of eternal damnation. I could go on, but I don’t need to. The Bible is right there and it says what it says, from Genesis to the destruction of the world by fire.
It has been extremely difficult to parse out what are right and wrong presentations of this Gospel, especially when the internet is involved. Not just the internet, but the two simultaneous facts that we do not want to cause offense in itself yet we must communicate the fundamental offense of the Gospel. How and when are we supposed to do this? What is our language supposed to look like? Censorial and cautious, lest you don’t make an untasty thing more untasty than it already is? Or resonant and provocative, just to get the attention of the deaf and dumb and blind? I don’t really know how to work through all that. I’ve tried, but I am not a clear enough thinker to work it all out into a system.
I do know that Jesus’ parables functioned as opaque messages that hid the meaning and impact of their teaching and I think Christian authors on the internet who seek to clarify the Gospel by means of harsh rhetoric might do well to measure their language against the fact that Jesus didn’t want to reach the spiritually deaf, dumb, blind with his parables. At the same time, perhaps the parables function in the same way that harsh rhetoric functions: to clarify who the sheep and the goats are. Not to reach the goats, but to make sure we know who they are.
What I do know is that some situations call for grenades. And sometimes the dog that yelps is the one you were aiming for. We’d like to see what the sound of the yelp is. I recognize my language here is imprecise, but people who know me I think should know what I mean. This is a journal entry, so don’t expect much. A journal entry on a freaking personal blog.
I have spent the past five years in the same town of Moscow, a town whose Christian community can sometimes be the most crushingly self-aware place on the planet. To add to the mystique and comparative mythology of the town, you get some people who equate Moscow with the church they go to and others who are just trying to live quiet and peaceable lives without engaging in the burning hot embers of DISCOURSE!
But I have learned a lot here. I have grown up here, learned how to become a man, learned how to deal with suck and how to deal with my own crap and with the crap of others. I have had plenty and I have had want (like right now). I have suffered through some wants of soul so dark that the primary means of defanging those wants was by making jokes about them. Moscow is a safe place. It’s a hospital and training ground. And what I have spent the past five years doing is coming to terms with my own beliefs and the strange alternate realities that result from my beliefs magnetically opposing the beliefs of others.
Someone I respect told me something that stuck with me and has influenced me in surprising ways. It’s funny how one sentence can do that, even if it was just an offhand comment. He said (and I paraphrase), “When peoples’ elbows get pointy, you have found their idol.” This is a person who has spent the past four decades talking to strangers about what they believe. And that sentence has been the main piece of insight that I have been ruminating on concerning the defense of some kinds of rhetorical presentations of the truth. Sometimes the hurt dog is just a dog who is ashamed. And if we have found shame, it’s worth it for their sake to know what wound that shame is pouring out of.
The question we want to ask is, “What do people worship?” and the way to figure that out, sometimes, is by poking potential sacred cows. You can do this by lobbing language grenades. It’s amazing to see what lines people choose to rally behind. That is where conversations can happen, real conversations. That can be the front-lines of a change of heart, even without presupposing where the other stands. When someone starts getting nervous and uncomfortable, that can be tremendously exciting in a conversation. Not because it’s fun to see people get nervous, but because it’s insightful to find out why. Maybe the person is right in feeling uncomfortable!
Side-note: Conversation and discourse is not the end-all be-all of apologetics. Sometimes the end-all of an apologetic conversation is a terse conclusion of the Gospel.
If you know what kind of thing I am referring to, I would add the caveat that prudential discussions are not appropriate for harsh rhetoric. Not only can harsh words for issues of prudence, like dress etc, actually muck up the conversation, they can also lend well to a host of logical fallacies. Consider bulverism, for example. Woohoo! That is the difficulty I currently have little clarity on. What do fruitful conversations look like and when should conversation actually get shut down? Especially concerning prudential issues? What does it look like for the Gospel to touch those? And what qualifies as a prudential issue? Does using someone’s pronouns qualify?
I don’t know. I don’t know if in two months I will cringe at what I am saying now. I do know that I cringe at some things I said two months ago.
I also know that sometimes action is preferable to the hours and days you could have probably spent digging in on yourself for the caution or lack of caution about your actions. Sometimes, it’s a waste of time and it’s more ineffective to weigh the costs and the perhaps undercover failures that might come from not taking action. Sometimes you should weigh the costs first. We are to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves and on both counts, I have failed many times.