I’m mixed up in all sorts of ways.
Most of my friends love the obvious irony of my story: loud brown kid with an eclectic erudition and pedigree, raised with one foot in a suburban-rural county seat’s white flight and the other in a polyglot city on a (beautiful) hill, ambling up into a secular-humanist, postmodern red-brick ivory tower to the west of Tinseltown.
My life’s centered around Adventist/public tension, and it’s been fun. It’s typically subtle counterpoint in the bottom of my heart and back of my head – a line in an essay verging on homiletic, a touch of hymnody in my voice as I sing on the way to class, a paraphrase of an epistle in a column draft, or a twist in my turns that goes back beyond marching band into the days I wore green pants and shined my shoes. Old friends might not even see it – I miss it, too. A few catch it. Sometimes, though, I’ll face something in my past or present that hits the chords hard, bringing the dissonance front and center.
Tonight was one of those times. I was reading a piece on the benefits of local organic produce – apparently, not only is it cheaper, but your money supports your community, you save energy and labor costs, and it’s healthy and easy eating. Couple that with a half hour of Adventist blogs and ironic t-shirt designs, and the old incongruity reared its head again.
Most Adventists, by virtue of doctrine, tradition, and the inertia of culture, are vegetarian, or make friendly gestures in such a direction. Most that don’t are bred Laodiceans (like me – and I’m not proud of it, believe me) or cultural outsiders (converts from a carnivorous culture, like first-gen Indonesian-Americans) or behavioral backsliders (like my mom.) Even still, old conditioning remains. I’m iffy about pork and shellfish in most of their incarnations, and only my most ironclad ‘rebel’ friends will join me in a steak dinner.
Vegetarianism is always the first “peculiarity” I explain when people ask me about my background. “So, why don’t you guys eat meat?” I’ve got the answer so trimmed down that I spit it out in 45 seconds last week. Journalese for the win. I’ve noticed I have to explain it less and less as I get older. More and more worldly folks are going veg, and for interesting reasons – ethical, political, medical, economic. UCLA has salads coming out of every orifice, and has banned beef in dining halls on Thursday. Meanwhile, more of my Adventist friends and acquaintances flesh-grub on the down-low. (To quote Adventist vintage tee makers 1844, “Meat is for Heathens.” This caricature is gloriously epic – as the homie Wrong would say, “it’s funny because it’s truuuuue!!!!!!!!!”
All irreverence aside, it’s a good point. Adventists sneak down the street to have a burger, bust labor unions, and hike on Saturday. Non-Adventists make it rain at Whole Foods, wring their hands over Darfur and Burma, and take shots on Thursday. Even those boxes don’t fit everyone in each camp – but that’s far too long of a story to tell.
It’s kind of comforting to know that both sides of my character have institutional and individual internal inconsistencies – it makes making them coexist inside my head and heart so much easier. While I still try (and fail) to live as an exile in this world, I also try (and fail) to remember that the responsibility that comes with my native citizenship is to treat everyone I come across as a neighbor, a fellow citizen, my biological kin in the human family and spiritual kin as the image of God.
As I drag my insomniac bones to bed (in time for 7 hours before work, insh’allah) I don’t claim to have resolution. The dissonance, the tension remain. My friend A – a religion scholar, jeanhead, and closeted idealist – defined beauty as “incongruity. Why is a girl on the street beautiful? She looks like she shouldn’t be there.”
I suppose I live a pretty sexy life life, then. No human life is completely consistent, but this tension is intense, pervasive, and as far as I can tell, permanent.
Happy Monday, everyone.