A Throwback to Earnestness

I’m so over doubt. As a theological category, I find it as interesting as boiled wool. These days I’m more compelled by the faithful few who risk looking foolish in their beliefs, who are—in a word—earnest.

It’s true that I’ve been called a hipster. An ubiquitous archetype of my generation, the hipster is known for her lack of interest in all things conventional. Instead, her taste is unflinchingly ironic. I’m guilty of waxing wistfully about leggings and crew neck sweatshirts. Or wearing over-sized glasses that reference my Aunt Colleen living in Minneapolis in the 80’s.  I like my hotels to be cheap but modern—like chic hostels—and my restaurants to serve upscale versions of corn dogs and cotton candy.  The only thing that distinguishes hipsters like me from being dorks is that we know we are dorks. And we don’t care. Or at least we pretend not to.

With all the throw-backs to our youth, so prevalent today in movies, music, and fashion, you would think we would be better at recapturing some of the carelessness of days spent playing baseball in the cul-de-sac with a tennis ball and plastic bat. Jellies substituting for tennis shoes. Perms masquerading as human hair. But we care. We care too much.

I care that at 28 I’m taken seriously as a professional. I care that my life is enviable to my friends. I care that my Christianity comes across as informed, but nevertheless a bit irreverent. God forbid someone think I’m a fundamentalist. God forbid someone think I had blind faith. And perhaps most frightening of all, God forbid someone think I endorsed the church with its history of crimes of abuse and boredom.

It’s not that I don’t think doubt has its place in the church. In the last year, I’ve come across a handful of books exploring the freedom it has brought to writers’ acceptance of self and expression of God.  Sarah Sentilles’s Breaking Up With God. Jason Boyett’s O Me of Little Faith. Rachel Held Evans’s Evolving in Monkeytown. It’s just that, as a Catholic, it was always pretty obvious to me that the church didn’t have its head screwed on tight. Even as a seven-year old, the argument that Mary had to be perfect if she birthed a sinless savior appeared to be a catch-22. (What about her mother? And her mother’s mother? Wouldn’t that make Adam and Eve perfect in the end?)

The things is, I never doubted God for the church’s mistakes. If I couldn’t take communion in kindergarten like I wanted to, it was the church’s ageism, not God’s. If I had to confess to a priest before being confirmed (Father, forgive me for digging my nails into my brother’s neck), it was the church’s legalism, not God’s. And if I couldn’t be ordained a priest because I was a woman, well, sexism wasn’t a divine quality in my imagination. The idea of a good God, however confusing s/he might be, stuck from the moment it fell on my ears.

With all the statistics about my generation’s mistrust of institutionalized religion, I am feeling a little depressed. Where will my peers be when I show up for worship—intentionally awkward looking in pleated pants—and need to see myself in the crowd? Where will they be when I want to sing along to the Christian rock anthem “Our God is an Awesome God” with my arms unabashedly outstretched? Where will they be when I’m too shy to stick around for Sunday brunch and need a gentle invitation to community?

Sometimes I think I’m drawn to earnestness of late for the same reason hipsters are drawn to fanny packs. It’s so uncool it’s cool. But while I’m not ready to give up my mullet-like hair quite yet, I am ready to give up caring that I’ll look like I care. About God. About Christianity. About the Church.

Because I do. I really, really do. In all earnestness.

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3 responses to “A Throwback to Earnestness

  1. Nailed it, as usual. Way to turn our conversation in the car into a sweet post, but I don’t take any credit. One more book on the pile is John Suk’s “Not Sure”. It is about as informed/intellectual of a book on Christian doubt that I can imagine. I love it because he starts and ends in the messed up church, describing doubt as a frustrating, but necessary corollary to Christian faith. A worthwhile read in the category, and he is from the CRC, my childhood denomination. Keep on with your earnestness.

  2. How did I miss that you grew up Catholic? I love the post about earnestness. You have such a great sense of the ironic.

  3. Just found my way here by way of your article (‘The Humors of Prayer’) in The Other Journal (which was fantastic, by the way, and timely for me as well). I’ve been perusing your archives and whispering, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” Thanks.

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