Monday, December 2, 2013

A Fundamentalist's Rebellion and Kenny Loggins

Getting an ear pierced hurts; but if you’re a grown man sitting in a Claire’s, you’re not allowed to cry. I know this because I was twenty two years old when I got my ear pierced. Before the clerk pulled the trigger on the “gun,” she must have seen something in my face because she rolled her eyes, nodded her head in the direction of the little girl who had just gotten her ears pierced and said, “She’s ten and she didn’t cry, so you’d better not cry.”

I don’t ever remember hearing that guys aren’t supposed to wear sandals, but, for some reason, I grew up believing that Christian men didn’t wear sandals[1]. So, I wanted to wear sandals. My parents bought my shoes, and they never bought me sandals[2]; I was never able to rebel by showing the world my toes as a kid[3]. By the time I was old enough to embrace the desires of my little pagan heart, I was into Doc Martens; so I had to find another way to declare to the world that I wasn’t a Christian. Hence my earring.

In the context I was raised, guys with earrings were marked as non-Christian, I believed. This was important to me, because one of my greatest fears was that people could tell, just by looking at me, that I came from a Christian family. Walking through the mall to get our family pictures taken at Sears was always a humiliating experience for me. But, lack of money and the abundance of rules limited my ability to mask my heritage; I did what I could, however. While a dorm student at Bob Jones University, I bought a cap that read “Pierced” and that had an “earring” through the bill of the cap. I would wear it backwards in the hope that if people were looking at me at the right angle, they would think that my ear was pierced. So, one of the first things that I felt compelled to use my freedom from constraints on was an actual earring[4].

My twenties may have been marked by a constant search for truth, but I did understand the importance of identity. The first glimmer of realization of the importance of identity, and the fact that people perceived me in a way that I didn’t want, began when I was a young boy. One of my first memories of this comes courtesy of Kenny Loggins in 1984 while I was with my family in a Pizza Hut on a Sunday night after church. Sitting there, straining my ears to hear the music that my mom had asked the waiter to turn down, I caught the lyrics “kick off your Sunday shoes.”

I wanted to kick off my Sunday shoes. I hated my Sunday shoes. Not only were my Sunday shoes uncomfortable, but I didn’t see very many other people in that Pizza Hut wearing Sunday shoes. And here was this man singing a song that my parents disproved of telling me to kick off my Sunday shoes. I knew then that this forbidden music held the keys to an identity separated from the Christianity of my parents.  

The next seventeen years were spent attempting to kick my Sunday shoes off as far away as I possibly could. At times, in moments of desperate loneliness, I would grasp to retrieve those shoes. You see, autonomy is a tricky thing. The moments when you believe that you may have attained autonomy are lonely and unsatisfying moments. Image Bearers are created to live in community. Sitting in the cafeteria at BJU, I would watch the happy faces of my fellow students as they laughed, griped, and worried over grades, demerits, and love interests, and I would be confronted with the fact that I didn't belong in any “community."

Intellectual honesty crippled my few attempts to be a “good Christian” and I was usually left feeling dirty and dishonest[5]. Pendulum swings are tiring (and probably confusing for those watching); and, so, I began to spend much of my energy on trying to make sure that people didn’t confuse me for a Christian. By the time I had “left” BJU, I had given up on fitting in with the culture around me and continued my attempts at ingratiating myself into the culture of the “cool kids.” Unfortunately, by that time, “kicking off my Sunday shoes” often meant extreme and stupid things.

Getting my ear pierced was neither extreme nor necessarily even stupid, but it was a symbol for me in a way that other “extreme and stupid things” that I engaged in were not. My nine year old self sat in the chair at Claire’s anxious to leave my heritage behind. The only thing that could have made this anecdote better[6] would have been “Footloose” playing over the store’s speakers. It may have been, I was too nervous[7] to notice any music; I did know that with that extra hole in my ear, I was on my way to ensuring that no one would ever be able to brand me as a Christian again.

This post doesn’t have an ending; I think it’s the beginning. I’ve tried for three days to find a conclusion, but as I’ve thought, searched my memory, and tried different things, I’ve realized that everything else that extends from this post deserves its own post. So, I guess, to be continued…. Sorta.       

[1] With the notable exception of Jesus and the 12 disciples.
[2] Probably because they were poor and couldn’t afford to buy me a pair of shoes and a pair of sandals.
[3] Except for the fact that I went barefoot quite a bit. (side note – when I was a junior in high school, my youth group voted my feet “the ugliest feet.” I can’t begin to explain how much that hurt my feelings.)
[4] Which probably looked slightly less stupid than the “pierced” cap.
[5] One of my summers working at the Bill Rice Ranch was the closest I got to figuring out the game, but I crumpled under the weight of my own lust and contempt for restraints. The following summer at the BRR ended terribly; something I’ve always regretted.
[6] And stupider at the same time.
[7] My fear of needles (that I no longer have) saved me from some really, really stupid decisions during my twenties.  

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