My last post was a partial book review of Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh. It was partial because I haven’t finished reading the book yet. That waasn’t really what I wanted to write about, though. I did write about it, because that’s an actual flaw, and what I am more interested in is more of an imaginary one, and therefore not fair in a review. I’m more interested in it, I suspect, because it’s also a flaw in my own writing, and the cure is apparently a very difficult one. Perhaps existentialists would help; they are apparently interested in it, and Tolstoy shows it brilliantly. The flaw I’m actually interested in is the divide between experience and explanation. Between the experience of an experience and what we may say about it afterwards. It’s something that needs attention to style, word usage, detail, narrative, humor, and voice to deal with, I suspect. At one point, for instance, Pastor McHugh recounts participating in a two week ministry centered conference and camp:
It’s amusing to look back on those moments of despair, when I was screaming “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I realize now that I was not experiencing spiritual disillusionment but simply introvert overload. (39)
What “really happened” was that the finer, slower “introvert filter was clogged,” resulting in over-stimulation and emotional imbalance. Well… fair enough, I suppose. That’s one way of talking about that experience. But it may not be the most interesting account. Is it funny like Notes From Underground, in a “my but what a self-obsessed wretch I was!” kind of way? Nowadays would you be screaming: “give me some personal space, my introvert filter is clogged!!” ? Wouldn’t that be just as funny? The way my crying in a hallway in Alaska, screaming inwardly: “I am suffering from internal and academic lack of order!!!” was funny? The way it was funny when I ran over to the basketball court at Six Flags to “recommit my life,” and then had to repent of it a few hours later and admit that I was just doing that because it seemed to correct thing to do socially at the time? Jump over those tents and camels! Otherwise you’re not a real Christian! Funny like my walking around NAU muttering myself about my own thought processes and the thought processes favored by the Educational Establishment conflicting into cognitive dissonance? And, alright, that is kind of funny. Not because I was wrong — I was ridiculous not because I was wrong, but because a young person armed with the language of meta-cognition and systemic dissonance will use them for just as true and ridiculous and necessary and hyperbolic a purpose as a young person armed with the language of psalms — and likely with less poetry.
The reason I don’t consider this to be a real complaint or a legitimate disappointment is because a book that struggles with these issues of language, experience, and explanation — that tries to show in narrative and essay how absurd and necessary and important are the contradictions between experience as we experience it and as we analyze or explain it; the interactions between experience and idea — would be a very different kind of book. The disjunction between thinking about William Wallace and actually hiking in a field then diving into a pond presented in Wild at Heart, for instance, should be charming and funny. It takes itself too seriously, and so it isn’t — but could be. The disjunction between going to work each day and then coming home to read and write and wash dishes, and the romance of breaking horses on one’s own private ranch is funny. Chesterton could capture that. I’ll wear a cape as I walk down the street, and think about slaying dragons. Yet somehow it’s spiritually true. How strange. Somehow learning to deal with relationships and temperaments and becoming friends with annoying people is related to union with the God who IS. How strange. Somehow my students and I trying to put up with each other can be eternally significant. Absurd! And true? And so we navigate how to live in the world with the temperaments we have, and the situations we’re in — with going to church and eating together and trying not to hurt one another — and build the Kingdom of God.