Monday, June 4, 2012

a farewell to armistice

Last day ice-cream-cake party. Pic by Chloe.
For the past several years, I've worked for a church - or rather, a school that is an arm of a church - and have thought of my job as a church; a place to live and work in community with a bunch of people with whom I shared a faith (if not, perhaps, an institutionalized formulation of that faith).

It's bothersome, a bit, to be fired (or rather, to "have your contract not renewed") by your faith community. It's bothersome that although some of the reason for this is my intentional, ongoing decision to continue to write on this blog exactly what I think, when I think it (regardless of the consequences), the expressed reason for my dismissal has ended up being what it is - that I "ask theological and philosophical questions beyond the scope of some of our students."

Oh, sure, I've gotten in trouble for reading a letter in class in which my missionary-kid friend Yoey quoted someone as saying "fuck," in order to illustrate how his experience as a Christian teacher in a public, inner-city school had changed his perception of profanity. And sure, I've pissed off my boss's boss's husband's boss by writing a memoir entitled "Anatomy of an Effup" (oh, the profanity); but the school has stood by me through all that and more... for which I am extremely grateful. I was hired on during the most difficult experience of my life - the death of my marriage - and they supported and loved me through it. Great people, all. So it doesn't bug me, quite so much, that they're "letting me go."

It's just that I disagree with the "protect-the-youth" rationale on so many levels, and it's not hard to wonder if perhaps my dismissal has more to do with this blog; or the unnamed mutterings apparently made against me by unnamed colleagues; or my tendency to want to tell the truth of a beautiful letter, despite the fact that some parent might want his son to never, ever hear the word "fuck" come out of an adult's mouth, ever.

Nonetheless, I am no Mr. Keating. It is quite possible - despite the assurances of the administration that they were thrilled with the quality of my work and of the work produced by my students - that I am just a sucky art teacher. I'll be the first to admit that the practicalities of classroom management and the transmission of art technique have always been far less important to me than encouraging in my students a sense of wonder at the mystery of it all, and a love of art and the act of art-making.

If that sounds like me obliquely praising myself whilst pretending to be all humble, it's not. I'm actually a pretty lazy guy, and often my artsy, mystical approach has meant that I've had students pass through my classroom without seeming to improve much at all in the actual art-making I was ostensibly there to teach. I could have worked harder and made it happen, but I didn't. There is no virtue in laziness, fershure.

But although I have my doubts about the justification for my dismissal, and would not have chosen to leave, I am fully at peace with it. It has provided me with the impetus to step out and take the first major risk of failure of my life as an artist - driving me to attempt to give the majority of my time to this writing thing, in the belief that it will pan out.

Although it hurts, a little, to get fired by my church, I am not embittered against it, nor against the church as a whole. Sure, I think it's nuts the way institutions expunge uncomfortable and dissenting voices in order to maintain organizational "purity;" but that's just the nature of institutions. This particular institution has been there for me for four years now, and has allowed me a lot more leeway than expected, as I've been persistently vocal in my dissent. I guess it just finally reached a tipping point. No biggie.

i did not take this picture
I suppose I'm writing this to assure myself, and you, that despite this oh-so-gentle kick in the teeth my church has given me, I'm going to be marching right along as a JesusShip Trooper. I've even found a church (like, with a building and a pastor and all that) that I think is really great; and have decided to put in the effort to become more a part of that faith community.

It's a tiny place that fits all my criteria of what a church ought to be trying to be, and (hooray for serendipity!) happens to also be a favorite hangout of some of my favorite students, who pestered me into going there in the first place.

I still believe, as I said in a poem I once wrote, that a church is not a building, or an institution. But I'm excited to move toward my creative horizon in intentional community, with a group of people who seem geared toward creatively keeping the faith in ways that really matter - by living it out through loving action, service, and community. It is a place, I would venture to wager, that is not likely to revoke my membership if I get caught struggling with big questions within earshot of teenagers.

And the best part of all? I've talked a beautiful woman into attending with me next week. Like, as a date. That's right: church, art, and a beautiful woman... it's aaaaall happening. Right here, right now, baby. 

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