Free Association: Janet Jackson, High School, Coincidence, Theology & Friendship

Posted by Melvin Bray on May 30th, 2008 filed in Useful Perhaps

I heard from a friend today
And she said you were in town
Suddenly the memories
Came back to me in my mind…
-Janet Jackson, “Again”

I’ve been on a real Janet Jackson fetish this week. I watched Poetic Justice late Monday night, and I’ve been intoxicated sense. Watching old and new videos on YouTube. Remembering my gratitude for her help in puberty. Lamenting her obvious shift in trajectory from Rhythm Nation to The Velvet Rope. Wondering about the trauma that might have precipitated such a dramatic detour.

How can I be strong I’ve asked myself
Time and time I’ve said
That I’ll never fall in love with you again

My love affair with Janet was primarily middle and high school. So it only stands to reason that last night I should stumble into someone else online whom I’ve loved deeply since then. It’s amazing how such coincidences occur.

This person too was instrumental in my emergence from childhood. She was one of my campus mothers/big sisters in high school. Campus kinship was tremendously important to my intensely relational personality, being away from home at such a formative time in life.

Well, life has led us down similar yet incongruent paths (to draw upon a HS algebra expression). We both live lives on terms other than those we were raised to define as “right”. The difference is that she still affirms intellectually the rightness of the SDA message; I do not. More accurately, I no longer view “rightness” as a thing to be pursued.

A wounded heart you gave,
My soul you took away
Good intentions you had many,
I know you did

A conversation with this friend about 5 years ago at my buddies’ ordination (curiously enough, back on our old HS campus) was one of the impeti that propelled me toward the Emergent conversation. One of the questions I was asking at the time was “What keeps people so intellectually loyal to a religious system that isn’t compelling enough to keep them committed to the actual practice of it?” Such pseudo-fidelity is puzzling to me.

I come from a place that hurts,
and God knows how I’ve cried
And I never want to return
Never fall again

So she and I spoke last night…

So here we are alone again,
Didn’t think it’d come to this

…and because the conversation natural went this direction, I was quite honest about all the theological questioning she had stirred in me (probably to a fault). I shared that since our conversation I had deconstructed much of what we had been raised to believe…

I’ve come too close to happiness,
To have it swept away

…(not that Adventism isn’t a valid path, but it surely isn’t the last or definitive word on things). I shared furthermore that I do not believe that her choices to live contrary to her stated doctrinal beliefs are solely indicative of some great moral deficit in her, though she freely expresses such self-indictment. She responded to me like I were the anti-Christ.

Don’t think I could take the pain
Never fall again

Well, as fate might have it, this morning I awoke to an e-mail that linked me to this post by Peter Rollins which articulates so well what I was feeling last night:

People who label themselves as ‘backsliders’ [are of particular concern to me]. Here the individual, whether they have left the church or not, are still under the sway of that evangelical [or fundamentalist] worldview and thus any positive step forward is still thought of negatively.

The choice to leave is made within the confines of the evangelical system itself and is thus understood within that system. In this way the explicit rejection of it is implicitly an affirmation of it (I reject it not because it is wrong but because I am wrong). The result is that the majority of people who see themselves as ‘backsliders’ will either return to the group they left or continue to define themselves in opposition to it.

The real choice to be made is thus not between staying or going from a particular church. Rather it is a meta-choice concerning whether I continue to interact with the linguistic system that sustains the church or step into an unknown space outside that linguistic system.

I wish I knew what I might say that would free my friend from believing that it’s just her…

Kinda late in the game
And my heart is in your hands

…and open her eyes to the fact that the sheer number of people like her (myself included) who wind up in the same place for very different reasons would suggest that its not just total depravity creating the disconnect. But Adventism does its denominationalism work well (the passing on of language, culture and judgement). I’ve found that even for former Adventists, some who even consider themselves atheist, its a struggle to comprehend or articulate the world in terms other than those given them by their fundamentalist upbringing. What a horrendous prison?

Don’t you stand there and then tell me
You love me
Then leave again

This singular reality would foster great resentment in me, absent the grace and forgiveness I’ve learned in the way of Jesus. But with it, I think I’m okay, and hopefully resurrected enough to be a good friend.

‘Cause I’m falling in love with you again

One Response to “Free Association: Janet Jackson, High School, Coincidence, Theology & Friendship”

  1. Heidi Renee Says:

    i blogged about a week ago to one of my friends from my past about my journey of deconstruction. i talked about how difficult it is to understand how defined i felt as a “be-leaver” when i left that sect of christianity. the irony is that my relationship with god (and jesus, didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater) and the holy spirit now for that matter, is far better than it ever was before i started my “deconstruction” project.

    i hear the pain in your words of being judged as lacking. i grieve the friends i have lost because of this choice, but am so thrilled to find a tribe that has waited for me with open arms.

    thanks for telling your story, it helped me reconnect with my own.

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