It’s early. Well, early for me. Thursday through Saturday, I work at the cigar bar. Thursday and Friday, I open the bar arriving at 9:45, but Ronnie has to be at work, twenty minutes south of the bar, at eight ‘o’ clock. For both our convenience, I opt to hang out at a bagel shop two doors down from the bar to read, and write as I am doing at the moment. On Thursdays and Fridays, I get up to work out by doing thirty minutes of cardio followed by six sets of planks–three sets of thirty seconds and three sets of twenty seconds. Afterwards, I shower, get dressed, and make breakfast and lunch for both of us. At 6:45 we’re out the door because it takes thirty minutes to drive to my place of work, and gives Ronnie time to get to her work.
It’s 7:35, and I already feel spent. I don’t know why. I haven’t done anything to exert a tremendous amount of energy. I do know the color scheme of the shop isn’t helping. The floor is peppered gray and dark gray tile, part of the ceiling is a dull white and the other part is a mustard yellow, and the walls are part olive green and a red similar to that of a red grapefruit. Not the most pleasant of colors in the morning, and the demographic is mostly white, Evangelical Christian, Republican, affluent, and entitled. The coffee is subpar, but the sandwiches are decent–you can taste the effort the shop puts in to be like Einstein Bagels. I am of the opinion this is so because a Jewish name would not fare well in this suburb like it does downtown or in Broad Ripple. But that is my own judgment based on stereotypes that were given to me and I forged growing up on the east side. To escape my judgmental mind, I put in my ear buds, crank up my Coltrane playlist consisting of five albums, and I read.
This morning’s read is a revisiting of Imitation of Christ by the twelfth century–I think–Dutch monk, Thomas A’Kempis. If you’re not a Christian this is a great work on what it means to be a Christian, and what is expected by anyone who claims to follow Jesus. If you are a Christian, you will read this book and hold your faith cheap. I know I do, and I’ve read the book twice–now going on my third. When I am asked if I am a Christian, I squirm because I know I’m a poor example. I have a judgmental mind, I am often times arrogant, and condescending especially if I think a person has it coming, I am bitter, and often times hot headed. Granted, I am in a constant process, I pray for the help and grace to let these negative things in my mind wash over, but I slip and fall. The one saving factor about my struggle is I get back on my feet to try again. There are better examples of the Christian faith, but, at this moment, I am not one of them.
I base this transparency on the first two chapters. Seven pages. The sentence structure, and the word choice are simple enough for a child to read, but what A’Kempis says, though, are like weights on the soul dragging it to the floor gasping and writhing for forgiveness. This guilt and self-loathing are not from God but from the realization I am not worthy of the name of Christian. Granted, I pray, and invite God into those areas to heal whatever it is that triggers me into a negative mindset. I’m speaking of my own wounds, of course, but we all have then, and that guilt and self-loathing? That comes from our inability to forgive ourselves. We are already forgiven, and we’re only impressing ourselves with our incessant self-flaggelation while God, I think, couldn’t care less.
“What doth it avail thee to discource profoundly on the Trinity if thou be void of humility, and consequently, displeasing to the Trinity?”
“If thou didst know the whole Bible by heart, and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would it profit thee without the love of God and His grace?”
Those two quotes are half a page from the first chapter, “Of the Imitation of Christ, and the Contempt of All the Vanities of the World,” and it took me less than thirty seconds to read. Thirty seconds. Barely a page in, and I’m already wondering if I’ve ever been truly a Christian. Nevermind my judgment on the bastards who hurt me and the churches who condoned their behavior, but I’m looking at myself considering my own reaction and susequent behavior. Before I start casting that judgment on others, I need to start with myself. With all the violence in the churches and the violence coming from the churches, I need to look at my own heart. Otherwise, the cycle will never break.
“If thou shouldst see another openly sin, or commit some heinous crime, yet thou oughtst not to esteem thyself better: because thou knowest not how long thou mayest remain in a good state. We are all frail: but see thou think no one more frail than thyself.”
SMACK! Right at the end of the second chapter, and right between my eyes. This book is rough and should not be taken lightly. The first two chapters rebukes the judgment I expressed about my current environmet. I don’t have to like it, but I don’t have to be such a dick in how I communicate my dislike. This is why I think an Imitation of Christ is a worthy read, and a must read for anyone who is a Christian or wants to understand what it means to be a Christian. The Christian life written by A’Kempis is not the Christian life I heard from the pulpit. What I heard from various pulpits is we’re guaranteed a comfortable life because we follow Jesus. A’Kempis’ Christian life is certainly not comfortable or happy. This impression I have coincides with what C.S. Lewis said about the Christian life, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” I certainly don’t feel comfortable, but my discomfort is not enough to walk away from Christianity. As much as I have tried to ditch God and distance myself from the terrible religious practices of Christianity, I find myself drawn back to Jesus. I can’t shame him. Of course, my Calvanist friends are just giddy, but I am drawn to Jesus because I accept, by faith, that he is God in the flesh. A God who eats and drinks with us–even going so far as to provide more wine after people have already drank too much–is a God not caught up in religion, but redemption. This God can save us from ourselves, and I want to follow that God. Reading Imitation of Christ is painful, but so is growing up.