concerning the problems with keeping a fire inside


…[T]here is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” — Jeremiah 20.9 [ESV]

Most of my musings here at sailerb are cultural commentary and reflections on life. Not very often do I actually write introspectively here, because:

1) I find that kind of stuff generally self-important. It takes something more than the moxie of public self-flagellation to write something like that;

and, 2) my perspective, like anyone else’s, is indicative of where I’m at. What we say in our fruit betrays who we are and where we’re at. Sometimes we don’t have to say a thing, and that reality ought to terrify anybody into sobriety of thought and manner. Words may fail, but more often than not, they’re successful. Sometimes too much so.

In my, umm, illustrious career as a collegiate journalist at the turn of the century and later as a blogger, I would write very pointed, aggressive pieces, decrying things I saw that were wrong with institutions, churches, people and just about any kind of noun imaginable. My colleagues and adviser would often pick their jaws off their desks when I’d link something like a decision in a Bible college’s athletics department with systemic problems in the denomination at large. Sometimes, my anger got the best of me, and others, it brought out my very best. I still wish I had a copy of a post from e8s which simply came to be known as “The Meat Post”. (I deleted all that evidence. I don’t even think the way back machine has it.)

(And I’m not sure I want to find out.)

When I was in my early elementary school years, I spent a few Saturdays seeing a child psychologist. She was really nice, and I was there for anger issues or something. I would like to think it was helpful: I’m not completely maladjusted, so I’ll take it as a win. As I reflect now on youth spent as an adult, I see that what was inside was not anger or neurosis, but, like Jeremiah, a fire, trapped inside. And because the voice of the prophets is all but silent now–and has been for some time–no one really knew what to do with what I had. In college, we briefly visited Strommen’s Five Cries of Youth, and I found myself a part of the socially concerned type, the most unusual for Christians(!) When I first got into campus ministry, my friend and mentor, Lars, first exposed me to the Enneagram, and I came up a type one. I’m still the only one I know, and ten years have passed since I first took the test (and have administered it to numerous others.)

(While I’m here, Myers-Briggs sucks, compared to the Enneagram. I digress.)

No, I’m not here to talk about how awesome and unique I am, but about how few I know who have that fire. I’m also not calling people passionless or cold or purposeless–how would I know, anyway? What I am saying is that when there are so few of us left, it’s hard to know what to do to maintain that fire, especially since that ‘fire’ is intangible and almost unqualifiable (hence, the metaphor.) Sometimes, that fire is directed at a matter of injustice where someone has been wronged, like the post about Tim Rohde from two Sundays ago. When that fire can be directed at something meaningful or given to ignite or provide warmth for someone else, fulfilling doesn’t begin to describe.

Occasionally, though, that fire has spilled over and I’ve done and said some things I would take back in a heartbeat. I imagine Peter Petrelli from the short-lived, ambitious NBC series Heroes, who for a while had a problem with ‘induced radioactivity’  and, if agitated, could physically detonate. Developing an ability to even begin to harness the fire is not easy, and for a long time, it was left to its own devices. I was easily marginalized in the church and Bible college environment for being ‘angry’; ‘anger’ apparently is a sign of spiritual weakness.

Studying philosophy and critical thinking helped tremendously, allowing for me to give voice to a lot of that which would otherwise beforehand spill over and burn. Reading the Christian mystics was of great aide, as well. Studying the prophets from a scholarly perspective, too, realizing that they were not Nostradamus, but rather the social and ethical commentariat of the time.

Most of all, though, what helped was simply growing up.

Every single one of us is certifiably nuts from the time we’re 11 to 25. The chemicals and hormones, the angst and emotional struggles of puberty and adolescence make us weird and unpleasant people, and those first few years out of teenageness and into the wasteland of young adulthood are wasted as those groping for the handrail on the steps out of the cave of naivete, blinded by light, using our legs for the first time. Some of us never do; most of my peers in the Bible college era were in youth ministry and thus felt the obligation to remain emotionally retarded pawned off as being ‘relevant’–one reason I will never put my children in a youth group. I went to school and lived with many of those people and want most of them nowhere near my kids.

And the moment someone tells me that my child has anger issues, I will tell that person that they have no idea what they’re talking about, because they won’t. And I will do what I wish someone had done for me, help tame and channel that fire into making a lasting difference in the world or in one person, and let him (her? naaah. doesn’t happen to Sirvios. /*gulp*) know he’s not alone in feeling that intensity, and that it’s okay to have that fire inside.

In so doing, I will remind myself, and the child who is still inside me, that it’s okay for me to have that inside, as well. The tricky part is keeping it under control, well-directed and not burning those I love.

Even at 30, and I suspect for the rest of my life, that fire will keep me both warm and on watch. For myself and for others.

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