Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Look at my honesty.

I'll try to be brief, but I just want to cut teeth on something.

I moved to Chicago five years ago to experience “broader culture”.

Maybe you grew up like me: a corn fed, white bread, bible belt, WASP. My hometown has 1800 people, which David and I fondly (honestly …fondly) refer to as “Pleasantville”.  This is the place where children grow under many eyes, and neighbors bring over tomatoes and baked goods ‘just because’.  It is not for love of scenery, ethnicity or culture that people love to live there. It is for community.

All dreams of moving to the city from small town Americana are equal parts vanity and adventure.  It will be new. It will be sweet. This place is too small. I can make it. I can make it on my own.

Once you move away, you still have to eat, pay rent, go to school/work a job.  The reality is, every special snowflake has also moved to the city. The ‘diversity’ that you dreamed of experiencing either comes through spectator experiences or residence in neighborhoods where your leave-the-keys-in-the-ignition hometown self doesn’t necessarily enjoy walking alone at night. There are, however, plenty of opportunities to visit ‘broader culture’ and live in neighborhoods full of people just like you. You know, kind of like what you moved away from. I didn’t realize the irony of this until recently, and I’m half a decade in.

On that note, you begin noticing that everyone on the train is under forty.  That people move away because it’s easier than sticking it out.

It’s harder here. Everything is harder.

Still, you cling to the hope that it’s got to get better. It has to.
Your professor decides it’s time to crush your sweet, unique, optimistic spirit and let you know what life is all about. Maybe-he’s-the-one breaks up with you. You’re that idiot who falls for a Nigerian scam because you wanted to ‘tutor an immigrant child’.  
There was more here about how awful it was, but mostly it sounded like whining. The crux of it is, is you realize you are very alone. And the world just doesn’t really care who you are, Kristen Galat.

We went through Eric Stefanski’s exhibit two weekends ago at the Black Cloud Gallery. His Underdog series was brilliant, sometimes funny, and so ... that feeling.

This is all good.

I say this because I want you to know that not all urban stories end like Sport of the Gods, or Maggie. While it was hard, uncomfortable, and generally painful, I made it out alive, shaped, and happy. This reality check that so many try to spare their children from needed to happen to me.  Maybe it could’ve happened in 
, but probably not (my own special breed of snowflake vanity, still).

But I also tell this story because, in the middle of all this, I found a home. At church. I found a community of people. And in the middle of my hurting from the world, yes, I was embraced and yes, also hurt by the same people. When I was already down, I was misunderstood, judged, scorned, and all that jazz, and up until a few years ago, I don’t think I really understood just how angry that made me.

I get it.

I get why people walk away. Not because they don’t believe in God, but because, if these people are as good as it gets, forget it. I can make it on my own.

 I used to taste the bitterness when I thought of that time. God showed me the poison I was holding onto, and helped me let go. The four years since those experiences have been good. I love my church. Growth, family, and community have all slowly spread their way throughout my life.

Recently, we visited that old church, and I was just struck. Hard. Nothing had changed.   We live in a city with people from every diaspora, but there was one singular demographic there. You want irony? These were all people from some slice of Americana trying to escape that thing which is beneath them; sameness, while congregating with people similar to them, excluding anyone who might be a little different.

In my frustration, I was riding home, and I thought, “I too, love those most like me. I too, gravitate toward and adore those who most reflect back myself. I too, miss the irony of loving the very thing I know has no good: myself.” And in loving only myself in others, I will never be sharpened, never be ground down, never have a mirror held up to my ugliest parts. I will also never reach people hurting and broken because it's inconvenient and so outside myself. My knowledge. My reach. My power. Francis Chan said, "Don't you want to follow Christ into the valley of the shadow of death and see him working and fighting there?" I'm never going to get to the valley to see that, feel that, if I'm looking for non-painful, comfortable sameness. If it's about ME.

Literally, for Christ’s sake, guys, it's got to stop.

"If we wait for some people to become agreeable or attractive before we begin to love them, we will never begin. If we are content to give them a cold impersonal 'charity' that is merely a matter of obligation, we will not trouble to understand them or to sympathize with them at all. And in that case we will not really love them, because love implies an efficacious will not only to do good to others exteriorly but also to find some good in them to which we can respond.”  a friend introduced me to this quote by Thomas Merton, and I haven’t been able to get over it.

Later in his book No Man is an Island, he says this:
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

So. We're here because we want "broader culture". We want to expand. To grow. But more importantly, we want to be like Christ. And Christ was GOD. Hanging out with the lowliest of the low. Hanging out with people so unlike him. Guys, we've got to, got to also love people unlike us. You're not going to grow and they're not going to grow if we sequester each other into corners and do our own thing, never admit our flaws, and always have our guard up. I'm not talking about "being weird in ways the Bible doesn't ask us to be weird". I'm talking about being weird in the ways it does ask us to be weird. I'm talking about love. Real love.

cloned: Mike Galat
Finally now I can see
what this church has for me
No individuality
I want to be a clone

No square pegs in these round holes
let's suppress the Holy Ghost
He who makes no waves is loved the most
I want to be a clone

Bland vanilla is all I taste
With zero change and zero haste
Real love is such a waste
I want to be a clone

Now here I sit with suit and tie
You'll never hear me when I cry
A clone forever till I die
I want to be a clone

Much love, guys.

Kristen MrdjanovNEXT 'clever' Article: Life, Mystery, and the Pursuit of Happiness


  1. I. love this. Everything about it.
    I'm so glad you cut some teeth tonight. Lord knows I needed to read this. Total reality check for me. I'm entirely convicted and deeply encouraged by your awareness and insight, K.

    You articulated this irony so well!

    For some reason it brings to mind a couple lines from the book Life of Pi, where the narrator asks, "Why do we move? The answer is the same the world over: people move in the hope of a better life."

    ::thank you::


Yes! Thanks for the love!

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