Tuesday, September 11, 2012

middle spaces

Recently, I withdrew half way through an interview for an adjunct teaching position. The institution had articles of faith that all applicants had to sign in on. I did just that while working through the online application process. However, when asked to articulate my beliefs, I must have come off as trying to push the proverbial camel through the needle's eye. Which is when I asked if I could step away. . . and maybe come back at a later time. It was a mutually curteous sign-off. Much to the dismay of my devout parents's wishes, I had not only walked-away from a teaching position but also shown my lack of faith commitments. Or was it?

It's a struggle. I seemed to have raised my hands and let things unfold without any concerted effort to bridge the issues that I grapple with. Social issues have gripped me like never before. I am serious about what I do as a learner. The standards I hold myself to must befit those of someone given the opportunity to think and be responsible not only for one's self but also for others. And yet, when it comes to articulate all these concerns, I find myself short of words.

Which brings me to a blog post by Dan Haseltine, lead vocalist for Jars of Clay. I have never been a fan of their music; I only listened along when their breakout hit "Flood" hit the airwaves back in the late 1990s. In a recent post, Dan wrote these words:

I fear these recordings may get dismissed because Jars of Clay has a fairly entrenched brand conception. People outside of the general church community may not seek this record out.  And since the themes of the record are very far from evangelical Christianity, the church community will most likely not embrace this record.  Which, on one hand, is a relief.  I am pretty weary from years of pretending to be more of something than I am.  I am tired of carrying evangelical expectations on my shoulders.  I have never been so sure of my faith that I was able to find a true home in the church communities where we played most of our shows.  Our particular style of writing and the perspective that we have written from has not been an easy fit into an artistic community that has such a massive agenda and only a single idea of how that agenda gets accomplished. I don’t fit there. I may have at one point. I did grow up as a youth group kid wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus on it. I did drive a car with a “Christian” bumper sticker on it. And at one point, I was sure of who God was, and how God operated.  But I am not that way now. And so it is impossible to write from that old version of myself. I am in the middle space.

That middle space! To be the scorn of those on either side. Dan attempts to arrogate his own creative space and does it, I think, quite well. But I am mindful of those that are in my circle and their apprehensions about middle spaces. Yup, the struggle of being in the west and trying to be non-west. Which is why I have found my alterity, for now and with whatever bit it might afford, in the Episcopal Church. If you read up the church positions on social issues and political engagement, you will get a sense of my location. I want to be integral to the those things that I hold as life-affirming and -enriching and yet be seriously mindful of the concerns, as different as they might be, of my family.

Faith, or whatever form of commitment that transcends you, is hard to nail down. If it is not a problematic issue, it is very likely that one has not given it serious thought and simple moseyed along with the flow. But even if one were to engage it, what space might one have access to or be able to create for oneself? Would it be just the spaces offered by organized religion or in rejection of that organization. . . or some middle space where one has room to negotiate? Or could there be spaces of responsible alterity?

I'm jotting these lines while sitting in a discussion on Levi-Strauss's Savage Mind and the force of the alterity he displayed, especially in light of Lucien Levy-Bruhl's Primitive Mind. When propped against the dominant frame of anthopology around his time, Levi-Strauss's valorization of the bricoleur as a handle to undercut the historicization of primitiveness is something I caught on for the first time. To paraphrase, if Levy-Bruhl was saying that there were these non-European peoples "out there" who did funny things, Levi-Strauss was saying that there are no "primitives"; that we all think as savage minds. The mechanics/logics of these savage minds are what we now refer to as structuralism. Heavily indebted to Saussurean semiotics, structuralism however has been the focus of many critiques. . . especially on this side of all the post- and de- positions doing the rounds in the academy. But to get back to the larger point, I thought  Levi-Strauss's gravitas in articulating alterity was worth noting.