The Conversion of a Contrarian, Part 1

In Uncategorized on September 4, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

According to my family – who has an admitted tendency to interpret my motivations charitably – I was quite empathetic as a child. Until the age of 10 I was quick to identify and create common cause with those whom deviated from the Bible Belt norm.

Sometimes this created awkward moments for my family such as the time I raved about my friend’s awesome teeth to my mother all the way to her birthday party. Upon arrival, my mother told my friend’s mom that I was so fascinated by her daughter’s teeth, she just had to take a look. When her daughter’s smile revealed an orthodontic catastrophe embedded in a buck toothed jaw, her mom went icy and mine horrified.

In fifth grade my closest friend was named Gabe. Due to what I now suspect was a pretty substantial case of Autism, Gabe was developmentally challenged. Except for math, I was not so, but we still partnered on every project we could, studied our spelling words together, and far preferred on another’s company to that offered by our other classmates. I have no memories of Gabe beyond fifth grade, but our friendship was the first stop on the road that eventually lead to L’Arche and later to Triangle.

Sometime in my sixth grade year, my empathy started to be encrusted by anger. For reasons I don’t even remember, I introduced the fully rounded, smiling face of the class pet to a cinder block. In distinct opposition to my earlier tendencies, I baited the new buck toothed, and by all appearances barely parented, resident of our block into a street fight. I started to consider the numerous friends I had made in elementary school beneath my company, so I searched other elementary schools to cobble together a more exclusive clique that I could run with during middle school.

I wish that I could have stuck with my elementary school friends and the empathy of my youth, but as the anger of fifth grade evolved into the self-loathing rage of adolescence and I somehow found a way to incinerate every possible connection. From 12 to 20 I was stuck in the fucked up developmental cycle of what I now realize is a contrarian personality. I exchanged empathy for rage, affinity for the outsider with virulent, vocal racism and paired a partially merited pride in my abilities to raging self-hatred.

The gravity of that self-hatred compressed my empathy into an inaccessible region and my rage quickly repelled any potential relationship. I realize that this probably sounds overly dramatic, but a quick glance at my social network bears witness to this reality. If you scan through my friends, followers, or connections that range from tangential to deeply meaningful, you’ll realize that I don’t have a single connection from elementary school, middle school, high school, or my first year of university. I was reminded of this relational disconnect recently when I received unsolicited fundraising materials from the fraternity I joined for nine months of the latter stop. I haven’t spoken to anyone from that house since 1996 and have moved many times since. I suspect the only way they found me was by buying my name from Sallie Mae or some other promiscuous list.

It was in this darkened state, with doors sealed around me and fetal position often beckoning, that I was saved. Salvation, conversion, new birth: I realize those terms are odd an off-putting. They raise antennae for very good reasons since they are often used as a means of compulsion or a mark of exclusion. But those off-putting, awkward words as well as others like redemption or reconciliation, are the only ones I can think of to speak of the fissures in the compacted center that incrementally opened when I made, yet another, decision to follow after Jesus.

I had no idea that this attempt to be a Christian would take and very slowly start to transform my contrarianism into something somewhat and sometimes useful.


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