Much of my life can be viewed as a game of smuggling my internal messes through conversations unnoticed. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite game, but I’m pretty good at it and love winning! Last month, however, I found myself in a pickle. I was on a thrilling trans-Ohioan road trip with a dear friend, when the conversation veered to religion. For how often I talk about religion in passing, I rarely talk about it in earnest. I was a competitive sales-speaker in high school; I like to present things in a polished manner, and honest assessments of personal faith aren’t an easy sell.
But after my companion recounted an Odyssean epic of a faith story, I felt moved to share. As I opened my mouth, I realized I was about to put words to a trend I’d been observing in my faith life but that until this point had dozed cozily in my subconscious: “I don’t care as much as I used to, and I’m kind of fine with it.”
Given that I’ve actually developed a photo of Leslie Knope at Costo for daily inspiration, a small identity crisis piggy-backed on this epiphany. I’m the kid who proof-reads text messages and stresses about where to insert his two magenta t-shirts in his colored-coded dresser drawer. (Before the reds or after the purples?!) How could I not care so much? The answer came easily: maybe I’m tired of caring.
I’ve never whined about growing up in such a committedly Christian area. I love the church I grew up in, I respect the thoughtfulness of the CRC, and I believe I’m a better person for them. But after years and years of hard pews and ham sandwiches and sleepy Sunday school sessions, can’t a guy get a break?
Then at Calvin I found myself trying to attend chapel daily, go to Bible study weekly, and do devotionals nightly. But the push push push of constant spiritual striving exhausted more than it energized. College is framed as a time to grapple with one’s beliefs, and I did. I was shaken by the suggestion that the Pentateuch was merely symbolism and doubt-stricken upon studying the convenient alterations to Mark’s Gospel. Now, though, I’m not bothered. Can post-college maybe be framed as a time to just chill out for a while spiritually and watch Netflix?
As I write these thoughts, I can picture my most admirably pious Calvin comrades narrowing their eyes and nodding along while quietly assessing how alarmed they should be. Knowing my audience, I also find myself wanting to stuff caveats between every other sentence. But more than that, I want to be honest: I’ve never taken a religion class that has interested me, my nightly devotionals rarely stick with me the next day, I don’t even like thinking about going to evening church, and I’m done feeling bad about it. I will allow myself one caveat, though: I’m not saying that these things aren’t valuable for others or that I won’t find value in them someday, but right now, I don’t.
I remember, somewhere in the jumble of Quest speeches and break-out sessions, a professor citing the classic Buechner quote on vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I think about that quote often, and can’t help but wonder: Is the world really that hungry for or am I made all that glad by me sitting at a table dragging myself through a devotional?
In a world of finite time, if I’m going to push push push, I want to push myself to teach my students better. Instead of a devotional, I want to lie on my couch and read an article on what ISIS is and why I should care. Instead of a Bible study, I want to help lead Calvin’s LGBT+ workshop. Instead of saying a prayer, I want to appreciate the birds shimmering like a school of fish as I drive home on 28th Street. Instead of going to evening church, I want to sit in a plaza with my French host father and hear about his world travels or in a brunch place with a septuagenarian Atlanta man and hear about his life as a gay Catholic or in a car with an Ohioan friend and hear about his faith story. I want to gladly blur the lines between being in and of this world.
I wouldn’t call myself a pluralist or universalist or inclusivist because that would require thought. As far as I care, I’m the same labels I’ve always been; I’m just less concerned with them. I can’t even claim to know if this laissez-faire attitude is helpful or harmful. My progressive, millennial self praises my waltz into informal worship while my type-A, descendent-of-Dutch-reformers self watches with uncertain worry. But, to console the latter, I don’t consider this a loss of religion, but a loosening.
I feel liberated, and I feel lazy. I want to be a better person more than I want to be a better Christian, and I sincerely hope that they’re the same thing. I want to pull this all together and present it as a polished worldview, and, for once, I really want to find myself at a loss.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.