Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hey, it’s not my fault! I come by this honestly. Really.

Ever since OSV’s friend Janet Smith used the phrase “genetically irritable” to describe her cantankerous nature—something I instantly identified with!—I’ve been pondering a question about who I am, and why I’m wired the way I am. The question usually goes along the lines of “Why am I so cantankerous?” Or “Why do I always seem to see things differently than the majority?” Or “Why am I always the one who says ‘the emperor has no clothes on’?” “Why can’t anyone else see this this way???” All these questions, I’ve been asking myself for years, because I have this interpersonal handicap. St. Paul had his thorn in the flesh…I’ve got mine. I don’t “do” group-think well. If a majority of people think something, almost invariably, I believe the opposite. (I’m probably the only person in America who, all through the OJ trial, kept saying, “He’s being framed.” That’s how bad this is.) 99% of the time, I never cared for the #1 hit songs on the hit parade (now, there’s a phrase that’ll date me!). I either liked the “B” side of the record (another phrase that’ll date me)—or I’d heard another cut from the artist that I liked WAY better than the monster hit. Or, a third possibility that occurred more times than I can count: I didn’t even like the artist to begin with. In some cases, “loathe” was not too strong a word. I’ve never watched Survivor. I’ve never watched American Idol. I consider such things a colossal waste of time. I never watched Seinfeld until my kids started watching it in reruns. Same with The Simpsons. And the jury’s still out as to whether either of those, or any of a thousand other hit shows out there, are worth spending time on. Ditto for the majority of movies that come out lately…and I love movies. But there are only so many bathroom or gutter jokes you want to hear when you’re past seventh grade. All that could be dismissed as just my tastes being out of the mainstream. But, oh, if it were only that simple. And if only I still got rewarded for “unique insights” with As on my papers, like I got in grade school and high school and college. But when you grow up, “unique insights” don’t make you friends. You aren’t “unique” anymore…you’re “out of step.” You “just don’t get it,” you don’t “understand,” you “need to loosen up,” or, in the worst case scenarios, you get called nasty names. In rare instances, you get credited for being a “conscience.” I got that a couple of times. It was wonderful. But it’s also lonely. Just ask Jiminy Cricket…we may have to “let our conscience(s) be our guide,” but that doesn’t mean we want to invite them over for drinks after the show. (They probably wouldn’t have liked the show anyway.) So what’s a contrarian to do? My life coach suggested some new ways to think. To try to get myself to understand and appreciate the group dynamics in my writers’ organizations, at work, wherever. To use that steel-trap brain of mine to think ahead about what I’d say and how I’d say it. To tailor my words so that other people are “right,” and I’m only being “helpful.” And I tried, really, I did. I still do. People have no idea how many bite marks there are in my tongue; I spend a lot of time reframing things before they even come out of my mouth. But what comes out, either of mouth or keyboard, invariably still is more contrarian than it is conciliatory. At last, though, I may have an answer for why this is happening. This may not even be a thorn in the flesh…as painful as it is at times. This may, in fact, be exactly what I’ve been called to be from the beginning, and if I start thanking God for it instead of trying to figure out how to “fix” it, there may be exciting things ahead. When did I come to this miracle conclusion? Well, Janet Smith’s tongue-in-cheek label helped. I won’t deny that. But then I realized this goes deeper even than a wry observation about how I’m “wired.” This goes, ladies and gentlemen, clear to my patron saint. Now, before you go running off to see who my patron saint is, I’ll save you the trouble. It’s Bartholomew. Otherwise known as Nathaniel. No, I’m not named either of those things, obviously. But Bartholomew/Nathaniel’s feast day is…my birthday. So in at least one sense, that makes him my patron saint. If I’d just remembered that, and put it together with the account we have of him in Scripture, I would have understood this hard-wiring of mine so much better. Walk back with me in time to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, when He’s calling the disciples. He taps Philip on the shoulder and says, “You.” What does Philip do? He runs to get his brother, of course. His brother…Nathaniel. What follows is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. For the first thing that Nathaniel says, when he finds out that Philip is so excited about this guy from Nazareth…is contrary. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In that passage, that's pretty much a rhetorical question. It’s supposed to wake Philip up. Give him a whomp upside the head and tell him, “You ninny. That can’t be the guy.” (Or…”You ninny. The emperor’s still naked.”) I’ll leave you to rummage into the second chapter of John’s Gospel and read the rest for yourself, but I never fail to chuckle when I read those words. Because I’m right there with Nathaniel. I’m the one saying, “Wait a minute. Are we sure this guy’s for real? What did he say that convinced you? Who told you? How do you know?” And, blessedly, I’m also right there when Jesus looks at the contrarian and says, “You are without guile.” Jesus knows me. He knows what you see…is what you get. With Nathaniel, and with me. So, you see, I come by this whole thing honestly. It’s straight from Scripture, from my patron saint. And it’s not a flaw. It’s not a thorn. And I can stop trying to correct it. I can thank God for it. I can rejoice in being a contrarian…and see what happens next. Because the very thing I may have been looking at as a flaw, as a personality fault, or as a burden, may in fact be something else entirely. It may have been a birthday gift that, until now, I was too blind to see for what it is. It may be something truly special. Something that, now that I’m changing course and considering it a blessing…may turn out to be something so powerful it'll knock my contrarian socks off. How about you? Does this ring any bells? What “gifts” might you have…in disguise? Looking forward to unwrapping things further, Janny


Deb said...

Hey, can St Bart adopt me? I'm wondering if I have a similar irritability gene. 'Cause I'm so testy lately I don't wanna live in my own skin...

I've always considered St Robert Bellarmine my "pet" saint (we Pentecostals don't do the patron thing) because his day is my birthday and because the Newman Center I attended during college had the same name. Coincidence? I don't think so.


Janny said...

Considering St. Robert your "pet" brings to mind something you put on a leash...

But I digress.

St. Robert Bellarmine was, in fact, chair of the controversial theology department at the Roman college. Which seems to me to be a match made in heaven, in some ways, for you. (heh heh)

St. Bart/Nathaniel would be proud and happy to adopt you, I think. Although handling the two of us may prompt him to call in help from aforementioned St. Bob...

It boggles the mind!

Sanctifyingly yours,

Donna Alice said...

Hey, someone else in America who has NEVER seen "Survivor" or "American Idol!" I'm impressed. Thought I was the only weird one.
My birthdate usually ends up being on St. Cosmas and Damian, I think--and wasn't there some peacemaking aspect of their relationship? Guess that would be me.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

I loved this post! You are always up-front and say-it-the-way-it-is. It's refreshing. I liked your exploration of your personality and then viewing that in faith. I've also had a long journey in accepting myself the way God created me.

I think I have a bit of the contrariness you do... in not wanting to be like everyone else! For instance, when we were planning our honeymoon, I decided that if everyone else goes south (e.g., Hawaii), I'm going north (e.g., Alaska). :)

P.S. I refuse to watch The Simpsons and have never seen Survivor. But then I go so far as to not even have a TV... :)

Janny said...

Ohhh, I won't go so far as not to have a TV. But I will say I probably watch way less of it than a lot of people...sports, mostly.

When I was a kid, for a couple of years we didn't have one--our old one had died and we didn't buy a new one for awhile. I don't remember a lot of things about that year and a half or so, but I do remember when we got it was just in time for Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. And ever since then, I've wanted to go to Innsbruck. :-)

Thanks for your support, as always. I am reminded that not everybody likes what I do every once in awhile...but I try to stay away from those reminders if I can. (!)