My humble deference to C.S.Lewis from whom I adapted the Chess metaphor.
Well, though the coincidence of the time I was born is a bit remarkable (my parents honestly didn't know it was Lord Byron's birthday), the place is a little less so. Unless you're a great fan of Pittsburgh, that is. After Pitt, I lived in Boston for a little while, and finally settled in Wilmore, KY, where both of my parents teach music at Asbury College. For you Freudians out there, I don't have much in the way of strange childhood trauma to report. Well, actually there was that spinal tap at age three, but I'm sure it hasn't warped me at all. Neither have I been affected by my scattered memories of things like a two liter of 7-UP exploding in my face, and my irrational (or perhaps not so irrational) fear of clowns.
Childhood was a blast for me. A combination of Tolkein at a very young age, and the monumental effect of Star Wars on any kid born in the mid to late 70's, turned my imagination loose on a realm of play where Good and Evil were as certain as the answers in a spelling bee, and there were always cookies to come home to if someone got hurt. But let me skip ahead, for the tale of youth is a long as all the stories it dreams...
Soon after starting my frosh year in high school, I got a little academic cabin fever while attending the good 'ol Jessamine County public school system. This soon resulted in my decision to finish out the next three years at McCallie, an all male boarding/day school in Chattanooga. Once there, I poured my heart into everything that I could - music, photography, forensics, and basically anything that wasn't a sport. (I really didn't like exercising until I discovered Aikido). But thankfully, my long-lost brother Ed helped me hold on my ability to dream amidst all the work, and we spent many weekends creating our own little worlds secreted away in dormitory rooms overlooking Chattanooga.
But McCallie wasn't just a time of fun. There were games, too. One of which I lost rather decisively...
"What kind of game is this?" you are probably wondering. It is a very old game that many people play without realizing it. It is a game we play with ourselves when we refuse to admit the doubts we have about our own beliefs and ideals. Somewhere around the time I left for McCallie my game plan started to crumble.
I grew up in a small rural Kentucky town, centered on a small conservative Christian liberal arts college named after Francis Asbury. Not surprisingly, I was raised without a whole lot of questions about the Christian doctrine I knew so well. But when I went away to McCallie, I discovered a new kind of conservatism. Popular among my peers, it was a harsh, biting, rugged philosophy that rejects anything that is not directly obvious. My spirituality came up against a wall it didn't know how to climb. Now that I am at Swarthmore, I am facing the opposite end of the spectrum. My beliefs are challenged because they take too narrow a stand about what we can call Truth. Thus I began to doubt, and that doubt began to win the game.
But Doubt and I were not the only players in the game. Surely I would have lost were it not for that invisible strategist who was constantly arranging for me to speak with the right people, read the right book, or simply observe the beauty around me at those crucial moments when I was about to lose my King in a web of intricate snares. But for years I never gave this strategist any credit. Then one day (a narrative device I use to refer to a much more gradual process), it occured to me that I wasn't playing the simple game I had expected. For as soon as I denied the coincidence of these fortuitous strategems, I was forced to acknoweldge the existance of the strategist.
And suddenly my eyes openned and I realized that I hadn't been playing against Doubt at all. Instead, we had been fighting together against the invisible grandmaster at the table with us. And as soon as I acknowledged his existance I had been checkmated.
I was even happy to have lost.
Now I'm sure I have lost a few people by going too far out into metaphorical la-la land where my writing skills can no longer keep me afloat. (Speaking of mixed metaphors...) But unfortunately, it is one of the few ways I have found that I can concisely explain exactly why I am still a Christian despite all the challenges that have come up against my beliefs over the years.
I still play those games against myself sometimes, but they grow a little less frequent each time I lose them. And now here I am at Swarthmore College trying to figure out exactly what to do with the rest of my life. And since I haven't decided, I drive myself to the brink of insanity by trying to learn more about the Bible, music, engineering, Aikido, and whatever else all at the same time.
So maybe when you meet me (or the next time you see me around campus), you'll forgive me for that somewhat distant, haggard look in my eye that makes some people wonder, "Is he really listening to me?" Don't worry, I am. I like listening.
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