When the November wind and waves threatened to capsize my little kayak on the Great Egg Harbor, I wondered if I could be taking nonconformity too far. Sunday was not the usual weather for water sports. But I enjoyed it. As Elbert Hubbard said, “Conformists die, but heretics live forever.” As the wind pelted me with spray off the bay, I pondered a weekend full of realizations about how God has opened eternity to me.
One doorway turns out to be my rebellion against flab. Mind you, I was on a little vacation this past weekend, so I can’t vouch for my present weight. There is almost nothing to eat down-the-shore that is not designed for maximum calorie intake, and I did not search for health-food. But until I get on the scale today, I can report a very successful diet plan that came to fruit last Friday. I called it my “tenya for Kenya” diet. I got the idea that I might lose the last ten pounds I never lose to get to the top of my BMI if I promised myself that for each pound I lost I would get to send $40 to “Kenya” — a symbol of sub-Saharan Africa (that rhymes with tenya) where deadly hunger is exploding this year.
It seems immoral to weigh more than I need to when others are struggling to stay alive at all! Now that the global downturn has rich people scrambling to preserve their huge wealth from further erosion, they are not as engaged with relief. That alarms me. Vanity is not motivating enough for me; personal health does not move me enough; shame is not even that activating. But I discovered that morality could keep me focused (who knew?). I liked earning my donation with pounds. Even more, I found a lot of joy in finding another way to express my nonconformity practically.
I am a fat heretic. I mean, I am a nonconformist when it comes to the national adoration of food. I don’t usually (like ever) watch morning shows on TV. But on vacation Gwen likes to see if Matt Lauer has hair so she turns on the Today show. It is Thanksgiving week so everything was about food and weight loss. The Today show had a segment on how to eat less interrupted by four minutes of commercials about food – I did not time that, but I don’t think I am exaggerating! It is not easy to be a nonbeliever in eating like a rich person – a person who’s main challenge is to figure out how not to eat too much from the dump truck unloading calories onto their table. Seriously, I like an evening watching the Eagles fumbling around while I eat fried things followed by Dibs followed by caramel corn followed by nachos; throw in some carrot cake and Dr. Pepper to top it off. My usual diet consciousness is drinking Diet Pepsi!
The other doorway to eternity turned out to be my rebellion against blab (this blog notwithstanding, apparently). Over the weekend I heard from a couple of close evangelical friends who make their livings off being influential writers and speakers. They were excited about their opportunities to be read and heard by large numbers of people. They were doing their thing on large anonymous stages. I love them personally, but I am not always sure about the images they create for themselves (but then, I don’t really know their images). They seemed to be talking about ideas they did not embody and situations they did not inhabit. Even though their message was theoretically Christian and, thus, basically nonconformist, their lives were obviously part and parcel of the media machine that runs so much of what we do. They were an awful lot like the Today show, saying one thing about eating with a medium bent on selling another option.
Even though they are great people, I admit to feeling a little embarrassed by my friends – I seem so small, in comparison, like I have not made much of myself, like my blab machine takes up too-small a share of the airwaves. I had just come from my cell meeting when I met with them, totally jazzed about what suddenly looked like a motley crew of sinful, disabled, foreign, faithless, unsuccessful outcasts. I realized I had never thought of them that way at all, until I started making comparisons with my well-accommodated friends and their tall tales! They’d just spent exciting times with people who could afford to go to conferences and make large donations!
Suddenly, I looked like a heretic again. Resisting the blab machine. Unaware of the latest evangelical stuff. Into unmarketable causes — still smarting over the ill-treatment of Afghan women (and other things I’m often surprised to discover are odd), good friends with recovering addicts, leading a strange little church out of a rented space over the check-cashing store and feeling grateful to survive — not even over eating!
To top it off, I realized that one of my favorite moments of the week had been enjoying Henri Nouwen’s unusual translation of Romans 12:2, “Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do. Nonconformity, not just for the sake of being myself, or being different, but for being God’s, is a doorway to eternity.