catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 23 :: 2008.12.19 — 2009.01.02


(Partly) rebelling against rebellion

I told someone the other day that most of my teenage and adult rebellion has involved rebelling against the rebellion that people expected of me. It’s at least half the truth.

See, I was a PK (pastor’s kid, that is), and one who moved a lot, to boot. Roughly every four years we picked up and moved again, and I was a shy kid who didn’t make friends all that quickly, so I always felt like the new PK in town. As such, one of two things was expected of me: (1) that I would be angelic, doing everything that was expected of me; or (2) I would be the wild child.

“You know what they say about pastors’ kids…,” it felt like people were always saying in hushed tones.

I was an oversensitive kid, so it stuck with me. I didn’t want to be what they thought of me, I just wanted to be known for myself. I wanted to be a normal kid with the occasional non-conformance from time to time.

As I grew into my high school years and even when I went off to college and beyond, I was determined of one thing: that I wouldn’t be the stereotypical PK rebel. If I only had a choice between the twin horns of the dilemma, I’d rather be the snotty elder brother than the prodigal son in the biblical story.

Really, though, I didn’t want to be either, and so I micro-rebelled against both extremes at once in my young adulthood. I traveled a lot as an outlet for my hereditary “itchy feet,” but rebelled against my upbringing by actually staying in the same town I went to college in, living there for eleven years, beating my parents’ married-life record of staying in one location by four.

I loved sinking deep into traditional practices and into a community I finally felt comfortable in. I had a good friend across the street to go walking with, and practices built up for sanity and to keep me writing regularly, even while working full-time. My church was just down the street and I’d finally gotten past my post-PK need to be anonymous there. I’d been able to take just enough trips to new locations to keep myself from getting in a rut.

At last I was at home. It was a beautiful thing.

I’d blocked out all my family’s mad packing skills, and I even owned two cats, creatures not known to be good at your average thirty-hour road trip. But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t supposed to go elsewhere. I totally wouldn’t have gone at all if God had not painted a metaphorical “GO HERE!!!” sign in all caps on the map. My English-major self cringes at the overuse of exclamation points, but I’m not sure my micro-rebel self would have gotten the point if it had been issued in a less overt way. It was so clear that even my deepened roots knew it was time.

It was hard to pack, hard to pull at those rebel roots of mine, all the more so because I’d allowed them to get so deep (something it had been so healing to do).

Sheesh, I prayed, couldn’t I be the stationary pilgrim? Hadn’t I done enough of conforming to that Abraham story, the one where he picked up his whole household and moves to another country?

Uh, sorry, the answer came. No such thing as a stationary pilgrim. And you’ve heard the Jonah story, haven’t you?

I’d heard it a zillion times and had it liberally felt-boarded for me in my Sunday school years, so I knew it was time once again to rebel against being a rebel. I went. The moving was tough, but the worst part was having to conform, to do what my family had done. It wasn’t me, this moving. Even if it was good for me long term-and I was excited to go back to school-I didn’t want to be the new one in a new location again.

Ironically, three and a half years later, my parents have retired, moving this fall to what they like to call their last settlement, while I’m on my second degree in a second grad school. I’m only a year into a second location, fully aware that, although I’d like to return to the place I call home in a couple more years when my PhD’s done, I could end up anywhere.

I don’t like it, this picking up of the ambulatory family torch. It irks me still, and I won’t make it an easy habit.

For now, though, these years of migrancy together with those years of nurture are helping me to learn that there are ways to tread that balance between being myself and being part of my family. Of recognizing that feeling like an outsider is part of the human condition, and certainly part of the life of a Christian pilgrim. And I’m recognizing that’s something I’ll always be, whether or not I stay in one place for the rest of my life.

Ultimately, I’d rather be an Abraham than a Jonah who gets eaten by a big fish. So here I am, longing for home but praying to be content with where I am for the time being. I guess I’m really, in a way, still rebelling equally against the extremes of rebellion and of too-easy acquiescence with what’s expected of me. Not exactly the way I’d envisioned living out those micro-rebellions, but really, although there’s been much pain in the last three and a half years, there’s been growth and great joy as well. I wouldn’t have missed out on any of it for the world. 

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