Analysis, Criticism, Humor, Reflection

Courage 1: A ‘Star-Word’

I believe I am agnostic. My spirituality was not a topic I felt inclined to discuss in 2022. Still, I kept a distinct desire to explore it. This basic, subtle contradiction is just a foretaste of what’s coming next in “Reverse Exiled”.

Even the colloquial sense of agnosticism seems too committal for me. Most agnostics I’ve encountered are quintessentially without a spiritual flavor; my ‘flavor’ tends toward agnostic in the literal sense: not gnostic. Ungnostic? I ceased to believe that Jesus needed to be deified to be inspiring. Jesus was definitely a person, or a character based on real people’s teaching. Regardless, I’ve wanted the freedom to be theist or nontheist according to my mood, unchallenged, and therefore I’ve experienced a quiet, isolated agnosticism – free of both strife and warmth. Submerged. Imagine me as The Nautilus– a tired Captain Nemo with less ambition yet an even deeper longing. It’s a nuanced contradiction.

Atheism is too distinct for me, as a spirituality, though the atheists themselves may be irritated by such assertions. Copious faith is required to believe or disbelieve with certainty, especially when considering the amount of dark-matter/dark-energy/blackholes/unknowable-dark-spaces extant in the universe. I wasn’t eager to fall side-ways into the atheists’ bucket any more than I wanted to fall backward into the trough of evangelicals behind me. Likely, I’m not a true nontheist; I raise a figurative periscope for signs of A Higher Consciousness. I’m The Nautilus, not Atlantis: pelagic, not benthic. Submerged but still roaming and searching.

To say I was scared to tell friends who identify as Christian is (contradictorily) both apt and reductive. I prefer to use the word ‘averse‘. I think I was right not to fall into pathological certainty– a confidence rooted in delusion. Yet I drifted further afield into varying nebulae of unbelief than I expected. I still admire Jesus. Yet, how do you explain Jesus to Western Christians? My tongue is in-cheek, as I ask, but I’m mostly serious. Many well-intentioned people get thoroughly cross-threaded about Jesus and spirituality, yet it’s central to their identities, and thus the topic turns into a pit of hot asphalt. I became more and more selective of whom I engage– lately, just ‘the man in the mirror’ playing a devil’s advocate.

When I do send-up my periscope for ‘heavenly sunshine’, it often comes through one of the lady clergy I know. This time, it’s not via my friend Rachel (shout-out: love you, sister) nor Carrie (shout-out, much love for you too) nor any of the many, fine, ministerial women I’ve actually met. Nope: one of the guest writers I connected to, years ago when I managed the MFSA blog, posts to YouTube regularly. I noticed because she had a new baby – me: perusing pics of a baby boy in anticipation of my nephew’s imminent arrival, stumbling on this rev’s encouraging words. More than a year later, I saw this video on ‘Star-words’.

For lack of another unifying theme, I decided to seize this ‘star-word’ idea.

I’m trying to set the table, here, with the antecedents — trying to spread-out all the utensils, dishes, and condiments to make this a filling & appetizing blog-entry. I’m like a huge kitchen attached to a tiny dining area, flooded with take-out orders from prank-callers. Where does it all go, now? I have dozens of threads hanging loose on the inside of my skull, any handful may be worth pulling… …but I already made myself into The Nautilus, so I’m imagining myself rising out of the ocean — a submarine the size of a hotel — with an attached restaurant (and already the trolls have my number because every troll is just ME, in a different self-deprecating mood) and now I’m also a tattered quilt with thousands of threads because my metaphor is too mixed-up…


There were several ways I could’ve chosen a star-word without anyone knowing. Accountability is a pain in the ass; if I fail at something, I don’t want anyone to KNOW. Fuck’s sake! Why would I want anyone to know I feel like I’m missing my potential? Is someone supposed to help? What if no one wants to help in the first place? Someone alway does (whatever their motives), so what if people get tired of helping? Fuck! There we go! What if someone feels contempt for me? Just as likely, what if I get frustrated or disappointed and embody the contempt I fear? I notice I used the f-word: …fear. Instinctually, I’ve developed a pattern of avoiding situations where contempt might come into play: mine or yours.

Yet I didn’t want any more empty exercises. If I was sending-up my periscope, in search of a Divine nudge or at least something vaguely inspiring (or whatever), I needed to let someone know I was looking. The rev is a kind person, so I asked her for a star-word. I half-expected “discipline” because that’s what the nagging voice in my head tells me I lack, triggering the contrarian voice in my head to respond “well, fuck discipline! The world shouldn’t suck so much! My country put Trump in the White House…” etc.

I also half-expected to get a word like “hope” or “faith”. Fuuuuck: can you imagine? The submerged-maybe-agnostic-ungnostic is presented with the word “faith”? I would wrestle it into a comedy bit that never sees a microphone– it’s too funny. And “hope”? That’s just an opportunity to get hurt. I hoped I wouldn’t still be alone past 35 years of age. I hoped for meaningful impact, once upon a time, or for artstic inspiration. If I am being really honest, I turned my back on seeking those things because I lack faith that my efforts will not be wasted. I’m probably going to need to unpack a lot of this but, hey, I’ve moved so many times in the past ten years that I am fatigued with packing and unpacking…

Instead, she gave me “courage”. Courage is a quality I credited myself with in the past. While qualities like “faith” & “hope” feel tragically foreign — and “discipline” feels like either a joke or an invitation to be outraged by neurotypical expectations — “courage” feels like something familiar but lost. Surrounded by new circumstances, I am not sure what compartment of my self “hope” or “faith” would fit into (like a sunroom in a submarine, since I’m ‘The Nautilus’ tonight) but “courage” is supposed to be part of my engine.

“Courage” is worth reconsidering and courage could lead me to reconsider many other words. TBC


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