Hello and welcome to the one thousandth post here at soupablog.com. Ta-da!
Thanks for letting me have fun with the campaign-season-inspired emotional buildup. Sorry if this post lets you down; if it does it only proves the point I was making about election-style hype.
This is one of those posts I’ve stopped and started writing numerous times over the past week, not because of its quasi milestone status but rather because here I wanted to drive a stake in the ground, clear the air, and start afresh, for my own health and for yours.
But before I do so, I’d like to sincerely thank all of you who have entered into conversation with me here at soupablog. These comments have spilled over into my ‘real life’ in so many enriching ways; I couldn’t begin to count. Dozens of emails, letters, lunches, coffees, and late night conversations about theology and thought, faith and doubt, art and music, design, politics, and myriad other threads have left me encouraged, provoked, breathless, strengthened, challenged and convicted.
I’m convinced this little blog has got some of the best readers in the world. Some of you are loyal strangers, some are family, some are lurking co-workers, some are in my tribe, and others are lifelong friends. And each of you knows different facets of the real me.
And it is for this reason I want to write tonight about integrity. I want to unpack my feelings about my own integrity because the more I insinuate myself into broad conversations with a wide variety of people — and the more technologies allow these widely various peoples to be in conversation with each other  — the more we — the more I — leave room for ambiguity and misunderstanding.
From birth we all desire to be understood. We learn there is powerful potential energy stored up in vocabulary and syntax and grammar. We communicate with sentences and paragraphs and hand gestures and facial expressions and emoticons and color and symbol. Each time we gain a new communication tool, we potentially become more understanding and more human (this evening I sat down and taught my twelve-year-old son the difference between imply and infer — it’s a great distinction to apprehend earlier rather than later).
But it’s the misunderstanding — or the propensity to misunderstand — that I want to explore, for when meaning is obscured or misunderstood, one’s hard-fought reputation — one’s integrity — goes on the line.
This weekend, Abe Levy, a local religion editor for the San Antonio Express-News, interviewed me for an article he was writing on religion and politics. He had contacted me once a few years prior when he was looking for emerging churches in San Antonio, but as I recall, I declined the interview at the time. But this time I felt compelled to action, to insert myself into the conversation. But I also had an equal-but-opposite reaction: palpable fear of being misunderstood, of being misquoted, for I knew the feelings of frustration and violation upon being misquoted a few years earlier in the San Antonio Business Journal. That’s another story for another time.
I called and left a message with Mr. Levy. I was willing to go on the record but I had some real misgivings about being misquoted or misrepresented. When he called I voiced those fears but he quickly allayed them.
The interview commenced, and the whole experience was rather white-knuckled for reasons of integrity: I knew going into the interview that I’d sort of be fulfilling the interviewer’s desire to find a “moderate evangelical voting left-of-center this year” who would go on record about congregational discussions of politics, or the lack thereof, whether from the pulpit or elsewhere. And I knew my words would be typeset and published in the local newspaper of record and read daily by relatives and old friends whom I love and who would self-identify as being very conservative Christians. Many of those relatives and friends would probably, incorrectly, presume that I too would (still) self-identify as very conservative.
But by granting this interview I’d be clearly stating my intention to vote for Barack Obama — so this would be a coming-out of sorts in their eyes. Although I consider myself a moderate (progressive on some issues, conservative on others, willing to vote either side of the aisle for matters of faith) I knew some could read my words and perhaps feel betrayed or bewildered, confused or disappointed.
Here’s the awkward little snippet from the article. I’ll deconstruct it a little, below.
“Such political activity caused Paul Soupiset to move away from conservative Christian churches, he said, because his former church, in voter guides and from the pulpit, put pressure on its members to oppose abortion and homosexuality. Now, he attends Covenant Baptist Church on the North Side, which, according to its pastor Gordon Atkinson, avoids discussion of politics from the pulpit and other official church settings.
‘My friends and conversation partners about faith sort of reject the far right and the far left and there's sort of a more winsome middle ground to be had,’ said Soupiset, who is voting for Obama. ‘For example, I can state clearly that I'm probably pro life but to me, how that phrase has been defined has been narrow and insufficient. Life's not just about the abortion issue but about being pro-people who are living imprisoned or met with the short end of justice.’
When I read it for the first time in print, I panicked, focusing not on the broad brushstrokes of the interview which were good, but rather on the finer points which weren’t: In my mind, I had once again been misunderstood (or else my over-editing during the phoned-in interview actually, inexplicably, produced some of these words which is even more alarming). My face went red, flush with anger. I felt betrayed.
First off, the opening sentence implies a cause-and-effect relationship that just wasn’t there. I didn’t communicate and/or certainly didn’t mean to communicate a move away from conservative Christian churches simply because they shoved voter guides in our faces; rather, leaving behind the frustration/intrusion of so-called pro-life voter guides only made the leaving a little easier. Our family left, rather, for many reasons, largely because we were trying our best to follow Jesus and because we felt his Spirit was blowing in a new direction and we wanted very much to be about following Him into the inner city and to be available there for His use.
Secondly, the author missed the point I was trying to make — my point was and is that the gospel is so much bigger than the abortion and homosexuality issues, yet that’s what evangelicalism is focusing on. I have more of a problem with the conservative church wasting so much of its precious resources, sharpening their knives, polishing their armor and battling these two Big Issues, when so much more pressing, more real, Kingdom work is at hand, such as changing the circumstances which foster rampant teenage pregnancy in the first place.
Third, the word “probably” in the middle of the second graf was particularly irksome (especially following the phrase “state clearly”) — this had to have been some kind of internal monologue type blunder while reviewing my words, collecting my thoughts and backing up to get a fresh start at the next statement. I have clearly stated before that I consider myself pro-life and anti-abortion, but also that the conversation is not as cut-and-dried as others have made it. Complexities abound.
Next, I simply kicked myself for giving the interview in the first place. My friends and family wouldn’t — couldn’t — know the Jesus-underpinnings of my beliefs that necessitated that change in my beliefs (orthodoxy) and actions (orthopraxy). They wouldn’t know that following Jesus meant rejecting the current war and researching peacemaking, rejecting fear and embracing hope (both eschatological and social hope), rejecting the pursuit of wealth and opening myself up to a preferential position toward the poor.
And finally, I remembered what it was like to be a conservative. I remembered the visceral hatred I felt toward progressives. That smug AM talk-radio feeling. Heck, I wouldn’t have given myself a fair shake. I feared when people read my little part of the interview they’d take on the tone of the gentleman from Concordia Lutheran in Abe’s article (which was published on the September 28):
“Yeah, maybe we're only looking for conservatives, but I'm sorry, that's all we have at the church,” said [John], a founder of Salt and Light at Concordia and former chair of the Bexar County Christian Coalition. “We know — do I dare call them heathens — are going to support their candidates. So we know we have to find conservatives, and where are they? They're in church.”
If my following Jesus out into the world means being mislabeled a heathen, was I up for it? I was experiencing feelings similar to sitcom character George Costanza when his worlds collided in Seinfeld, Episode 118 :
[Inside Jerry's apartment -- Jerry sits on the couch listening to George.]
GEORGE: Ah, you have no idea of the magnitude of this thing. If she is allowed to infiltrate this world, then George Costanza as you know him, Ceases to Exist! You see, right now, I have Relationship George, but there is also Independent George. That's the George you know, the George you grew up with — Movie George, Coffee shop George, Liar George, Bawdy George.
JERRY: I, I love that George.
GEORGE: Me Too! And he's Dying, Jerry! If Relationship George walks through this door, he will Kill Independent George! A George, divided against itself, Cannot Stand!
GEORGE: You're Killing Independent George! You know that, don't you?
George’s existential crisis had to do with a different kind of integrity issue. Not to get too Jungian about it, but he was maintaining two personas, living one reality around his friends and an entirely different reality in front of his girlfriend. This duplicity produces tension. Like a rubber band stretched taut around two poles that are slowly diverging, eventually something’s gotta give.
What different kinds of Pauls am I projecting? Husband Paul? Designer Paul? Contemplative Paul? Musician Paul? To some friends, like my amigo Jeff, I am simply ‘more progressive’ than he is. He’s voting for McCain, I’m voting for Obama. No big deal. In fact, because of this difference we sit around after a night of playing music together and have wonderful theological conversations wherein theories find currency, iron sharpens iron, and the deep roots of our friendship get watered. To many of my other friends and co-workers, I am simply ‘more conservative’ than they are. Again: no big deal. I might have a more provincial view of many issues, but maybe I learn something from them . And at the end of the day we’re both enriched.
I’m growing increasingly tired of keeping up appearances. I’m going to do what I can to peel back the veneer and truly be me. This might be a little rough at times for all of us. If you’re right of center and need to call me a liberal so that I fit more easily into your worldview, so be it. I won’t be offended. If you’re left of center and need to distance yourself from me because I’m not progressive enough with you on all your issues, so be it. I won’t be moved on some things.
Let’s circle this back around to soupablog and its next thousand posts. What’s that gonna look like? I wouldn’t expect too much to change. Hopefully the next 1,000 will be full of creativity and wit and observations.
My goal will still be to look at art, faith, design, music, architecture, politics, and my own family’s adventures through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If that’s too spiritual for you, then so be it. I won’t get offended. If your view of Christ and culture doesn’t allow for gospel-transformed culture, then so be it. I won’t get offended. But in order to know the real me, you’ll need come along on his little journey.
One of my readers, someone very close to me, recently took issue with a posting I had put up about the current presidential race. They suggested that by introducing politics into my blog, I was “changing the emphasis, changing the discourse, changing from a pleasant walk in the park to the cacophony of The World.”
I gently take issue with this description, and hope this reader doesn’t mind my anonymously quoting them. Here’s my take on this. As an artist who is a follower of Jesus, a huge part of my calling is to prophetically lean into current situations (such as the war) in order to artfully, creatively bring about change and to speak truth to power. This includes the art I create and the artifacts our culture creates — I plan to be right there in the middle of the cacophony of the world: in the world yet not of it . Some of our best art comes from the margins, from places of real hurt where salvation is something real and imminently needed; I want a Christ “seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go / looking for the places only they would know”, and for the same reason, I want to follow him there, too.
That’s where I’ll be, god-willing, trying to figure out my place in this world. I’ll engage and then reflect right here on the virtual pages of soupablog. You’re all invited along for the ride. Family, friends, co-workers, strangers.
Thank you for reading.
— Paul R. Soupiset, San Antonio
1.These would include commenting on a blog, engaging in a threaded discussion on Facebook, tagging, rating, forwarding or engaging in other so-called Web 2.0 behaviors. A current example: when my friend T.J. launched into a spirited discussion on the abortion issue on Facebook this week, I replied and in doing so became involved in a multi-person conversation with his aunt across the country, an old church friend of his who relocated to another state, and other strangers, all of whom I’ve never met.
2. Transcribed by Dan Coogan http://www.cooganphoto.com / Originally posted on The News Guys(Mike's) site http://www.geocities.com/tnguymFrom
3. From these folks I’ve learned, for example, about immigration and the gospel. I’ve also grappled with my previously hard-line stance on labor unions after having seen the plight of a worker through the lens of the gospel. These are just top-of-mind examples.
4. I reject the isolationist, suburban gated-community temptation to be removed from (not in) the world, for life is not a sanitized walk in the park; if it is, Christ’s incarnation would’ve played out a much different way. When we try to protect ourselves from the world, we miss the lepers and the orphans and the needy. We miss out on living as well. My dad's been a huge encouragement on this fornt recently: he just wrote an essay about his interactions with hurricane ike survivors.