Sunday, February 15, 2009

Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical

I met Erika Archer at a strip mall kung fu dojo in 2002. The strip mall location didn't indicate anything about the quality of the kung fu, but it did allow for easy access to a cheap Chinese restaurant. I tried the Chinese one evening with a group of back-to-back kung fu / Chinese regulars. We each ordered our own dish and didn't share. I chose some sort of lo mein, because you're supposed to, and after receiving my food realized that it would be uncool to order anything other than Mongolian beef next time.

Armed with that information, I began to get to know Erika. She was older than me, but I couldn't figure out her exact age. She seemed too young to be married, but she was excellent at kung fu. She lived with her husband up in the mountains and came into town every day to spend time writing at coffee shops.

The kung fu crowd of 2002 was an eclectic explosion of stories. Chaka, my training partner, was a solid 200+lb. rock of a guy from Ghana. We tested the scene at the same time. We met Ben, a passionate, excitable, sometimes student who turned 21 and wore a gi well. He often sparred with Matt, a sweet but vicious black belt that wished he was a woman. Winston and his dad, Steve, were the rocks of the room. There were two Michelle's, both cooler than me, and a Veronica - actually, I should say, the Veronica. An Army sergeant, Veronica put up with no nonsense from anyone, and always had time for a good time. These characters became my life during those years, but this story is about Erika.

Eventually I found out that she was six years older than me. I knew things were interesting when I learned that she was 29 and celebrating her ten year wedding anniversary. Back in evangelical Colorado Springs, there was no dancing at weddings. To me, Erika is a peephole into a world that I barely understand. Raised in churches and banned from using Ouiji boards or roller skating with bare knees, she eventually found her own way, with full understanding of her past. Because she's a writer, I know her teenage years in fantasical detail. Her mid-30's memoir, In a Handbasket: Confessions of a Recovering Evangelical, is a great tour through church youth groups, goldfish eating courtships, and secret missions to 'save' the non-believers.

I have only lived in primarily liberal, non-secular cities. When the news bombs me with information about the Christian right voting one way or another, I always wonder how someone could fundamentally believe that evolution or homosexuality are wrong. Basic scientific fact tells us that the Earth was not formed 6000 years ago. How is it that someone can spend so much energy believing otherwise? In any event, Erika was my window into the bubble. Of course, it took her leaving that world for me to experience it, but it is as close as I have ever been. Erika is far from evangelical now. In fact, she writes for the ever-entertaining The Nervous Breakdown about topics that make me wonder if she's worried that her two kids will eventually stumble across them one day. She does disguise herself under the name Erika Rae.

I see Erika as a translator. She was (and still is) able to pull herself away from her own life enough to evaluate it, decide on its direction, and then reflect on it in the future. This skill, lost on many, allows the richness of her life to be seemingly easily transcribed. It makes me wonder what she would write about me. I can write about her because she has been able to transfer her stories and make them accessible. Is the opposite true?

Maybe I need some Mongolian beef.

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