On my to-do list: re-listen to Terry Gross’ interview with Paul Schrader and Ethan Hawke about “First Reformed”

Probably a month ago, I heard bits and pieces of the NPR show Fresh Air. It was an interview with Filmmaker Paul Schrader and actor Ethan Hawke about a movie Schrader wrote and directed called “First Reformed.” You can listen to it here.

You’d know Schrader from the movies he wrote: “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” He also wrote the script for “The Last Temptation of Christ,” one of my favorite books and movies.

Schrader has reached 70 years and decided that after a long career of purposefully staying away from the topic of religion, it was time to maybe pursue it.

Apparently Schrader and I share some similarities. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, deep in the heart of the Dutch Reformed Church. My dad is a Dutchman, immigrated to Grand Rapids as a teen and comes from the reformed tradition. My mom grew up in Grand Rapids as well.

We all had very religious upbringings. 

I had Dutch Reformed influence at home and who-the-hell-knows-what at church and school. They called it “Non-Denominational” at church and “Wesleyan” at school. These traditions don’t match entirely. And maybe, just maybe, having the three contradictory internally and antagonistic externally created an atmosphere of confusion for a little mind like mine.

I’d like to think it was meant to be

Regardless, Schrader and I seem to have been dragged through a disciplined childhood of an excess of Biblical teachings. And at some point, we both left the church for a more reasoned approach to viewing the world.

At one point in the Fresh Air interview, Schrader says something about how you’d think that you’d forget all you’ve learned at some point, but those bible verse memorizations come back as if he were a kid in Sunday school.

And at another point, he discusses leaving Grand Rapids to get away from the religiosity. He describes it as a forced need. That if you try to escape, and you get stopped in Kalamazoo (a city about an hour south of Grand Rapids), you’ll never make it away from the faith.

I made it to Asheville on my way out of the state with a shaken faith. I searched for ways to appear that I still had some remnant of faith. Appearances are everything (still are). I was lucky to move to Chicago where I could shake it completely.

I still don’t live like I’m honest with myself. And I go through phases. I’ve had to learn that being honest and up front isn’t really what the church wanted from its congregants. It wanted blind ignorance and a level of deceit I couldn’t maintain.

There are times when I feel betrayed how I was taught to live. That’s to say, we were taught to live toward excellence, of righteous behavior, of always doing the right thing no matter the cost, no matter the embarrassment. When we failed, we were taught to own up. We reaped what we sowed. When we did wrong, we were taught to apologize. Suffering was a part of Christianity, of life, love and being. When someone thought we did wrong, we were taught to muster an apology and work together to alleviate the situation. When we let a fellow family member down, no matter how we felt, we were to find compromise, make amends at all costs.

It’s no mystery, to me at least, that my own ambitions and expectations have continued to discover large, gapping cracks in the foundation of the Christian tradition.

All of these traditions heaped heaviness on my brain. I still fight with a level of perfection that saps my energy. Everything I do and love, I take aim at with every ounce of intensity that I can find. One huge downfall is assuming that others hold the same perception of living, of life, of reaching toward perfection, and not some lazy form of ennui and apathy.

I’m learning more about self compassion and living with the monster voices in my head that set these expectations. But that’s taken time and energy away from pursuing my goals and dreams. It’s hard to see forwards when you’re constantly looking backwards.

I like that last line.

It’s hard to see forwards when you’re constantly looking back. 

It’s so simple. It’s like my biggest complaint about others, and it’s probably the biggest complaint I have for myself. Displacement much?

I’ll leave on a quote from Schrader during the Fresh Air interview on still going to church, but not for the reasons you’d assume. I know other men like this. Retired intellectuals who enjoy church, but only to experience a forced quiet, a mediation, a boredom:

For me, I like to go to church on Sunday mornings to organize my thoughts, organize my week, and be quiet. And you don’t walk out of a church because you’re bored. You go to church to be bored — to have that time. And you can have it in your room in the lotus position or you can have it in a pew. It’s essentially the same sort of thing for me and that’s what I enjoy about it.

For me, my Sunday morning “church” is a 8 to 12 mile run. It strengthens and weakens the body, the mind, the spirit. It’s inspiring. And it moves me forward in life, physically and mentally.

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