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So We Blog On… A Real Rattlesnake Turns 4

A Real Rattlesnake Turns 4 years old this August.

As I’m trying to be more “professional” online and less scattered overall, I’ve been thinking:

Why keep up this old, wracking hulk of a blog?

Why keep writing on it? Why keep sharing the links on social media, especially when there is so much content on these old pages – things I myself have written – that saddens and infuriates me?

Well, for one, maintaining this site forces me not to obfuscate or erase the past, which is my constant tendency. Keeping up this blog stands as a pushback to my self-preservation instinct’s collapsing star. If you want to go back and look at the unfortunate things I once thought, here I am inarguably naked, laid bare by this artifact.

When I started A Real Rattlesnake Meets His Maker in August of 2012, the summer I participated in a Cru Summer Project, I believed a lot of different things about God, the world, and myself. It causes me such acute pain, a spiritual cringe really, to look back on most things written here. I’ve changed so, so much.

On a good day I can follow a couple of my old signposts along the trail, walking backwards through some stranger’s thoughts about the world and all the divinity infused here. Keeping all these old posts up leaves a reverse bread crumb trail that, from comments I still get, I know is helpful to others in their Exoduses out of spiritually abusive evangelical and fundamentalist communities.

But clicking on a random post I wrote back when I thought LGBTQ relationships were sinful, for instance, makes me feel like I’m unnecessarily keeping the racist relatives around. Many posts feel cheap, disrespectful to myself even, reviewing them years out.

However, the dramatic reflections on spiritual and sexual trauma and searching splayed across these pages and the loss – and staggered regaining – of my religious faith is not the only story here. The fundamental re-conception of core beliefs I have undergone in the four years since my blog began was issued, in part, from newly-claimed and discovered identities. The boxes I would have checked on a census even just two years ago compared to today would differ radically: when prompted, I would have penned a different kind of faith, written down a different race/ethnicity, noted a different sexual orientation, even a different name.

It is already difficult for me as an ENFP (and an Enneagram 7) to hold onto old relationships and to keep close personal friendships, despite a fairly wide-reaching social network. Add to that natural proclivity the incredible and inexpressible distance I have traveled over these past few years, and you will almost certainly find a lot of confusion and pain from loved ones.

How to begin to account for this secondary (and tertiary…) adolescence with even dear friends and family who, knowing some former fragment of me, are now left with a crude sketch of who I’ve become? They can only approximate, hurling innocent questions like torpedoes. B-7? C-9? Playing this game leaves me with a sense of shame. It is easier to reinvent, to obfuscate, to deny access – or to ignore that these seismic shifts have taken place.

How to maintain these old relationships with integrity when there is so much to account for? Easier to jettison the cargo, make a beeline for the nearest shore, and let who follows will.

I was never taught how to hold onto the past.

Last night while having dinner with friends I traveled to Cuba with two summers ago, all sorts of emotions came suddenly welling up. I have not let myself be consciously in touch with memories from even two years ago. It is too painful to imagine the past, when I was distinctly captive to a certain kind of faith. A past splayed all over this blog, a past of distinct racism and sexism and heterosexism and, of course, using only capital ‘He’ to refer to God.

“Can’t relive the past? Why of course you can!”

I am nothing like Jay Gatsby. I don’t want to relive the good old days: I want to immolate the past. I want to purge its stench from my flesh, excise its signature in my brain. Even the good memories have become tainted with an embarrassment of who I was, who I allowed myself to be.

But those memories cannot escape us. We are littered with the past. If not defined by it, at least caught in its pull. I am not Kenji without Ryan, and Keone. I am not a mainline seminarian without my Roman Catholic and nondenominational evangelical roots and faith. I’m not a Nikkei without having been socialized into hapa suburban whiteness for most of my life, not myself as a writer or a boyfriend or a brother without my struggles with clinical depression, without divorce and coming out and understanding both my and my mother’s queerness. I’m simply not me at all without my tongue and pen, without my brash Spanish in Honduras and Costa Rica, street evangelizing in San Diego, and on long walks down Havana’s Malecón. I’m not me without Twitter, without brightside and holy friendships, without Carry the Fire, the Reformation Project, and the Killjoy Prophets.

When I think about it, I am everything like Gatsby. I am re-invented. I am no more a paragon of “wokeness” and allure than James Gatz could claim the mantle of the rich young ruler. (Gatsby must have been an ENFP also – often we are not sure what we are beyond the warped, crumpled projections of your deepest desires.)

For now, this blog will remain up, as a honest tool for myself and others, to help close the mental and spiritual gap between then and now. I’m done trying to be appealing or hip with these posts. I love the white Christian mommy and daddy bloggers, and I’m not one of them. The times I’ve loved this space most have been when I could be forwardly vulnerable in such a way that other people felt okay saying: “…me too.” I think if we can stay in that place, there is real hope for the stories that will be continue to told here as I navigate what’s next for A Real Rattlesnake.

Like Gatsby, like all of us, I’m inextricably bound up in each of my old testaments, fully indicted and fully known by all former versions of myself. I, too, believe in some divine, impassable light, an orgastic dream that jets out year by year before us. It eluded us before, but no worries – tomorrow we will lean forward, re-imagine ourselves, brush off the keyboards, and break ourselves open to the world again. And one fine morning…

So we blog on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Happy four years. I am so grateful for each one of you reading this.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. pinkysj #

    This is a beautiful statement, Kenji, and you are beautiful now not in spite of your past you, but because of that person. Most of us have something cringeworthy in our pasts (I certainly do) but if we’re lucky and brave and curious and engaged, we keep on growing and changing and learning—that’s living. Because you have discovered what you know now from a place beyond its borders, you can see it all with a clarity, depth, and appreciation that aren’t always there when it’s just always been the air a person breathes—and you’re equipped to express it because language has been a medium of your transformation.

    July 21, 2016
  2. GSR #

    As someone who has known and loved you since you were 6….Don’t beat yourself up too much. It’s called growing up. Most adolescents just don’t have the gumption to catalogue it before our very eyes. The naïvety and idealism of youth become tempered with reality and experience. The best parts of you were there at 6 and still are. (What a joy it was to be a “room parent” in awesome Ms. Kemper’s first grade class!) In any case, you were the insightful-beyond-your-single-digit-age kid who saw a boy in the class who was different: handsome and intelligent, but ostracized nonetheless because of other nonverbal communication and motor challenges. You recognized the value in this child, embraced and befriended him, supported and defended him, challenged him to develop the unique skills he did possess, and gave him the confidence to succeed. Your ultimate decision to major in social work in college was an obvious eventuality to me. You are so much more than your Myers-Briggs type indicator.

    July 22, 2016
  3. I absolutely love this piece! I’ve got a few other blogs floating out there on the Internet (lol) and they were from some days where I fancied myself a Biblical literalist LOL! It’s true that looking back can both be challenging, encouraging, transformational, cringe-worthy, so many emotions at the same time. I’m grateful for the work that you do here and am excited to see all that you will do moving forward!
    Best Regards,

    July 25, 2016
    • can’t wait to have more conversations, Jade. I have been peeping your blog with wonder and joy since the Goose. thank you for your words

      July 25, 2016
  4. I think a lot of us ex-evangelicals have had similar feelings- in the past, we bought into all of it and fought for those things. I knew all the correct arguments to prove that yes, a loving God can send people to hell, and I totally know all the correct answers for LGBT people’s lives even though I have no personal experience with it, etc- and yes, I was really public about that stuff, I argued with people, I went up to strangers and “did evangelism”, all that. I started my blog in 2012, like you, and I guess by that time I had already changed a lot of my beliefs- for my early posts, I don’t necessarily disagree with what I wrote then, but I wouldn’t say it the same way now. (err, who knows, it’s been a long time since I’ve read them…) So I never wrote any of the most cringe-worthy stuff on my blog, but I DID write it all on facebook in the years before I started my blog. And maybe a year or so ago I went back and set the privacy settings so that no one would be able to read all my old on-fire-for-Christ facebook notes where I “shared my testimony” and … uh … rewrote pop songs so they were about my obsessive, all-consuming love for a God who thought he owned me.

    SO ANYWAY the point is, a lot of us have had this same sort of “oh my goodness that stuff I believed and advocated in the past is so embarrassing” problem. It’s totally understandable if you want to remove old stuff, but it’s also understandable if you don’t- that’s part of your past and it makes you who you are now, and there are lots of people with that same sort of past and the same sort of changes.

    July 25, 2016
  5. Beauty. You are braver than me. I live in constant fear of folks knowing my past and the complicated parts of me. Even the newer folks that this season has brought me. I’ve stopped writing publicly several years ago and even deleted my old blogs. Even during this election season, where I am constantly learning learning learning and changing my awareness of myself, of others and the world we live in… I become ashamed of who I was a week ago. It sounds that ridiculous. It must be liberating to relinquish control of how you are perceived by others. But, I am not there yet.

    July 30, 2016
    • i know that tension so, so well. i am wrestling daily with the past, and know very well that constant, silly shame of who i was just a couple of weeks ago. I’m so grateful to be growing and in community with you, rachel. thank you for your kind words. i know I’m not just casting out noise into the void because of the god and love and courage I see in friends like you.

      i hope we can get there together

      August 15, 2016

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