Vinding is an English professor and Director of Writing at Bethel.
By April Vinding
Scared. It seems we’re mostly scared.
Afraid to speak in class. Afraid there’s no job waiting. Afraid being at a small Christian school undermines our credibility as scholars. Afraid we’ll lose the jobs we have. Afraid we’ll never find love. Afraid the love we have is as good as it gets. Afraid to disappoint our parents. Afraid we haven’t given our children enough. Afraid of being unknown. Afraid of being known.
And those fears are valid. I haven’t published for two years because the judgement I received when I divorced, from intimate friends and the church, destroyed my belief in the goodwill of strangers. I’ve stopped bringing treats to classes because students stopped saying thanks. I’ve stopped asking acquaintances to plays or yoga because half don’t even respond to the invitation. I’ve stopped asking some of the deepest questions—of myself and my students—because it’s too hard to face our own insufficiency.
Sometimes our fear shows up in anger. Anger at the wall. Anger at the LGBTQ+ community. Anger at administration. Anger at complacent students. Anger at haughty professors. Anger at how chapel is run. Anger at those who don’t go to chapel. Anger at ourselves for never being able to just be good enough. Where we’re angry, we’re afraid. Our anger recognizes that someone else has the power to take something we need. “Anger is,” as Dessa says, “just love, left out, gone to vinegar.”
I’m wondering lately, in the midst of this fear and anger, what gospel we believe. Not in what gospel is our intellectual investment, but what gospel do we practice? My anger at you (or your anger at me) admits, more honestly than we often do, that we effect each other’s lives. Our fears admit we can be harmed and often are.
Just as social media is like a Reply All to no original question—where we then wonder why people aren’t paying attention to our answers—living this fear is like performing a play to no audience. We’re all on the same stage: afraid to be found imposters, and so desperate to maintain our roles we don’t even notice everyone is doing the same thing. My mom used to say, “Don’t worry, no one will even notice you—they are all too busy worrying about themselves.” Yep.
So, Cut! Scene. Can we bring up the house lights?
You know what? Sometimes you make me really mad. And most of the time I’m scared to death.
My fear and anger, though, are getting to be burdensome company. Let us speak our angers directly, and work fruitfully against injustices we encounter. And, could we talk sometime about your passions and dreams? Would you please ask about mine? We won’t solve anything for each other, but maybe if these loves aren’t left out we could avoid turning bitter. Maybe a gospel of visions rather than tallies could focus us on the community work of making new wineskins. Maybe practicing that gospel could lead us—even if your cup is Welch’s and mine is Merlot— to toasting at the same table.