An Army of Schizophrenics (part I)Essays — By Michael Green on March 30, 2012 at 8:34 am
An Army of Schizophrenics (Part I)
I don’t quit things. When I believe in something, I dig in and don’t let go. I’m also stubborn, which causes me to hold on extra tightly—probably too long in some cases.
I wasn’t always like that. I quit things growing up. I quit football in 8th grade. I was too small and got my butt kicked by Reggie Lyons, who would chase me after the whistle had blown so he could knock me down. The coaches encouraged it; I don’t think they liked me very much, either. I also quit freshman basketball. Back then, all I wanted to do was play basketball. I carried a ball with me at all times, even on family vacation, and shot hoops for two hours a day. Again, I ran into the same problem…too small. I also had not trained on the track. During the first day of tryouts, I got dusted on the mile run and quit. I became the team manager instead, which I regretted. I found it embarrassing, having to sweep the court with a broom during games while my friends watched from the stands.
That was a long time ago. Somewhere along the way, my skin thickened, as did my resolve. I came to L.A. determined. No one was going to dissuade me; I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Each rejection came as a body blow to the ego. But I prided myself on resiliency. I imagined myself a boxer, always getting off the mat for one more round. In fact, my favorite quote referred to boxers: “Boxers aren’t extraordinary men; they are ordinary men with extraordinary determination.” When others had given up, I would be the last one standing.
A quick story: I got called for a Saturday audition in Koreatown. I wasn’t told much about the character I’d be playing, except he was a brilliant but mad scientist. That afternoon, I changed into the costume I’d chosen (black vest, disshelved white shirt, black trousers and scuffed boots) and drove an hour into K-town. Entering the lobby, I saw over a hundred people in the waiting room—all types, men, women, some children. A couple of dozen guys who fit my casting type. I signed in, grabbed a copy of the script and sat against a wall for what I suspected was going to be a long wait.
I noticed an older man, paunchy, wearing faded jeans and sneakers, walking around, speaking to several of the guys who fit my type. “You’re too young for this part,” he told them. When they protested, he said, “I know this character. Trust me, you’re too young. You might as well leave. You’re just wasting your time.” Some took his advice and left. Others ignored him and stayed.
“He’s just some burned out actor,” I thought. “Trying to thin the competition.”
Soon, I saw him stroll my way. I buried myself in the script, hoping to avoid making eye contact with him—until I saw the tips of his sneakers push their way into my line of sight.
“You’re too young for this part,” the man said.
“I’m still going to audition.”
“Believe me, you have no a chance of getting this role.”
“You’ve been walking around for an hour telling everyone that. We don’t care what you think. We’re not listening to you. Who the hell are you are, anyway?”
“I’m the casting director,” he answered.
There’s really no recourse from that except to play the rest of the hand. When finally called in to audition, I said hello to everyone, stood onstage, looked the casting director in the eye and gave one of the best readings I’d ever given. I didn’t get the part—I was too young—but I had stood my ground. “That was really good,” he said when I’d finished.
Persevere—never take no for answer—never give up. These are platitudes we’ve been taught to honor, right?
It’s also what we’re called to do as Christians. Even Jesus said as much, right before he told the parable about the widow and the judge.
For those unfamiliar with the story, a quick paraphrase: An elderly widow pesters a cruel and merciless judge for legal protection until he finally concedes and gives her what she desires. Jesus says we should have the persistence of this woman. In other words, keep praying. Keep praying. Keep praying. Even when we don’t see it. That’s the definition of faith, right? The assurance of things hoped for.
Here’s the problem: it’s also the definition of insanity. “Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”
By definition, to be a Christian is to be crazy. Is it any wonder we’re so screwed up?
I used to think it was just me. I’d go to church on Sunday and my mind would be a thousand miles elsewhere, filled with irrational thoughts, doubts, freaking out—but yet, I felt the need to smile like everyone else. My only hope was no one would ask the “How are you doing?” question. What would I say then?
Then, several years ago, my church sponsored a retreat. The slogan for the weekend was, “I’m FINE: Freaked-out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.” That was comforting to me. It was nice to know I wasn’t the only one faking it.
Embrace it—we are a little crazy. We believe in a God who is all-powerful, moves the universe and loves people. And who says to be persistent in prayer.
But it’s hard. To pray requires hope, and hope requires taking a risk that we could be let down. That’s why many people pray for their friends and family members but not for themselves, especially in the areas they care most about. They don’t want to be disappointed again. Because after too many times, we lose heart. But we’re called to be crazy. To believe in the impossible and to risk being hurt again and again and again.
One of the women in my community group left a career as a doctor to return to school for her PhD. One night, she confessed to being disheartened; her contemporaries were making tons of money while she was still financially strapped. “I’m like a broken record,” she said. “It’s always about my career and wondering if I did the right thing. I compare my situation to others and it keeps me from believing that God cares for me. I have to meditate on these thoughts: that God loves me and is going to provide for me.”
“How do you do it?” I asked. “Practically, that is.”
“I have to catch myself when I have those negative thoughts, then I have to kick them out. Like it says in the Bible, ‘Take every thought captive.’ I remind myself that God is good and does care for me. But I have to do that everyday. Many times a day, in fact.”
That’s the Christian life. Trying to keep hope alive, while kicking out the voices in our heads telling us otherwise.
I think about the creature Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings.” Wrestling with two halves, the desire to serve and do good versus the desire for power and the treasure that was once his. Maybe Tolkien was a true visionary; and Gollum is a picture of the modern Christian. Torn by the idea that: 1) heaven should be our reward, and this life shouldn’t matter, and 2) that it still does.