Missionary Position; Or, The Case Of The Unavailable Title

    Have you ever had the experience of thinking of a really great title for some project--the perfect name for a product or a company or, say, a book? Then you think, this is too good; someone must have thought of it already. So you Google it, and lo and behold, you seem to be the first one. Hooray! The opportunity is yours to seize. Now, have you ever had that same experience, except instead of the happy ending, you find that yes, someone did indeed think of this thing before you? And not only that, they ran with it, and made their idea happen, thus robbing you of the manifestation of the specific creative vision you had developed such a crush on. Lame.

    This happened to me recently. See, I started this blog in lieu of writing a book. I know, I know--a lot of people start blogs in hopes of having it ‘discovered’ and being offered the money to turn their concept into a real-life, shelf-worthy, hardcover text. For me, the book inkling had existed for some time, but I simply couldn’t find the energy to delve into such a daunting task in the middle of also working full-time, trying to maintain a social life, actually sleeping, and so on. It came to me that writing shorter pieces--sussing out my Christian experience in small, discrete but connected reflections--was a more manageable order. My ultimate goal was not in fact a full-on book; it was to write what I needed to write, and I knew that I’d be more likely to do that if the venue was not overwhelming. So, here we are.

    Except, over the summer, after about a year spent working on this site, a book kind of started to feel like a possible next step. What would the book be about, though? Obviously my life in and departure from the Church, but that’s quite a broad topic. I needed a frame. How about evangelism? My belief that I was one of the saved, and all that that lead to in terms of my relating to other people and actions in the world. Basically everything I’ve written about here fits into that box in one way or another. And, since I love a good title--and happen to be pretty good at thinking of them--I immediately started brainstorming a name for the book. I remember it clearly: I was walking down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, returning home from one errand or another, and it popped into my head: “Missionary Position”. A great title, right? Provocative, punny, and incredibly apt given the subject matter. Perhaps, even too good to be true?

    Sadly, it was. I had pulled my iPhone from the back pocket of my jeans to Google it, and it turns out someone did write a book entitled “The Missionary Position”. Someone very famous, in fact: Christopher Hitchens. It's about Mother Theresa. Of course it’s not as if he was the one who came up with phrase “missionary position”, but one doesn’t just use the same title that Christopher Hitchens chose for his book, especially if one is also writing a criticism of Christianity. I guess I’ll just have to move on.

    Regardless of whether the title is available or not, the reason I thought it would be so perfect for my project is that I was a missionary. Short-term, granted, but a missionary nonetheless. It’s not something I talk about often. It is, in fact, something about which I’m rather embarrassed. To wit: when I tell non-churched people about some of the places I traveled to that happened to be my mission trip destinations, and they want to know for what reason I made the journey, I usually say that I was "doing community service". Sometimes, I will intentionally omit the religious element altogether if they ask for further details.

    This embarrassment is interesting to me. Why is this tidbit about my faith-based life more shameful than any other? I think, perhaps, at least in part, because it involved so much intention. I mean, I put in the applications, I raised the money, I got on the planes or in the van or whatever the transportation was that bore me to those supposedly needy places. It wasn’t pushed upon me, the missionary vocation, like so much of the rest of my experience in the church. I pursued it.

    The existence of that fact spoils the 'me' I’ve constructed post-Christianity. What will people who did not grow up in the church--who may actually be very critical of the church--think of me when they find out I did those things? I don’t like being out of control of my image in that way. Stepping out into the secular world as a new non-believer feels like suddenly finding myself at the cool kids’ table, which is a delicate situation. I’m only partly sure of what I changed to get here, and I definitely prefer it to being an outcast, but I know where I was sitting before and why I was sitting there and that I can’t erase my old self entirely and I really don’t want someone to make a snap judgment and send me back.

    So I want the clever title, and after the title page is turned I also want to be able to tell my story in exactly the order and level of detail that will save me from being thought of as weird or lame. Often this involves pointing to all the reasons I did weird or lame things--reasons that were, of course, out of my control in one way or another. “This person brainwashed me”, “I was too young to understand”, “I was sheltered”, etc. etc. etc. Not incorrect, these things, but not fully explanatory either. Nothing is, and nothing will be.

    A title is for a book, and a book has a frame that is usually more narrow and nuanced than the wide, gaping, complicated space between one’s birth and one’s death. Unfortunately, unlike in editing, one cannot cut out parts of one’s lived life for the sake of flow. It’s all part of the same story, even the weird and lame things you’ve done. You don’t have to share them with everybody, but you might never find a title that makes them more palpable to you, either. It would be nice if an individual life could be as thoroughly well-intentioned as a piece of art. Too many movies and TV shows have almost convinced me that it’s possible. But even just a fraction of a belief that it could be so is enough to stand on to judge yourself and those around you against a totally ridiculous “should”.

    Forget “should”. What IS?