What the hell am I doing here?

They call me Mr Fantastic

I taught myself a new word today – autodidact. Clearly, my attempts at self-education were not as rigorous as I had previously presumed them to have been. You are never too old to learn something new.

I used to think that there might be other selves lurking inside this one and that my life’s work was to find them – hence the picture above. I am now no longer of that opinion. There is no innate essential ‘me’ to be found and, as Bob Dylan suggested in the recently released documentary of his Rolling Thunder Review tour in the 70s, “life is not about finding yourself, it’s not about finding anything, life is about creating yourself”.

If I am to accept that then it is possible that I can create the writer or the poet or the musician in the same way that I created the parent or the friend or the IT Consultant. In many ways it might be easier. I could contend that this piece along with some of the other posts on this site make me a writer. I have written poems. I am, perhaps, not as competent in both disciplines as I am at switching a computer off and on in order to rectify a malfunction. At no point though have I tried to establish that I wish to be a talented artist and if I am happy with what I create then that is surely half the battle?

Deep down I think that the one thing I wanted to be, and this relates to the ‘joke’ in the opening paragraph, is an intellectual, a thinker, a shaper of minds! In order to realise this idea of me I would require two things: an intellect and the educational intervention of others. The ability to comprehend and analyse topics and develop your own thoughts and opinions in and around them is something that a good education offers and encourages – providing, of course, that you have the basic intellectual capability to do so. I don’t think that I lack the intelligence to achieve this goal but I do think I lack the patience. I love to learn new stuff but I really need to do it on my own terms. And so I cannot create the intellectual me in the way that I can the artistic one.

What has all this to do with the Radiohead lyric quoted in the title of this post? Well the next line of the song ‘Creep’ is:

I don’t belong here

Next weekend there are two events on my calendar, either of which I could attend. They are both gatherings of organisations I have an association with and, coincidentally, each one has chosen this date to discuss and explore what they are about, what is their mission if you like. The European Radical Theology Group (ERTG) has never met before. It was born out of a desire in its members to translate some of the American based ideas pertaining to Radical Theology (RT) into a European context. It is, despite the name of the group, quite an exciting venture and one I was keen to be involved with when invited to. The second group is Inspire church in Levenshulme where Anne and I attend on a fairly regular basis and have been doing so for the last 7 years or so. That period of time is important because it also spans the same number of years in which I have immersed myself in RT. Indeed it is my attendance at events such as Pete Rollins’ Wake, held each year in his home town of Belfast, that have enabled me to contemplate any involvement in a Christian church setting. I find the exploration of RT ideas through the stories, the beliefs and the experiences of the people I meet at Inspire to be a very worthwhile.

Of course, I cannot attend both and I must decide which I will go to. The decision has been made a little easier in that one is happening 320 miles away in the Netherlands and the other just down the road. Had my desire to attend the ERTG meeting, at which I would have met with some old and dear friends, been sufficiently strong the logistics would have been simple to manage but, unfortunately, it isn’t and this is because I want to spend that day in a place I feel I most belong.

My working definition of belonging is: The point at which the person you think you are can coexist with the person you actually are. I define the person you think you are, who I am – my fantasy self – as the idea of who I am and only I can interact with and relate to this side of me. Whereas the person I actually am, my real self, is the person with whom other people interact and have a relationship with. Therefore if we reside too deeply in our fantasy world then we can’t be where we are and are, in effect, somewhere else. Similarly, if we find ourselves so rooted in our present situation that we can envisage no other possibility then we’re trapped and held prisoner by it. Accordingly, neither scenario can be called belonging.

My fantasy of becoming an intellectual is what draws me to Utrecht and the ERTG, and, as I have suggested, realising that is beyond my capabilities and ensures that I will never belong there despite my being far more susceptible to and sympathetic with their ideas. So I belong at Inspire and I will spend the day with a group of people that I, perhaps, share less intellectual space but with whom I feel an immeasurable sense of connection.