The Journey

Personal Essay
By Tyler Tupper

When you're flying at 530 miles per hour 30,000 above the earth, it's physically impossible to do an instant 180 degree turn. But that, in a sense, is what happened to me on a December morning in 2006.

Sometimes a change of perspective will take your life in a new direction. It could be an epiphany in a quiet moment, or a catastrophic, life-changing event. Mine was both. Sitting on airplane, miles above the earth, I experienced that quiet moment reading Donald Miller's "Blue Like Jazz."It was quickly followed by a loud one. I stared blankly out the window – my "home" was now completely destroyed.

I was fed up. I was done. I had all but given up on Christianity. The "house" in question was in fact the faith I was raised in. It was my framework and foundation, but it was also distant and foreign; my parents' religion. See, it was me tearing apart the house, piece by piece.

I hated the hypocrisy, the double standard and the seemingly endless contradiction between the rhetoric and actions of those who preached it. But most of all I hated how it was used as a tool of manipulation in my own family.

Born into a Christian household, I attended church, youth group, Sunday school, summer camp – everything expected of a good Christian boy. I valued the things I was supposed to value. I believed what I was supposed to believe. I followed the rules given to me. I thought I found purpose and meaning for my life. Anything in this world without an answer, from the physical to the spiritual, could be attributed to an all-powerful God who gave comfort and peace.

How wrong I was. Instead, I was hollow and empty. I had carved out my insides and given them away, losing my identity as an individual in the process.

My freshman year at Whitworth I saw many people just like me – pretending to be happy on the outside, but containing little substance within. But they were complacent, blissfully content to stay in the bubble they were raised in.

I was not. I started questioning the tenets of my faith, albeit privately. That questioning continued for two more years before I finally met it face to face.

I admitted to myself and my family that Christianity didn't make sense anymore. It didn't contain the answers I was searching for. I gradually rejected Christianity, and with it, everything my parents held dear. My mother was devastated. She saw it as a slap in her face.

But something was still wrong. I didn't feel any better. Still hollow and empty, it seemed I had just traded a set of answers for more questions – except now I was bitter and hostile to the faith I was raised in.

During Christmas break of 2006 I sat in the airport waiting to catch the next flight on our family vacation. I spent the day traveling across the country and reading "Blue Like Jazz." In Miller's writings on faith, religion and spirituality I found something true, something authentic – even though I didn't consider myself a Christian. His words resonated with me in a way like never before.

Reading "Blue Like Jazz" on my flight gave me a new perspective. Someone filled the pages of a book with a gut-wrenching honesty I'd never seen before. Miller shared his stories of questioning and struggle with the Christian faith – stories of his successes and failures, pinpointing holes and strengths in Christianity.

Miller saw people for who they were: simply people, without a label of Christian or non-Christian. It was then, 30,000 feet in the air, I realized that I was not any better than those who surrounded me at Whitworth: the ones I had pegged as "narrow-minded" and "ignorant." I was just as narrow-minded myself.

Things changed after that. I started over. With my foundation crumbling, the only thing that made sense was setting the house on fire. I knew after clearing the debris rebuilding could take place. I reevaluated my life and what I deemed important.

I realized I value relationships and connections with other human beings more than anything. At our core we seek connection with others. But instead of taking purposeful action to connect, we find excuses not to. Everything has a priority, yet relationships with other people should be number one.

Some might say this is basic Christian philosophy. They would be right. However, the philosophy of Christianity and the practice of it are two different things. Many times our faith or religion becomes self-centered. We forget about others.

I strive to live authentically. When people see me, I want them to see me. The same goes for those I call my friends. At times, I've slowly peeled back the layers of a person only to discover a there is nothing underneath. No substance. No identity. No critical thinking. No thoughts of his or her own. It's nauseating to watch people live without ever questioning the patterns their parents designed for them.

I slowly came to realize what was essential for my own happiness: not in a selfish way, but in an authentic way. How are we supposed to love others without truly loving ourselves first? Today I love who I am. My life is more open, honest, true and real than it ever has been. I've taken off the mask, peeled back the layers. No longer do I feel the pressure to change who I am for someone or something. I am myself.

Each person's journey will be different. In the end he or she will have different conclusions and perspectives than I. However, the answers are only secondary. The journey is more important. Simply embarking on it and asking why you believe what you believe changes a person for the better.

Searching for answers only brought more questions. I discovered sometimes there are no answers, but questions without answers are scary. However, in embracing the unknown I found fulfillment. I found a place to start over. I can pour a new foundation. I can start rebuilding.

Maybe someday I'll come back to Christianity. Maybe not. There is no way of knowing. But more importantly than where I'll end up, is where I am now.

Some might look at me and think that I am lost or confused. I would argue that I've discovered a new perspective. Yes, I am wandering among piles of rubble and ruins. But I'm also sorting through it; saving bits and pieces while discarding others. I've spent the last year of my life building a new house, starting with my foundation. I'm not sure when it will be finished, or if I ever want it to be complete. But this house is my own – no one else's. And I couldn't be happier.