I have to confess, I never attended a prom.
The reason is somewhat murky, somewhere between reality and adolescent rationalizations. I liked to tell people that anyone truly "cool" wouldn't be caught dead at a prom. More recently, I might have said that proms promote many of the American ideals I find troubling -- materialism, vanity, self-absorbtion, even (in some cases) alcohol abuse and licentious sexual behavior.
But I was also self-conscious about not fitting in, about someone seeing me awkwardly try to dance, about someone judging my date -- and finding her wanting.
None of this is particularly captivating. In fact, I wouldn't even be thinking about the prom if not for this "assignment." But these musings were colored this week by two seemingly unrelated events -- a conversation with my sister-in-law and a bedtime story for my son.
My sister-in-law is likely an atheist, although I think she prefers to call herself an agnostic. In all things but religion, this former newspaper reporter prides herself on digging for background, asking tough questions and getting to the truth. Yet, when it comes to Christianity, she is quite proud of the fact that she has never read the Bible and has avoided being "taken in" by religious charlatans of any stripe.
Her arguments sounded nearly exactly like those I'd invented to cover my awkward fear of the prom.
The Bible (and/or prom) are fine for those who need such things to prop themselves up, she seemed to be saying But not for a discerning, intelligent, sophisticated woman of New York City.
As she seemed to be lumping all religions into one repugnant casserole, I attempted to draw her back to Christianity, to the promises of Jesus, to the popularity of the Bible. She stopped me flat on every account, as if, somehow, she'd been down that path before and once bitten, twice shy.
I was still pondering this as I read to my son "The Last Battle," the final book in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Amazingly, the book clearly took up my sister-in-law's case.
In the book, an intelligent ape has dressed up a donkey in a lion skin to look like Aslan, the lion who represents Jesus in the series. In "Aslan's name" the ape begins convincing others to do things the real Aslan would never approve.
The good guys eventually find the donkey, steal it with its lion skin, and show it to a bunch of dwarfs who have been misled by the scamming ape. Their reaction is, "Wow, we were really taken in by that phony Aslan! We'll never let THAT happen again."
And no matter how the good guys tried to explain the real Aslan, the dwarfs shrugged and said, "That's your story. The dwarfs are for the dwarfs!"
By now, you've caught me. This isn't so much about the prom as it is about rationalizations and how they color our lives and judgments.
It is almost as if, when Man tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, it was the tree of self-knowledge and rationalization -- the kinds of "knowledge" that only obscure God's truth.
It may serve to protect our fragile egos from the humiliation of the prom, but when applied to scripture, it can keep us from participating in the dance of eternity.