On Joy

So, my girlfriend has been encouraging me to write a final post to close out this blog forever and always. .. … I don’t honestly want to say that this will be the last post that I ever write on this blog. I might need it again someday for venting, or for better and more edifying purposes. However, reading back through these posts about a year later I was definitely not in a great place when I wrote them. … Admittedly, when I wrote most of these I was hurting, angry, and hadn’t slept in two or three days, but nonetheless, I wasn’t in a good place. However, I do want to write a last post (for a while at least) and give anyone of bothers to read this an update on my life. First things first, I have a girlfriend now. She’s a pretty amazing woman who puts up with all of my problems and loves me in spite of them. Honestly, she’s a woman who looks for reasons to love me and be with me, instead of looking for reasons to walk away, and that’s a different feeling for me, but I am definitely thankful for it (p.s. she’s kind of gorgeous too, seriously, really pretty). However, lest the title fool you, she is not the reason that I am joyful. I think that my relationship with her is a wonderful thing, and it is absolutely a huge blessing in my life, but the reason for my joy is much deeper than that.

This is the thing that I’ve learned over the past year. Joy is a virtue, and like all virtues it is developed over time through a process of individual choices that lead to the formation of habits and then become dispositions. This is a slow process that takes both the right environment (for me that was my Church, a local coffee shop, my roommates, and happify.com), an intentional effort to develop the virtue, and the inherent capacity for that virtue. In all of this God has been working in my life in incredible ways since I wrote my last post. Honestly, looking back, this blog was a place for me to vent during a difficult time in my life. Not the most difficult, but still a difficult time. Actually, if you go back and look at the dates on my posts, you can track the initial development of joy in my life by the length of time between posts :P. It’s kind of sadly funny. Anyway, God had created a joyful spirit in me. I’m not going to say that I’m a perfect epitome of joy… far from it actually, but I do like to think that I am now a generally happy and joy-filled person.

It was after this development of joy that I met my girlfriend, who I am going to keep referring to as my girlfriend… you don’t get any other name for her. And after that things started happening in short order. I’ve moved, and I’m now in a graduate program looking at finishing up next year and hopefully starting a Ph.D. program sometime in the next couple of years. I’m reading… a lot… I managed to set myself up with about 45 books to read this semester, something like 10,000 pages I think… I’ll be honest, I haven’t really done the math. From time to time I feel overwhelmed. However, in those times, I turn to God because he is good, and if you take away anything from this post (you know… the three people who actually read it :P) this is what I want you to take away: 1) Joy is a virtue, it comes with time, practice, and reliance of God and 2) God is good. He is good when things are easy, and he is good when things just plain suck. He is good when you are suffering, and he makes your suffering good.

That’s the thing that I really want you to think about. God takes our worst times, whether it is a hard class, a lost job, a difficult marriage, or a dying child, whatever your worst time is, God is there with you in it, and he will make it good… if you let him. I absolutely believe that we are capable of stopping God’s good work in our lives. Of hindering him, walking away from him, and ignoring him. However, if you trust him, if you rely on him, he will make your most difficult experiences something to rejoice over. Not because everything was suddenly fixed, I’m not preaching health/wealth gospel here, but because he was so good in them, and because he made you good through them. So, remember: joy is a virtue and God is good :). And have a better day!

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Romance and the Single Woman

Sometimes I honestly believe that there are no good women left in the world. I know that this isn’t true, and this isn’t a boohoo, woe is me, I’ll never find a wife kind of post.  I’m completely aware that sometimes this feeling has everything to do with me. However, I spent tonight with a bunch of college students (the vast majority of them female) watching a bollywood romance movie (I think I’ve had nightmares about this scenario). The movie was… not great. The female lead was clearly narcissistic and quite possibly a sociopath.

This womn was obsessed with ‘adventure’, by which she meant the adrenaline rush she got from lying, cheating, stealing, and generally ruining other peoples lives. The story opens with her father forcing her to marry against her will. Her answer to this problem? Take advantage of a hard-working man whom her father had cheated by forcing him to kidnap her at gun point (even though she was actually the one holding the gun) and demand an outrageous ransom. She forces/convinces him to steal for her, help her con an innocent gas station attendant out of 10,000 rupies (I think its rupies at least), break into a strangers house and set it up as their home base, and by half-way through the movie this poor man is madly in love with her… this is clearly stockholm syndrome. So, as it turns out, this man’s father is the premier kidnapper in northern India and he has both of them kidnapped to bring his son home. His son, the hard-working man, originally left home because he wanted nothing to do with his father’s business of kidnapping people. He wanted to live an honest life, which this woman has now ruined. She, however, gets along great with his family (half cheats and half decent folks… maybe) and insinuates herself into the fold, even convincing his father to raise the ransom he is demanding for her to a point that will leave her own family impoverished. When her father finally does show up with his daughter (because, what do you know, he actually loves her… can’t figure out why), the kidnapper’s family wants her to stay. The kidnapper, however, leaves the choice up to his son. He, of course, tells her to go home with her father because he wants her to be safe and happy! Of course, this will never happen with a family of thieves and kidnappers, and so she leaves in a huff, deciding that she hates him. The movie does manage to salvage a half-way decent (though non-sensical) ending with the kidnapper’s family mending their ways and the hard-working man winning her back (though why I still can’t figure out). However, it’s a movie so, what do you really expect.

My biggest problem though was not with the movie, but with the women who were watching the movie. The women who found the woman’s clearly horrific actions to be cute, endearing, and romantic. The women who saw every reason for this poor young man to fall in love. The women who were furious with the hard-working man for acting in her best interest even though it hurt him (I believe I heard one woman shout ‘I’ll punch him!’). Honestly, the woman in this movie was the kind of woman that any sensible man should run from, far and fast. She was Emma from Madame Bovary or Scarlett from Gone with the Wind. She was a selfish, childish woman with no moral compass, and no care for others, who wanted a man who would simultaneously be her slave and a dangerous bad guy. In short, she was the farthest thing from romantic, and certainly not a woman that anyone should attempt to emulate.

So, this left me ultimately frustrated. A frustration which I now vent here. Tonight has not been good for my hopes of finding a quality woman somewhere out in the world. Still, as I said at the beginning, I do know a few women of high quality, so at least they do exist.

The Power of a Joyful Life… or Revisiting the Notion of Happiness

I’ve mentioned before (at least I think I’ve said it here… if not I know I’ve said it elsewhere), that I dislike John Piper’s notion of Christian Hedonism. It strikes me that any philosophy based solely or primarily in what brings me the most pleasure is problematic, regardless of the ends it espouses. If my pleasure is the ultimate goal, then I am putting myself at the center of all things, and this is a place that I should never be. That being said, for the past two years God has been teaching me about joy, and I feel like I’m finally getting to the heart of the lesson. For most of my life happiness has been… unimportant. My goal was to be strong, or to be powerful, or to be righteous, or to be good, or to be spiritual (kind of in that order actually), and happiness was something that I always saw as an addendum at best, or a distraction at worst.

A few years ago a friend of mine was lecturing me about the way I approach life and asked me, ‘don’t you want to be happy?’ The only response that I could give was ‘Eh, maybe I guess…’ I want to stress here that my goal was not to be unhappy. I’ve never seen misery as a sign of righteousness (or at least I don’t think I have), but I also never made it a goal to be happy. Over the past two years God has been slowly changing this.

So, recently my bible study (yes, I’m part of a bible study now… yes, I realize that I haven’t posted in ‘like forever’ which translates to a couple of months in real time… thus proving the theory of internet relativity:T=CPI or Time=Care exponentially multiplied by the Perspective of the Individual)… anyway, my bible study has been studying the book of Ecclesiastes, which is a book that I’ve loved for a long time, but recently I’ve had a new perspective on. I think that, at its core, Ecclesiastes is an admonition to joy. The author repeatedly points to the pointlessness, injustice, and repetitiveness of life, and then responds to himself by arguing that true purpose can be found in God.

In chapter one and two he shows that none of the things we normally cling to: labor, love, wealth, knowledge, and pleasure, can possibly serve as the purpose of a meaningful life. All of these are fleeting, ephemeral, and ultimately vanity. However, in chapter 3 he shows that, while none of these things is the point of life, all of them have a point in life. This is an important distinction. A life lived for the pursuit of any of these things will ultimately be unfulfilling, because they are, in themselves, vane. However, all of them are gifts given by God to bring pleasure to life and add to its ultimate purpose. Solomon argues that everything happens for a reason, and that God is the ultimate arbiter of that reason, so should we argue that he got things wrong?

Chapters four and five continue in this vein, showing the vanity and injustice of everyday life when we live it without God, but the pleasure that God can bring through that same vanity when we place him at the center of our lives. I have long been somewhat enamored by the mystic ascetics (or ascetic mystics… whatever you want to call them). And I think that true joy can be found in the ascetic pursuit of God, but this is not the only way to glorify him.

Whoever we are, whatever path God takes us on (and I’m not trying to preach Universalism here, if you think God is calling you to be a Buddhist Monk you need to revisit the scriptures), we can and should find joy when we truly place him at the center of our lives. This is something that I’m currently working on. For a long time I, like the Pharisees, turned moral virtue and righteousness into an idol, all too often replacing my worship with God with a worship of goodness. Even when I left this behind, I didn’t seek to enjoy God, but simply to endure with him.

My circumstances haven’t changed much in the past few years. I’m still single, still poor, and I still have debts that I’ll probably never be able to realistically pay (though this is in God’s hands). I still struggle with depression, fear, doubt, worry, etc. However, I’m struggling less and enjoying more. I’m learning to find my joy in God and truly, thoroughly worship him.

Thoughts on Blogging

Man, it’s been a little while since I have a chance to write anything here. I actually just wrote a more professional piece on this topic for the other blog I run, but I wanted to put down some ideas here. Well, first of all its been a busy month. I’ve had a lot of work, which is always good, and a few problem students… which isn’t, but hey, it’s experience, right? Heh, it actually is good experience. It certainly develops my people skills and my confidence in my own abilities. So, I drove down to Southeastern yesterday. The trip had three purposes really, all of which were accomplished after a fashion. I met a lady that I’ve been emailing with on eHarmony. I really like her as a person, and after meeting her I can say that I am attracted to her physically, though not as attracted as I’d like to be. However, I really like her as a person, so as long as there’s an attraction there, looks aren’t my first priority. I didn’t get to spend much time with her, and hardly any of it was spent alone, but it was good to actually meet her in the flesh. I also had lunch with a close friend of mine, and I got to meet with the man that I’m hoping will be my major professor if I get accepted. I almost wrote ‘when’ there, but I’m really trying not to jump the gun. So, all of that was good. However, I managed to get lost on the way there, and then slid out in the snow on the way back and slammed my car into the bank of an exit ramp. I’m going to have to get it looked at before I know how much damage there is, but I’m really hoping that I don’t have to buy a new car :(. I’m afraid that the frame might be bent. Still, God will provide. He always has in the past. Perhaps the damage won’t be that bad, or perhaps someone will up and offer me a new car, or perhaps he work it out so that I don’t ever need a car (not sure how that would work though… …).

Anyway, my Facebook news feed has been filling up pretty quickly with some pretty ridiculous blog posts. I don’t post status updates all that often on Facebook, and when I do its usually a scripture passage, something funny that one of my students said, or a passage from some book I’m reading. It’s actually really rare for me to post blog links on facebook. So, I’m not entirely sure why its suddenly so popular. However, what gets me even more than this is the fact that the majority of the blog posts that pop up are pretty sad. It’s not that the writing is horrible. Most of these people (though not all) have decent spelling and grammar. However, I see so many posts that are just… pointless. Not even pointless personal ramblings like this blog is. If the posts read like someone’s journal entry, then I could give them a pass. I’m doing the same thing here. These, however, are clearly not journal entries. Many of these posts start off with 10 Things or The 7 Things, etc, and its pretty obvious that the authors are trying to say something to the world. What really gets me, though, is how facile most of these posts are. They read as though the writer is trying to prove why his/her way of doing… something is better than everyone else’s.

It’s this egotistic defensiveness that really frustrates (and if I’m honest, kind of frightens) me. The idea that I can post a short list of ideas that everyone should read, agree with, and follow without really explaining them or defending their importance (speaking of which, I need to get back to thinking about virtues…) seems to be incredibly common. I could understand if the authors were posting these simply as ideas to remember, or posting them as personal thoughts, or even posting them with an intent to return to the subject at a later date and fill out an argument for each thing on the list. However, this idea that everyone should be like me so that I can be the best, or even because I’m the best, appears to be increasingly common. It seems to me that in a world where a thousand voices are already telling me what I should do and who I should be, the addition of a hundred thousand more really isn’t a good thing. … …I suppose this is why I’m a luddite, isn’t it :P?

The Importance of Dreams

A couple of years ago I had a dream. Yes, I’m going to tell you about my dream, but first I’m going to tell you why that dream was important. Most of us don’t remember our dreams, some of us don’t remember that we did dream. I generally fall into the latter category. Most mornings I wake up assuming that I didn’t have any dreams the night before (even though I probably did), and even when I do wake up in the middle of a dream, within five minutes I can’t actually remember what the dream was about. However, the particular dream that I’m thinking of I can still remember specific details two years later. When I awoke from this dream, I was completely confident that it was important, and I knew what some of the aspects of the dream symbolized. It was the kind of dream that you pay attention to.

So, what was my dream? Well, to start off, it was extremely nerdy. In the dream I was a student at a school for wizards (not like Hogwarts, more like one of the Arcane Academies in Tethyr from the  Forgotten Realms D&D setting… except, you know… not evil…). Anyway, I was a student studying in this academy and I was doing well, but one day I decided to leave the school to explore the world. I wanted to see the town nearby, to visit the fighter’s guild, and to practice what I’d learned. So, I left the academy, which appeared as a huge tower sandwiched between a small lake and a swampy plain, and went to the town. I explored for a while, and then returned to the academy, but I couldn’t find it. The tower had disappeared and in it’s place was a small stone slab with writing on it that I couldn’t read. I was confused, hurt, and frustrated, and I did everything I could think of, but nothing made the tower reappear. Denied access to the place I was supposed to be, I returned to the town and joined the fighter’s guild for wont of a better option.

At this point the dream jumps forward an indeterminate amount of time. I knew that I’ve been in the fighters guild for sometime, but I wasn’t sure how long. I found myself in a party at the fighter’s guild, but I wasn’t particularly enjoying the party. I was bored, lonely, and I didn’t particularly want to talk to anyone, so I left the brightly lit guild building (I remember that it had large doors set in a massive wooden doorframe. The frame itself was wider than my hand. In the courtyard there was a fountain depicting some ancient hero of the guild, and on the fountain sat a beautiful woman. She was obviously a member of the guild, but I’d never met her before. I sat down and started a conversation with the woman, and though I’ve never been able to remember what we talked about, we fell in love. I told the woman about my time in the wizard school, and I wanted to show her the spot where it had disappeared. So, I took her by the hand and led her to the stone slab with the writing I couldn’t read, but she could read it (though I couldn’t understand what she said), and when she did the tower reappeared and we went in. I found myself back where I belonged with a beautiful woman whom I loved, and that’s where the dream ended.

When I first awoke from the dream I knew that the wizard’s school symbolized grad school. I believed at the time, and see no reason not to think, that the beautiful woman represented a romantic relationship, and I think that the fighter’s guild represents life in general. Honestly, I had almost forgotten about this dream (it has been a matter of years, not days), but I’ve recently started talking to a young woman on eHarmony who is not only awesome, but also related to one of the deans at a school that I would very much like to attend. Honestly, I don’t know if this is likely to go anywhere. It’s entirely possible that nothing will happen, but emailing with her brought this dream back to the forefront of my mind.

Fear of Girls

If you haven’t ever seen Fear of Girls you should look it up on youtube. All three videos are hilarious, and they get progressively less disturbing, which is definitely a good thing. That being said, I find myself in this place right now. Karategirl is back in the picture. If you don’t remember, about five or six months ago there was a woman who’d joined the karate school that I help teach at. She’s a lovely woman who I found myself attracted to right off the bat. I asked a friend at the school to introduce us, and asked her out, and she promptly turned me down. Admittedly, she turned me down because, in her own words she ‘wasn’t dating right now’, which I’ve been given no reason to doubt in the past five months. I’ve tried to get to know her, and generally failed. We’ve had a number of superficial discussions that ended very quickly. However, a few days ago I messaged her on facebook (there was a good reason… I’m not going to share it) and we had a very good conversation. I think this was mostly just because she was hurting at the time and wanted someone to talk to, but I honestly felt like it was the first conversation that I’d had with the actual Karategirl, instead of with the mask that she wears, and I rather liked what I saw.

So, I’m planning on asking her out again the next time I see her (probably sometime end of this week or next week). However, I’m a little bit terrified. Am I scared that she’ll turn me down again? Well, this is certainly a possibility. Honestly, I think it might be a probability. However, it’s not something I’m particularly scared of. I’ve been shot down plenty of times. It’s no fun, but it’s not really a big deal either. If she turns me down then I’ll wait a while, try to get to know her a little better, and then try again.

Honestly, what I’m really afraid of is that I’m making the same mistake again. I’m afraid that she won’t turn me down, that she’ll say yes, go out with me, really enjoy the way I treat her, but in a month or three decide that I’m a great guy, but not really what she’s looking for. It’s been about a year since Peaches (yes there’s a reason for the name… no, I never called her that… shutup) decided that I just wasn’t right for her. In her words I was ‘everything she was looking for’, but she was too scared to do anything about it. Admittedly, Peaches was not the right girl for me. Still, it’s been a pattern with me for a long time, and I’m scared that I’m just repeating that pattern. The thing is, I think that I’d be scared of repeating the pattern no matter who the woman was. Peaches was 19 and going through some serious emotional trauma. She wasn’t ready for a relationship, and probably didn’t need me pushing for one. If I’d been a better man I would have been her friend and dated someone else. Instead, I fell for her and waited for her to be ready, even though I said I wouldn’t. She never was.

Karategirl is not 19, and to my knowledge has not had any significant relationship traumas. She has some problems, yes (we all do), but they don’t seem to have anything to do with romance or dating. I also know that she’s been single and apparently healthy for at least five+ months, which is definitely a good thing (well… from my perspective at least). Nonetheless, I’m utterly and completely terrified. I’m terrified that I’m being an idiot. I’m terrified that I’m going to make the same mistakes over again no matter what I do. I’m scared that I’m going to get hurt again in the same way. I’m scare that I haven’t grown at all, haven’t changed at all… I guess I’m scared that the past year has been wasted, and that I’m about to prove that.

Ultimately, Karategirl is not Peaches. I am fully cognizant of that fact. However, I need to not be the same person that I was a year ago for anything to happen, and I think I’m afraid that’s the problem.

Honestly… I just hope that she winds up being the woman that will find a reason to be with me, instead of finding a reason to walk away.

Questions

So, I started the year reading Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. I’m not finished yet… obviously. However, it has inspired a few questions that I wanted to jot down before I forget them:

On the Omnipresence of God:

1) Is presence a necessary quality of sustaining power?

2) If presence is a necessary quality of sustaining power (which Aquinas seems to assume) then is God present in hell through his sustaining power (opposing the common Christian doctrine that the primary torment of hell is the absence of God) or is hell a self-sustaining entity (opposing the common Christian doctrine that God sustaining power is necessary for the maintenance of all things)?

3) Is God present in hell? If so, is the primary torment of hell not the total separation from God? If not, can God really be said to be omni-present?

On Women:

1) My niece has been trying to convince me that I’m the kind of guy every woman dreams of marrying. This strikes me as prima facie false. However, is it possible that it is true and I’m either a) pursuing the wrong women (certainly I’ve dated many of the wrong women, but the ‘right women’ simply reject me out of hand) or b) for whatever reason quality women simply overlook me, don’t give me a chance? If the latter, why? (I don’t think I’m ever likely to actually answer this question…)

2) Rousseau argues that women are incapable of true virtue (though his definition of true virtue is questionable in the first place). Wollstonecraft, on the other hand, tends to argue that women are capable of true virtue (and she generally has a stronger definition of virtue), but they must be trained in virtue in the same way that men are. I tend to agree with the latter, but this leaves me wondering why so many women seem to reject the need to be trained in virtue? I assume culture elements are primarily responsible, but is this a valid assumption?

3) Why in the world do women obsess over clothing… especially accessories?

On School:

1) Is God finally calling me back to school? He seems to be, and things seem to be falling into place, but I find myself feeling very cynical and assuming that it will all fall apart before long.

2) Can I actually make the grade? I assume that this will be answered in time if God is calling me back to school.

I’m also writing again. This, I think, is a good thing. Although I’m working on a story that I’ve tried to write several times before. We’ll see if I can manage to finish it this time.