Grak-Tor!!

I hate porn. I also believe very strongly in the freedom of speech and expression, and that American law should reflect the American people, not attempt to impose the value system of one small group of that people on the rest of the nation. To be consistent in this position I find that I have to argue that the obscenity exception to the first amendment really isn’t legitimate, but is instead an imposition of specifically Judeo-Christian values that probably shouldn’t be a part of the law.

That being said, I with that all porn was illegal, that any creation or distribution of porn came with stiff fines… and perhaps prison time. I wish that porn wasn’t a part of the internet, and that it wasn’t a part of my life. I wish that I didn’t struggle with it. Unfortunately, none of the above wishes are true, or even realistic. Porn is legal, and to be consistent with my beliefs I have to say that it should be legal, much as I wish that it wasn’t. It is a part of the internet, and that’s never going to change, and it is something that I struggle with. Hopefully someday that will change, but it hasn’t yet. So, this all leads me back to GRAK-TOR!!!

Yes, I’m well aware that none of you know what that means. Unsurprisingly, I’m fine with that. There are a great many situations in which we don’t get what we want. Even more in which we get what we thought we wanted, only to find out that we didn’t really want it all that much. We are incredibly dumb people.

I’m currently reading Madame Bovary, which has nothing to do with porn so far as I can tell, but which has everything to do with being incredibly dumb and not knowing what we want. So far, the book is about a woman who doesn’t have a clue what she wants out of life and hurts everyone around her trying to figure it out. I find that I identify with that very closely, and it makes me wonder how much pain I’ve caused simply by being an idiot. I know how much pain I’ve been caused because of the idiocy of others, but I can only guess at how much pain my own idiocy has caused. I’m going to guess that I’ve probably given at least as bad as I’ve gotten.

I’m using the terms ‘idiot’ and ‘dumb’ here in a technical sense. For those of you who don’t know, and probably have never actually cared, an ignorant person is a person with out knowledge. We are all ignorant about many things, and there isn’t really anything wrong with that. Ignorance is simply a state of being that can be changed. A stupid person, however, is a person who staunchly clings to their own ignorance, even when they have a chance to change. A stupid person refuses to learn, even when he has repeated opportunities. There is something wrong with that.

An idiot on the other hand, or a person who is dumb, is a person without the intellectual capacity to learn something. For instance, it’s not that I am stupid and refuse to learn to play the piano. It’s that I have no sense of rhythm, and that I’m tone-deaf to the point that I can’t really tell the difference between listening to Mozart and listening to Beethoven (I’m told there’s a big difference), and thus no matter how hard I try, I utterly and completely fail at playing the piano.

So, when I say that we are idiots, what I mean is that no matter how hard we try, we are going to fail. We are going to make foolish decisions,  we are going to hurt people, and we are going to get hurt. Hopefully we can be smart enough to eventually stop making the same foolish decisions (for instance, I’m not going to date another emotionally disturbed 19 year old), but we will still make entirely new foolish decisions. Only God can save us from ourselves.

Down Days

Sometimes I just feel down. I have no actual reason for feeling down, nothing is going wrong, and I have plenty of things to be thankful for, but I still feel down. I have to admit that I don’t particularly like these days. They tend to come and go in clumps, and I seem to be in the middle of a clump of them right now. Here’s the other thing though: there’s nothing wrong with feeling down. It’s natural. More natural for some than it is for others, but it’s still natural.

There is a significant movement within American Christianity that would have you believe that depression, in any form and to any degree, is a spiritual malady brought on by demonic possession or sin, and sometimes this is true. There are certainly spiritual reasons for depression, and I’ve had times when a vast depression came upon me that was clearly a spiritual attack. I can remember one night, I was supposed to have a spiritual meeting the next day, when I was suddenly overcome by the absolute certainty that my life was meaningless and no-one would ever love me. I remember spending about two hours curled up in a ball on my bed, wracked with depression, doubt, and thoughts of self-loathing, desperately calling out to God to help me, because I was certain that this was a spiritual attack. After a time, and just as suddenly as the fit of depression came on me, it disappeared, leaving me calm, confident, and at peace. …My current depression is nothing like that.

There are other people who would have you believe that depression is never acceptable, even when there are good reasons for that depression. Consider the story of Elijah’s depression in 1st Kings 19, or the story of Job… the entire book really. Both Elijah and Job have very good reason to be depressed. Elijah had just watched the entire nation of Israel see the clearly expressed power and authority of God, and still decide to reject him. Oh… and he also had the queen of Israel and, you know… her army trying to kill him. Job only had everything he owned destroyed, all of his children killed, and his wife decide that she hated his guts. I mean, really, I can see why Christians would use them as examples of the horrible sinfulness of depression and how no one should ever feel that way…

I really hope the sarcasm came through in that paragraph. Elijah and Job both had good reasons to be depressed, and yet so often we use them as examples of people who ‘weren’t focused on God’ or who ‘abandoned the blessings of God’. This is complete crap, as God’s response to both of them shows us clearly. God does not berate them for their depression, although he does lay into Job for challenging his justice. God does not tell them to get up and be happy. Nor does he tell them that by being depressed they have lost their focus on him, or that they are horrible. He doesn’t tell them to be joyful, or to ‘get over it’. Instead, he simply reminds them who he is, and gives them something to do. He gives Elijah a series of simple tasks to do before finding his successor, and he commends Job and commands him to pray for his friends.

There are good reasons to be depressed, and there are bad reasons to be depressed, but either way depression is still natural, and moving through it is the only way out of it. Speaking of which… I’m actually feeling pretty good now.

Never Been Kissed

I realize that being 30-something years old and never having kissed a woman makes me odd. I mean really, most people have their first kiss around what, 13 or 14? Most people lose their virginity before they are legally considered adults. However, the majority of the time I don’t really notice this. It just isn’t something that commonly has a major effect on my life. There are times, though, that it becomes oh so readily apparent in my mind, and I feel like… so many things. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on something important in life. Sometimes I feel like I’m less of a man (really, sexual experience is a major basis for manhood in our culture). Sometimes I just feel like I’m less… like God just forgot about that part of my life… that part of who I am, maybe?

Since I started following Christ I haven’t had an easy time with singleness. I’ve been looking for a wife, praying for a wife, preparing for a wife for the past thirteen years. I tried taking a few years (six actually) to just focus on God and hope that he would bring me a wife in his time. Then I started looking again. Women seem to have an easy time rejecting me as well, and that hasn’t helped at all. Constant rejection can easily get under your skin. Make you feel like there’s something wrong with you, and I have to admit that I’ve felt this way many times. A friend of mine just posted a picture on facebook, a meme that read: even if I had a million reasons to leave you, I’d try to find one reason to stay.

My experience tends to be the opposite. Even if I give a woman a million reasons to stay with me, she always finds one reason to leave. When I started this blog, and for the past month or so, I’ve actually been doing fairly well with this. I haven’t been focusing on the flaws. When I asked out not-Sarah, I really thought she was interested. Honestly, she surprised me with her rejection, and that’s a first. I’d gotten to a point where I didn’t automatically expect to be rejected, and  I think that was a very healthy place to be. I don’t think I’m there anymore. I realized this last night when I was talking with some friends. It’s not that I’m focused on any particular woman or rejection, but I realized that I’ve come back to a place of bitterness where I’m struggling to see any kind of virtue in women in general, and I don’t like being there. It’s not a fair place, and it’s not a happy place, and it’s not a particularly lovable place, or a particularly loving place.

I thought that I was out of this for good, that I had dealt with the pain and the bitterness and let them go… given them to God. However, one rejection and I’m right back there again. I’m not ok with that.

One of the most important reasons that I want to find a wife is the spiritual growth that I know comes from being a husband. I see it in all of my married friends, and this is something that I want. Of course, I also want to make out with someone. I want to have sex. I want someone to spend lonely evenings with. Someone to love and take care of, and someone who will love and take care of me. However, spiritual growth is more important than all of these. While I still want it, and I still struggle with lust, and with pornography from time to time, sex has become steadily less important to me as I get older. I don’t know if this is something that comes naturally with age, or if this is something that comes from consistent self-denial. At the same time, the spiritual growth and relational aspects of marriage are things that I want more and more as I get older, and things that I feel myself missing more.

Ultimately, as much as I don’t really believe it, I have to admit that I’m back in a place where I wonder if perhaps God doesn’t have someone for me. If perhaps I’m meant to be alone, or if there is something about me that simply makes me impossible to love. Cognitively I know that I don’t actually believe these things, but right now I feel like they’re true, and as I’ve said before, feelings are incredibly powerful things.

Getting What You Ask For

Taoism provides an interesting philosophical trap. I think that it is a good trap to fall into, but it is a trap nonetheless. Taoist teachings promise great authority and ability at persuasion, the ability to bend the world to your will and to make people do what you desire. However, to achieve these abilities one must truly, thoroughly, and permanently give up any desire to have authority, any ambition of the will, and any pursuit of power. In leaving off these things the ability to bend the world to one’s desires becomes obvious, but one’s desire to bend the world is gone. I think I’ve rather over-simplified this argument, and I have no doubt that both Laozi and Holmes Welch (the author of the book on Taoism I’m reading) would shake their heads in consternation at my inability to effectively express these ideas.

Nonetheless, reading today had me thinking about the many biblical promises that God will grant our every desire, and how they form the same wonderful trap. There are many places in scripture in which we are told that if we abide in Christ then we may ask whatever we desire and it will be granted. Note the italicized phrase there… it’s really important and I’m going to come back to it.

I used to work for a ‘Christian’ ministry company that prayed with people over the phone. People would call in and ask for prayer about something, and we would pray with them. Needless to say we had a lot of strange calls… I actually still have a list somewhere of 1400+ of the strangest prayer requests you’ve ever heard. Someday I plan to publish it… I should do that actually…. Anyway, the point, that I seem to have ambled away from rather thoroughly, is that the vast majority of the callers wanted magic. They believed that if you said the right words, in the right way, and with the right person that God has to give you what you ask for. We all tend to do this to some degree.

Richard Cavendish, a historian and occult author, defines magic as the manipulation of supernatural forces to achieve the magician’s temporal ends. This is a good definition, although my personal definition of magic is the illusion that man can control supernatural forces. In either definition the power is a reality. I am always amazed at people who believe in miracles but not in magic, or people who believe in God but not in demons.  However, the mistake that many Christians make is the attempt to control God. Whether we do so through bargaining, words of power (often scripture taken out of context), or ritual, the goal is the same: we want to make God give us what we want.

However, this is not what the New Testament promises. The New Testament promises that if we abide in Christ then God will give us what we want. However, when I am truly abiding in Christ, then my desires are few. Primarily, my desire is to know and pursue him more fully. Other desires fade away, or at least become unimportant by comparison, and when my desire is to know and pursue Christ more fully, then of course God is going to grant my desire. It is a beautiful trap, and it is a trap that seeks to and succeeds in making us both better and happier. Laozi said ‘Let me have few desires and be happy’ (I’m paraphrasing here). I think I agree with him.

Blindness

We all tend to be blind to important things. Sometimes we realize that we’re blinding ourselves, and sometimes we don’t, but we still blind ourselves. We generally see the things we want to see. When we don’t like someone, then we see all of the things that we don’t like, and we don’t see any of the things that we might like. When we do like someone, then we see all of the things that we like, and we don’t see any of the things that we might not like. As I write I’m talking to a friend of mine on an instant messenger and she’s explaining to me the weird uncomfortable date she went on recently and how horrible the guy was. The thing is, she barely knows this guy. By her own admission she’s only talked to him briefly a few times, and while they don’t have much in common, she’s listing out to me all of the things that are wrong with him and why he’s a weak, worthless person.

The thing is we all do this, especially when someone we don’t particularly like does like us. Instead of seeing them for who they are, we see everything that we don’t like. Sometimes we even see things that we don’t like about other people, even though they are completely untrue of the person that we’re talking about. I did this with a friend not too long ago. She wasn’t even someone I disliked, just someone I wasn’t romantically interested in. Though she was the first girl to actually pursue me in a very long time. I made it clear to her early on that I wasn’t interested in anything romantic, but she was still hung-up on me for almost a year.

The thing is, she really is a very sweet girl who deeply cared about me, and I almost blinded myself to that. I saw every annoying facet of her infatuation, and slowly lost sight of every positive aspect of her character until I was simply constantly annoyed with her. I realized what I was doing in time to avoid doing anything stupid and hurtful, thankfully, but the thing is that I was doing it. I only let myself see one aspect of her being, and that easily could have cost me a close friend.

I’m not really a huge fan of The Song of Ice and Fire, but I enjoy the novels. The stories are good and the characters are interesting, thoroughly worth reading, though they’ll never make it into my top suggested novels. However, there is one character (though he only appears for a short while in the first novel A Game of Thrones) that I absolutely love. The character’s name is Syrio Forel, and he is a swordmaster and brave from a foreign land who is hired to teach swordsmanship to one of the main characters. One of the first lessons that he teaches her is to see truly. That is to say that one should not be mislead by appearances, expectations, or prejudices, but that one should see truly and judge honestly.

This is a very difficult thing to do, and honestly the older I get and the more I try, the more I realize how hard it actually it. We are all weighed down by our experiences, our expectations, the things that we have been taught, and the things that we have learned (which are often quite different). To see through all of that, along with the masks that people throw up to protect themselves, and the hundred thousand different opinions about everyone is a daunting task. Yet, if we are to be true, then we must learn to see truly. Otherwise we inevitably become lost in our own perceptions and suspicions and we wind up hurting people that we should be loving. Honestly, I think the Psalmist had it right when he said ‘there is no-one good, no not one’.

Sanctimonious Christians?

For anyone who doesn’t know, the term Sanctimonious refers to someone who pretends moral superiority even though they don’t actually practice it. It’s a very negative version of what should be a positive word: Sanctity. Sanctity refers to something that is holy or sacred, and it can be used as a verb to refer to the act of making something holy or sacred (e.g. to sanctify). Honestly, I usually tell my students to skip the dictionary definitions in their papers, but here I want to interact directly with these words. Sanctity and Sanctimonious both rely on the notion of holiness, of which our culture (i.e. Christian Culture and Secular Culture) doesn’t really have a strong understanding.

In the Old Testament for something to be holy it meant that the thing was set aside for use in temple worship. It couldn’t be used for anything else. For instance, if a priest wore his priestly robes outside of the Temple the robes had to be burned and new robes had to be made. If one of the sacred implements (say a ladel) was used for something other than temple worship, it had to be melted down and remade. The same was true with priests: before the priests could offer sacrifices for the sins of the people, they had to offer their own sacrifices. They had to sanctify themselves. Holiness is not simply the idea of being set apart, or being separated from secular culture (which is often what we make it), but the idea of being entirely set aside for one singular purpose: the glorification of God. If I am to call myself holy (which I certainly don’t), then my every action, word, thought, desire, intention, etc must be focused on that one purpose, and only on that one purpose. This is the example of Christ… who ate with ‘tax collectors and prostitutes’, and chastised the faithful for their hypocrisy.

I bring this up because not too long ago I was called a ‘Sanctimonious Christian’ and used as an example of ‘Sanctimonious Christians’ everywhere. I am not going to argue that there are no Christians who are sanctimonious. However, I’m fairly confident that anyone who knows me, or who actually reads the things I write can quickly tell that I am not claiming any kind of holiness. I claim a desire for holiness… a desire at which I fail repeatedly. I claim to be forgiven, and I claim to be getting better… or at least that it is my goal to always be better from one day to the next. I claim to be in the lifelong process of being sanctified, and I often claim to not be nearly as far down that road as I’d like to be. In other words: I claim to be struggling. I claim to be failing. And I claim to be growing. I certainly don’t claim to be ‘there’.

However, the person who called me sanctimonious wasn’t really using the term correctly. He was not arguing that I was claiming to be something that I am not, but that I was purporting a moral law that was no longer relevant to the world. Here’s the thing though… there is no moral law that is no longer relevant to the world. He may not agree with the moral law that I see as absolute, but his disagreement does not make that moral law irrelevant. In the same way my disagreement with aspects of Sharia Law does not make Sharia Law irrelevant. Nor does a Muslim’s disagreement with the Bacchanalia make the Bacchanalia irrelevant. In fact, the only moral laws that are truly irrelevant to the modern world are the one’s that no-one practices anymore… for instance, the Code of Hammurabi is fairly irrelevant to modern ethical theory. Not completely irrelevant because we must still learn from the past and understand where our beliefs and ideas came from. However, it is fairly irrelevant.

We tend to like to dismiss things with which we disagree, and this is always a mistake. Simple dismissal does nothing to actually develop my own understanding of the world. It does nothing to challenge my own beliefs, or force me to grow in knowledge or in thought. Instead, it is easy, insulting, and ultimately foolish. Heh… it sounds very American doesn’t it :P.

Responsibility!

Responsibility is a big thing with me. Kind of huge actually. It’s almost as important as honesty. I’ve mentioned before that when I was seventeen I accidentally killed someone. Well, sort of… there was a car accident, a no-fault accident. The judge ruled that neither party could have realistically been expected to do anything to change the situation, but I hit two pedestrians. One was fine, she had a bruise on her leg. Her brother was not. The next day this girl told me that her brother had died and that her family was pushing to have me charged with manslaughter. It was a little over a week before I found out that this wasn’t entirely true. As far as I’ve ever been able to piece together what happened: her brother died at some point on the way to the hospital and was resuscitated and left with permanent brain damage.

Honestly, it took a long time before I was willing to share that story with anyone. Now I’m pretty comfortable talking about it with people. However, that experience made me keenly aware of the difference between fault and responsibility. The accident wasn’t my fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was behind the wheel of the car, or that there is someone walking around who isn’t the person that they could have been.

Today a friend of mine was asking me about the difference between guilt and regret, and the difference between fault and responsibility. In the best way that I know how to put it the difference is this: guilt is something that owns you, but regret is something that you own. Fault is something that follows you, but responsibility is something that you choose. I’ve known all of the above quite well. I’ve been owned by guilt, and I was owned by guilt over that accident (among other things) for a long time. I still regret things that I’ve done in the past, but this is because I choose to own them. To live up to the reality that sometimes my actions have not been what they should have been, and that I bear the responsibility to understand that and do better in the future.

The thing that a lot of people don’t understand, the thing that I didn’t understand for a long time, is that you can’t right a wrong. No matter how hard you try, you can’t undo something that you’ve done. I kept wanting to, and trying to, and allowing guilt over my past to shape my life and everything that I was. However, this is easy. Honestly, it’s as easy as pushing those actions and their consequences away and pretending they never happened. Neither choice is the right one, though. Neither choice is responsible, neither choice is healthy, and neither choice does anyone any good. Instead of allowing the things I’ve done to shape my life and being, I need to let them inform me, to let them teach me how to be a better person, and how to love others who screw up just as badly.

Being responsible is hard. Not playing the victim and blaming everyone else for your problems, your mistakes, and your unhappiness is also hard. We like to do this. We like to find someone to blame for everything that goes wrong in our lives, and sometimes there is someone to blame. However, does pointing fingers really do any good? Has it gotten you the promotion that you wanted? Or the girl that you wanted (guy that you wanted I guess… if you’re a girl)? Has it made your life better in any real way, or has it just made you feel justified in your hate?

Instead of blaming people, try being responsible. Even if it’s not your fault, be responsible and clean up the mess (that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two weeks with the financial and physical messes that my roommates left behind). Do something that makes a difference to people, even if it isn’t your job to do it. That will help you a lot more in the long run.