Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone. I know that it’s the day after Christmas, not Christmas itself, but I’m at my parent’s house and we had lots of company over yesterday. I did get to spend a couple of days with my nephews though, which is always worth it, and I got to watch a bunch of Dr. Who. However, what I wasn’t going to do was write any more blog posts than I needed to, and I had to write a post for my other blog yesterday. So, merry Christmas even though Christmas was actually yesterday. The fact the I felt the need to explain all of that probably says something about me. I generally need to be understood. Honestly, this is something that’s very important to me. I’m not satisfied when people simply accept my mistakes as mistakes or oversights. Instead, I want them to understand why I do things the way that I do them. I think that we all seek for understanding, and we all want approval.

This is something that I see consistently in the gay rights movement. All too often, disagreement is seen to be equivalent to hate precisely because we feel the need for the approval of others. We want people to like us, and we want to like ourselves, and so often we seem to have this overwhelming need to connect the two. If we are not liked by others, then we cannot like ourselves. Similarly, if we are not approved of by others, then we cannot approve of ourselves. Here’s the thing though, all of this comes from an incomplete sense of self. This is not to say that healthy people don’t feel these needs, I think that we all feel the need to be liked and approved. However, we shouldn’t be controlled by those needs. If someone’s disapproval seems to become a sign of disrespect or hate, then I am not seeing myself or seeing God in myself. I am not even seeing what the other person sees in me, instead I am seeing only my exaggerated image of how the other person sees me.

This is something that I’ve written about before, mostly because it is something that I struggle with. I can usually operate without the approval of others. I am capable of putting aside my need for understanding and approval in order to see things as they are, rather than how I am afraid they are or how I wish they could be. However, this isn’t always true. There are time when I need someones understanding or approval. There are many more times when putting aside my own desire for understanding and approval is very difficult. Honestly, I haven’t put a lot of thought into why I struggle with this. It’s probably something I should do. My first impulse is to say that there have been relatively few people in my life who have sought to understand me, but I’m not really sure that this is true. At least, not any more than anyone else today. I recently took a relationship needs test (I like a variety of personality tests… though this wasn’t one of the better ones) which mentioned that I might have a weak sense of self. At moments this is certainly true, but I’m not sure if its true in general. It is, however, something that needs more thought.

So, I got to spend all day yesterday and most of Christmas Eve with my family, including my two nephews, which was a lot of fun! My Christmas gifts were interesting. They were generally what I’d asked for, which included a bottle of Absinthe, a rubix cube (even though I hate puzzles), and sharpening stones for knives. I’ve found that, as I get older, it gets harder and harder to make birthday and Christmas lists. There’s honestly just not that much that I actually want. I asked for the rubix cube, even though I hate puzzles, because teaching myself to work it will be good mental exercise. I looked up the basics of how to do a rubix cube, and I’m already getting fairly good at it. However, getting the final side completed is going to be very challenging. Still, I think it should be fairly interesting.

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Truth and Honesty

So, I’ve mentioned before that I don’t post comments on this blog, but I welcome people to send them to me. On my last post I received the following comment from fatgirlsblog:

I think your on the right track by admitting your not attracted to the lady. If I may make a suggestion…be truthful and tell her. That will hurt her “a little” instead of a lot later.
Great honest post. :-)

First of all, I want to thank you for the comment, the advice, and the encouragement. I plan to be honest with her. Tactful, but honest. I am hoping that she feels the same way. That will make everything much easier. However, whether she does or not, I think she’ll be better off if I’m honest with her, so that’s what I plan to do.

I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with my view of women, largely because the majority of women in my life haven’t been truthful with me. So, much as it’s difficult to risk hurting someone, I believe strongly in honesty and openness at an level of a relationship, whether it’s only a friendship, a burgeoning romance, or a full-on romantic relationship. I think that’s it for me today, but I did want to make sure that I responded to that particular comment.

Attraction

Sometimes I wonder if I’m too superficial. Yesterday I had a date with a wonderful woman. We talked for a good two and a half hours, we both seemed to thoroughly enjoy the conversation. She’s interesting, kind, and intelligent. She also seems to enjoy spending time with me. The problem? I’m not physically attracted to her at all. She’s a very pretty woman, but she’s just ‘not my type’ physically. So, no I’m sitting here wondering if I should perhaps try to pursue something with her and hope that somehow changes, even though I know that’s a bad idea and will probably end in pain.

I say that sometimes I wonder if I’m too superficial, but honestly, I don’t think I am. I don’t judge a person on their appearance, and I’m not just looking for physical attraction in a relationship. However, I am looking for physical attraction as a part of a relationship. So, I’m left with the feeling that my wondering if I’m too superficial is really just a tactic to delay an unpleasant conversation that I know I need to have. At the same time, it does bring up an honest question: are my standards of beauty too high?

Objectively, at a guess, I think that if an average woman were to rate my physical attractiveness on a scale from 1-10 I would probably be a 5 or 6. I might rate a 7 on a good day with the right woman, but probably not an ‘average woman’ (of course the use of the term ‘average woman’ here is probably ludicrous. I’m not sure that such a creature actually exists). However, I don’t think I’ve ever dated a woman that would be rated less than a 7, and I’ve dated a couple that were probably much higher. So, I have to wonder if my standard of beauty is even remotely realistic, and if it isn’t, I have to wonder how I might be able to change that, or if it’s even possible to change it.

However, this is something I know from experience: while physical attraction isn’t the most important aspect in a relationship, it is important, and dating someone you don’t particularly enjoy looking at is a bad idea. I’ve had a number of women do that to me, and it thoroughly sucks. Ultimately, I know that I don’t want to do it to someone else.

 

All the Little Things

So, I’ve been following the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy since it first came out, and if you haven’t heard about what’s going on, it’s well worth a good look. However, as I was reading up on this controversy, I came across several articles about Driscoll’s views on women, focusing specifically on his highly questionable teaching that Esther was, among other things, a selfish slut who seduced King Xerxes into making her the most powerful woman in Persia. This interpretation has a number of obvious flaws, probably the most egregious of which is the idea that Esther had the option to deny Xerxes anything. However, after reading some of Driscoll’s personal testimony about his own history with women (excerpts from his book Real Marriage), I can understand how his views were formed. Driscoll relates that every girl he dated cheated on him, including his wife (though he didn’t discover this until after they were married).

Right or wrong, the way we are treated forms our opinions of people. If you’ve only ever known blacks who were angry gang members, then chances are that you don’t much like black people. Similarly, if you’ve only ever know women who cheat, then chances are you assume that women cheat. We’re often told to avoid forming such prejudices. The problem is that avoiding such prejudices isn’t really possible. What is possible is handling such prejudices. See, if you’ve only ever known hypocritical, selfish Christians, then you’re going to see all Christians as hypocritical and selfish, and interpret their actions in this way. Recognizing this kind of basic assumption is difficult because the assumption itself is such a small thing, but its a small thing that fundamentally shapes the way you see the world. Changing this kind of fundamental assumption is incredibly difficult and often we need help to do so. I’m not convinced that we can actually change them without meeting positive examples of whatever group we are prejudiced against, and even then we must be open to allowing our minds and hearts to change.

So, why am I talking about this? Because sometimes I see women as nothing more than deceptive harpies who live to destroy good people. I know that this image isn’t true, and there are examples of women who are fundamentally not the above, which helps me in my struggle. However, I’ve also been influenced by a lot of women who were exactly that, add to this the fact that almost every woman I’ve dated has left me feeling lied to, betrayed, and broken and you begin to understand where this particular struggle comes from. While I have some experiences that tell me that women can be good, honest, beautiful people, I have a lot more experiences that tell me they are not.

Does this make me a misogynist? No, it doesn’t. It does mean that I sometimes struggle with misogyny though, and that I probably need more examples of good, caring women in my life to help me in that struggle. The problem is, I can seem to find any under 35…

That’s probably a post for another time.

Wisdom Part 2

Age gives the opportunity for wisdom, but does not guarantee it. Yesterday I said that I really don’t know how to become wise. However, I do have a couple of ideas. First of all, I think we can clearly says that knowledge does not bring wisdom. I briefly explained the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Clearly, simply learning something does not make one wise. Some degree of knowledge is certainly required for wisdom, but knowledge doesn’t bring wisdom with it (though we often like to act like it does). However, age doesn’t bring wisdom either. Ultimately, I think that wisdom comes through a combination of knowledge, experience, and character. Proverbs tells us that you can beat a fool a thousand times and he will learn nothing (I often think this describes me better), but a wise man will learn simply from watching others.

I think that without experience there can be no actual advance in wisdom. However, we all know people who simply refuse to learn. They fail in the same ways over and over (maybe I’m describing you… all too often I’m describing me), and despite their experiences, they do not grow in wisdom. So, experience does not simply bring wisdom. This is where character comes in. Our character determines how we respond to our experiences. Do I do the same thing over again, even though it ended badly last time, or do I learn from my mistakes? In many ways pride is the enemy of wisdom. If my pride keeps me from learning from my experiences, then it keeps me from developing wisdom.

Similarly, hope can sometimes be the enemy of wisdom. As I said yesterday, wisdom answers the why questions. Why should I do this, or why shouldn’t I do this? Hope, especially foolish hope, often presents unrealistic reasons that wisdom should pierce. For instance, I’ve mentioned before that in the past I’ve had a bad habit of dating young, emotionally traumatized women. Let us say that I meet a young woman who’s just come out of an abusive relationship. Wisdom should tell me that pursuing her is a bad idea. It is unlikely that she will be ready for or willing to enter the kind of relationship that I’m looking for, and I will probably get hurt if I try. However, hope whispers in my ear: ‘maybe this time will be different’.

This hope is not realistic, nor is it wise. It is, in many ways, prideful and it focuses on me and what I want, rather than focusing on God and seeking to do his will. So, I wind up following a hope that pridefully puts my own selfishness before my devotion to God. This is, of course, obviously not a wise thing to do. So, pride and prideful hope can both be enemies of wisdom, and either might result in keeping me from wisdom no matter how old I get.

What is Wisdom?

So, I promised that I’d write more about each of the virtues that I’d put forth concerning masculinity. I already wrote a little about courage, though probably not nearly enough, and the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be wise. This is not to say that I’ve actually come to a conclusion about it, but I have some thoughts. First, I think we often confuse knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Every journalist knows that there are six (not five) important questions: who, what, when, where, how, and why. I think that these questions also provide a good progressive exemplar for the differences between the above terms. Knowledge is simple information that has been memorized. A person with knowledge can determine the who, what, or where of a question, perhaps the when of a historical question, but he can’t go beyond this point. The knowledgeable man has only plain information at his disposal. A man with understanding not only can determine the who and what, but also the where and importantly the how of a question. While knowledge provides only rote information, understanding brings with it the ability to apply that information. For instance, a man with the knowledge of punching may be able to tell you what a punch is or where to hit someone, but he can’t show you how to actually throw an effective punch. This requires understanding. Understanding moves this person from simple knowledge of what a punch is to the ability to use that knowledge effectively. Wisdom, however, adds a third dimension: the when and why.

That is to say, in my example of the punching man, a man with wisdom will not only be able to throw an effective punch, but will be able to determine when it is good to throw that punch. He can answer the question ‘why would you punch someone’. This is, I think, exceedingly rare. Many people, like Richard Dawkins, dismiss the why questions of life as entirely unimportant (perhaps one of the greatest mistakes I’ve seen anyone make). Many others never even reach the point of considering the why questions of life. It’s not that these people have dismissed the questions as unimportant, it’s that they’ve never even considered whether the why questions might be important. So, having said this, I’m not at all sure that I’m wise. Being wise requires not only knowing enough to ask the why questions, but being able to answer them. Honestly, I don’t think that I have many meaningful answers. I can pretty easily give a lecture about what lots of other people think about a particular question, and there are some question that I can even tell you what I think, but to actually answer a why question. I don’t know about that.

About a week ago a friend called me ‘a wise man’. I responded by saying, ‘I make too many mistakes to be wise’. He asked, ‘Isn’t that how you become wise?’ When he asked that question I realized that I honestly didn’t have an answer. I have the beginnings of an idea of what wisdom is, but I can’t really say how one actually becomes wise. There are lots of people in the world with lots of opinions, and I’m fairly sure that wisdom means ignoring 90% of them. However, even with that tongue in cheek definition, I’m not entirely sure how to actually do that. Don’t get me wrong, I can ignore people with the best of them, but actually knowing who to ignore and who to listen to is another issue entirely. Take the current scandal involving Mark Driscoll, while it’s fairly clear that Driscoll hasn’t been particularly careful with his writing, there are a hundred different opinions ranging from people screaming for his resignation to people claiming that he didn’t do it in the first place to people claiming that even if he did, it wasn’t wrong. The sheer amount of voices is quickly overwhelming (I spent 3 hours last night just reading about this), not to mention the people connecting this to his teaching on Esther and his views of women in general.

So, how do we begin to parse this situation? Does a wise man simply sit back and wait? Perhaps for a while, but certainly not forever. A wise man is not an eternally passive man. However, we can say that the wise man knows when to act. A man with understanding might know what to do, but a wise man can see when to do it. He knows when to wait and when to step forward. He knows when to listen and when to speak. This isn’t an easy thing. I think that’s all I’ve got for now. I definitely need to think about this more.

Sander’s Family Christmas

Tonight I went to see Sanders Family Christmas at a local theater. I’ll be honest, I went because a friend who works for the theater asked me to come and see her work, not because of any particular desire to see the play. I’ve never really been fond of Christmas… well, anything. That probably sounds like a strange thing to say, and it’s gotten me in trouble more than once in Christian circles. The play was good though… well, it was good in that it was well-acted and well-produced all around. It was also the general mish-mash of Psuedo-Christian pluralism that generally makes me dislike Christmas. I’m not saying that anyone who mentions Santa Claus should be stoned, or even that it’s wrong to do in church, but this particular play had high moments and low moments. One of the low moments was when the matriarch of the family condemned Santa Claus (something about Jesus punching him in the face) right before the family happily sang Jingle Bells, which is clearly not a song with any particularly Christian influences.

This is the thing that gets me about Christmas… Christians get just about everything wrong. From the ages of Mary and Joseph (Mary was probably in her early teens [14 maybe] and Joseph was probably in his late twenties to early thirties) to the wise men (who almost certainly didn’t show up in Jerusalem until a year and a half to two years after Jesus was born). We gleefully mix hymns with clearly pagan songs, sing hymns with horrific theology, decorate small fire-hazards in our living rooms, and do it all without any concept of what any of it means or is supposed to mean. Honestly, I think if people were just more aware of what they were doing I’d be okay with it. There’s nothing wrong with Christmas songs or Santa Claus per say, it just that I don’t like them and I get frustrated with everyone who looks at me like an inhuman monster when I say that. Then again, I am something of a Scrooge and the words ‘Bah Humbug’ have been known to leave my mouth… frequently.

However, there was something from the play tonight that I did appreciate very much. One of the characters, the patriarch’s brother… I can’t remember his name (Sam, I think… or something like that) has something of a checkered past. When he gets up to speak he speaks of his past and of how the family has helped him change. One of the lines (and I’m sure that I’ve butchered it) say,’I’ve gotta reckon that God takes no account of talent. It’s a man’s character that matters.’ That’s the gist of the line… probably with a little Terry Pratchett thrown in since I was listening to Wee Free Men on the way home. This made me think about my own life. Most specifically the past seven(ish) years since I graduated from seminary.

Don’t get me wrong, I can me a right ass. I can be arrogant, judgmental, thoughtless, and stubborn. If the beginning of this post doesn’t prove that then the rest of this blog probably will. However, I’d like to think that I’m less of an ass and more caring, compassionate, and hopefully a little more humble than I was seven years ago. I’ve certainly learned a lot about life, about people, and about faith. I’ve been beaten over the head a few times, badly bruised both by the church and by those outside of the church, and broken repeatedly. Honestly, seven years ago I was full of myself and extremely in-secure. Now… well, I’m not sure that I actually have much to offer, but what I do have to offer I will.

As I write this I’m talking with my niece about colleges and about the degree program that I’m applying to. I remember when I first got out of school applying to one doctoral or Th.M. program after another and getting denied by one program after another. Now… well, I’m just hoping that they let me into an M.A. program and that I actually have what it takes to do well in the program. It’s scary, and a part of me is saying ‘I’m comfortable here and I don’t want to leave’. Another part of me is saying ‘It’s worth it.’ I still haven’t called Dr. Liederbach yet, but I’m going to. It might wait until January, as I’m sure all the professor’s down there are ridiculously busy at the moment, but I will call him, and I will finish my application and submit it. And then… well, I’ll hope that for once my desires line up with God’s (I wish I was better at that), and I’ll wait for him to kick me in the head if they don’t. That’s the thing I’ve learned more than anything else. What I want doesn’t matter if it’s not the same as what God wants.