Bovary Moments

I’ve started this post three different times in three different ways. I’ve been trying to think of something to write all day. I was going to write about the meaning of success, the pursuit of excellence, and the importance of being good enough. I was going to write about a book that I’m reading and the moderate depression that it’s thrown me into. And I was going to write (yet again) about how sometimes I still feel like I’m always going to be alone… and sometimes want to be… both of those have something to do with the book I’m reading. The book is Madame Bovary and it’s pretty much making me hate women. The entire book is about a spoiled, selfish, flighty woman who doesn’t know what she wants, doesn’t know what she has, and hurts everyone around here (especially her husband and daughter) because of it.

My body isn’t what it used to be. Well… I shouldn’t actually say that because I’m probably pretty close to the best shape of my life. I think last year was probably the best shape of my life, which is kind of sad. Still, I hiked about eight miles today and by the time I got home both my hips and my knees felt like they were going to give out. I really needed the hike though. It gave me time to think, and enough perspective to realize that, all to often, I am Bovary. I can be a moody bastard, and all too often I’m selfish and don’t think about others in the pursuit of whatever fancy takes me. I truly hope that I’m not as bad as Madame Bovary is in the novel, but I’m certainly no saint.

I tend to be prone to extremes. I was once about two days worth of sharpening away from cutting out my eyes with a sharp, sterilized spoon. I had a roommate at the time that inadvertently talked me out of that (thankfully). I’ve also given actual consideration to making myself a eunuch, and before I converted I made multiple suicide attempts. I liked to walk in front of cars on highways… only God knows how many accidents I caused. Needless to say, this very Bovarylike behavior is not the extent of my similarities with this fictional slattern for whom I am filled with loathing.

In my extremes I tend to flip back and forth between believing that only the best passes muster, and saying ‘fuck excellence! I just want to be good enough’. I will say that I don’t think we give enough credit to good enough. The vast majority of us never reach good enough in much of what we do, and it’s certainly evident that, in our quest for excellence, we as a nation have abysmally failed to reach good enough in many areas, welfare and education two of the most outstanding.

That being said, as long as the quest for excellence doesn’t end in a failure to be good enough, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Madame Bovary certainly doesn’t seem to seek excellence in anything she does. She isn’t even a very good adulteress, the one thing that she seems moderately passionate about in the novel. All to often we too set down our quest for excellence and settle for less than mediocre standards… of course, I deal daily with students do don’t actually manage to meet those less than mediocre standards… so I might be a bit jaded.

Then again, I have to say that one of the things that I love about my job is seeing a student start off the class with Ds and end it getting Bs and As. This is an excellent feeling. All to often few and far between, but a truly excellent feeling. Nonetheless, I feel like I’m failing the students who don’t improve. Some of them I probably am, but some of them I do my very best to help and they reject it at every possible opportunity. Some people seem to aim for sub-mediocre intentionally.

The thing is, sometimes I wonder if I’m not one of those people. I’m not particularly ambitious, and I don’t have a whole lot of pride left… though that’s something that God’s been systematically drilling out of me for a long time now. I’ve had many people tell me that they see great potential in me, and I have to wonder if I’m failing to live up to it.

Then I look at my friends, who consistently tell me that I’m a pretty amazing guy, a great teacher, a good friend, and that any woman would be lucky to have me. I’m not sure how much of this is simply friends telling me what they think I need to hear, and how much of it is honest, critical assessment. Still, there seems to be something to it.

I’m always hesitant to say anything positive about myself because I’m afraid that I’ll come off as prideful. All to often, I can’t tell the difference between pride and confidence, and I think that these are two of the easiest attitudes to confuse, both in yourself and in others. I haven’t managed to catch my post count up to the number of followers… which is still a mild source of annoyance to me, but I’m dealing with it. It makes me think that people find value in what I say… which I still don’t understand.

Here’s the thing that I’m consistently failing to do. I’ve said it before: In Romans 12 God tells us to see ourselves ‘rightly’. Throughout scripture he tells us to judge ourselves by his measure, which means two things: 1) to understand that I am in every way a sinner, fully deserving of eternity in hell, and 2) that when God looks at me, he not only sees someone of value, but someone who is filled with his son. I’m still struggling with to reconcile these concepts of myself.

I find this task equally as difficult as reconciling within myself both Christ’s extreme desire to see people follow him, and his extreme willingness to drive them away if they didn’t measure up to his rather harsh standards. In both tasks I tend to be able to do one or the other, but I can’t manage both simultaneously. Maybe someday…

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.

Reflections

Sometimes I find myself just sitting and thinking about my life. Before I turned twelve I’d been shot at, thrown a kid off a cliff (don’t worry he didn’t die or anything), broken someone’s nose in two different fights, tried to kill myself, been beaten senseless several times, eaten and fed others poison berries, been called every bad word in the book by one or both of my parents, almost made my mother leave the family, fallen off a cliff (obviously I didn’t die either), and been thoroughly inculcated into the demonic (I mean that literally, not figuratively). Cognitively, I understand that this is a bad childhood. Actually, I think from the average American perspective, this is an extremely violent, troubled childhood. However, for me, it’s just the way I grew up. I realize that my childhood was violent and disturbed, but I generally don’t think of it that way.

Before I turned eighteen I’d tried to kill one person,  been told I’d actually killed someone else (and that I was being charged with manslaughter), put together a plan to set off a nerve gas bomb in my high school (it was a stupid plan in the first place), tried to kill myself several more times, made a habit of watching porn at least six hours a day, and started hurting people (especially women) in order to make myself feel good. I feel the violence and depravity of my teenage years much more than that of my childhood. There isn’t much in my childhood that I actually regret doing. I understand the things that were done to me, and the problems they caused, and I understand the things that I did to others. The core of pain that I’ve mentioned a couple of times now certainly had its start in my childhood.

However, many of my deepest regrets come from the things that I did during my teenage years. After I converted to Christianity these things haunted me for many years. I lost a lot of sleep over the things I’d done and the people I’d hurt. I spent days at a time praying for them, and begging God to make me a better person. I struggled with many of the sins that I’d lived in before my salvation, and I often wanted to walk away from the Christian life. God would never actually let me walk away though, no matter how much I fought him. I’ve never been one to run away, but I tried to run away from God, a few times.

God doesn’t let go of what’s his though. He’d track me down, tell me he loved me, and drag me back onto the straight and narrow path. He did this more times than I can count, and I can’t thank him enough for it. I don’t deserve such treatment. I’ve certainly hurt God more than most people, but he never gives up on me anyway. I want to be able to love like this, and in a few cases I’ve been able to (a very few cases).

I want to be more like Christ, and God keeps making me give up integral parts of myself in order to make me more like Christ. I have to admit, I like becoming more like Christ, but I’m not always fond of what it requires. I started my fast today.