Monkeys on the Brain

In college I had a roommate who was obsessed with monkeys. Specifically with the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, but with monkeys in general. Largely because of this person the phrase ‘monkeys’ has become a cuss word for me that symbolizes everything bad in the world. Sometimes it refers to a specific problem, sometimes it refers to the generally cursed and depraved state of the world, sometimes it just refers to the fact that I get in my own way. Right now, I have a lot of monkeys. One of those monkeys is the fact that, over the past few weeks, I have found myself struggling with pornography to a steadily increasing degree. I have struggled almost daily, and generally fallen once or twice a week. It’s gotten to the point that a short-term goal for the coming week (Thursday-Thursday) is to avoid all forms of pornography. Once Thursday comes I’ll set a new goal. Assuming I succeed, it will hopefully be a longer goal (maybe two weeks). If I don’t succeed… well, try, try again, right?

Another monkey has been random bouts of hopelessness. Admittedly, I’m prone to periods of moderate depression. I don’t struggle with the ‘Life is worthless, I’m staying in bed’ extreme kind of depression, but there are times when I feel overcome by life in general. As I write this, and for most of the night honestly, I find myself completely sure that I will die alone. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really believe this… mostly… most of the time. I generally believe that God does have a relationship in mind for me. I don’t know with whom, or when it will happen, but this is still my general assumption. Most of the time. Tonight, my general assumption is that no one will ever love or desire me, and thus that I will die old, alone, and probably miserable. I’m pretty much convinced of this really. I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it?

Feelings are deceptive things. They don’t portray reality in any meaningful way, and often they portray the very opposite of reality. Right now I know that there are people who love me. Perhaps no women who have a romantic inclination towards me, or at least none that have let me see that inclination, but people who love me whole-heartedly nonetheless. However, I don’t feel loved. My feelings don’t particularly care whether I am loved. The thing is, and it took me a long time to learn this, I can’t rely on any other person to make me feel loved. Most of the time those people don’t have a clue how to in the first place, and even if they did know how, they won’t always be able to.

I do want to find a woman who will love me. A woman who will want to take care of me, who will desire me and desire to be taken care of by me. A woman who will want to make me feel loved. However, even if I do find such a woman, it would be a disservice of me to always rely on her to make me feel loved. That isn’t something that she will ever be capable of. If I put my feelings in her hands, she will fail. This doesn’t mean that I am unwilling to give her my heart or my trust. I’m simply saying that she will be human, and prone to all the failings that humans have. Her love, however it appears, will be imperfect.

Honestly, this is obvious, and we’ve all heard it a thousand times, but I need to rely on God in these struggles. Not on people.

Safety in Love

Sometimes we fall into sin. It’s not necessarily that we want to, or that we go looking for it (though there are times that we do), but sometimes we just fall into it. St. Teresa of Avilla referred to sin as ‘snakes and lizards’ or ‘the little lizards’ in her book Interior Castles, and she makes the point throughout that text that they are present at each stage of the Christian journey. Hopefully as we mature certain sins are left behind, those old struggles simply make way for new ones that we don’t realize were a problem… until God makes it clear to us.

However, when we fall into sin God always gives us a way to walk out. Sometimes that way is hard to see and hard to take. Sometimes it means making a herculean effort just to get up and walk away. Sometimes that way out is shockingly easy, like when my teenage niece messages me for advice on boys just as I start looking for something to watch that involves lots of naked people and sex. I think it would be downright impossible to talk to my niece about the guy she likes and watch porn at the same time. The two are simply antithetical to one another. This was the way out that God provided me today in a very weak moment, and I can’t explain how thankful I am for it.

The phrase ‘love conquers all things’ is often used to describe the frustrations, pains, and fears that romantic love brings with it. However, this isn’t the only apt reference for this particular phrase. True love is not confined to romance. True love hopefully exists between romantic partners, but it also exists between parent and child, siblings, close friends, and in many other kinds of relationships. True love, in fact, is all around us. It is in the way I talk to the barista at my favorite coffee shop. It is in the way I listen to my friends work problems. It is in the way I stop to help the homeless man on the side of the road. And it is in the way I walk away from sin to help my niece.

When I allow the love of God to flow through me into others it takes me away from sin. Thus, just as the love of Christ conquered the grave, that love in me conquers sin that will lead me into a grave of my own. On the other hand, when I step out of that love, death finds a welcome home in my heart and sin comes all too easily. My sin is conquered by his love and this is something that I need to hold onto. It’s something that I need to remember when I am weak, and when I think that I am strong. This is what I must run to when I am tempted.

Rain

I was going to write another entry on my thoughts about manhood today, but it’s just not coming to me right now. Today has been a rainy day. Unlike the short, sudden downpours that we’ve been having all summer (the ones that I can only describe as God pissing on Lynchburg), today has been wet, dreary, and rainy all day long. Yet this somehow seems appropriate. Water is cleansing, and at the moment my mind and heart could certainly use a cleansing. I made dinner for flowergirl and her roommates last night, and I think it went fairly well. We all ate, and everyone enjoyed the meal, and then one roommate left for a concert and the other went to bed, leaving flowergirl and I alone. We cleaned up and talked for about two hours. I think it was a wonderful conversation about philosophy, politics, and life… I have no idea if she would agree with me. Much as I think the dinner went well, I am now more convinced than ever that she has absolutely no romantic interest in me. Still, God hasn’t told me to date her, or to romance her, or to pursue a relationship with her. He’s told me to love her well, and to expect nothing in return. This, I think, is thoroughly annoying.

I am left with the feeling that no woman will ever truly love me. I don’t honestly believe that this is true, and yet at the same time I do. As much as God has grown me this summer, as much as he’s taught me about joy and satisfaction in him, the idea that a woman would ever put my needs and desires before her own seems anathema to me. Yet, now more than ever, I know that the most significant thing that I am looking for in a romantic partner (among an array of desires) is a woman who will make me a high priority in her life. Actually, I’m looking for a woman who will make me the second priority in her life, right after her relationship with God. I think that this is personal growth, at least growth of a sort. In the past I’ve always pursued women who needed me or women who would let me love them, and I’ve always been hurt.

Earlier this week (…I might have written this down, not sure) a friend of mine, in an off-hand comment, told me that I should be picky. I honestly don’t know what he intended when he said that (though, given the context of the conversation is was clearly about my dating life), but the comment has stayed with me, and it’s meant a lot to me. Honestly, I’ve always felt like the bottom of the barrel romantically. A part of me wants to say that I’ve always been made to feel like the bottom of the barrel, and I’m not entirely sure that statement would be untrue, but it feels like a lack of responsibility. Regardless of how others treat me, I decide how I see myself. That being said, I have generally been treated like the bottom of the romantic barrel by the majority of the women in my life. However, the key here is that I’ve always felt like the bottom of the barrel.

Regardless of how people have treated me, I’ve looked at myself and seen someone that no woman would want. I’ve seen someone who’s place is to give love, but not receive it. I’m not completely sure that I’m past this. I still look at myself and can’t imagine a woman ever wanting to love me. I still see someone who is fundamentally undesirable in some indefinable way, and at the moment I’m still not sure how to change this. However, I think actively looking for someone who is willing to love me as much as I love her, instead of looking for someone who simply needs love but won’t give it. I also realized a couple of weeks ago (and I’m pretty sure I did mention this) that it actually wouldn’t matter to me if flower-girl wasn’t a virgin. This is the first time I’ve been attracted to a woman and not truly and deeply worried about this.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly hope she is, even if only for her sake. I also still hope that I wind up marrying a virgin. However, in the past I have been afraid that I’d wind up with a woman who wasn’t a virgin. I’ve been afraid of being judged, or of not measuring up, or of… whatever. Of something going horribly wrong and my new wife, whoever she may be, finding herself completely sexually dissatisfied with me. I have not had this issue with flowergirl. It really just hasn’t been an issue. At the moment I’m not entirely sure whether to attribute this to some personal growth in myself (conceivably possible) or to something about her (…also possible…) or to something particular about my feelings for her (also possible… perhaps the most likely, not sure though).

Ultimately, I think I still have some growing to do. Probably a lot of growing to do. Its entirely possible that I’ll spend my life alone, and I think that’s something that I’m still afraid of. However, I also think that this summer has brought a lot of spiritual and personal growth in me, and that is most definitely a good thing.

Flowers

So… I may have done something stupid today. Of course, it could also be something awesome. It’s all kind of up in the air. Remember that young lady I mentioned (yesterday, I think… I don’t remember what I write in these things)… well, I sent her flowers today. Anonymously, of course… I’m still worried about making things awkward for her, and I’m worried about getting my heart broken again. I’m really not a fan of getting my heart broken. Here’s the thing, every time I pray about this lady (and I’ve prayed about her a few times) God tells me to ‘just love her’. He tells me not to worry about whether a relationship will come out of it, or whether she’ll like me, or whether my heart will get broken, but to just love her. In keeping with that idea, the flowers were anonymous, and I’m trying to keep in mind that I’m nothing more than her friend until she says differently. I’m not trying to win her heart. I’m not trying to seduce her. All I’m going to do is do my best to make her life better. I’m trying very heard to guard my own heart through all of this, not to get my hopes up or to fall in love or… anything like that really.

Honestly, I find the entire thing both exhilarating and terrifying in the extreme. I have no idea what she thinks of me, and I’m not sure that I’m really comfortable putting myself out there again. That honestly makes me wonder if I need to spend more time being intentionally single. Nonetheless, she’ll get the flowers in a couple of days, along with an encouraging note, and hopefully it will make her day a little bit better. Seriously though, flowers are expensive! I’m not going to say how much I dropped on this, but man… expensive.

Honestly, there is a part of me (a small part) who wants to ‘make sure I get my money’s worth’ here… whatever that actually means. The thought has crossed my mind that I spent all this money and I deserve something in return. It’s ridiculous, of course, she doesn’t owe me anything, and I honestly feel ashamed that the idea ever entered my head. I did this to make her life a little better, not to get something for myself. However, there is that selfish part of me that wants to get something for myself anyway. Honestly… that part of myself is pretty disgusting, and extremely exhausting. I’m really tired of him making everything about me, and that is one of the reasons that I’m trying very hard to keep my focus here on God. I keep telling myself, ‘just love her, don’t look for anything in return, just love her’. It’s harder than it sounds, which is kind of strange.

I have a number of friends who I care for deeply (heck, I was going to drive one of them to a town an hour away so that she could pick up a new ID), and with them I don’t have any trouble with expecting a return. It’s just not an issue. However, with a woman for whom I have feelings… it’s far too easy to do things in order to get things, and I don’t want to do that. I have no interest in manipulating the people that I care about, and that makes me wonder why it’s so easy for me to want to do exactly that.

Honestly, God still has a lot of work to do in me.

Water, Water Everywhere

I was going to give this post another title, but if you actually know the poem it would have wound up being fairly dirty. I’ve had two full nights of sleep, which have been magnificently wonderful in every way, and I’m looking forward to sleeping again tonight. A friend of mine actually prayed over me yesterday concerning my sleep problems, which was completely appreciated. As much as I talk about the power of prayer, sometimes I’m honestly not sure that I believe it. Only sometimes though. I absolutely believe in talking to God, and in listening to him, but there are times when I wonder if my prayers have an actual effect on my life. Needless to say, I prayed often for ease in sleeping over the past few days, and yet I still went three days with almost no sleep. That is always unpleasant at best (though I have to admit that it’s good to know that I can still go that long without sleep and function).

Saturday morning I went for a hike (Yay! my knee’s better and I can hike!) and I had a long talk with God. We talked about many things, but one of the things that we talked about was marriage and women. I cannot say that I have prayed for the woman that I will marry everyday since I was saved. However, I can say that I have been praying for her since I was saved. I have prayed for her for the past thirteen years. Sometimes that God would teach her, sometimes that he would bless her, sometimes that he would give her joy and happiness, and sometimes that he would bring her to me. Often my prayers are fairly general. I trust God to know what is best. Sometimes though, whether because he has laid something specific on my heart, or because I have a specific desire, they are not general at all. Saturday, I asked God to let me be in a relationship with my wife before the end of the year. His response? It’s not time yet.

Honestly, I’ve had this response many times over the years. Marriage and relationship is a desire that I struggle with (obviously). It’s a desire that I’ve given to God multiple times, that I’ve asked him to take from me, that I’ve wrestled with, and that I’ve submitted to. There have been times when I put that desire before my relationship with God (the last girl I dated God flat out told me that she wasn’t good for me). There have been times when I set it aside in order to pursue God. There have been times when I trust him with it, and there have been times when I don’t.

Last Tuesday I had coffee with a young women. It was fairly fun. Not stellar as far as dates go, but certainly not bad by any means either. She expressed some interest in doing it again, or perhaps going out with a group of people. So I called her and asked if she’d like to see a movie with some friends and I a few days later. She didn’t return my call until my friends and I were walking out of the theater. Normally I would accept her excuse of business, and optimistically keep trying. I would hold on to the thread of a possibility that she was actually interested, or that she might be, even though she didn’t seem interested. I decided not to do that this time. It might be a missed opportunity, I honestly don’t know if this is the right decision, but she doesn’t appear interested, so I’m going to assume she’s not.

Honestly, I’m considering simply taking till December and telling God that if I’m not going to pursue anyone unless he specifically tells me to. When it comes to women I’m still fairly lost. That being said, I actually know what it means to be loved. I can point to multiple people and say ‘I have no doubt that he/she loves me’. Their love might not be romantic, but I know that this is what I want in a relationship. I want someone who loves me, completely and with a whole heart. So, I think I’m pretty much done until I find that. Honestly, I might change my mind tomorrow… it happens often enough, but I might not.

Where the Mind Goes…

I am a wholly sinful man. All to often a wholly sinful man with very little control over his mind. I’m sitting in my favorite coffeeshop right now, praying and communing with God precisely because of this. There are some days when women hold no interest for me whatsoever… for anyone who reads this it’s probably obvious that those days are few and far between, but they do happen. There are many days when a particular woman is on my mind. Not always the same woman, the heart of a single man is a mercurial thing, but a particular woman. Then there are days like today.

I’m praying and meditating because a few minutes ago I realized where my mind was. I found myself not with a particular woman on my mind, but desiring every woman in the shop simultaneously. One had a prettier face, one had a smaller frame, one was dressed in a manner that caught my eye, one young woman had beautiful eyes, another had larger breasts, etc, etc, etc. I think I was on the verge of fantasizing about a seven-way. Needless to say, this is not something that I was comfortable with.

So, I turned to God. To the source of my hope and my peace, and then I decided to write about it. Both have helped immensely, and I find my mind moving back into the domains that I want to focus on. Not to say that any of the attractive women have left… well, maybe one has, but to say that the focus of my mind and heart have shifted. Laozi said ‘let me have fewness of desires’, and I think that this is very important. I could easily get lost in my desire. I could easily say ‘give me all the women’. I could easily find myself dissatisfied simply because what I desire isn’t what I can or should have.

Instead, as Christ tells us in Matthew, I want to seek first the kingdom of heaven. That is where my heart and mind should lie.

The other day I was talking with a friend of mine about women and relationships in general. She said something that struck me, not so much for what she said, but for my reaction to what she said. She told me that I deserve to find love. There was a time, not too very long ago actually, when my automatic response to this would have been ‘yeah, right’. This would have reflected not simply a belief that I wouldn’t find love, but that I didn’t deserve to be loved.

This wasn’t my automatic response, and this is a good thing. My automatic response was ‘I know’. I believe that I do deserve to find love (at least, as much as anyone does), and that I deserve to be loved. I believe that I deserve to find someone who will love me, desire me, and treat me like a king, and someone who I will love, desire, and want to treat like a queen.

As an aside, this is something that I think a lot of women today fail to realize. I have met a great many women who say something along the lines of ‘I should be treated like a queen’, and this is not untrue. If I love a woman then I should treat her very well. However, it is also an inherently selfish statement. I want to find a woman that I can treat like a queen, but I also want to find a woman who understands that she should treat her man like a king. I’m very good at finding woman whom I want to treat well. I am not good at finding women who want to treat me well. This then leads me to try to change them. They do not want to treat me well, and so I set out to teach them the importance of doing so. It becomes my quest not simply to make them better, but to make them what I want… which is inherently and extremely selfish and immature.

Back to my point: I am finally in a place where I actually believe that I deserve to be loved. However, my friend also said ‘you’ll find a woman who will fall head over heels for you’, and my instinctive response to this was still ‘yeah, right’. While I am in a place where I believe that I deserve to be loved, I still have trouble seeing myself as lovable and desirable. The whole issue that began this post is a part of the reason for that, but I also know that this is something that everyone deals with. My friend pointed out that I ‘have so much to offer a woman but don’t believe in’ myself… well, she said ‘yourself’… why I ended the quotes early.

…That probably didn’t need to be explained. Anyway, my friend was pretty chalk full of wisdom. She’s completely right that I still have a lot of trouble seeing myself as desirable. I can identify things about myself that I think a woman should want, but I don’t really believe that any woman does want these things… or at least, not from me. Part of this is simply experience. I’ve been rejected by a lot of women, and that does help to shape my beliefs… more reinforce that ‘shape’ if I’m honest. However, the actual problem is much deeper than that.

While I see myself as deserving of love, I still don’t really see myself as fundamentally lovable. I still retain some measure of the belief that there is something in me or something about me that makes people essentially incapable of loving me… even though I believe that I am deserving of that love. Like I said quite some time ago, if you take away all of the masks I’m still that scared little kid who wants his parents to love him, and there is no woman who can touch that.

This is something that I think God is currently working on, and I have no doubt that it is not an easy task. I don’t know what its going to take to change this, or how long its going to take. However, I am confident in him.

Giving Thanks

Something that I’ve been learning lately is the importance of actually giving thanks. I don’t mean the importance of being thankful, that’s something else entirely, and it absolutely is important. However, being thankful is an internal attitude, and for too many of us it never actually makes it to our lips. What I mean by ‘giving thanks’ is the importance of actually saying ‘thank you’, and not just as a polite missive, but actually sitting down with someone, or taking the time to write a note and tell someone why you are thankful for them.

This isn’t something that we often do, and it’s important both for ourselves, and for others.  Having a grateful attitude is a wonderful thing, and being a thankful person can go a long way towards making you a happier person. However, actually taking the time out of your day to stop and let someone know why your thankful for them, why they’re important to you, or what makes them awesome brings this attitude into reality.

You don’t have to write them a three page letter, or take them out to dinner (although that never hurts). Try starting simply by writing out a short note letting them know that you’re thankful for them and a few reasons why. Explain why they matter to you, why you love spending time with them, or what they’ve done to make your life better. I have to admit that I’m not very good at this yet, but I’m learning as I go.

Something that I’ve tried to make a practice of in my life is to not wait to say the important things. So often we don’t say the things that really matter because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of being rejected, afraid of being embarrassed, afraid of sounding stupid or sappy. We let our fears control us, and this costs us what could be important, meaningful moments with the people we care about. We don’t tell our friends that we love them, or that we’re thankful for them, or that they add value to our lives, and we should because by doing so we could return some of that value to them.

So, the next time you really want to say something nice to someone, but are afraid it might come off as ridiculous or that it might not be good enough, just say it.

Hugs

There are lots of different kinds of hugs. There are guy hugs that include lots of yelling and backslapping, quick friend hugs that only last a second or two, side hugs that just say ‘hey, you’re special’, and so on and so on. Then there are those hugs, generally reserved for those who are truly intimate (i.e. siblings, parent and child, childhood friends, lovers, etc), where a person just hangs on to you and doesn’t want to let you go. The kind of hug that lets you know that this person doesn’t want you to leave. I got one of those tonight.

I know I’ve written about my friend… Shana. She’s a 14 year old girl who I’ve known since she was 2. She is my favorite kid in the world (except possibly my nephew… I kind of feel like I have to add that in). Sometimes I think she might have a crush on me, although I honestly doubt it. Every now and then she’ll give me a hug and just not want to let go, or we’ll high five and she’ll grab my hand and hold it a little longer than necessary. I know she’s at that age where she’s started thinking about boys, but doesn’t really want to admit it yet, and I know she loves me.

I’ve actually taken a few steps, just in case. Thrown in the word ‘kid’ every now and then when I’m talking to her, stuff like that. Honestly though, I don’t think the has a crush on me. I think that she loves me, and knows that I love her, and is maybe having a tiny bit of trouble figuring out what that looks like now that she’s becoming an adult. Heck, I fell in love with a 17 year old not too very long ago simply because I’d known her forever and couldn’t figure out the difference between love and romantic love. … …I’m still trying to figure out this whole love thing, I came pretty late to the game. Thankfully, the 17 year old set me straight, and that was definitely a good thing.

Still, those hugs are nice. The kind that let you know that someone truly, completely wants you around, and that’s what tonight was. There wasn’t any confusion in the hug she gave me tonight. No worries about anything, just love. So often in today’s culture we think of love as a dirty word. As a friend of mine recently said, we define love as ‘eros’ when we should be looking for ‘agape’, and that part of why (even anonymously) I kind of hesitate to write this. I worry that someone will read this and misunderstand. I worry that my own eros infused brain will point me in the wrong direction. I worry that my thoughts or my heart won’t be pure and fatherly.

I think these worries are good things. They keep me watchful over my own actions and emotions, and this is a good thing… as long as it doesn’t go to far. This is always the thing with limitations and protections. They are good, until they become legalistic. That’s the key with limitations. They can’t simply exist for their own sake. If the law is the law simply to be the law, then the law is utterly and completely pointless and should be done away with. The law exists to protect us, to guide us, and to make us better, not simply to hedge us in and control us.

P.S. Not-Sarah called me back. We’re going to get dinner and a movie on Wednesday.

They Say That to Love Another Person…

So, I finally got around to watching the new Les Miserables tonight and I have to say that it is nothing short of amazing. However, my favorite line, at the death of Jean Valjean, is ‘to love another person is to see the face of God’. Not only is this a wonderful line, but I honestly think its true. I was going to write about Javert’s suicide and the loss of belief tonight, and I think that’ll make it in as well, but the love of Jean Valjean is just as important.

I’m not superman. I’ve had to learn that the hard way. I want to rescue people from themselves, to help people, to make them better, and ultimately… I can’t. I can’t make people change, and I can’t make them better, and every time I try I wind up trying to impose my will onto them. I understand both characters in this story very well. I understand both love and hate pretty well, and that is what Javert and Jean Valjean embody.

I’ve written some about my past before, and I think I’ve mentioned that I used to hate… everything. For a long time all I knew how to do was hate. I hated people, God, myself, the world… all the people I should have loved I hated. I’d never known love, never understood it, and never felt it, and it took a long time for me to come to terms with feeling anything other than hate. Feelings are frightening things.

However, as much as I used to hate, now I can’t seem to stop myself from loving. My friend that I mentioned the other day, the one with all the problems, I love her. I love my roommate that stole money from me. I thought about knifing him for a while, but the anger passed pretty quickly, and the love remains. I love my students, and my family, and my friends. I love the people at my favorite coffee shop. I just love people, even when I don’t particularly want to.

And I completely agree that to love someone is to see the face of God. Trusting God means trusting people, and loving God means loving people. There’s no getting away from that. The  apostle said as much in 1st John. If you hate your brother then you hate God, and if you love God then you love your brother. It’s taken be a long time for me to actually begin to understand that, and I really think that I am just beginning to understand it.

It’s hard to lose the thing that defines you. I’ve been through this a few times. Javert lost his conviction that people  cannot change. “Once a thief, always a thief” was the mantra that filled his heart, and when Jean Valjean proved him wrong it killed him in more ways than one. I lost my hate a long time ago. God made me let it go, and then my suspicion, my anger, now my pain. These are the things that defined me, that shaped my life. ‘Everyone lies’, ‘People are evil’, ‘She’ll hurt you’, ‘Everyone leaves’, ‘No one cares’, ‘There’s no point in trying’, ‘I’ve always been alone’… these were the mantras that filled my heart, just like Javert’s. They aren’t entirely untrue, but they also aren’t entirely true. Certainly they aren’t principles to build a life around.

Love is a much better principle to build a life around. The thing is, love doesn’t reject most of those principles. It simply doesn’t care. People are evil… love them anyway. Everyone does lie… love them anyway. She might hurt you… love her anyway. They might leave… love them anyway. Love the people who don’t care, the people who walk away, the people who fight (God knows I did). Why? Because that’s all of us. That’s me as much as any of them, so why should’t I love them?

Right now, I can’t think of a reason.

Love, Hate, and Taoism

I’ve been reading a book about Taoism that has helped more clearly understand Taoist concepts and their relation to Christian concepts. I’ve written about the concept of Wu Wei before, and I think I’m still somewhat enamored of the idea, but perhaps not as much. Laozi puts forth the idea that being is better than doing. This idea, as Holmes Welch describes it in the book I’m reading (Taoism: The Parting of the Way), is the concept that attitude is better than action. Laozi’s argument, in its essence, is that when we act we provoke reaction, and the reaction will often be in opposition to the action that we take. Laozi’s answer to the evils of his day was to take no action to stop them, oppose them, or even address them, but to simply ‘be’ good. His argument was that in being good one’s nature would naturally stand in opposition to evil without actively opposing that evil, which would create a strong reaction from said evil. Laozi argued that no one can fight with the sage simply because the sage refuses to fight. Mahatma Ghandi’s life was an excellent example of this principle in action, as was Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights movement.

This same concept can be seen in portions of the scripture (i.e. if a man strikes one cheek, give him the other), but Laozi takes the concept further than scripture allows us to do. Laozi argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Doing and Not Being (i.e. true attitude is better than hypocritical action), but he also argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Being and Doing (because action causes reaction). However, scripture commands both Being and Doing. 1st John is an excellent example of this. John commands us throughout this book to an attitude of love (agape). He juxtaposes love with two possible opposites though: first he tells us that a man who hates his brother does not love God. Here Love (i.e. a deep emotive concern for the well-being of another, even at the expense of one’s own) is juxtaposed with Hate (i.e. a deep emotive concern for the harm of another, even at the expense of one’s own well-being).

It is important not to confuse this Love/Hate juxtaposition with the Love/Hate juxtaposition used in Paul’s legal terminology. Paul tells us that God ‘loved Jacob, but hated Esau’. Does this mean that God had a ‘deep emotive concern for the harm of Esau’? Of course not. This is a legal use of the terms ‘love’ and ‘hate’ that reflects a covenantal choice that holds no emotive value. God did not wish Esau harm, but he did choose Jacob through whom to continue the spiritual line of Abraham, a place for which Esau was rejected. This is important, but entirely different from the emotive love/hate juxtaposition that John creates in his letter.

However, John does not simply juxtapose love to hate. He also tells us that ‘he who does not love his brother does not know God’. Thus, love is also juxtaposed with apathy. Hence it is not enough to show love by not hating another, but we must also show love by showing a deep emotive concern for another’s well-being. This concept is necessarily active in nature. While the love/hate juxtaposition could potentially reflect a non-active attitudinal love, the love/apathy juxtaposition cannot. This is also reflected in James’ exhortation that ‘faith without works is dead’. Thus a very, very important difference between Laozi’s philosophy and Christian philosophy is the necessity of action. Scripture certainly argues that Being and Not Doing is better than Doing and Not Being. However, scripture absolutely argues against the concept that Being and Not Doing is better than Being and Doing.

The other area of major difference is that of ultimate goal or purpose. Laozi’s writing was ultimately concerned with the temporal (though not necessarily material) world. He sought an answer to the warfare that was rife in China during his lifetime (which was probably somewhere between 60 and 200 years, if he existed at all… I must confess that I cannot bring myself to argue that Adam lived 900 some years, Abraham 180 years, Moses 120, and yet completely reject the notion that Laozi may have lived for 200 years). Ultimately, Laozi’s argument is that through Being and Not Doing we can more effectively implement our will in the world than through Doing and Not Being, or through Being and Doing.

However, the ultimate goal or purpose of the Christian is not to implement our will in the world, but to glorify the Godhead (I’ve said this many times) in part by implementing his will in the world (though this is not our only means of glorifying him). Thus, Laozi’s philosophy and Christian philosophy again find themselves at odds simply because of the source of the will that they seek to enact. There are many good things in Laozi’s philosophy, and his concept of Being as primary is one that I think many American Christians need to embrace. However, ultimately, the differences, as well as the similarities, must be addressed, and it is never enough to only examine one or the other.