Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A tightrope

My ex has been around a bit more lately. She has seen the kids twice in the past 3 weeks. So I have spent more time with her than before. (As she was just gone for half a year.) I felt like I should tell her that I was waiting for her, should she decide to turn her life around. After a week or so, she asked me what that would entail. And also would it mean she could come back and live with me. (I don’t think her current situation is very fun.) I told her she could not, and that a reunion would be a long, arduous process. She told me that she was surprised that I made the offer; she thought I had shut that door. I was surprised that she was surprised since I spent the last year and a half or our marriage begging her not to leave her family. Anyway; she wants me to put in writing what I think would be required to get back together.

So in a since, my worst fear is coming true. I really wanted her to want nothing to do with me again so the onus for our break-up would be hers completely. The fact that she is extending her hand -in however small a fashion- puts the ball back in my court. It sounds like I’m trying to play a blame game here, but I don’t think so. It’s more like a responsibility game. I really just want to do what’s right. I want God’s will to be accomplished through me, not despite me. Not because I’m afraid God will punish me if I don’t do the right thing, but because He has put a righteous desire in my heart, and I don’t want to betray that gift.

Now I have to decide what to say and how to say it to her. I have two things I know I want to avoid. One would be getting too lenient. I spent the last couple years of our marriage coaxing, coddling, urging, and enticing her past the limits of my dignity and our finances. I won’t ever do that again. The other extreme, and the one I’m probably more prone to at this time would be a hard-ball proposition. Just making the ‘terms’ seem impossible or demeaning for her. Since I’m only considering a reunion out of obligation to pursue what is best for my kids and a sense of honoring sacred vows I made, I’m afraid I might come off as an arrogant jerk who expects too much. I certainly can’t speak from a point of romantic love. I feel nothing for her that way. But the fact is that she would have to go through a lot of trouble and time to prove that she has changed her ways. I can’t think of a way to soft-sell that.

Although it’s probably neither here nor there, because she has given me no indication that she is ready to take any responsibility for her actions. And I guessing that a requirement to prove herself will only cause her indignation.

I find it interesting that this whole ordeal is coming up just as the abeyance from my feelings for ‘That Darn Girl’ is ending. I thought I had put that problem to bed, but it has slowly arisen again. The other day I found myself day-dreaming a fantasy of asking her father for permission to romantically pursue her. (You know, ‘cause that’s just the kind of gentleman I am.) I mean, I was going into all the detail… going through just what I would say and how to say it. Oh yes, this dream scenario happens two and a half years in the future, after most of the current hindrances to the possibility are gone. That’s right. I’ve thought it all through and concocted the perfect scenario that would end in our marriage. Yes, I am that pathetic.

So at the time I’m least open to the idea of reuniting with my ex, I am obliged to put the greatest effort possible into it. I’m quite sure the timing is perfect. I’m sure I’ll learn something, or someone somewhere will benefit from it all. In the meantime…. Yuck.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The token conservative

I just signed onto a board for underground-music-loving Christians. I’ve been around the board long enough to see my beliefs are in the minority. So I wrote this little introduction for myself and thought is was kind of interesting; so here it is…

I’m the one who believes the Bible is the indisputable Word of God, thinks we should all go to church, and typically votes republican. I believe in absolute truth. That some ideas, philosophies, religions are right, and others are wrong. I also believe it is totally possible to believe this AND maintain a loving, compassionate outlook on life and towards others without yielding any ground.

I am open-minded in the sense that I love to learn, listen to other people’s issues and ideas, and exchange my own. I am close-minded in the sense that I am completely convinced that Christ is risen and His Spirit dwells in me. I have come to this conclusion through a triangulation of a variety of data. There are the existential aspects. (Those that can be denied through simple dismissal as self-induced experiences.) There is the observational aspect. I have examined my life and the lives of those around me. The truth claims of orthodox Christianity play out with utter clarity among those I have seen living in them. Those who live outside of them produce very different ‘fruit’. (This aspect can be rebutted by pointing out the fairly narrow range of humans and conditions that I have been able to observe.) The third aspect is the logic of nature. If my rational mind is my only tool for understanding the big picture of existence, then I can still follow a line of logic that leads to Christ. There are far better thinkers than I who have laid out very good arguments for this, so I won’t even try to make a case for that here. Suffice it to say, it starts with the fact that we are here. (This logic can be disputed from all angles and most philosophers out there have tried.) My point is that while any one of these reasons for faith could be argued, the fact that they all coincide and work together so brilliantly is all the convincing I need. Like irreducible complexity: there is no way each component could have developed separately, yet worked together so flawlessly. So I’m not searching for more proof of that. Like C.S. Lewis pointed out; an open mind is like an open mouth. The reason it is open is to eventually shut on something. (Not the exact quote.) I have found that those who insist on having an open mind about everything are close minded to one thought: that there is an absolute truth to be found. And once found, it should be held and treasured.

So I view this reality through the lens of orthodox Christianity. I enjoy jumping out of that world view to examine ideas from a different perspective from time to time, but always come back to the One who first loved me.

I hope that I can advocate orthodoxy without a judgmental attitude, and with good grace, humor, and above all, Love. I’m not on a mission to “save” anyone here; just to make as clear and compelling a case as I can for Christ as He has made Himself known to me.

Friday, November 19, 2004

How it came to be that I own a Charlotte Church CD

For some reason I was buying a Chevelle CD at Wallmart… Oh yes, I was buying socks and underwear for my boys… So anyway, I find the Chevelle CD, pull it out, and there waiting behind my intended purchase were the big, sweet puppydog eyes of 14-year-old Charlotte. My eyes did that anime thing where they get really big and the pupils dilate and highlights overwhelm the surface area. “Awwwwww!” I said. “It’s SO cuuuuute.” I said “it” because even in the stupor that was overcoming me I could recognize that this was a cleverly fabricated product dressed in the peach wood-nymph dress; not a human. I turned the CD over and found an ivy-festooned glen replete with dappled light dancing across the cherubic face of the sweet little girl who reclined on the almost-real-looking log. Her dainty head atilt and comfortable in all her pulchritude.

“NO!” My rational side yelled at me. “You came for Chevelle! Remember your anger. Tap into your testosterone induced rage to resist the seductive powers of the aesthetic manipulators!” I tried to put it down, but to no avail. “You don’t even like that kind of music!”

Suddenly a tiny winged Charlotte Church appeared on my shoulder. I was about to tell her she should be ashamed for wearing so much makeup at that age when she interrupted. “You need to expand you musical tastes. Look at the fairy forest! Surly all the songs on this CD will fulfill the spirit that the package art evokes. Lush soundscapes and breezy choruses await you. Ephemeral chants and glowing melodies…”

I read the song list on the back. ‘All the Pretty Little Horses’… ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man’

“Wait a minute!” I retorted. “These don’t sound anything like what you’re telling me you tiny tempting slyph!”

“No wait! Look at that one… Bali Ha’i’. That sounds exotic, doesn’t it?

“Well I guess so. But…”

“Huuuush.” She said to me as she placed her lilliputian finger over my lips in a propitiatory manner. “How about track two? Carrick… uh… furgus.” She said in a stilted cadence. (Because of course, since she was only a projection of my tergiversation she couldn’t possibly pronounce that word correctly on the first try.) “Yes, Carrickfurgus. Oooh. That sounds like a dark, gothic piece doesn’t it? Like an unreleased Rammstein track or something. I’m sure it’s just full of brooding majesty.” She said in the best German accent a tiny hallucinated English girl could muster. “Besides, even if you don’t like ALL the songs, I’m sure your children will love it. Don’t you want them to hear nice, pretty music? And look!” she almost squealed, “It’s on SALE!”

I sighed in resignation and slid ‘Enchantment’ by Charlotte Church under my pile of kids socks and underwear. Off to the checkout…

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Ancient Paths

I attended a seminar at my church over the weekend called Ancient Paths. It’s a ministry started by a guy named Craig Hill. The theme is about how our society - church included - has abandoned the way God wanted people to live, and the consequences we are suffering as a result. The part I attended mainly covered family and interpersonal relationship issues. We examined modern American culture and mores through the lens of ancient Jewish society. (Which is our best example of how God wanted us to live since it was a theocracy with all the laws coming straight from Him.) We looked at the power of blessings and curses, how they are applied and the generational effect they have. Then the importance of ceremonies to cement these blessings at important times in life, and the roles that the family and community play in those as well. I’m pretty skeptical about this sort of thing generally. Especially the whole curses and demons and related themes. Not that I don’t believe they exist. But the amount of fascination and speculation, and the type of people that tend to be drawn to the subjects have always turned me off to them. So I don’t know that I totally buy into all of Mr. Hill’s theories. But all the basic premises were biblically sound and appealed to common sense. One of the things that bugs me about seminars like these is an underlying premise that there is some secret technique hidden in the bible that only this organization has figured out. Of course that means you have to conclude that the rest of the body of Christ is out in the cold, and that God didn’t do a good enough job emphasizing the right things when He inspired the Bible. But this was more about society getting it wrong than it was about Christians getting it wrong. Although we obviously have a lot of influences from society.

So anyway, here are some highlights from the seminar…

Battle between the flesh and spirit.

First he made a distinction between the 3 components of a person: flesh, spirit, and soul. He defined the soul as the mind, will, and emotions. The part that the flesh and spirit are fighting over. The Spirit is the part of you that is made new when you are saved. The flesh is the ‘old man’, not your literal body. (Because we don’t believe the body is evil.) So, that being established, his contention is that you’re soul has two doors; one to the flesh, and one to the spirit. And only one can be opened at a time. When the door to the spirit is opened, it is impossible to act in the flesh and visa-versa. He was careful to point out that there are many different areas we can be talking about, and you can have different doors open in these different areas simultaneously. For instance, my soul can be open to the spirit in my family relations, but open to the flesh in my driving habits.

He proposed that any time you don’t have the soul’s door to the spirit open, the soul will feel needs that aren’t being met, and that is when the flesh will open it’s door and propose it’s solution to the soul’s needs. These solutions are always wrong. Things like overeating, yelling, drinking, adultery, etc. Mr. Hill, points out that these things are not the problem. Anger, overeating, and such are the warnings. Warnings that your soul is not being fed by the newly created, born again spirit. The flesh is just trying to comfort the soul the only way it knows how. The great analogy he gave was that these sins are like the warning lights in your car. When they turn on it means something under the hood isn’t working. The lights are not the problem. ‘Managing’ your anger is like putting tape over the warning light. It only address the symptom.

This was a great epiphany for me. It articulated a lot of feelings and experiences I’ve been having over the past year, as I’ve lost some of the flesh-induced desires behind. Especially in regard to lust. I am still shocked at how that whole issue in my life just went away as I pressed into God. I can see the door illustration explains that perfectly. I’ve always approached sin from a brute-force, repression angle. But I see now that abstinence is not victory. I can suppress all I want, but if the soul is not open to the renewed spirit, I will eventually cave in. Addressing the spiritual needs puts the flesh to sleep. This approach is much less angst inducing, and I’m afraid my song writing may suffer as a result. (sarcasm) When I used to groan anguished prayers to God about helping me overcome my sins, the thought I always came back to was that I need to read my Bible and pray more. I would always think, “Well duh. But seriously, God! Help me overcome this!” Now that a few things have been overcome, and I look back and see that they went away when I started reading my Bible and praying regularly, I’m seeing the obvious connection. Bible and prayer are how we feed our soul with the spirit. Not doing that leaves the soul with the only other option: the flesh way.

So that seems to work for some areas. But I certainly have more issues I need to deal with. So I guess it makes since to do more Bible and prayer.

Separating shame and discipline

He spoke a lot about how we communicate on different levels. He lumped them together into 2 categories. Topical/Issue and Relational/Identity. The example he gave was a husband taking his wife out to ice cream. He sees the price of the banana split and says with some exasperation, “$4.50?! How can they charge that much for a banana split?” The wife accuses him of only thinking about money. He points out that there are lot’s of other things he thinks about, and the fight is off. Mr. Hill’s analysis would be that the husband thought he was only speaking topically about the price of ice cream. But the wife took it as a relational comment; an insinuation that she is not worth the price. She felt like he was demeaning her identity. The husband doesn’t see this, and so continues to argue with her on the topical level. Thinking that if he refutes her inaccuracies about an issue, it should be resolved. I think most couples can identify with this story. I know I sure could. My ex and I have talked past each other like this countless times.

He extended this lesson to a situation he had with his little son. They were at a restaurant, and Craig told his son he was a big boy now and so he wasn’t going to help him prepare his food anymore. His son ordered a big hamburger, and when it was served, Craig, out of habit, reached over and cut it in half, fearing an inevitable spill. His son burst out in tears and said he had ruined it and started demanding another. Craig got mad at his son for causing a scene, and on and on it went. The point was that his son saw the cutting of the hamburger as demeaning his newly promoted identity.

The application of this principle to discipline is fairly straight forward. You punish your child on the topical level while maintaining their positive identity. You don’t say “You were bad so go to your room.” (The message is that they are bad, not their actions. We even send the same message when we say “Good boy!” when they are behaving well. There is an implication that their actions are what makes them good, not their inherent God-given value.) Instead you can say “You decided to do X, which you know is wrong, so your choice means you have to go to your room.” I think this will help me a lot since I always suffer guilt after I punish my kids because I’m so aware of the setbacks they will have since they lack a mother. I have always poured on the love, the praise, and worked hard to let them know what a blessing they are. But felt like every time I punished them I was undermining that message. Now I see why, and I can correct it.

Curses and Blessings

This part was about how the things we say as parents can affect our children, and their children, etc. The premise is that spirits are active participants in all stages of life, and can have big impacts if the conditions are right. Since most of the information on this topic is based on experiential data, (testimonials) and not much Biblical backing, I don’t give it too much credence. Now there were plenty of verses quoted; don’t get me wrong. But the way they were assembled and used makes me think there may be a little extra being read into them than was intended.

Like the rest of the stuff in the seminar, I think there is as much of a psychological aspect to this topic as there is a spiritual one. And to his credit, Mr. Hill has the following preface for the section: “ The following potential results of cursing are all just that: POTENTIAL. The way you have been treated by others in your life, (cursing or blessing) is never deterministic, but can only be influential. Your response to the way people have treated you determines the outcome in your life.”

One thing that bothered me about this type of thing is just how much psychology is involved. Why attribute stuff like this to spiritual things when a perfectly fine explanation can be found in the human brain. But thinking through it I realized that this doesn’t invalidate the concepts of blessing and cursing at all. God designed our brains. He knows exactly how the spirit and mind mesh. The fact that they effect each other is pretty natural. It makes since that God would design a system of blessing for His people that would keep their minds as healthy as possible. When we abandoned His mechanisms for imparting blessings, we took our minds out of His hands. And the results are obviously bad.

I certainly don’t argue with the premise. Generational issues, or curses if you will, are a definite Biblical concept. Same with blessings. It was some of the specific cause and effect stuff that seemed a bit odd to me.

I thought the best part in this section was dealing with times of blessing. He spent a lot of time detailing the ancient Jewish lifestyle, ceremonies, and law. And how those were put in place by God to ensure that the positive blessings would result. Then he contrasted those practices to what we have today, and showed how the chances of those same blessings occurring in our society are so slim.

Small group times

Ugh. I hate small groups. But I’m glad I was forced to do it. It’s good for me to try to expand my comfort zone. We had several sessions scattered throughout the 3 days where we would retreat into randomly (or Spirit-guided if they were right) assigned groups of 9 or 10. Each group had facilitators that kept the peace and maintained focus. I’m trying to figure out why I hate small group times so much. It’s not the small group part. I like casual conversation in small groups. (In fact I had a very enjoyable one at a home group on Sunday about this seminar.) I think it must have to do with the unspoken demand for results. I feel pressure to give feedback that will make everyone else happy. Because we have limited time, and everyone has needs, there is a certain insincerity to the approach. I’m not saying the people are insincere, quite the opposite was true. I think it’s just inherent to the system. We were dealing with these huge emotional, life changing issues; but only had a couple of minutes each to get through them. Really, it’s the kind of thing that should be tackled in home groups, where there is no time limit since everyone can continue next week. Hopefully this curriculum can be integrated somehow.

Anyway. One thing the facilitators did was work us through the process of realizing where curses could have come into our lives. Things like dad saying he wishes we had been the opposite gender, or mom saying we were a mistake. This smelled a little bit like that whole repressed memory farce, but the idea was that it was guided by the Holy Spirit. So who am I to say He wasn’t leading. Plus, I don’t think anyone suddenly realized something they had forgotten.

Once a source was found, and the result analyzed, we would pray for forgiveness for the wrong doing that the curse may have provoked in us, (such as bitterness towards a parent) and then prayed against the curse. I couldn’t think of anything like they were talking about in my life. (Thanks mom and dad!) But I definitely could see that something sinister is at work in my son’s life. Some kind of ‘spirit’ affects him deeply when he talks to his mom. Yes, I’m sure there is a big psychological component, but there is something else there that is stirred up, or imparted, or something. So we prayed against that. I repented for my fear in this area. How scared I am for Justin. One of the facilitators asked me to ask God how He sees me. Oh crap. Just what I was afraid of. Put on the spot. Hearing God has never been something I’ve thought I could do particularly well. Especially under pressure. “How does God see you as a father?” she asked. Well, a pillar popped into my head. “A pillar?” I said. “Very good. What else?” I thought of Jesus rebuking Jerusalem, when He said he longed to gather them under His wing like a mother hen gathers her chicks. No. I didn’t think about that. I just got the image of a mother hen, and retro-thought about the Jerusalem rebuke. So I said, “A mother hen.” Fortunately that was enough. They released me into the wild, and I could breath again.

I often wonder how God works through, and speaks to people. How much flesh is involved? How much of what I ‘saw’ was my own mind spinning? Was He involved at all? I hope someday I’ll be spiritually mature enough to know. I’m not doubting that He could have been speaking to me. I’m just wondering if my racing mind is just too loud for me to hear Him.

Well on the last day the facilitators gave us each a little gift bag with some reading material, a card that has our name and it’s meaning, along with a verse inspired by our conversations. Also, in a bit of creative flair, we each received a little knick-knack that pertained to the aspects of our lives that we shared. They got me a little beanie-baby roster with two little fuzz-ball chicks. It was very touching. I put it up on my monitor at work. And while I may question the source of the vision, I can’t deny it’s pertinence in my life. I’ve got a little fuzz ball under each wing.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The debate in my head rages on

Well, raging is probably too strong a verb. I’m going to lay out the two sides of my current thinking regarding the whole remarriage issue. I’ve been thinking and praying about it for several months now, and don’t feel any closer to a conclusion than I was in the beginning.

Side One:

God’s consistent example to us is one of patience that endures long periods of unrequited love. The Bible recounts many such examples. The story of God’s relationship with the people of Israel, and with the rest of humanity is the most obvious one. There are iterations like Hosea, who was told by God to marry a prostitute. Hosea had to suffer through many of the feelings of rejection, and ingratitude that God must feel as we perpetually defy Him and defile ourselves. Then there is my own personal spiritual walk. Where would I be if God decided I wasn’t worth it anymore during the decade I ignored Him? What if He had done the equivalent to moving on and marrying another? But He didn’t do that. That is not His nature. And as one who wants to emulate that nature as closely as possible, how could I then decide to leave my ex-wife with no option to return to me? (As unlikely as that scenario seems to me at this point.) It reminds me of the story Jesus told about the man who owned a king ten thousand talents. The king forgave him his debt out of pity. But the man went out and found a guy who owed him a tiny fraction of that amount, strangled the dude, and demanded payment. The guy begged for more time, but was not given the same grace and was thrown in prison.

Jesus was telling this story to show how absurd it is when we don’t forgive each other, after He just forgave us for His death sentence. In my case I’m not dealing with forgiveness. I don’t have any anger, resentment or bitterness towards her. I really do hope she has a great life. I don’t want to have anything to do with it. But that’s just because I don’t want to go through the pain again. But beyond forgiveness is grace. The story of the ungrateful servant isn’t just about forgiveness. Ultimately it is about grace. The king gave servant A grace, but servant A didn’t give servant B grace. Now it seems to me that grace has an infinite array of manifestations based on the individuals and circumstances involved. When it comes to my particular situation, I can’t think of a more graceful thing to do than wait for my ex to get her head on straight and come back. Especially when you consider the biblical parallels between marriage and our relationship to Christ. My marriage may be dead. But what of the new spiritual entity that was formed when we made those vows before God and became one flesh?

It seems to me that no amount of exegesis or hermeneutics can overpower the simple concept of grace. I could read a hundred books that show reasons why, technically, I should be free to move on and marry another. I’m sure there are many linguistically acrobatic ways around what Jesus said when the Pharisees tried to corner Him with their trick question about divorce. He said if a man marries another woman after a divorce he commits adultery with her. How that can be worked around without a fair dose of eisegesis is beyond me. (But perhaps still possible.) But the question I’m asking myself is: Do I want to find a way to escape giving grace? This is a question of character, not analysis of law. I’m not worried about my eternal soul here. I’m pretty sure I could marry another woman and have a long, happy, healthy, spiritually full life that is blessed by God. But I’m not going to do that if it means choosing to be less like Christ than I could be…


Side Two:

So far I have been factoring 3 lives into this equation. Myself, my ex, and God. But I need to consider the other 2 people involved. My bestowing of grace will have an effect on them as well. While I patently wait, they are growing up without a stable mom. Their most formative years will lack the yin to my yang. I’m trying to provide as much yin as I can. And they do have some amazing females in their lives like their grandmother and the best nanny in the world. But I don’t think that can ever come close to a mother around the house. Grandma lives 3 hours away, and nanny will graduate in a couple years and want to get a real job.

There are two schools of thought on this one. (That I know of.) One of them says do the right thing, keep the commandments, and everything else will work itself out. This is what the Bill Gothard, Basic Life Principles materials promotes. My uncle lent me some books about marriage and divorce. It focuses on the covenant aspects of marriage, and how a covenant is not a contract, which is the way modern people tend to view marriage. In a contract, one party breaking their end of the deal will nullify it. In a covenant, both parties are obligated to uphold it regardless of the other party’s actions. I agree with a lot of the criticism I’ve read concerning Gothard’s teachings, but this part seems to fit into the pattern that I described above. God’s covenant with His people means He will be faithful regardless of our unfaithfulness to Him. Gothard’s materials are full of stories of people who stayed faithful to these vows, refused to remarry when their spouse left, and found God was faithful to fill in the gaps left by the ex.

That all sounds right to me, but there is something that gives me pause. I had this attitude the last two years of my marriage. I knew God hates divorce, so I figured if I just did everything I possibly could to keep a divorce from happening, things would just work out. The problem was that I had to overlook several other moral issues to keep that one going. Such as lying. I had to lie to my parents and in-laws constantly to make them feel like everything was ok. Also, I let my kids be exposed to a lot of horrible things they should never have seen and heard. I let these things happen because I thought it was for the Greater Good ™. Well, she persisted until I had to let it go for the safety of the kids. So it was all for naught. I don’t want to repeat the same process of blindly following a Greater Good ™, to the exclusion of the greater laws of love. Specifically, I don’t want to be waiting around for my ex wife, (who made a very conscious choice to leave the family) and deprive my children of a healthy, loving mother, and a proper example of how husbands and wives should treat each other.

So which is more important? Emulating Gods example of grace, or being open to building a better home environment for myself and my kids?

Anyone? Anyone?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Football as a self-analysis tool

For some reason I can’t catch a football without jamming a finger. Maybe it’s the delicate artist hands. Maybe I’m just not tough enough. But this condition really makes football a lot less fun. You know what else makes it not fun? People who really, really care a lot about winning. Winning is apparently a very necessary component of the game for these guys to have fun. And by ‘these guys’ I mean just about everyone but me. I can’t have fun either way since my fingers keep jamming. So it makes me wonder why I’m different than most other guys. When they say things like, “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m out here to win!” I just think to myself, “No, I’m out here wishing someone would throw me the ball so I can jam another finger.” But seriously, despite the pain-riddled digits, I really like catching the ball and running with it. I’ve gotten to do that exactly once this whole season. Why? Because I’m not as good as the other players. So naturally it makes good since for the quarterback to throw it to the more competent players. If he wants us to win. Which he does. Because they need to win to make it fun.

I like cooperative games much better. I like it when everyone wins. I sound like a Care Bear, but that’s ok. So what’s the deal? Why don’t I feel a need to win? I would like to say it’s because I’m more evolved and sophisticated than other men. But that answer has never worked for me in the past, so I don’t think it will now. Let me try the other direction… I don’t like competition and the accompanying conflict because I’m afraid of the emotions that go along with it. Yeah. That seems to fit my personality better. I don’t like winning because I feel bad for the other person. I don’t like losing because I feel bad for me. Why can’t there be more sports where a team is pitted against a natural or environmental challenge?

I don’t think I’ll be playing again next season. I only finished this one out because I felt obligated to the team. I really hate that my mistakes cause other people dismay. So why be involved at all? Well, I started because I like to play sports, I wanted to get to know some guys at church better, and I wanted to stretch myself. So I guess I accomplished my mission. But I’m disappointed that I made the team less effective - and therefore less fun for them - in the process.

Maybe I’ll be better at softball.

Friday, November 05, 2004

I'm SO sick of life right now!

Justin got suspended from school for a day because he apparently threatened to kill another student for not sharing their food. And, you know, you have to take an 8-year-olds death threats seriously. After all, one in every 500 million may actually mean it! I was talking to my councilor about how I’m at the end of my rope, and how this may be the most important time in Justin’s life right now. He could turn it all around, or drive himself into the ground based on how I handle him right now. No pressure there.

In addition to this; the election is done and my group of old buddies from my job in Michigan are venting their grief and frustration over Kerry’s loss on our Ex-Outrage employee web board. Of course the way they are doing it is by exclaiming what a country of morons we are. “How could anyone be so stupid as to vote for Bush?!?” “Are we truly a nation of idiots?” Their language is a lot more colorful than that though. Normally I don’t care about people who insult my beliefs. But these are some of my best friends, so it hurts. It got me thinking about the real split this country, and I guess the world in general has. People get caught up in details, but underneath it all is a very basic assumption. My friends are all aghast that someone would let their religious views inform their decisions on a political level. “Separation of church and state!!!” they screech. “That’s what our country was founded on!” They really believe that you can 1. separate your religious beliefs from your secular ones, and then 2. you can check your religious ones at the door when you make political decisions. I don’t think there is a way to delineate those. And I don’t think a person who doesn’t acknowledge God as the authority of all things would understand that. Here’s what I wrote to them:

The Fundamental Difference.

I just want to point out that there is no way for us to have a meaningful debate about most moral issues. The same thing that is dividing you guys from me, is what is dividing the nation. And I really don’t think there is a way around it. (I’m not saying we can’t be friends.) I’m going to try to articulate it. Wish me luck!

There is a fundamental difference in the way people view reality. There is all sorts of gray area in the middle, but for the sake of clarification I will lump people into two groups. The first is what I perceive most of you to be. Most democrats, and independents as well. Most ‘liberals’.

These fine people have a set of values that are derived from a variety of sources. Their morals are determined mainly by what they perceive as good. If something strikes them as wrong, it’s wrong; right, and it’s right. They don’t feel a need to validate their opinions with anything other than the logistics of rational thought. (In other words, human reason is the sole standard.) If they believe in a god, it is not one who interferes much, or demands much. It is generally a god that accepts everyone and just wants people to be good and get along. They don’t believe organized religion has anything of value to offer modern society, and thus dismiss any input it may have. They find it very easy to separate legal and ethical decisions from religious ones, because religion is a category for them.

Now here is the second group. This one is easy, because I’m talking about myself.

We believe in a God that has revealed Himself to us in a variety of ways. We have chosen to believe these revelations for a variety of reasons. None of them would be understood by someone who has not experienced them, therefore there is no reason to try to explain them. Suffice it to say, they are convinced that God is real, has standards, and expects certain things. (You know, because He’s God and all.) A primary source of His revelation is in a text we consider sacred. We don’t like all the things in those texts. We don’t like repressing certain aspects of our nature, but understand that He knows better than us. We are submitting our wills to Him. (Always imperfectly mind you, but it’s the thought that counts.) The sacred texts (In my case the Bible) are an unchanging, indisputable letter of intent. It overrides whatever opinions we may have to the contrary. We sacrifice our self-interest to this authority. It is an act of humility. We don’t see human standards as the end-all and be-all.

Now I’m telling you, within the context of the second group, there is no way to separate our religious thought from our secular. My faith determines everything about me. (When my arrogant mind is not trying to take control.) You could easily argue a bunch of the steps I outlined for this group. You could say our belief in revelation is outdated, or some kind of mental illness. You could say sticking to standards that were written down thousands of years ago is quaint and foolish. You can say the whole concept is irrational. What I don’t think you can say; is that we can cleanly compartmentalize our thought lives. I can’t set all my opinions on a shelf and say, “this one is religious, this one’s not. This one’s religious…” It just doesn’t work that way. In fact, if I do have a thought that I haven’t put through the filter of my faith, then I have a problem and try to reconcile the difference as best I can. I am always trying to fuse my natural thoughts with my religious beliefs, not separate them.

I believe that you all honestly think that makes ‘my kind’ unfit for office. And that’s fine. Don’t vote for religious people. But before you go on a tirade about how stupid we are, please consider that some of us aren’t. I’m no saint, but I think most of you would attest to the fact that I’m a reasonable guy. I’m full of hate or bitterness. I’m not uneducated. (Except in the ways of spelling.) But I disagree with you on most of the social issues. Not because I don’t have a similar personality, age, or intellect. But simply because I choose to believe in a revelation from God, and to humbly set aside my own desires and opinions for ones that I know are better. And I totally recognize how that makes no since whatsoever to someone who does not believe what I do.

So anyway. I love you guys a ton, and I hope I didn’t make things worse here. I just hope to bring a little more understanding to the table. Now you may understand that you like me a lot less, but at least it will be for honest reasons.

Monday, November 01, 2004

I need more rope

It’s been a ruff couple of days for me. My mood is affected greatly by several things. One of the biggest is my children. It used to be my wife. I was generally happy unless she was unhappy. Which was most of the time. Now that she is gone I’m happy most of the time. But I’m finding my mood is now a prisoner to my son’s behavior. I am just so worried about him. My youngest is generally really easy. Of course he has the typical 5-year-old mood swings and whining. But overall he doesn’t seem to be effected by life the same way my older son is. I think that’s because Justin has had more time with his mom over the course of his life. His concept of normalcy involves her presence. Whereas with Shane; his mom was already inconsistent figure from the age of 3. So the absence and rejection from mom has had a bigger impact on Justin. Which makes his acting out so hard for me to deal with. He is the sweetest little kid you could know. His mom and I worked very hard to teach him good manners and graciousness. He almost always says please and thank-you. He offers to help people when they need it. He usually puts others first, and can articulate how God likes it when we do so. His generally good behavior makes is all the more troubling when he acts out the way he does. It seems very passive-aggressive. He will just destroy things apparently on a whim. It’s always when I’m not around. (Well, I suppose that could just be because I stop him when I see him do it.) But I know to expect to have at least one thing of mine ruined whenever I come back from a night out. Black shoe polish all over my white shoes. The entire 14-day supply of tooth whitening paste opened and spread all over the counter and toothbrushes. (Maybe God is punishing me for being vain?) A couple hundred breath strips scattered all around the house. Or the latest: a big pile of cornstarch sludge filling the sink, spattered throughout the kitchen, and crusted on the dishes. He asked me if he could use the cornstarch to make slime last night. I said definitely not. (You can guess what happens with slime, silly putty, or any other sticky substance they get a hold of.) I came back from a movie to see that wonderful surprise. I’m actually relieved when it’s just a mess that can be cleaned up instead of something broken or destroyed. Like the back door of my Jeep. While I was playing football this morning, he somehow managed to bend the metal rod on the closing mechanism for the back window. Now I can hardly get it shut.

While the loss of stuff is annoying, it’s my concern for Justin that is really causing me pain. I’m so hesitant to punish him because I know how hard his life is without a mom and his feelings of rejection and confusion. But he has to be punished. I actually took away his trick-or-treat privilege this year. That’s right; no candy on Halloween. But what else can I do when he chased Shane around with a lighter and burned him this morning? I can feel the end of my rope, and it’s closer than I thought. I’m very afraid, because I’m all my kids have right now. If I screw up now, it’s they who are going to be screwed up as a result. And if Justin doesn’t stop this pattern of behavior, it’s just going to get worse and worse as he gets older and thinks of more and more devious ways of being destructive behind my back. I love him so much, and I can’t bare the thought of that.

All this anxiety I’m feeling is leading me into depression. I’ve got a really good way to fight it off though. I realize that my depression is an act of self-focus. And when I’m focused on my problems, (in a non-constructive way) I am not being thankful for everything God has blessed me with. Have you ever given someone a gift and they did not respond at all? No lighting up the face, or gratitude. (I know I did that to my mom a couple of Christmases.) That’s gotta be how God feels when I’m depressed. I live in the wealthiest nation on earth. My kids get free schooling and a team of professionals helping them. They are both healthy, happy and usually well-adjusted. These are just a very tiny fraction of the gifts God has given me. My pouting about how hard things are for me is pretty ridiculous when I consider that.

And yet… my mind has limits. I’m afraid that I’m closing in on some of them. But I trust that if I keep adjusting my attitude as much as I can, God will fill in the rest.