Thursday, December 30, 2004

Legalism and Morality

Legalism and Morality

Oooh. Those are some hefty words. For some easy reading, check out funnystuff.com. Someone asked me why I don’t feel free to marry again if my ex had cheated on me. (Because Jesus did say divorce was excusable in that circumstance.) And my answer surprised me somewhat. I said, “Because I’m not a legalist.” You see, when you think about legalism, you think of a set of rules. DO’s and DO NOT’s. New Testament writers said God gave us those laws because we needed to be aware of our inability to attain perfection in ourselves. To show that in order for God to be God, He must be perfect. And to be joined with Him, we also must be perfect. Jesus said His coming was changing all that. He came to fulfill the law. That is, to bring it to it’s natural conclusion. God illustrated through His chosen people that no one could stick to His standards. Not a single hero of the Bible was even close to perfect. Union with God required a solution. Jesus is that solution. Love has destroyed the Law. Therefore, to live under a set of rules in the A.D. is to reject that act of Love that He gave to us.

So how can I claim not to be a legalist, yet hold myself to a standard that most find silly and pointless? Because legalism works both ways. It’s a sort of a contract. It’s a “I’ll scratch your back and you scratch mine” deal. God, if I’m good enough, You let me into Heaven, OK? When we reject that mode of thinking there are implications beyond, “Now I can do whatever I want!” Because legalism is a whole different mindset. It sets you looking for angles. I just got back from the movie Oceans 12, and one of the burglars laments that he live a normal life. He has tried to settle down, but everywhere he goes he finds himself casing, and “looking for the angles”. That is exactly what legalism will do to you. For every stifling law, you end up looking for the loopholes. Then those loopholes are addressed and new laws are made. Minutia piles on minutia until you are fact-checking every decision you make. (Assuming you are serious about pleasing God.)

So Jesus put a stop to all that insanity. God now dwells within us, guiding and directing when we will listen. Why look at a map, when you have the One who made the roads with you? Now I have lost the futile chase of perfection. And I have taken up the role of listener. With a set of rules it’s enough to just pass the test. D- and you’re in. Without those rules you have to look elsewhere for guidance. If I was trying to read Jesus’ words as Rules, I would see that I’m ‘free’ to divorce and remarry. I’d see if I could track down proof that my ex cheated on me, and check it off the list. But that is not the mode of thinking I want to be in! I don’t want to pass a test. I want to please the God that loves me so much He died for me. I want to emulate Him as closely as I can. And since I have stepped outside of the law, it would be ridiculous to justify an act by it. Selectively using legalism as a tool to fulfill my wishes. No. I’m going to stay on the course that has shown God faithful and merciful to me. I’m going to listen for His prompting. I have faith that I will know it when I hear it.

Pretty Hair told me she didn’t like being the stick I use to beat myself up with. (Referring to my last entry.) I told her she isn’t. Well, for one, because I’m not beating myself up. But also because I can’t base my culpability, or lack thereof, for wrong-doing on others actions. Let’s say, hypothetically, that a beautiful woman pursues me, and, let’s say just for fun, becomes a serious temptation to me. NOT that that would EVER happen. But let’s just say… … Does the responsibility for my actions diminish? I would say that in order for any sort of morality to exist, an individual needs to divorce themselves from the situation in which their actions took place. Otherwise any horrid action could be justified at some point. And yet, that is the natural response people want to have. He hit me, so I hit him back. It makes perfect since in an isolated instance. But if you try to apply that logic in a society, you’re in for a world of hurt. (Don’t get me wrong. Criminal justice still has to exist, but as a separate ethic from that of personal responsibility.) That’s why Jesus pointed us in a direction that screams out of tune with our nature. He said if someone steals your coat, give him your shirt too. If they punch you, give ‘em another go at it. It’s a very different philosophy that implies a different structure that our morality should take. One that requires faith, hope, and love. In massive quantities. This ethic is also impossible to build laws around. Although I have heard it said that once you have forgiven someone seventy times seven times, (490 if my math is correct.) then it’s fine to stop forgiving. But the way Jesus phrased it really brings the immaturity of this way of thinking out. So when He says to turn the other cheek, to walk an extra mile with a soldier who forces you to carry his bag, to forgive an infinite amount…. I can follow the pattern and apply that inference, that intent, that heart, to my situation. Granted, that can not be enough. Jesus left us with an incomplete picture of God’s nature and intent simply because it would be impossible to explain His nature in human terms, and because there would be no way to give an example of what to do in every human activity and interaction. So we have a general idea of how He wants us to be, but when it comes down to brass tacks there is no exact plan to follow. That’s why He sent His Spirit to inhabit us. To guide us. But it requires more diligence than simply referring to a rule book. Sometimes I wish it were that easy.

A special note to my gentle readers: I apologize for the rambling, redundant, and only partially-strung-together nature of this entry. I never got the schooling I wish I had on ethics theory and such, so it’s a messy process trying to reinvent the wheel for me. I’m sure if I spent half the time researching that I do pondering, I could have produced a far superior piece here. Oh well… I’ve had worse.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

I am a cuddle slut

I’m reflecting on my interaction with women over the past couple of months. Well, two in particular. I have just procured the rights to share my recent story. The one I have been vaguely alluding too in the past couple of entries. This situation is particularly thought provoking because it is so similar to the scenario with ‘my new best friend’. Speaking of which, let me add a little side bar about her… She has purposely distanced herself from me to keep things from getting too hot. I kept inviting her to do stuff over the past several weeks, but there are usually reasons that she couldn’t. We were talking at our church group Christmas party about it and she told me she felt that she had to avoid me for the common good. I guess she’s right.
So back to my current mess. I’ll set the stage with a little history and personality profile. So there is this woman at work. I got the impression she might be attracted to me, mainly from my nosy coworker who sits behind me - we all call her Little-Miss-Takes-It-Too-Far. But anyway. So I keep getting all these signals. And it’s flattering and all. But as I’ve stated before, I wouldn’t consider being with a non-Christian, so I ignored it as best I could. Unfortunately for me, this woman is cute and smart and sassy, and lot’s of other things I like in a woman. Sound familiar? Oh, and she has really pretty hair. I’ll call her Pretty Hair. So I found myself somewhat reciprocating the flirtatious attitude. I didn’t mean too, honest! But it created some momentum that ended up propelling things into territory that I really didn’t want to navigate.
A couple of weeks ago I sent Pretty Hair a link to this blog because I thought she would appreciate my story about Charlotte Church. (She’s a writer and editor.) Well, being a bright lady, she found my one obscure reference to her buried many entries ago. It was where I mentioned that I had two women pursuing me, but one was easy to ignore since she’s not a Christian. Well, it turns out she was pretty hurt by this offhand comment since she had a considerable amount of feelings built up for me. She sent me an email elucidating her feelings and how this discovery made her feel foolish. I felt like a total jerk for leading her on. I took her out to dinner and we talked a bit. I did my best to console her without making any sort of commitments. We agreed that we didn’t have to have any weirdness between us, which was a relief to me. After that I set out to be much more careful in how I present myself. I failed.
That weekend was her birthday. My kids had just gone down to stay with my parents for winter break. I was suddenly free! So fulfilling my mandate to not be weird with her, I went and hung out at her daughter’s house for Pretty Hair’s birthday. That reminds me of another quirky aspect to this story… She has a daughter that is slightly closer to my age than she is. And get this… her daughter likes me too! Ha ha ha! (Apparently she has a thing for nerds.) Her daughter is a super talented singer/songwriter. She’s hot too. But not my type. Pretty Hair sings with her in a little band. It is SO cute. So anyway, I ended up staying way, way too late on the couch with the birthday girl. Snuggling is too innocent a word. It wasn’t sex or anything. But it wasn’t appropriate for an unmarried couple. And it really wasn’t right for someone who just decided two days earlier to be very careful about how he was going to act. Quite shameful. And furthermore, I believe that sexual activity has spiritual ramifications. And it really doesn’t make since that there would be some magical on/off switch that gets flipped at some arbitrary point activating said connection. So I have surely inadvertently caused spiritual problems with my less-than-sex-but-more-than-cuddling activity. I was dour and ponderous the next day, regretting my actions and hoping it wasn’t too late to keep any hearts from being broken. So after a couple of days of contemplation and recommitted resolve, I’m proud to say I made the mature and intelligent decision to invite Pretty Hair over to my place to sculpt with me later in the week. That’s right. I’m sure I had some kind of rationalization at the time. But really, it just boiled down to the fact that I like her, and being adored is addictive. Very addictive. I was never really adored by my wife. It’s obviously ego-gratifying, and I decided to put my ego before God and someone’s heart. Vile, huh? Yeah. I am.
It’s pretty bad that I would actually decide what is right, commit to doing it, then do the opposite. Well, at least I’m in good company. Paul - possibly the best Christian who lived - said he had the exact same problem. Not that that it makes me feel any better about being a heel, and hurting this poor woman. I’m so ashamed of myself I almost can’t admit to it. It’s taking all my will power to write about it now.
Not bad enough you say? Not complicated enough? Well, there is also the fact that I have apparently been a catalyst for her to start re-evaluating her spiritual life. Her dad is a pastor who loves her very much and told me he prays for her daily. Naturally, any spiritual activity that occurs in her has to be a separate process from what is going on between us, since mingling the two would call into question its validity. There are many bad reasons for conversions, such as fear, or social advancement. But missionary dating is one of the worst things I can imagine. We have had some good talks, but I’m being very careful not to have an agenda here. I’ve never been big on trying to sell my faith. I just don’t think God needs salesmen. He needs people who are willing to follow Him as well as they can, and share that experience when asked. (Hence, this blog.) I take some comfort in the fact that God’s plan for her life already takes into account my miserable failure.
So anyway… I’ve had a lot of fun with this woman. She’s a really cool person and I really, really hope things will work themselves out. I didn’t want to like her as much as I do. And that brings me to my next preponderance. Since this progression has happened twice, with two different women, I have enough data to start creating a theory. I need a third experiment to be sure, but I haven’t run across any other smart, pretty women who want me, (thank God!) so I’m going to need to speculate a bit. And my extrapolated thesis goes like this: I am a mirror. I reflect whatever passion is put into me. I imagine this is a common human behavior pattern. But I don’t see most people getting into the same trouble that I have. And this never happened while I was married. So something odd is definitely happening. Another problem I have, is that I have responded this way to 100% of the subjects. I wish there was someone else who started flirting with me that I soundly rejected. But that hasn’t happened. So either, A: I will jump on the couch with any girl who wants too, or B: it’s a coincidence that both women this has happened with are really special people that I could fall in love with if I let myself.
Since I have never been through that weeding-out process that most people who have been married have; (since I married the first pretty young thing that came along.) it’s hard for me to know how to asses a woman in that regard. Especially since I am convinced that I should not be assessing any women as marriage material right now. So I’ve put myself in this awkward spot where I am saying ‘no’ with my words, and ‘yes’ with my actions, hurting people I like a lot, and damaging myself and those around me spiritually. How lame.
Speaking of lame… After being as close to the Spirit of God as I have this past year, I must say how much it sucks to remove myself from Him by these selfish actions. It’s like when you are in a smoky bar, then step outside and realize how filthy the air you were breathing was. Then diving right back in. Now that I’ve had that fresh air of freedom and peace, I quickly recognize when I’m re-breathing my own polluted breath instead of His life-giving breath. I’m unsettled, uneasy. Just plain uncomfortable. Not because of shame. (Though I am ashamed of what I’ve done, I’ve brought that before God and dealt with it.) It is simply the natural condition of being a slave to myself. I’m not a kind master. And the new spirit that Christ resurrected within me shudders when he is bent to the will of my flesh.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Failure

I am stupefied. I am appalled. I am completely taken aback at my foolishness. It’s times like these I am very glad I serve a loving and forgiving God. You know that last entry I made? Yeah, the one from a couple of days ago. I hurt someone. I said I was going to be so much more careful now… Well I did something that was so diametrically opposed to ‘careful’ that I don’t even know what to call it. It’s amazing to me. I would much rather hurt myself than someone else. Yet I’ve managed to get myself into a situation where I’m hurting someone again. Worse this time. What a horrible example I’m being of one who has God in their life. How ruthlessly I suppressed His guidance in order to put myself in this position. Although now that I know I can’t trust myself in this area, I will make sure to never, ever put myself there again.

It’s a balance, I think, to keep yourself from sin. There are two ways I know to do it. One is to cut off any possibility of it happening. Like not going to strip clubs because you know it will cause lust. But placing external limits on yourself can only be taken so far. For instance, I can’t refuse to go to work because I have vulgar co-workers who rub off on me. That takes a process of the Spirit transforming the heart. It speaks softly, and when we stop to listen, we are guided away from sin and towards God. That is what most Christians rely on a majority of the time. Because every day there are thousands of opportunities to sin. There’s just no way to avoid that. So it’s disappointing to me that I have to apply the external, top-down limit to keep myself pure in this particular matter. Out of the thousands of daily temptations to sin, I’m sure I fail in at least half of them. But it’s the ones that hurt other people that really get to me. That make me feel like a failure.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Complications

As predicted, the mold-making process on my Christmas present sculpture is starting off on a botched foot. I made a latex mold that got all distorted because it had not set long enough. But that was a good experimental mold, so I poured some clear resin into it a couple of days ago. I pulled it out a day or so ago and it’s still sticky. Last night I tried making a master mold from the main piece again using some really expensive stuff. It looks like it may be permanently embedded in there. Grrrr! I really wish I knew someone with experience in this area who could sit down with me and walk me through it. I’ve got a week left to finish! Panic, panic, panic!!!

In other complicated news… this week I really hurt someone I like. I wasn’t careful enough about the way I communicated with her. I can’t really go into any more detail out of respect for the injured party, but suffice it to say the ordeal really made me take a long hard look at how I communicate. It’s one of those things that is really hard for me to change, because I’m just naturally gregarious and silly. I have to really concentrate when I want to reign myself in and act any way that doesn’t come naturally to me. Hmm. What a stupid thing to say. Of course everyone has to try hard to do what’s not natural to them. Just another case of me trying to excuse myself for poor behavior by assuming my hurdles are taller than everyone else’s. Sigh

Friday, December 10, 2004

Praise report

Justin has been doing really well at school. This is despite the fact that he has been talking to his mom more, and thus been let down time and time again by her. Normally he would be getting suspended again. But instead he is flourishing. Praise God for His answers to prayer. Here is what his teacher wrote me today:

~

I just wanted to write you a short note to let you know how great Justin has been doing over the last couple weeks. He is very focused and is taking more responsibility for his behavior in the classroom. Even his handwriting has improved over the last two weeks. He is doing a wonderful job of expressing his ideas and showing me what he knows and understands. Great job Justin! “

~

Two things are happening that could account for this. The Ancient Paths thing, with the prayer for breaking curses is one. Another is a double prayer-chain-attack. I’ve got my church on call, and my parents have theirs. Whatever it is, ultimately, God is showing mercy and compassion on my family, and I am eternally grateful for that.

And while I’m thanking God, let me try to put words to what was rolling around in my head as I prayed last night… I caught myself fantasizing about how nice and clean things would be if my ex just… well… passed away. Not in any horrible or painful way. I don’t wish her ill. I just wish she would go away. The thought is insidious like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Because I know I don’t have any malice towards her, I didn't feel too bad about it. Until it hit me how vile the mind that would hope for such a thing is. Like the mind that would 'compassionately' take the old, infirm, or mentally challenged, and put them to sleep. It’s a sin of convenience rather than spite, so it’s harder to detect, but the wickedness is the same. It would be more convenient for me, so murder has occurred in my heart. I’ve asked for forgiveness. Though I think the biggest problem is that I’m not embracing this time of uncertainty and messiness the way I ought to be. I’ve learned that these times of difficulty are extremely good for me. Yet I fight it every time I fantasize about things being different than they are. My fastidious nature wants everything in life to be easily quantified, analyzed, categorized and dealt with in a neat and orderly fashion. That overly simplistic view is what fueled my tenacity to keep my marriage together despite what reality had to say about it. And now it’s causing me to disconnect from the valley I’m going through. I’m guessing that I’m prolonging the process with my resistance. The sooner I can learn what I need to know, the sooner I will find the valley fallen behind me, and the light of peace shining on my face.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Driven

I’m quite overburdened on the sculpture side right now. I always have a backlog of projects that are a quarter done. I always hope to get back to them, but most of them languish on the shelf until they get dusty and cracked. Super Sculpy (My preferred medium) only stays workable for a couple of months. I’m happy that I was able to complete a project for my dad recently. He wrote and preformed in a play that was recorded to CD and I made a sculpture to photograph for the cover. Now I’m feverishly working on one for Christmas presents. I hope to make a mold from it and cast multiple copies so I can spread the joy. But I have never had a mold work for me before. Either it doesn’t set, or breaks, or stick to the sculpture, or breaks the sculpture, etc. I’m keeping my fingers crossed on this one. Besides that one, I’ve got several in the planning stages. For some reason they are all based on songs. Then I have the pieces I started in that sculpture class back in October. Beyond that, I’m still wanting to finish the half-scale busts of my children I’ve had in development for over a year and a half. Every time I start on that project again I get frustrated and quit, because I’m not good enough to do portraits yet. Especially of people I see every day. But then I did a relatively quick caricature of my nanny, and I think it turned out pretty well, so that gives me some hope that I will be able to do it eventually. It’s important to me that I do get good enough because I really want to start a ministry to kids with cancer where I sculpt little portraits of them while talking about how special and beautiful God made them. Then, if they pass on, their parents could have that little memento. But none of that will work if the portrait doesn’t look like them.

But in the mean time I’m trying to figure out how to be a mature artist and reject some of my ideas. I need to be more disciplined, but I become so enamored with these ideas. It’s kind of like first love, I assume. Some people jump from one relationship to the next, because they are addicted to that feeling of the new. I do the same thing with my projects, leaving most of them unfinished. I guess that is another indication that there is a weakness I need to overcome. It’s really just self-indulgence I suppose. So I’m making a promise to myself right now, that I won’t start any more sculptures until the ones I have in the queue are finished. Here is a list for me to check off as I go…

  1. Lionheart Cross
  2. Funeral of God Series (Based on the record by Zao)
  3. A Poet’s Tears of Porcelain (Based on the song by Virgin Black)
  4. Beloved (Based on the song by Virgin Black)
  5. Lilk (Character maquette for a story)
  6. Justin & Shane (Portraits of my kids)

Wow, this is gonna take a while.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Alexander: A review

The longest, gayest movie ever. Ok, technically it was just bi-sexual. There are some interesting things Christians can pull from the viewing of this movie. The prominent one being the total depravity of man. Anyone complaining about the state of our society, or bitching about George Bush being a ‘tyrant’ should see what a real conquering marauder was. One thing the movie attempts to answer is the Why? Why was Alexander driven to slaughter his way across the known world? What kind of mindset and worldview would glorify that? There is a scene where his father is leading a young Alexander through some catacombs with horrendous painting of mortals being tormented by their Grecian gods. Oedipus ripping his eyes out, the guy getting his liver eaten out by crows, etc. His father tells him that it doesn’t matter how great you are, the gods will have you. Pain is inevitable. In another scene, Aristotle is teaching Alexander about the inherent superiority of the Greeks over their Persian neighbors. Alexander blithely asks, “Well then why haven’t we conquered them?” These scenes, along with his very dysfunctional parents seem to be an attempt at showing why a guy would decide to conquer the world. All of this overshadowed, however, by the complete lack of respect for human life and dignity that pervade the entire film. I’m not counting that against it either, by all accounts, that’s the way it was. The drunken orgies, rape, murder, etc. They are all displayed. Repeatedly. One thing you defiantly come away from the movie with is a sense of how gross ancient Greek culture was. I think this is a good counterbalance to the faceless historical view of them as the civilization of progress and world unity. Even in a relatively sanitized cinematic version, you can see the satanic influences throughout the story and the world Alexander inhabited.
The majority of the drama in the movie was derived from Alexander’s purported bisexuality. His best friend and lover is constantly fawning over him the whole time. He takes a lot of lingering looks at his beautiful bath-boy, and jealousy ensues. He marries so he can have a son. I had to suffer through a really ridiculous “love” scene that lurches through jealousy, betrayal, murderous rage, rape, submittal, mercy, and somehow ends up in passion. I thought my eyes were going to roll out of my head. Just like when Alexander shows his true multicultural appreciation when he denounces his officers for not having enough respect for a culture far older than their own. Yes, that was his justification for marrying a woman from a state they just conquered.
Overall the movie was a disaster. The rampant hedonism and brutality, while based on reality, is a lot to take for 3 hours of vivid, visual reinforcement. The flow of the movie was a complete mess. Narrations, flashbacks, stilted cuts, and random abbreviations made it seem more like a Michael Moore propaganda flick than an epic war movie. A laughable diversity of accents didn’t help. Why some Greeks sounded Scottish, others British, American, or Estonian, was never explained. There were some good performances, excellent music, and neat battles. But not nearly enough to make up for the floundering, bombastic mess that the rest of Alexander is.