Thursday, March 23, 2017

Breaking My Silence On the Taboo Topic of Homosexuality


I've started and stopped writing this a dozen or more times. I've alluded to the point, presented it in soft, palatable ways, discussed it one-on-one with friends, agreed with others who've breached the topic, and applauded those who've articulated what I haven't, but I've never wanted to address this head-on because emotions surrounding it run so deeply that I expect it to accomplish very little as a writing, unless attached to demonstrable compassion. But every day it seems I watch another support buckle, another foundation crack, so there's little platform left to stand firmly on, so I watch more and more people fall into places they never thought they'd end up. The Christian church has largely failed and lost on the social issue of homosexuality. I'm not trying to change a single mind with what follows; I only hope to elevate the conversation to something civil and productive.

There is a simple principle that should always be present when articulating the positions of Christianity:

"All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify."
- 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NASB)

Now, I've already mentioned Christianity, so alarms went off and defenses went up in those predisposed to dismiss all such philosophies as "religious", because of course in our progressive and civilized society we certainly needn't consider ancient myths and fairy tales that are anti-scientific. I agree, but Christianity is none of those things, which is precisely what sets it apart. The evidences of it are so widely available and the topic has been so thoroughly discussed within the field of apologetics (if that's a new thing to you, begin with J. Warner Wallace's "Cold Case Christianity", Lee Strobel's "The Case For Christ", C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity", or The Poached Egg blog at http://www.thepoachedegg.net/), that I can't go back into that and derail the discussion at hand. Instead, let's begin from the stance that skepticism toward anything claiming morality as a base is good and encouraged, because if morality actually exists it cannot be relative, but must necessarily by it's own nature emanate from an authority. So if you claim even that society has progressed, you are saying there is a standard that was once not met, but either has been met more recently with effort and advanced understanding, or is nearer to it. If the standard was simply agreement of the majority, it would be arbitrary and malleable, but we do not live as a people who believe consensus equals morality, or we would accept defeat graciously and not fight democratically elected governments. Rather, we dig in our heals and #RESIST, because of our deeply held convictions that things are not what they ought to be. So we most definitely believe in a standard, and it is responsible to evaluate what has the authority to define it. We are healthy skeptics--good! Let's hold everything to that same skepticism, including social movements and causes of the day.

We've reached a point in society where people consider convictions hate speech if they so much as suggest that there is an alternate point of view, and the topic of homosexuality forces this hand. No one wants to be seen as bigoted, so we are encouraged to be vocal in support of same sex marriage, and anything less than endorsement is considered intolerant, uneducated and homophobic. But let's remain skeptical for a moment and deal exclusively with science. Biology is simply factual--you either are or aren't physically male or female (anomalies and malformities are in a separate category of scientific discussion, not pertinent to this post), in the same way that you either are or aren't from a particular genetic hereditary makeup, the same as how you are a particular age based on when you were born. Psychology is where things get complicated, and that has so many influencers beyond what we are are cognizant of that it can take a lifetime to merely scratch the surface of where our personalities come from. But gender plays a huge role in our psychology, so a skeptic must acknowledge that it is not quite so simple as to just decide what role one prefers, and then play it, because there is tremendous history to unpack, and there is no switch to turn on or off. Even transitioning genders cannot undo the early awareness of being another physicality, so there is a lifetime of emotional associations to contend with that will not dispel with the addition or removal of gender-specific characteristics. Furthermore, to place such emphasis on gender and sexuality is to acknowledge their significance to an individual's totality, and the effects of fluidity are extremely complex--much too complex to be categorically applied to a subset of the population as if all experiences were equal and can be uniformly understood. If male and female bodies are biologically complimentary, we can assume they are also psychologically complimentary, since the psyche is built on genetic and physiological factors as well as emotionally responsive ones, of conscious and subconscious stimuli. The consequences of misdiagnosing or mistreating such a complicated makeup can be devastating, as evidenced from disproportionate suicide rates in people struggling with these sorts of issues. If male and female bodies are complimentary, both physically and psychologically, there may well be unintended damage to use them outside of this design. That is not a religious consideration, but a scientific one.

Now some of you are angry, thinking I've muddled two separate issues, and further upset that I've suggested one way of living might be inferior to another (which I never said, but that's how it will be interpreted), and this is why most of us don't talk about this. I love my gay friends very much, and don't want them to hurt. I don't want them to feel unwelcome or condemned. I want to celebrate who they are as unique individuals created and loved by God, and I want them treated with equal respect and to not be discriminated against legally. I was a theater student who grew up writing poetry and loving Boy George. My best friends were always girls, and we played with dolls. I've always hated sports and loved design. I was sexually abused when I was about five by a boy only slightly older than me, who was simply acting out what had been done to him (I didn't realize it was abuse until around 20--before that I always just thought I was dirty and bad). I had a favorite skirt as a teen and nearly got fired once for wearing my eye makeup too dark. I wore black when Freddy Mercury died and cried when we lost George Michael. I have a very deep and genuine compassion for individuals who are gay, and neither hate nor am fearful of it. But that does not mean I have to celebrate gay couples by a more forgiving standard than I do anyone else. I do not delight in divorce, even when there are legitimate reasons for it. I am not happy when people are unhealthily codependent, or enablers, or when one is abusive or manipulative, when someone is gaslit. I do not cheer promiscuity or polygamy, because I think they cheapen and miss the benefits of monogamous intimacy. I happen to believe very strongly from my own experience that monogamous devotion to a complimentary individual--and I mean complimentary in every way; emotional, mental, spiritual, physical--is the nearest to God people are able to comprehend in this manifestation of life. I know that I'm blessed to have the partner I have, and I know most people long for such a thing, and I don't want to withhold that from anyone... but I also know that the reason my marriage is so unique is because we were both seeking God's will first, even when it felt torturous, and we were in no way looking to each other to set right the emptiness and brokenness of life. It doesn't happen that way for everyone, but it was and is so wonderful that I wish that for everyone. I celebrate relationships only when they seem truly headed toward wholeness for the individuals, and I earnestly believe that homosexuality is missing a complimentary element of reverence for the other's inexplicable and unknowable counter-sexuality. There's a mystery and intrigue in my wife's differences that captivates and enraptures me, and I just don't think that's quite possible with two people so physically and experientially similar.

I know that people struggle with being gay, that it's very difficult for some, and that there is certainly hatred and misunderstanding and stigma that makes it even worse; and I understand why people champion the cause, and why our society is increasingly protective and proactive and accepting of these individuals, and I commend the intent of showing this minority unconditional love. But I also think love does not always mean encouraging people to proceed with whatever they feel like doing, if one believes it to be detrimental in some way. Many people are gay because they suffered unspeakable trauma in their formative years that flipped on a defense mechanism. Many are gay because they didn't believe they were loved. Many are gay because it feels good. Many are gay because they desperately want attention. Many are gay because they grew up differently than stereotypical boys and girls, and people encouraged and reinforced that different-ness as a defining characteristic of their personality. Some may actually have a genetic abnormality. Every case merits its own consideration, so we must remain skeptical enough to consider whether there is a trauma that needs to be dealt with so healing can come, and in such cases affirming the defense mechanism might set back progress. Standing in the way of healing is not loving, but selfish; it is more about whether the person appreciates us in the moment than it is about what their future looks like. In love we are to sacrifice ourselves entirely, and that means we might be uncomfortable standing up and telling someone something they don't want to hear. There is no merit whatsoever in simply leaving a person alone, because not only are you ignoring their unique contribution to the world, but you are also sending the signal that they are insignificant to you, that you could do without them, that you don't care enough to integrate them into your life. If you genuinely care about a person, you will want to make their life better, and if you believe there is a standard, you will want them to meet that standard. I believe very strongly in a standard--a very high one--and I have a special affinity for those who didn't have the resources I had to understand why the standard exists or how to reach it. I don't believe homosexuality meets the standard of what intimacy should be, due to the missing elements of different-ness and complimentarianism, just as I don't believe other expressions of sexuality do. Physical pleasure is not enough, nor even emotional pleasure, but intimacy as intended requires totality that cannot be cheapened in any way. Sexual release feels good no matter what form it's in, and many people settle for that, but it is not experienced to its fullest intent unless every dimension of humanity and spirituality is involved. That means flippancy, pornography, cheating, polygamy... all of these things are detrimental to a person, because they chip away at intimacy. Since I believe strongly in sexuality and gender roles, I believe homosexuality falls into this category of robbing a person of the fullness that is possible when complimentary individuals come together for a lifetime. It is not that I believe it's true because The Bible says it, but that I believe The Bible says it because it's true.

How do we proceed then? Will you be unwelcome in my house or church? Will I not spend time with you? Let's get back to the point I started with, that all things are lawful or permissible, but not all are profitable or edify. I will always love you, my friends, even if I don't think what you're doing is what is best for you. I will welcome you into my home and cherish you as individuals created by God for a purpose. In the same way I welcome couples whose relationships are not shining beacons of hope, in the same way I welcome people who probably shouldn't be together even though I like them both, in the same way I welcome anyone else I might disagree with about certain things, I welcome you into my life and extol your admirable qualities; it's just that there's a part of me sad that you don't have what I have, sad knowing you don't even know how to pursue it, sad that you'll settle for less, and that there are people cheering you on that you feel obligated to validate for their faith in you. It is perfectly within your God-given right to be gay, and to choose to live it out--and I don't want to deprive you of the freedom God gave--but I don't believe it to be profitable, beneficial or edifying to you, and as such I cannot rejoice. Insisting that I do so is not really love, but simple, passive, dispassionate and insincere tolerance, and I find that condescending and beneath you. I think you are valuable enough to know what I think you deserve, and I love you enough to tell you so.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Nashville Area Plumber? NOT STEPHEN CRAIG!


On Friday January 6, 2017, we had a snowstorm here in Nashville; schools closed, businesses closed, and many of us were snowed in. That was a lousy day for the plumbing in my house to back up, but back up it did... into the bathtubs even, to where we could even hear it in the kitchen sink and washing machine. I did everything a normal non-plumber could do; plunged it, snaked it, Drainoed it, poured gallons of water into the basin to pressure the clog out, but nothing worked. We couldn't use our own bathroom, our family of five, in a snowstorm. So my wife jumped on the computer and phone and tried to get someone out. Our regular guy was out of town. Others were snowed in. The only person who said he'd come out was some guy named Stephen Craig from Clarksville, (615) 693-5334. We thought we'd scored. But the ice was too dangerous, so after an hour or two he called back and said he couldn't make it, but would come the next morning.


On Saturday morning around ten, Stephen arrived with a friend, in an unmarked, non-company vehicle, in torn camouflage clothing, reeking of cigarettes, looking more like deer hunters than plumbers--but, hey, there were there, right? They checked out the toilets and moved on to the drain cleanout outside. Their conclusion was that there was dirt in the cleanout that could only have been intentionally placed there to sabotage my system. Reasonable, right? Though that seemed unlikely to be the only explanation, they said they could fix it, but that it would take longer and cost more than what they'd expected, said they'd have to dig up and replace a piece of the cleanout, and that would fix it, but it would cost $450 (which the friend said was a bargain, that a professional would charge $1500 to do the same). I was hesitant, so I asked, "Now, are you sure that will fix the problem? What if you do all that and...." Stephen cut me off, "Oh, you'll be flowing when we're done, you don't need to worry about that." So reluctantly I agreed. They immediately asked if I have a shovel they could borrow, so I loaned them my two shovels, which they said saved me money because they wouldn't have to buy one.

I left for work as they began, then my wife called later to say she was nervous because they wanted to follow her to the bank to get cash for their work--which she wisely did not allow, but instead sent them for lunch while she ran to the bank with the kids. They "finished", but then told us not to flush toilet paper for at least three days. That sounded absurd to me, but I'm an accommodating and generous man, so I threw my soiled bath tissue away in wrapped plastic bags, even flushed the commode twice through each "sitting", because I like to be sure nothing is my fault. Mind you, we got no receipt, no warranty, no assurance that our worries were over, only paranoia following. The next night, Sunday the 9th, the toilets and tubs backed up again. I don't like seeing fecal matter where I stand to get clean or where the children sit to bathe, so my wife called Stephen back. Several times. Eventually he promised to come out, but didn't make it until Wednesday, the 11th, only after I texted to ask for a refund so I could hire someone else to fix the problem. This time, they cleaned out a few small roots and claimed that was the problem, but admitted that they weren't a large enough company to own a camera to look at the pipes and know for sure. They again said it should be fine as long as we don't flush toilet paper (is that a fix?), but also said that if it happened again we'd need to hire someone with a camera, that they weren't a large enough company to handle that, and that they couldn't just keep coming out to do the same thing. That was not satisfactory, but I was so disappointed that I was eager for them to leave, since it was clear they couldn't handle the job.




























Lo and behold, two days later, the plumbing backed up again. Since there was no snowstorm anymore and real companies were available to come out, my wife called several plumbers to shop around. Mind you, I was doing my business into a child's potty lined with plastic bags to be immediately wrapped and disposed of, and that was no pleasant way to live. Roto-Rooter came to give an estimate on the 17th, and Drain Doctor came out on the 18th and honored their quote of $140 for the whole visit. What Drain Doctor did for that small amount of money was incredible; they removed the commode and cleared the pipe with some sort of loud instrument, cut out a significant root that Stephen and friend had missed, resealed the commode, swept the line from house to street and vice versa, advised that the cleanout currently there (the one Stephen and friend charged me for) needed to be replaced with a two-way so he could sweep toward the house instead of only toward the street, and advised that there was likely a break in the pipe that would eventually need repair, but that Riddex could stave off the fix in the meantime. He accepted a check, gave a receipt and a written 30-day warranty--about 4 hours of work, all for $140.



That fix actually solved the problem, so on Tuesday the 24th (once I was sure), I texted Stephen to ask once again for a refund--but only a partial one, because I wanted him compensated for his effort... but not for misdiagnosing the problem and fixing something that didn't solve it. He defended his work and maintained the assertion that someone had intentionally filled my cleanout with dirt, unable to even conceive that there might be dirt there because roots had broken a pipe, which is most likely because the foundation of the house is noticeably in need of repair (which I pointed out to them the second time, and the friend said, "Oh yeah, I didn't even notice that; I guarantee that's it!")

I gave Stephen a chance to issue a partial refund on the basis of misdiagnosing and treating a symptom rather than the problem, on the basis of not fixing the problem he said he would fix, and he stopped replying. Which means my $310 is worth more to him than his reputation.


I let a few weeks go by to be absolutely certain Stephen was not going to refund any portion of my $450 even though he hadn't fixed the problem he said he'd fix. I texted him one more time to let him know I'd have to review him poorly and advise against hiring him based on my experience, but he remained convinced that $450 was reasonable for a plumbing job where the same issue reappeared 24 and 48 hours later. He's certain that's acceptable, and I'm certain it's not; so I feel a moral obligation to caution anyone considering hiring Stephen Craig and his partner as a plumber. My advice is: hire someone who doesn't only take cash, hire someone who gives a receipt and a written warranty, ask to see their plumbing license, find out what sort of equipment they use beforehand, don't think you'll save money just because they're small, make sure they have a website and multiple ways to contact them, and trust your instinct. My recommendation is to use Drain Doctor. Stephen feels differently.











Saturday, November 5, 2016

I Voted for Evan McMullin, and I'm Proud of It


I voted for Evan McMullin, and I'm proud of it.

Across the board on issues, Evan McMullin met my criteria as an unapologetic, moderately conservative Christian, with articulate and rational approaches (https://www.evanmcmullin.com/issues). I didn't hold my nose and close my eyes while voting, I didn't feel dirty about it, I didn't walk away shaking my head, uttering "God help us all!" I didn't choose evil, and I didn't excuse evil in the name of good. I don't have to justify my vote, because it's obviously consistent with my standards as a respectful human.

It's unconscionable to me that a pure and beautiful vote like mine--a vote of conviction and hope--could be met, by people I otherwise love and respect, with resistance, condescension and disdain. I've heard the objections, I've considered the arguments, I've paid attention and independently evaluated the possible consequences and outcomes of my stance, and concluded that my vote for Evan McMullin represents the very best of America, the very best of moderate conservatism, the very best of Christian principles, and the very best of me personally. It is a vote of confidence and faith, not anger or fear, a vote that acknowledges a God of restorative miracles who is beyond our comprehension, who calls us to a higher standard than the way that seems right to man, but leads to death.

To clear a few things up, I'm anti-Hillary; I think she's a manipulative and self-serving criminal who operates largely out of anger. I'm anti-Socialism, so I wasn't a huge Bernie fan, but I at least believed him to be a man of conviction. I wanted to be for Johnson/Weld, because a good many of the Libertarian ideals--primarily the smaller government ones--are something I feel pretty passionately about, but Johnson kind of seems like he's always high and slightly unaware of things that are somewhat consequential; I think Weld was the brains of that ticket, and I think he knew it. I have literally no opinion of Jill Stein because the platform doesn't appeal to me. I wanted to like Castle because I most closely align with the Constitution Party, but he had no charisma whatsoever. I couldn't support Carson for the same reason, because he could barely keep his eyes open. I liked Rubio until I heard Cruz, and Cruz until he sold out and supported Trump. But from the very beginning I was #NeverTrump, because he was and is the antithesis of what a Christian should appear--he is the very embodiment of pride, arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. He brags about his unethical dealings and is remorseless of his character flaws. He cannot acknowledge his need for repentance and correction, his utter depravity and desperate need for God, but instead offers lip service and metaphoric pittances, elevating himself as an idol who can do what only God in fact can. I thought that was obvious, and indeed it is to all without the willing suspension of disbelief.

I understand the evangelical concern that a Clinton Presidency will be a tipping point--just as Obama's Presidency was--where Christianity will have lost favor and conservative principles will become more and more the minority; my problem with selling out to a wicked man in order to preserve that heritage, though, is that it is in truth far too late and that ship sailed long ago. I knew for sure it was lost when Trump became a contender for the Republican nominee (which only happened because so many people were torn between the four good options--especially Rubio and Cruz, either of whom could have defeated Hillary). Christianity lost when the Church eased into teaching tradition rather than apologetics. It lost when we neglected our commission to care for our communities and love--really love--our neighbors. It lost when we accepted divorce as more favorable than fighting for our marriages, when we allowed porn to be normalized and excused in our homes, when we accepted the sentiment that "kids are going to have sex, so we might as well equip them", when we abandoned our responsibility to support and rally around scared young women through the redemption of unplanned pregnancy, when we taught that monetary wealth and physical health were blessings from God and anything short of that was because our hearts weren't right or we didn't believe hard enough. Christianity failed when we put careers over parenting and courting our spouses. It made itself a mere religion when its adherents changed it to suit comfortable lifestyles that do not demand self-sacrifice. Christianity failed when it didn't know how to articulate that homosexuality may be permissible, but maybe isn't beneficial, and that opposition to gay marriage isn't from hatred or disgust, but because we genuinely believe God intricately designed the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical worlds to work together in perfect harmony, and that his design for intimacy needs to meet ALL of the criteria to get the full benefit and beauty he intended, that anything short of that is a pale substitute that may be masking an underlying hurt that should be healed, that sexuality is too complex to declare we've got it entirely figured out, and that we might need help from the creator to understand how our own passions work. We actually favor equal protections, but resist the mandate that we must validate, celebrate and affirm something we believe to be less than God's perfect plan for humankind--a compromise--because, in fact, we love and want the best for you. 


The truth is, God gives us the freewill to choose sex outside of marriage, to choose promiscuity or violence or pornography or homosexuality, to choose alcoholism or drugs, to choose abortion, and no government mandate can change our hearts' desire for those things. But God can. He can transform us from what we struggle with now in our brokenness to what he wants to see in his redemption, to what makes us truly happy and fulfilled. But we don't want to work toward that, we just want rules that tell us what we can and can't get away with so that it's easy. We want to gauge ourselves by how "righteous" we are compared to others because we can always find someone worse, but that's not how the kingdom of God works. That's not how Christianity works. That's why it's not enough to say "Hillary is worse!" God calls us to be prefect, knowing that we can't be, so he makes himself accessible so that his perfection covers our sins, and in that grace we should be ever aware of the debt that was paid on our behalf, ever expressive of our humble testimony to others, and ever reverent of the holiness and sovereignty of God. It should saturate our being and change who we are, and I have not seen even a hint of that with Trump, despite what his politically postured "advisers" and surrogates say. If Trump is God's chosen candidate, as the same delusional and self-proclaimed "prophets" who were certain Palin would be president suggest, it could be that God chose him to make it crystal clear that American Christianity has prostituted itself and taken on false gods. It could be that God knows full well America has chosen progressive liberalism as its course, and will allow it just as he allowed Israel to repeatedly turn its back and forget the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have no interest in legislating Christian behavior in people who choose not to live in Christ--if God wanted robots he wouldn't have given us freedom.

Christians have rallied around a perverse bully, a narcissist, a pathological liar, and they've done so out of fear. Fear of drowning in the flood, fear of burning in the fire, fear of being thrown into the lion's den, but God is right there, waiting to remind them that he who closed the door of Noah's ark, he who stood in the furnace protecting Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, he who shut the mouth's of the lions with Daniel in the den, he who commanded the wind and waves to stop and Peter to walk out to him on the water... he is with us still, today, in America. The God who sent rain to refresh the Cubs in the World Series, the God of Angel Armies, is a God who doesn't need an egocentric jerk with personal vendettas to "fix" or make anything "great again". Greatness is defined in spiritual terms, on levels Trump and his 5th grade mentality can't comprehend; it is honed in adversity, is the unbreakable "American Spirit" of hope and ingenuity that doesn't need a million dollar loan. daddy's reputation, a ghost-written book or reality TV show to propel. The poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low can lift themselves from the dregs in our already great nation to be whatever they can dream up, and it is an honest, hardworking and humble person who best represents that.

But where was Evan last year, even months ago? He was, as George Washington was, reluctant to undertake the task, and waited to see who more qualified might throw his hat in the ring, but as the deadline neared and it became obvious no one was up to the challenge, duty called and he answered the obligation out of desperate love for his country, keenly aware of the monumental mountain to climb and the consequences if he should fail. His team put together an articulate and reasoned platform and battle plan, which depends heavily on Utah and unpredictable swing states doing the nation the favor of delivering neither Trump nor Clinton the 270 electoral votes necessary to win, in which case the House must choose from the top three candidates with electoral votes, and in a contentious election such as this, it's quite possible the referendum from the voters will compel the House to choose the candidate least likely to be indicted or impeached, which would be McMullin. Is it a long-shot? Yes, but that's the world we live in now. That's the new normal, the most in keeping with the progress of the nation. I voted for him in Tennessee, where I had to write him in (and Nathan Johnson as VP in order to get Mindy Finn, who joined the ticket after papers were filed). The old rules of a two-party system no longer apply, and the prevailing wisdom of "whoever raises the most money wins" is also moot, because a new generation of voters is more independent, bolder, less traditional, and frankly, has access to far more information than in elections past. We want the inefficient dinosaur to die, and the career politicians to suffocate underneath it, for new life with new ideas and approaches to pour in with energy and excitement and streamline the behemoth.


Hillary's fear-mongers think my vote for a third party throws it to Trump, Trump's fear-mongers think my vote for a third party throws it to Hillary. Both of those suggestions are philosophically stupid; my third party vote--and every other third party vote--is one step closer to throwing leeches like Hillary and Trump out on their lipstick-stained butts. I voted for Evan McMullin, and I'm proud of it. Join me.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Why I Will Not Support Trump


By request, here is a shareable consolidation of a few points on why I will not, as a moderately conservative Christian, support Trump.
_____

The lesser of two evils theory is irrelevant now, because this election is already lost. The country is about to be raped, and both sides are saying, "The other rapist is worse! Choose ours!" There is, however, a third option that requires no evil at all, and that is what I choose.

I'm with all the conservatives who warned not to elect a dangerous narcissist because we will never abandon principles. The fault is never with the principled, but with those who abandon principles, because they're no better than the opposition. The big name Republicans with a vested interest in partisanship--those people who get their money and power from the party--can't rock the boat without falling off, so if they can't swim on their own they sit down and shut up. We lost already because everyone was worried their first pick wasn't popular enough to win, so the majority bet on who they thought the odds favored. It doesn't matter who gets it now; all the good people are out. Hillary is a self-serving criminal and Trump is a self-serving narcissist. There is no sane politician, however corrupt, who can threaten the soul of a nation like an enabled madman can.

But what if we dropped the fallacy that it is a two-party system? What if we all voted convictions rather than odds, and the most popular convictions won out? If we learned anything from Trump's rise, it is that we were all wrong about how "the system" works. The GOP is dead, and what is now regarded as the Republican Party is unrecognizably alterable and fluid.

Liberals are watching us, watching to see what it takes for us to sell out, to see what our threshold is. They expect us to fall in line just like everyone else, expect us to prove their theories of partisanship, and if we do they'll dismiss us as hypocrites and dig in their heels to fight us as unreasonable, nonobjective opposition. We lose our power and their respect. Our convictions are worthless then, all on the HOPE that government will be not as bad as it could have been. We've then handed over our power as individuals to a groupthink mentality to await the benevolence of consensus.

But what if we don't back down, don't falter? What if they see strength, convictions, principles, independence? What if there's something admirable that earns their trust, extends an open hand, lets them know we are not just blindly following the herd, but that we've actually thought these things through and are able to see common ground and genuineness? What if that fosters relationships that allow discourse, encourage dialogue? What if the relationships change people over time, and those transformed people in turn change others with the same sincerity and conviction? Will the world then get worse or better? What if we show our "opponents" that they are not actually opponents, that we are actually concerned for them and value them? What if they start believing they can trust us to have their best interests at heart, that they can trust us to be true to our convictions and honor our pledges? What if we can trust them to honor and be true to theirs?

I don't believe politics leads, but follows society. Politicians want to be popular, so they wait for a wind to blow and then head that direction. If you want to change government, you have to change the people it presides over, so I choose to stand out where people who need a different view can see me. I know the critical nature and impact these choices will have for my children, so I'll focus on building up the resources within them to withstand any external stimuli that mirrors the pitfalls of society at any time, not only so it's easier for them to adapt, but so they can do the same for others by the same resolve. If that means we go through a period of governmental unrest--even if the system as it is breaks down, even if our lives become more difficult, if our liberties are impeded--then we should focus on sacrificing ourselves for those people in our daily lives, focus on helping them, connecting to them, loving and serving them, and in difficult times that may even be more significant, more meaningful, more effective. If that means I martyr my own comfort and security to demonstrate the depth of my sincerity and convictions--even if my own family suffers along with society--so be it. I cannot show my children it's okay to bow to Nebuchadnezzar even though I see the furnace. If the country goes to hell, it still cannot take my heart away from Jesus.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Jesus, Morrissey and Me

There are a lot of things Christianity is not, and a lot of things God is not. For one thing, Christianity is not God, and for another, God is not confined to Christianity. Most everyone's on the same page there.

But there's a danger in underestimating the role of perception. God does not change, but our perceptions of Him do--much like how our perceptions of our parents change as we age and can identify more with the struggles they must have had at comparable ages. Perception can have a lot to do with whether or how we "love" someone. The more we experience, the more we take into account, and the closer we feel to the subject. It's the same with character development; the more we delve into the world of the hero/heroine, the more sympathetic we are to them. It is possible to grow to love your coworkers by getting to know them over time, particularly as you bond over mutual experiences. And marriage is known to be a lifetime of learning about your partner, with love growing deeper through endured hardships, through intimacy and togetherness, through sharing your daily lives to the point of having your own secret language, your own inside jokes, and even so the journey of knowing someone is never complete. The same is true of God; we can be aware of Him without having any concept of who He is unless it is developed over time. We can say we love Him without really loving Him or knowing Him at all.

Let's consider my love for Morrissey. It's not a real love, a little more like fandom, except that I'm conflicted because he often does things I find ridiculous and embarrassing. I'm always hoping he'll redeem himself by intriguing me the way he used to. I've forgotten what it was like to discover his music for the first time, to be sucked in and hang on every word, to talk about him incessantly, to put on my fake accent and take on his outer characteristics. I've become bored and am seldom impressed. I never met him personally, never spent any time with him, never spent time in his world to expand my frame of reference. All I really know about Morrissey is how he once made me feel with words that I related to my own experiences without ever considering what his words meant to him. I thought I loved him because the words spoke to me, but they speak differently now that I'm a husband, a father, a grown up family man. I know some things about him, but never, never knew him. Did he stop being Morrissey? No, but my perception of him changed as I changed. If I ever meet him in person and grow alongside him, I may end up actually loving him--at which point the music would actually be secondary and less important that our primary relationship--but that would be something we'd have to invest in. You can parallel this with whatever relationship you want, but the point is that I know only of him; I bought the persona, believed how he was portrayed, but never intimately or personally had anything of substance to do with him. I in essence had a pretend relationship with a someone I didn't know.

But I was a fan, wasn't I? Didn't I have posters, shirts, all the albums and DVDs, interviews and articles, a lighter, the glasses and the haircut, and didn't I listen to anyone in the same genre? Didn't I have all the links to all the official and fan pages bookmarked? Didn't I know all the words, have the inflection and attitude, the sneer; couldn't people tell by looking at me or listening to me that I was a fan? Couldn't I have answered trivia, introduced people to his beauty, acted as a conduit for his message and life's work, espoused his causes and connected to people based on their "love" for The Smiths? Yes! But did I know Morrissey? No.... I could not answer for him. I could not speak for him, justify, explain  or account for him.  I could listen, watch and read all I wanted, but I could not breach that level of separation between artist and fan because he never became real to me.

I think you see where I'm going with this. I can learn a lot about Morrissey from the art, the marketing, the PR, the secondhand accounts, but I will simply never know him without spending time with him; if I say anything otherwise, I'm delusional. And I think at this point we can agree that it would be absurd for other fans who've never met him to try to convince me of what he's like. But we do that with God, and the result is disastrous; we have people with no connection beyond being "informed" about God trying to explain why He does what He does, or why He couldn't have done what He did. Beyond that, even among those who have encountered Him, no one's relationship is the same. Every one is unique, and that is why we are fortunate to have an intimate God seeking a personal, individual relationship with each of us. I do not have that luxury with Morrissey.

Now, let's go back to perspective. When I was a child I didn't understand danger, but my parents did. I didn't understand death, knew very little about cause and effect or consequences, didn't understand agendas, and mostly thought life was drawing on chalkboards and tagging along with my brothers. My parents knew a darker reality, already aware of abuse and depression, of poverty and anxiety. I didn't know when I asked for a Transformer that we couldn't pay our bills, didn't know how much things cost or why I had to buy school lunch with a poor-kid token, why my styles were a year or so behind the popular kids and I couldn't have name brands. I didn't know my dad had been abused as a kid, because my frame of reference was two kind and gentle parents who took time to love and teach me. I didn't know what a broken home was, or grown up issues like alcoholism, suicide, impropriety or disorders. I was protected. I was scolded when I did something dangerous, kept away (mostly) from people who couldn't be trusted. But I never knew the gravity of the situations I was near; terrible things didn't even enter my mind. I never considered that my parents had reasons for the things I couldn't do; and we rarely consider that God might also have reasons for things that are protecting us, that things could actually always be significantly graver, that this reality might actually be the very best of all possibilities. We think mass shootings are terrible--and they are--but never proceed with the thought that knowing the outcomes and all other possibilities of what might have been, this could actually have the greatest redemption in the long run. We forget that eternity exists and that we are blips in it, that what we experience and feel here is so finite and temporary that we'll barely remember it once we reach the other side--it will simply be a flippant anecdote for something that turned out well. We fear things that others have experienced as if the unthinkable is unbearable, but my suspicion is that pain exists on a scale of perspective and according to reference points. When we are seven and hit our thumb with a hammer we think it the worst pain we've ever felt--and it might be--but when we're twenty-seven and do the same, we've already experienced worse and it's not that big a deal.

Now I'm not trying to marginalize things that are extremely painful in their immediacy, but the grander the scheme, the less significant they seem even to those in the middle. The hardest thing about being human is our limitations in comprehending the vastness of infinity, and so our frame of reference is small, immature and restrictive. Our natural inclination is to think small, so how do we counter that and expand our frame of reference? There is something about falling in love that opens up worlds we never knew before. It shifts our self-centric focus to other-centric and broadens our horizons as we start to allow points of view other than our own to inform our worldview. It impacts our decision making, our values, our likes and dislikes, our courses of pursuit. The more we love--and I'm talking genuine, other-oriented love, not mere infatuation or even charity--the broader our perspective, the more information we have to take into account, the more effectively and accurately we can process and assess the world around us. That is why "the greatest of these is love". Loving our neighbor is not for the neighbor's sake, but for ours; it gets us in touch with larger considerations, helps us to delight in the good that is always surrounding us, always somewhere to be found. Loving our neighbor is not simply charitable, but enables us to experience intimacy where we could otherwise not, because "where your heart is, your treasure will also be." It transfers our perceptions of joy to align with the joy in others. Love in that manner can progress to where one is willing, even eager, to sacrifice everything for another; it can get to where the thought of the other suffering is so unwelcome that you would gladly suffer yourself (like God in the person of Jesus did for us) to take it off their plate. The easier it becomes to love, the easier it is to find joy in any circumstance.

There is also a tough element of love. Love is not intrinsically the same as enjoyment. I do not enjoy correcting my children when they run toward a road or near a hot stove, and they do not enjoy being corrected, but the alternative is so much worse. Love is what seeks above all else the best interest of the other. This is what is faulty about the extreme measures of "tolerance" fashionable today; tolerance is often indifference to another's best interest. If I care about you and you are about to get hit by a train--even if you intend to because suicide seems your best bet--my course must be to do everything I can to save you, even to the point of getting hit myself. Love is selfless; if it is selfish, it is not love. Selflessness is not a condition that comes naturally to us; we must work at it. It becomes easier as our perspective widens and we take more of eternity into account. The more self-centeric we are, the smaller our worldview, the more limited our perceptions, and the less joy we can derive from others.

Let's put the two concepts together and make this connection: our worldview--and thus our view of everything in it, including Christianity--is directly related to how much we understand and experience love. If God is love, as He through the Bible and person of Jesus claimed, then our worldview cannot be large enough unless we know Him intimately on a personal level, and we therefore remain uninformed about all the wonderful things He cares about. We are alienated, alone, still looking for something that seems elusive because we cannot comprehend what we're missing. Conversely, once we know God, our eyes are opened to the things of eternal nature that are His base and frame of reference, and we begin to care more about them, understand them better, filter information through that wider perspective, and our world suddenly looks very, very different.

None of this is to suggest I recommend a relationship to compensate for lack of evidence that God exists and is who He says He is. Morrissey very definitely exists whether I've met him or not, and if I wasted a lifetime trying to convince others to the contrary--let's say because I like to eat meat, or whatever reason I might find to dislike him--it would not effect his reality. There are enough evidences of Morrissey that I don't need to distrust them; I can instead look at the art that is more important to me personally, and if I ever had the chance to meet him and become friends, I'm sure I would take it. But he is not perfect, and does not desire a relationship with me. God does. Now that I know God and am not just a fan, I see Him everywhere. I increasingly see what He sees, as He sees it, and experience it differently because I love and am loved by Him. I see now that "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so," and He promises that everything will work together for good, so I trust that if my values are aligned to His, I will see the good. It all goes back to perspective, and I've been on both sides of knowing and not knowing Him. When I was skeptical, it was necessary to look for Him in biology, astronomy, archaeology, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology--in any and every discipline and specialty focus--and He was there in every one of them with overwhelming evidence. I just had to look to people who'd actually found Him. Once I realized what I was seeing, the truth was everywhere, and once that foundation was laid, His character became all-important and everything else took a back seat.

So that is my perspective. That is my relationship with God, and therefore with Jesus who died for me so I could understand love--that it is wholly sacrificial. That is why I can see love where it exists, and why I can see through those who are only fans with no relationship. Hypocrisy is a non-issue because fans have nothing to do with the artist, and their actions or perceptions in no way alter the real, knowable person. That is why I'm not angry at the church the way the progressives are; I'm able to look right past the hypocrites and focus directly on God. I'm able to identify those who know Him and connect in instant camaraderie, and have compassion on those who aren't yet there. It is not my job as a "Christian" to convince you of anything, but simply to testify to my own experience with God, my own personal journey with Him. My Christianity is secondary to my relationship; the result of it, not the path.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fury and Rebirth

I was missing for a while. Actually, I suppose in a way I've always been missing to the public and myself, but God's always known where I am. There was a time early on when I was very public, posting my lyrics and the background prose regularly, probably because I wanted validation and was looking for love. But I found the human form of love, the human form of beauty, the human form of grace and human face of God; so I stopped needing that outlet. Instead, after getting married, my complaints got less frequent, I lost something of the impetus to write, and so the "work" was more sparse and the content shifted to something more appealing, something more like worship. This coincided with a series of legal jobs that required utmost confidentiality, so I got into the habit of generalities and vagueness when writing at all. I found I could sufficiently lull an emotion to sleep with a simple graphic or one-liner and not be tormented by over-feeling.

There would be times when things got darker than the depths I'd known before, and after months of those up-swells I'd break and briefly re-emerge as something like an "artist", but for the most part the day to day was manageable, and those in my path knew nothing of the fury of my soul. I took on respectable roles, and did them well, and even so kept getting kicked just gut-level enough to draw that primordial scream back near enough to the surface to make almost visible bruises. There is something alive in me--very deep, very vibrant, very loud and unmistakable--that wants the layers of normalcy and exhaustion to die; something not waiting to be created, but waiting to unleash the maelstrom of its long and preordained existence already underway. There is still a fire setting its eyes on where to spread, what to consume, what else to set ablaze and where to blow the sparks. There is still a stark and brilliant contrast with power to blind or illuminate at will, still a thunderstorm building in the clouds that will soon have no choice but to open the floodgates and hammer down with deafening release.

I stopped having anything to prove a long time ago; what's left is instinct. The dead part of me is ready to be stripped off, and the life underneath is about to emerge. I've had endless new beginnings, but am only now down to my ninth and final life. It's time to start making a legacy.

Thursday, April 23, 2015