Last week we examined the Introductory portion of ex-pastor Ryan Bell's year-end recap of his year without God. Here is where I continue it.Read More
A sea of inspirational speeches, feel-good blogs, and motivational posters encouraging their audiences to not give up in spite of difficulties floods us, but they are not working. They're us spitting on a forest fire. They're us throwing sandbags in the middle of a hurricane. They're Indiana Jones' refrigerators in the epicenter of a nuclear blast.
We exist in the middle of a culture that doesn't just thrive on "easy," it prizes it. We may catch the occasional "don't give up" Tumblr quotes but they're just flapping jaws; everything else about the way that American society is engineered exists in stark contradiction to the "never give up" mentality. I intend here to prove two things:
1) That our culture has failed us and is in desperate need of reform, and
2) That the more we buy into it, the more it destroys us.
I really can think of no term more degrading to a human being and his fundamental incapacity for grasping philosophical, even scientific, concepts than Atheist. Can you imagine any assertion more narcissitic, more arrogant, more absolutely nonsensical than that of the "knowledge" that something doesn't exist? That something has never existed? That something can't exist? Why they haven't blasted all claims of their own existence for their incessant screamings of their own omniscience I will never understand.Read More
Last time, we slogged through the gritty and imperviously dark Noah, which I unashamedly and unambiguously loved. So I only figured it fair to talk this week about the movie across the hall (such rich symbolism in so mundane a place as a movie theater!), God's Not Dead... which I didn't hate as much as I had planned to. But I don't think that this film is what people say it is.Read More
..."Nowhere in these weeks have I posted an article about 33 Christians sentenced to death in North Korea and said, "God is good all the time; All the time, God is good." Never have I looked out at a homeless population preparing for another bitter snap of cold with nothing but the clothes they survived the winter with and a donated blanket and said, "God is good all the time; All the time, God is good." Nor have I been diagnosed in an untimely fashion with a disease that will kill me, been spat upon for my beliefs and threatened to have my family murdered, looked into the face of a 12-year old victim of sex trafficking, been broke enough to wonder where this week's food is coming from, or witnessed the rise of a dictator using the name of my God to propagate genocide and stood tall, proclaiming, "God is good all the time; All the time, God is good."Read More
In the palm of our hands fit the pinnacle of tech innovation - because it can do everything, and it has built into it the potential to expand indefinitely. More memory and more processing and more potential emerge with each successive jump. We used to read tales of intelligent technology and be terrified by them, and now we dang near murder each other on days once reserved or thanks for the smallest, most powerful versions of it to stick in our pocketsRead More
But we need to tell boys that it's okay to not want to jump off of the cliff, for the measure of your manhood is not the amount of craziness you get involved in, but the degree to which you remain true to yourself when everyone else has leapt.Read More
This is long and ashamedly rambly. I was just in quite a rambly mood today, I'm afraid. Please read it all, for I have several times and am not yet dead, but know that I won't be offended if you turn it off halfway. Not everyone can handle the burden of truth being poured onto them.** **That was purposely arrogant and inflammatory. I'm trying to catch your attention by being humorously cocky and reproachable right off the get-go. If that didn't work, here's some wisdom from Doctor Who, which should interest every single one of you:
"Have you ever seen monsters?" "Oh yes." "Are you scared of them?" "No. They're scared of me." - The Eleventh Doctor
Doctor Who and Introduction
It is without shame that I tell you I am veritably enthralled by the long-running BBC Television show Doctor Who. I cannot pretend to be a Who-hipster, for I was not alive when it started, nor can I say that I've been a member of the Whovian society for any long period of time. Quite the opposite, in fact: it has been only a few short months. But in these few short months, I have found myself doing very little besides reading profusely, writing (I figure now, while I have the time, means, and motivation, is when I should write that book), and watching the Doctor save the universe in countless situations infinitely more creative than my feeble mind could contrive, and in the meantime highlight the beauty of humanity and their intense dependence on something bigger than themselves.
In the section quoted above, a little boy caught in the middle of a crisis involving your run-of-the-mill otherworldy Who beasties is talking with the Doctor. He senses the threat and accurately gauges the immediacy of the situation, but asks, in a moment of seeking reassurance, about the Doctor's history of dealing with similar things. The Doctor, famous for having dashed alien hopes of universe-domination, foiled plans of genocide, and saved his numerous companions' lives time and again, responds with confidence and appropriate swagger, then characteristically smirks in the face of evil.
Confidence is praised nowadays; misplaced or inappropriate confidence is arrogance and foolishness. We see both in the lives of athletes, in the style of movie stars, in the words of introverted twenty-somethings on blogs on the internet. We are quick to call it "arrogance" in other people, but just as quick to call it "confidence" in ourselves. We are quick to think ourselves unworthy of either, and quick to overcompensate.
Perhaps it is that our mirrors are rather cloudy and dishonest. Perhaps it is our eyes. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: I see a whole lot of loathing and so little efforts for improvement; I see a whole lot arrogance and so little preparation.
What This Is Not, and What This Is
I am not thinking today about image or self-confidence along those lines, necessarily, though those thoughts do come to mind. It deserves a whole spot of its own and is quite pressing, I'm afraid, though today is not the day for it. This is not about the back-end, or how you look at yourself in light of who you truly are, for that is only the second half of the problem. This is not about vanity or even necessarily physical things
What I am addressing is what I see when I look at the majority of my generation. I see a group of people content to be what the generation before them handed down, who can honestly say that apathy is a virtue. Who socially network rather than figure themselves out. I see a generation with access to more information and knowledge than any that has come before them, yet more ignorant than any about how to use it. I see boys seeing domination as strength and girls seeing beauty as worth. I see people who think doing something worthwhile means doing something worth Instagramming; I see people for whom thoughts are merely Tweets. I see an age of humanity defined by what somebody else has said rather than what they have worked for.
And I see so few confronting it. Too many of us see "comfortable" as a good thing. So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound.
We have lost all concept of self, because we have plenty of things to distract from it... and they are sneaky things, at that: the conception that you are what your Facebook says you are or that who you are is defined by your job. Instead of asking ourselves, "who am I?" we post pictures of ourselves and say, "this is who I am."
There is a discrepancy there, and it is extremely bothersome.
The Swelling Hurricane
I dropped a sentence a second ago as sort of preparation for where this was headed, as a gust to store up some energy in these sails. I'll say it again here: So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound. I spent a good deal of time in the Philosophy and Religion department at UTC (since I studied Philosophy) and noticed a particularly fascinating trend: that the grand majority of people involved in it were vehemently atheistic, both professors and students alike.
What happened is they started asking questions and seeking answers anywhere they could find them. And when they couldn't find them easily or the conventional answers of their small Baptist churches just wouldn't cut it anymore, they conceded defeat to the overwhelming pangs of despair. They looked at one group of people claiming Absolute Truth and saw a completely different group halfway across the world and 8 million people big claiming a completely different Absolute Truth and decided everyone was wrong. Or they succumbed to the problem of evil: If one of two contraries is infinite, the other is destroyed. God is infinite goodness; if there were God, there would be no evil. There is evil; so, therefore, there is no God.
The arguments against God are powerful and persuasive, indeed like monsters in the closet of an 8 year old are when it's dark and he's trying to sleep. But they're embedded everywhere, and we're trained not to fight them. We yell at characters in poorly written horror movies when they decide to go towards the creaking under the stairs or the moaning from the attic. We're embedded with a fear of evil and the desire to run when it's scary.
To keep a consistent theme, though: The Doctor tells us, "Never run when you're scared." (Rule 7)
There is a storm in the air, horesemen afoot, and the battle for belief is raging.
And we who believe are not winning.
The War Without a Winner (or, apparently, a study in alliteration)
Sam Harris wrote in his book Letter to a Christian Nation that it is religion, belief, "god" that has poisoned our world, incited wars, dumbed the people, and placated a mass of people to the point of wasting their lives chasing invisible friends and waiting on some future judgment that will never come. Christopher Hitchens calls belief irrational and destructive. Richard Dawkins calls God an unnecessary invention by people incapable of handling reality.
And more believers are believing them every day. The armies are being stacked in their favor, because believers are being convinced by faulty rhetoric that Christ and Reason cannot exist together. That metaphysics and God are equivalent, and that they have a place in haughty classroom discussion and nowhere else. But the thing is that the opposition is using recycled arguments to attack Faith, and Faith is using recycled arguments to respond. We're stuck in a loop with one side crying, "you're ugly!" and the other sticking their fingers in their ears shouting back, "la la la, I can't hear you!"
We've both become dull and insulting: the attackers of Faith have betrayed their god of Reason and the believers their God of Truth.
Here is the bottom line. Christians have become comfortable with their churches and their ideas that God is a exactly the thing that they imagine, so when something comes along and challenges the toy box they keep in their prayer rooms, they panic.
There is a fallacy in the study of logic called the Straw Man. It's basically as you would imagine: to "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. Unbelief attacks Christianity based upon the constraints it has put upon it. Based upon what Christians have made it. It attacks tradition rather than Truth, because Truth is contested only by fools.
Jesus said that His purpose on Earth was to bear witness to Truth, which is why the Jesus we have constructed that exists to ease pain and hug people crumbles under attack. Straw men have no backbone, no substance, and burn easily when touched with fire.
But Christians are doing little to counter it. Instead of arming ourselves, learning the things of God rather the things we've constructed of God, and worshipping Jesus as Truth, we trust in the easy thing - which is also the easy thing to attack, and the easy thing to lose faith in. With a faith in the same Straw Man that is easy to attack comes all of the terrible things we write eloquently to fight: we succumb to vanity and pornography and insecurity and fear and addiction the thought that our dirty pasts are insurmountable and we're not rescued by our god because he's warding off crows from crops. Misrepresentations of God are being attacked because misrepresentations of God are being followed.
So what are those of us who wish to counter unbelief to do? We must figure out what we stand for and then stand for it. We cannot be told answers, we must search them out. We can't be handed faith, we must work it out for ourselves with fear and trembling. We can't forget that something obtainable can be taken away, so we must grasp it ever tighter when the threat of its removal comes upon us.
We must stand with the confidence that we lack, because monsters won't shy from uncertainty. Confidence comes through preparation, and somebody who tells you that God will give it to you just because you asked for it is lying to you. God will do His part - He's told you that.
But the ability to fight a war doesn't come from lying in bed. We must take up arms and learn to use them, study the opposition's tactics to be able to counter them, and face the beasties in our closets atop their black horses and say, "I'm not afraid of you because I know you. You can't say something to dissuade me because I know what you will say. You can't take away my God because He gave you the Reason you think refutes Him."
Salvation is not through works - do not think that I'm trying to say anything of the sort. But it is true that the children of God will be known by their fruit. Take a step back and look at yourself. All aspects of it. Look at who you are at school, at home, on the internet, and tell me what is being glorified: you, your Straw Man, or God? It's one of the three, I promise.
Who do you carry that torch for, my young man, Do you believe in anything? Do you carry it around just to burn things down?
Words are only painted fire; a look is the fire itself.
"You haven't a real appreciation of Newspeak, Winston," he said almost sadly. "Even when you write it you're still thinking in Oldspeak. I've read some of those pieces that you write in the Times occasionally. They're good enough, but they're translations. In your heart you'd prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning. You don't grasp the beauty of the destruction of words."
-Syme in George Orwell's 1984
What Words Are
I have an extraordinary interest in words, which makes it nigh impossible to enjoy things like news reports, political speeches, song lyrics, small-talk, and the vast majority of church sermons.
A word is the most potent poison known to mankind: it can disintegrate a man from the inside without so much as a mark on the skin to prove it was ever there. A word is the sharpest dagger that a human can wield: capable of backstabbing, dark-alley threatening, and trust evaporating; useful for flashing at oncoming threats and baring before impending fights. A word is the hottest fire to alight the torches of men: it can roast our enemies, warm cold hearts, light up cavernous rhetoric, and signal for help to anyone who will listen.
Yet we toss them around as if they were gumdrops.
Glance up at the top of this post at the quote from Brand New's song "The Archers Bows Have Broken" and notice what Jesse Lacey is saying: he conjures the image of a young man in possession of a fire, a weapon, if you will, capable of both harm and good, and asks "What are you doing with it? Do you just enjoy burning things down?" We don't let people drive who would be dangerous and destructive behind the wheel to those around them, yet we hand ill-suited politicians and celebrities and news agencies and filmmakers and religious leaders microphones and free passes into our homes without so much as bracing ourselves for collision.
We also forget that the same weapons that are used for attack are used to parry - we would rather cry in outrage than raise our well-prepared guard to block. We're an army upset that the other side has weapons rather than an army that trains to use our own.
Fall Out Boy puts it: "I am an arms dealer fitting you with weapons in the form of words." We sing from our childhood: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." We read that the Word of God is: "sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Aldous Huxley writes in Brave New World: “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
They're weapons. And yet we toss them like snakes on Sand Mountain and cry in bitterness when they bite.
Why Words are Dangerous
I mentioned that "Sticks and stones" little ditty above. It has always been a strange little saying to me, because honestly, sticks and stones hurt less and for a far shorter time than words do. Bruises heal, scars fade, broken bones are set again, but one mention of inadequacy haunts a man for a lifetime. One mention of "ugly" outweighs thirty mentions of "beautiful."
A brief lesson in something that interests me:
Take the word "tree." Write it, read it, speak it, think it. T-R-E-E.
We have learned that this arrangement of letters, when positioned next to each other, signifies some object "out there" in the real world. In semiotics-talk, the compilation of letters is called the sign and the object being pointed to the signified. Nothing about the tall, organic structure wrapped with bark, sitting atop a spider's web of roots and topped with slowly changing colored appendages is represented by the sign "tree." The word doesn't look like what we think of trees as looking like. It doesn't sound on our tongues how trees sound in nature. It doesn't smell of tree or taste of tree or feel of tree, yet we still link the two terms together because that is how wonderful brains are.
So words are more than weapons, they are (more innocuously or dangerously, I'm not sure yet) signs. It's not the word that holds any power. In fact, this is the part where I dismantle what I said before: words hold no power.
But they are capable of such destruction because of what they are. Signs are intensely more dangerous because they point to something inside of us that begs recognition in order to be effective. You can block physical pain, so I hear, after years of practice or repeated intense encounters with it. But the very act of comprehending words is enough of a crack in the toughest armor to let the flood in. They bridge physical stuff (sound waves, vibrating lips, facial expressions) and spiritual stuff (what keeps you awake at night in cold sweats counting revolutions of ceiling fans contrasted against an off-white stucco ceiling wondering exactly what they meant by "thunderously incompetent").
To reference the second quote above: It is not the word fire which burns, it is the thing that the word "fire" points to. But the word, after a good long time burning your hand in flames, would surely bring up some painful memories.
**Ignore this paragraph if you feel it is too off topic. I won't make it long. I think that it is a fun thing anyway (and I must work some understanding of God into all of this. That's the reason I write these blamed things anyway.) We humans are nothing but words, I think. Sure, we can punch one another and go to war and whatnot, which are quite physical acts, but I believe that we are not but signs to a higher signified. It's in the very beginning of the Bible - even the people who read it and get bored with it get to this part: "Let us make man in our image." Remember it? That word "image" is more appropriately "icon," which is nothing but a pointer. A sign. We were created with some kind of significance that points to the thing being signified. We were created to be little word-vessels that, when other vessels see us walking about and interacting with one another, they say, "God." But I won't ramble about this. Feel free to ask and I'd love to explain my thoughts on it :)
Why I Will Endorse Them Anyway
This is easy: I will endorse words because words are some of the most beautiful things we possess, and that is not just the English nerd in me speaking. Words accomplish more than we would ever give them credit for because a great number of people who are quite skilled at using them are also colossal, raging imbeciles and give things like "rhetoric" and "persuasion" dirty connotations. Words communicate to the soul, they pass instruction, they call attention to things not in the room and which have never before been seen: "It's around the corner about two feet down underneath a green box." or "The picture I'm talking about is the one where she is in the flannel shirt in her back yard and she leans towards whoever was taking the picture with this smile that fills you from the inside and makes you want to miss somebody."
Words are powerful little things not because of what they are, but because of what they represent. They can tear down governments and stop wars before they happen and tell somebody that they are loved. They connect the stuff of the brain and the soul with the stuff of the world, making it so that when I have a thought, I can share it with you. They can let you see me, and not just how I look, but who I am.
Of course, they can trick you too, or be as empty and vapid as the wind. You've heard it: "actions speak louder than words," and apparently a picture is worth a thousand of them. I wrote a short poem about them not too long ago which tries to address this - because things like words can't be captured simply with prose about them. They're half spirit anyway.
Syme and the champions of Newspeak (The Ministry's brutal shorthand) in 1984 lambast what they call "Oldspeak," which is simply English as you're reading it now, with its "vagueness and shades of meaning." It encourages thoughtcrime (crimes against the government that are thought, not acted upon) because they are precisely what enable it, and by ridding the language of all traces of words related to thoughtcrime, it could be eliminated altogether. Think of it: harboring something so deep-seeded and crucial to let out but not having the language to do so.
Silencing is the highest form of imprisonment, for it muzzles the soul; verbal is the hardest abuse to forget, for our spirit heals slower than our body.* Take away my liberty, that's one thing - but take away my voice and I am suffocated.
Verse yourself with the attributes and capabilities of words and suddenly slogging through political drivel and consumer culture is cake. The vast majority of preaching nowadays is exposed. Literature comes alive and bad literature becomes appalling. Interactions become more meaningful because you begin to abhor small-talk and flippant remarks and useless brandishings of what can be beautiful things now made profane.
Develop your voice or you waste it and you disrespect people who have sacrificed to give it to you. Build one another up, because the same tools that rip apart walls can construct sanctuaries. If you can, speak for the voiceless, stick up for the innocents imprisoned, and combat slavery wherever you find it, even if all you know how to do is yell loud enough to gather a crowd.
Share your heart with fire and it will be heard.
*I am not saying these things as an expert in any way on abuse or imprisonment or the atrocities of human against human unnecessary violence. I am drawing only from what I have been told and from my own experience, which is, thank God, extraordinarily limited. Being shoved in lockers and pygmy traps and eating pre-licked french fries and being called "freak" and other silly hardships hardly compare with the scope of what people have put other people through. My point is not that you forget the violence, it's the insistence that you are worthless that's harder to shake than it is for the skin to heal.
When I was a child, I was paralyzingly terrified of sailboats. As well as I can remember through my own recollection and talking with my parents about it, it began one night when my family was staying at my great-grandmother's house, which is spooky in all of the glorious ways old, low-ceilinged houses should be: cases full of glassy-eyed, staring dolls, antiquated beams which creak under even the weight of thought, and what I remember to be an immense, looming, full-masted sailboat atop the dresser in the room I slept in. I don't remember the boat except for in the one mental snapshot I possess, so I cannot tell you if it was equally as scary in the daytime, or if I had even seen it before my sole memory of it. I may have been carried to bed by my dad after falling asleep on a couch, but I really can't remember.
But what I recall clearly: waking in the dead of night with the glow of a little yellow light illuminating the aging sails and the brown hull and spider's-web of twine representing ropes from afar, so that a thrice-as-large shadow was projected onto the wall behind it. It loomed enormous, starkly real against the dark void of the room, and I think that this is what terrified me the most. It was unusually tangible, as opposed to most things which after waking are vaguely foggy, as though clouded by barely-remembered dreams.
In all honesty, the thing probably wasn't all that big or fancy, it just struck my small brain as something truly big, and not big like jets or mountain ranges, but rather something unspeakable. Something of the Sublime: great beyond calculation or fathomability. The Big of nightmares, oppressing not just a volume of physical space but more a measure of your soul.
But despite all my attempts to remain terrified of them, I began learning (though I did not know it at the time) that wonder, marvel, and the kind of fear these boats inspired in me were merely knots on the same strand, and it turned to fascination.
I began collecting models of them, as much as a ten-year-old with nothing but an allowance can collect something that requires money to amass. The fear that once nested in my ribcage and made my chest feel hollow was replaced with wonder, and it was no less potent. When I think about it, that is what I collected, more than boats. I had harnessed a source of sublime fear and turned it into wonder.
When I grew older, I encountered the British Romantics and realized that they shared the same wonder, and had all sorts of lovely ways of trying to express it. Wordsworth described a craggy mountaintop lit by splitting lightening above a still lake atop which he floated in a stolen boat. Percy Shelley dedicated hymns to "The awful shadow of some unseen Power." Lord Byron describes a vacant Coliseum so vast, so desolate, with such a history of violence yet where his steps seemed "echoes strangely loud." John Keats called it the Nightingale, because of its mysterious, elusive nature juxtaposed with its infinitely enchanting song. Mary Shelley created a veritable monster out of the stuff, which her character Victor Frankenstein, even after laboring over every inch of him, describes his encounter with it: "I had desired it [the animation of his creature] with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart."
You can hear it in the music of Sigur Rós, who sing sometimes in Icelandic, sometimes in nonsense, just because there is something that needs to be expressed but is bigger than mere words can handle. You can feel it in Hemmingway's "Hills like White Elephants" because to speak it would be to profane it.
The ancient Greeks called it the "Muse", The Romantics the "Nightingale." It is inspiration, and it is unbounded by human logic, unexplainable by empirical sciences, and untamable by any words or music or poetry that we could invent. It's wonder, sublimity, and breathless fascination that can present itself as crippling terror or as stillness after rain, and is the proper reaction to the things of God.
Yet still we think we can somehow grasp Him. We beg for the Truth, when in reality I cannot help but feel that Truth, all of it at the same time, would drown us in its crashing power. We talk to God, the designer of wonder and splendor, the operator both of joy that makes us light enough to fly and the kind of sublime terror that rots our insides, like He owes us an explanation. Cody Banette sings in the As Cities Burn song "Clouds": "I think that God isn't God if He fits inside our heads."
God Himself listened to 38 chapters of people bickering, reasoning, and trying to put words into His mouth before coming out of a whirlwind (!!) and speaking:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements - surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?"
What is man to do with this? In the words of my friend Ariel Parsons... what even? We react to these unknowable Grand things in whatever ways we can conjure: - With radical skepticism - saying that if we can't understand it and explain it and because human rationality eventually circles back on itself, we can know nothing at all. Perhaps there is nothing at all. - With microscopic probings - thinking that if we can perhaps understand the very small, can we possibly work our way up to the very big (although we do not even understand these very small mini-universes that make up the material of our bodies by the trillion). - With art - perhaps even forsaking the search for answers to the questions and instead trying to merely understand the spirit that makes us feel the Grand crevasses in our chests.
I am positive that the only reaction to an encounter with God - with all of the Truth and all of the Joy and all of the inescapable, sublime Terror - is as Isaiah responds in chapter six of his book. Next to the Source of such grandeur, man can only feel trapped on a boat without a mast in the sweltering heat of Horse Latitudes, unless, of course, he is provided with a Path. Unless he is given sails and a strong wind to push him home.
It is somewhat traumatic when you arrive at the realization that people, in the most general sense of the term, suck. We have slowly lost our sense of self somewhere in the technological age, in which we can pick and choose what we want people to see with the rest hiding under our metaphorical makeup that we sloppily cake on in the morning to avoid showing who we are. Our phones are extensions of our brains and our cars are extensions of our feet and we begin operating under the assumption that our worth comes from the number of friend requests we get or the number of people who tell us we're talented or how long we can go without having to sit in silence and listen to nothing but ourselves.
Because we are uncomfortable with who we are, we have to find comfort in other people, even if the interactions we have with these other people are shallow. It is absolutely mind blowing that, from my junior year in high school until a month ago, I spent hours daily looking at information and pictures and thoughts from people I cared nothing about and hoped that they were doing the same for me. I cannot believe that I found validation in the fact that I had something like 800 people were my "friends," even though MAYBE 100 I had ever even spoken to and most I would have gone out of my way to avoid.
This "socioholism" is a dangerous mindset to contract, because as soon as we start projecting our sources for self-worth onto other people or onto the amount of group activities we can do or onto the number of parties we attend, we are taking our self-worth away from....ourselves.
Furthermore, we are surprised to learn that people do not act rationally, selflessly, trustworthily, etc. and take it personally when the teeming masses of sinful, horrid creatures around us act in their sinful, horrid ways. Everybody does. I do. You do. We walk as if on a sea of nails so we will not shatter the carefully constructed images we project. We'll say things we don't mean in order to alter some opinion you may be forming of us. We'll fake a smile and promise to hang out just to make the encounter which we forced in the first place appear to be less awkward than we both know it is.
We'll do everything that is a byproduct of a society so wrapped up in image making that our fragile outer shells will eventually crumble because of the hollow cores within them.
Somewhere along the way we learned that if you're not going out at night, you are an outcast. We learned that disconnection is undesirable. We learned that unless you text her every five seconds, she will forget about you or get over you or cheat. We learned that having an off night means you need to organize a slumber party. We learned that every connection you have ever made needs to be maintained.
Now, I speak with slight hyperbole, as usual. I am not saying to sever every one of your connections and confine yourself to your den and a chair and a mound of books written by old dead men. What I am saying is that unless we can, as a society, forsake this gripping necessity to constantly be around people, we are not going to be comfortable with ourselves. Until we are comfortable with ourselves, we will derive our worth that SHOULD come from ourselves from other people. These people will do exactly what it is people do and let you down, which then leaves you feeling empty.
We have to learn to fill up the space inside our shells with something that is far more complex than the social scene. You have the option to be delivered from all of the nonsense that comes from the drama of other people. How can we be comfortable with our Savior when we can't be comfortable being away from the throng of careless people surrounding us?
You have the strength of choice inside of you. Forget the hurtful things that somebody does (whether they mean to or not) - that's getting upset because a hot stove top burned you - it's going to happen. Instead, know that you were given an option the second Salvation came to the world: either stay here and get your worth from the myriads around you that are constantly in flux, or get it from that special place He puts inside of you.
*Warning* This is long. It is, I hope, thought-provoking as well. I suppose we'll see.
For the first time in my life (excluding my remarks about the impossibly catchy and brilliant melody of Paparazzi), I will say that Lady Gaga was on to something. For nowhere near the first time in my life, and equally as far from the last time in my life, the contents of this post may elicit anger from some.
This is my worried face.
It is no secret that I can be somewhat of a hermit occasionally, leading me to be behind on some popular trends and fads and whatnot. I spend time reading books by long-dead authors, obsessing over grammar, staring at walls, altering sixth chords, ignoring phone calls, writing papers, disintegrating slowly into acute and undiscovered forms of madness, and wishing I could do things like pogo stick professionally or own an invitation-only private island. So I was surprised to find out that Lady Gaga had a new (it is new to me, ok?) song out (that apparently came out last September? wow.).
I had no choice but to listen to it. I simply had to.
In the song, Gaga sticks up for her fellow weirdos, challenges racial discrimination, discourages conformity, blahblahblah something bland and generic like the rest of her pop Contemporaries. However, as I was listening to it, I couldn't help but think that the song is not driving at these pro-social messages. I, like Gaga, would love to see this generation raised without the crippling dependency on the approval of others... but her point is different.
"Don't be a drag - just be a queen," she says, blahblah "because God makes no mistakes." Ohhhhhhh ok. I see what we're getting at here. This isn't about racism or individuality, this is about being gay. Or, how does she put it? "No matter gay, straight or bi, / lesbian, transgendered life / I'm on the right track baby."
Gaga isn't to blame, because I have heard this excuse more than any excuse in the book (or lengthy pamphlet.... people's excuses are rapidly lacking the ingenuity they once did) for any number of actions. It is the perfect justification: the ultimate shifting of blame away from yourself - "I was born this way."
I think that we have confused "made" and "born".
Ignoring the grammatical differences between implied actors in each of these cases and approaching it purely from a) a logical point of view and b) a spiritual point of view, we can go ahead and say that Gaga's argument can absolutely hold no water.
Logical If I were the totalitarian dictator of the entire world, the first thing that I would do is require a basic working knowledge of logic proofs. We would eliminate all of the needlessly idiotic statements coming from important and imbecilic people, alike, and help Hamilton's headache wane just a little bit. Oh, if I had the words for the gratuitous logical fallacies encapsulated by this excuse. It is "born this way" that would cause the crumble of society as we know it if we listened to what we were saying. I won't even talk about murderers, rapists, child pornographers, cop killers, drug dealers, sociopaths, etc. who can all claim the same thing, because I am conscious of people taking what I am saying out of context. I don't want somebody to quit reading or ceasing their rational, calm thinking about the subject because I just equated their homosexuality with the Manson killings.
But hear this: in a way I am. You can't pick and choose the people for whom your excuse works. If "I was born this way" works for homosexuality, so should it work for murder and lust.
I was born a liar, a thief, a self-obsessed, self-indulgent, self-worshipping idolater. But I wonder how many people would excuse me if I walked around snubbing my nose at people, spouting absurd lies and doing whatever brought me pleasure because of my obsession with myself if only I started saying "don't worry about it, I was born this way." Would they try to amend the rules to allow me to slam heroin in the streets as long as I wasn't hurting somebody else? I mean, it is my right. I was born that way.
Of course not. But here is where I might lose you, if I didn't already, because it is my transition to the next point.
By establishing a distinction between degrees of heinousness of crimes, we are, necessarily, saying that we believe in some sort of a moral order. A moral order cannot exist without something against which to measure it... a moral law. A moral law cannot exist in solidarity, because it necessitates a contradistinction between "good" and "evil," where one cannot exist without the other. Finally, in order to establish what we see as "good" and what we see as "evil," there must be what Ravi Zacharias calls a "Moral Law-Giver," or something to qualify the relative degrees of what we are seeing.
Spiritual This brings me to the clincher, the basis on which I believe we should be living our lives. We have the single most historically and archaeologically backed document in existence that posits page after page of insight into the nature of this Law Giver. The perfect good. The absence of all that is, what we call, evil, although it is not an entity in itself but rather the total absence of good. The same way as dark is the absence of light. The same way that cold is the absence of heat. God can be countered not by reasoning, because reasoning from humans is tainted by human imperfections, nor can He be countered by science, for science cannot even agree with itself. Within this document, this collection of insight, are very specific things to which we must be held accountable. The moral law given by the Moral Law Giver. And believe it or not, every one of the "evils" I have mentioned above is on that list.
I possess those evils. You possess those evils, and they, in a manner of speaking, possess each one of us. But were we made that way? No. We were not created by God to do evil, because God, the embodiment of all that is good, is incapable of doing evil, just as a candle is incapable of producing heat. It is not a limitation on God, it is an attest to the nature of things. Just as we do not question the limitation of a flashlight because it is incapable of producing dark, we do not question the limitation of God because he is incapable of producing Evil. Because evil cannot be produced.
We were, however, made with free will. And where there is free will there is the option to walk either in the light or the darkness. So we were not made this way, but rather we were, as Gaga so eloquently reiterates, born this way. Hence my saying she(?) was on to something. But it cannot be, as she said, God who made us this way.
God did not make us murders, liars, homosexuals and thieves. But he made each of us capable of being all of those things so that we can put aside ourselves and our selfish nature bent on reproducing as much evil as we can and look to Him instead.
It is that act of self-denial that Christ demanded at the cross. Deny your addictions to pornography. Your propensity to anger. To hate. To lust. To homosexuality. And take Him instead.
We were born for that.
I have such.a.hard.time.dealing.with.stupidity. I contemplated leaving that alone, making those words the only ones you read in the entire post, simply to encourage thought and interpretation the way that modernist poets do with their words. But that drives me crazy too. William Carlos Williams, I don't care how much "depends upon your red wheelbarrow," you made a generation of people who don't know how to write think that they can be poets by splotching words together haphazardly. Ahembobdylanahem.
No, I couldn't leave it at that. The single, condemning statement that would draw attention to my cynicism and lack of faith in humanity as a whole would inevitably incur comments about the hypocrisy of my broken up sentence and would therefore nullify the entire process of thought I intended.
I am tired of unfounded arguments on topics about which one is not nearly as familiar as he claims. The rap guru critiquing musical taste. I am tired of people who don't care to put in the effort to make sure they mean "your" when they say "you're" complaining about not being taken seriously. The bizarre illiteracy of the texting generation. I am tired of people legitimizing in any way they possibly can murder, theft, immorality. The rationalization of evil. I am tired of people pretending like the other side of the argument has no truth whatsoever. That all left-wings are Socialists. That all right-wings are Anarchists. That all those in the middle are unstable. I am tired of arbitrary dismissal because of age or social status. Do not lump all 21 year old college-going males in with frat boys at a kegger. Do not assume that just because I am not paying for rushed decisions I have made like you are that I don't possess the wisdom to avoid them.
I am so tired of the irony of my saying all of those things. Because just as easily could somebody out there be talking about how tired they are of 21 year old bloggers thinking they have things figured out.
I don't have things figured out. And what just ripped me up this morning was Proverbs 24: 17-18: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased and turn away his anger from him." It is not that I necessarily have enemies, per say, but I just take for granted the humanity of every single person on this planet. Here I am with bitterness in my heart against somebody who arbitrarily dismisses me because of my age and their supposition of my inexperience, when what they ACTUALLY are is a person who is probably dealing with the same stuff I am.
The question I have been asking myself: "Who am I?" not in the existential, what-am-I-doing-here way, but the practical "who am I to judge?" By the nature of the words on this site, I am expressing what I believe to be true. If everybody else in the world is doing that too, even if they are empirically, unflinchingly incorrect, who am I to harbor enmity in my heart?
Does this mean that I don't think we can do better? Absolutely not. Max Bemis put it: "You can do better, you can do better, you can be the greatest man in the world." Especially from people who call themselves believers or who attach my Savior's name to their motives or actions should we expect perfection. Which we will never get.
I would love to see a revolution of rational thought sweep the world. People would stop arbitrarily hating each other and fighting each other and they would recognize that there isn't a person on the Earth who isn't as screwed up as they are. Perhaps it should start with me. Or with you.
Maybe what it takes is the recognition of your own faults, which are many, to make you quit the incessant bickering with which you have been accustomed.
If my degradation of others is a product of elevating myself above them even though I am the chief of sinners, just imagine what would happen should I reverse it!
I suppose that if were somebody critically analyzing a story of my life, they would note the strikingly literary symbolism of the piano in the UC. I have written about it before and firmly believe that it inspires this deep kind of thought that transcends the petty issues of school, much the way the music from its ivory keys wafts above the meaningless conversation of sorority girls and fraternity brothers below it. It incited a train of thoughts that left me with a pen in my hand, shakily scratching out thoughts as they came to me in the little journal that I keep in my backpack, full of half-completed thoughts and rambling sentences and things I am sure I always meant to come back to. What follows is the SparkNotes edition of the thought process I was having. For words cannot do thoughts justice.
I began to trace a trend that turned knots in my stomach, for the drastic implications of it. I was reading, reading, reading, occasionally stopping to listen to the once-in-a-while student enticed enough by the empty instrument to meander up and touch the keys. They would piddle for a moment before launching somewhat absently and self-consciously into whatever melody was occupying their minds. Some players were more skilled than others, but all, despite the level of their piano proficiency, made music, no matter how simple, and nobody who was listening really even stopped to notice. For the moments that somebody was playing it, it filled those gaps in conversation between best friends, lovers, and classmates, alike. It is a simple, somewhat philosophical tool meekly presented to all who care notice.
However, the thing that got me thinking was that none of these players were female. Not one girl played her song on an instrument that, at least until recently, had been regarded by many as a girl's instrument. It made me wonder why, and the scary train of snowballing thought began.
'Perhaps it is some sort of liberal feminism kicking in on a massive scale and making girls not want to play it for that very reason,' I thought. 'The conformity to something stereotypically "female" to satisfy some oppressive and subversive "masculine" influence somehow influencing the expectation of their decisions... In a strange reversal of roles emasculating the male and having "unsexed" (to quote Lady Macbeth) woman scoff at their feeble unconscious attempts to fill the gender gap.'
But I doubted it. I tossed several theories around and discarded them quickly, no matter how sublime a grandiose uprising of "woman" against "man" would seem to an English major constantly in the throes of analysis. What I decided upon was far sadder than what the theories of liberal feminism cast on my heart - because it is far more difficult to counteract.
I have had conversations about parts of this before with Reagan and others, particularly about, for lack of a better term, the "clothing crisis" sweeping the country. About how if women want to stop being treated like objects they need to quit blaming it on the misogynistic male and start dressing like something whose brains are not in their chest. **(Note: My lawyer would like for me to note that I am in no way shoving blame for the treatment of women as objects on the women being treated like objects.)** I looked around me and saw the terrible reality unveiled, like the curtain of Oz pulled back, as to what "woman" had been reduced to (by an equal amount of effort from both parties): a grotesque mix of makeup and show.
This is what boys expect. This is what girls see that boys expect. So that's what we get. No girls went up to play the piano because the ones that were in the UC this morning were less concerned with playing music and more concerned with making eyes at any boy who walked by staring at their chests.
But even more unfortunately, this isn't even about rampant sensuality or sex icons or cleavage, it isn't even limited to girls. This is about the deplorable state of our very identities. Who we are has been lost to a culture consumed with the idea that in order to be validated, you must be "attractive" and you must have sex and you must spend every waking moment in somebody's arms or in somebody's thoughts or else you are a waste of breath. I've never seen an ad that tells you to spend your Friday night reading a book.
And so arrived my train at the station. I was suddenly sullenly aware that this is what people have been reduced to. We are nothing but Peacocks flashing our colors. We are nothing but crickets chiming a mating song as we rub our legs together and wait for somebody to notice. We, boys and girls alike, cake the makeup on to cover up what we are because we're more comfortable being who we think people want than somebody who still secretly thinks that Pokemon is cool. We are the revelers at the masquerade while the Red Death flits unknowingly from room to room, all of us stopping to notice how great a job he did on his costume.
I cannot imagine the toll that such vanity takes on our souls. I cannot see how, as a person, it is possible to develop while you are painting over who you are. It is clear as day to me why we have such a dependency problem - because you can't be alone until you are comfortable with yourself.
There is no makeup strong enough to shield yourself from your own eyes.