Friday, December 30, 2011

Getting rid of the Script

I have been the kind of person who scripts out everything in his mind and wants life to go according to the script.  It needs to happen like this.  I want to be this way.  I want to feel this way and not that way.  I need to perform this way.  I need this person to love me.  I create a definite picture of how I want things to be.

That script has changed over the years quite a bit.  It has narrowed from external circumstances to internal circumstances.  But even that is slightly untrue.  Though my "script" has become more about things like my own personal psychological makeup, confidence, poise, and the ability to handle suffering and rejection and difficult situations better, I must admit that even that script is about having a script for the life I life in, including what happens around me.  Maybe something like this: "If I can just be superman, I can be bullet-proof.  And if I can be bullet-proof, life will be easier and if I am rejected it won't hurt."

But the script, that need for control, hurt us more than it helps us.  It becomes a noose around the neck.  Having goals is not a bad things, but some goals are bad... destructive, constricting, imprisoning.  Trying to script life and make life, even your own internal life, stick to the script is all of those things.  You won't be happier, you will be perenially frustrated and you will beat on yourself for not getting what you want.  And most ironically, you won't be protected from the pains of life.

This is a rejecting world we live in... full of personal rejection and circumstantial tragedy.  You can't avoid it.  It is only a matter of when and how much.  Taking a defensive, scripted, controlled posture toward life, on the grander scale, and internally, emotionally, and relationally, on a personal scale, does not change that fact.  You create yourself a script, and it becomes your self-torture device.  You create yourself a protective wall, and it becomes your prison.

I wonder what went on inside of Adam and Eve after the fall.  They both hid from God, but they also both covered themselves from each other with fig leaves.  Was it merely shame over sin, or did they also feel betrayed by the other?  Did Eve feel betrayed because her husband did not stop her?  Did Adam feel betrayed because his wife brought sin to his door?  What about guilt?  Did they feel that they let each other down?  And was their retreat from each other out of these things?

A much better goal would be what?  A much better and freer goal would be to be able to live in this life "naked" -without your emotional defense mechanisms, without your need to control and script life, able instead to take the game as it comes to you, to live and relate in this world without those destructive "protections" and simply be.  That sounds so free, and it would be indeed.  But then you are faced with something... what a terrifying thing to walk in this world "naked".  But what a necessary thing when your "clothing" chokes you and stifles you and torments you.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Good Sense of Humor is Generational

This isn't a theological post... but I think it has some very practical ramifications.  My son, who is now 17 years old, is not my son by blood.  I adopted him when I married his mother almost 13 years ago.

There are lots of things I could discuss about adoption or having adopted children, or about being a step-father and how God is our step-father through Jesus Christ.  But instead I want to reflect upon something else.  Though I am not his father by blood, and though I do not have the same kind of bond with him that he has with his mother, he is my son in many, many, many ways that go way beyond a legal piece of paper or the amount of years I've been in his life.  One of those ways is his sense of humor.  Regardless of all the things I have attempted (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to instill into him over the years through instruction and discipline and conscious modelling, he has adopted my sense of humor just as I adopted my dad's.  He not only has a good sense of humor -he appreciates the same kind of humor... and sometimes our connection, our shared wavelength in this realm, is uncanny.  This has been demonstrated time and time again while playing the game Apples to Apples, since we always wind up being able to read the other's mind.  His sense of humor came not by blood but by bond, by relationship.

On the broader scale, this highlights a powerful truth: we may actually instill more into our children through the things we are not conscious of or intentional with than the things we are.  They will learn from us or learn to be like us -not intentionally, not consciously, and often not willingly on their part- but it will happen.  I never tried to make my son funny.  There was no effort or intent involved whatsoever.  It never even crossed my mind, and now here he is, almost grown, and it is there in him.  I never lifted a finger to try to teach him humor.  It happened all on its own. 

In some ways this is good, in other ways this can be scary, but it is nevertheless intriguing.  Negatively, you will pass onto your children things that you wish you didn't, and they will take on those things and carry them unless they can break the cycle (or unless you can break that cycle, too).  It is unavoidable.  But on the positive side you will also pass onto them things that will bless and enrich their lives.  A good sense of humor is good for the soul.

It is not so much that your children are watching you and taking notes.  They are watching you passively.  They don't even know they are watching you.  They are sponges, and the seeds are sown deep and early.  It doesn't mean things can't change, and sometimes the flower of the seeds planted can take years to bloom.  It means that you will invariably affect your children's personality and attitudes far more than you can plan or control.  Parent them.  Learn how to connect with them.  Discipline them graciously but honestly.  But be on your knees for them and for yourself for the countless things you do not see both about you and about them.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thoughts on Christ on Trial by Rowan Williams: Chapter 1

Chapter 1 of Rowan Williams' book, "Christ on Trial," takes a look at the trial of Jesus as recorded in Mark's Gospel.  The centerpiece, which struck me so vividly, was how Williams drew out the events in Jesus' trial where, while being accused and questioned by the High Priests, He finally breaks His silence and answers their question, declaring Himself in clarity as the Christ, the "I am," the Son of the Blessed One.

Here it is... the dark of night.  It is not totally unlike the dark, shady interrogations ordered by corrupt governments or other men throughout history who are in positions of great power and authority.  You can almost picture a blinding light shining in his face, cutting through the darkness of the private room, as the interrogations continue.  Finally someone asks the prisoner point-blank: "Tell us, are you the Christ?!"  The prisoner, stripped and defeated by the encircling onslaught of prosecutors and false witnesses, answers back, "I am..." -an answer that not only answers the question definitively but gives a clear second message, an identification which the prisoner knew His Jewish audience would not mistake.  The "I am."

The 'I am'?  Really?  In this moment of weakness and condemnation?  It seems to make no sense.  What is going on?  There was a lot of underline-able material, but I will restrict myself to two piecemeal quotes to help give you an idea of what Williams wrote:

"If we are really to have our language about the transcendence -the sheer, unimaginable differentness- of God recreated, it must be by the emptying out of all we thought we knew about it, the emptying out of practically all we normally mean by greatness.  No more about the lofty distance of God, the sovereignty that involves control over all circumstances: God's 'I am' can only be heard for what it really is when it has no trace of human power left to it; when it appears as something utterly different from human authority, even human liberty; when it is spoken by a captive under sentence of death.

The freedom or power at issue here, in such an utterance at such a time, is the freedom of complete alienation from the categories of the unaccountable world, freedom from the insanity and violence of human power.  I said that Mark's passion story gave the impression of voices in the dark. You could say more: that God's voice here is supremely a voice at midnight, audible only when the language of this world has fallen away once and for all around the figure of the prisoner on trial.  There is nothing comforting, edifying or reassuring, nothing that secures our picture of ourselves and our hopes for ourselves, in the silent prisoner.  And that is how and why we can hear him name himself with God's name."
And later...

"... Mark's trial narrative passes sentence on our understand of power and significance.  Without this strange moment at the heart of the trial, we might be left with a false clarify about God and how God is recognized in Jesus: God becomes the illustration of what is highest or strongest for us.  This applies not only to the crude identification of God with success or domination, and the resulting believe that failure in the world's terms somehow indicates God's absence; it applies also to the identification of God with what seems to us wisest or holiest, most spiritually impressive.  But here, the one who says 'I am' is, at that moment, in that setting, neither wise nor holy, neither admirable nor impressive."
As Williams' points out elsewhere in this chapter, we are always in an ever-present struggle to escape suffering, demanding an account from God when He does not rescue, and to escape the present, hanging ourselves in the past or hoping to transcend the present by looking at the future.  It is not as though we should think suffering is great, and it is not as though we are not given much to hope in. 

But in this glimpse of Jesus on trial, in the dark of midnight when the pretense of the world falls down and the insanity and violence and injustice and unaccountable, nonsensical power of it shows itself in the trial of Jesus -pointing its fingers at Him and demanding an account- God answers us plainly... with no arguing, no justification, and offering no "evidence" to prove Himself in our system, in our courtroom.  Jesus answers them, "I am."  He declares Himself, in stubborn opposition to the system of this world.  He will not play games.  He will not answer to it.  In the darkness of this hour, with the murmurings and accusations of our kangaroo court, He stands against the world... transcendent.

Yet it is not a transcendence that we would normally think of, nor is it the kind of transcendence that we would choose.  We would choose to speak of transcendence in terms of God's greatness and power and sovereignty, or in His might to save and rescue us from bad things in our lives, ensuring a happy ending.  But that will not do, here.  God silences us.  He not only opposese the world's insane system of power.  He also opposes, in one breath in this one moment in time, our aspirations of spirituality and what we think a better world, and a real God, ought to be.  He stubbornly exclaims, "I am not here to fit into your ideas or expectations or designs for how the world and happy endings ought to work out but to challenge and ultimately destroy them."

This is essentially what Martin Luther described as the theology of the cross versus the theology of glory.  The theology of glory does not merely wrap up all of the "badness" of us all but also all of our greatest spiritual aspirations and stories of glory and success and ascent up the ladder out of the moment, past our frailty, past our humanness.  It sounds wonderful to us, until we see the cross, which exposes it all for what it truly is.  God did not come down to us, to die on a cross, to fulfill our paradigm of the world and how we think it ought to work.  Nor did He come down to die to validate our ardent climb of spiritual piety and religion toward our idea of "heaven."  He came down to die, and in so doing, kill all of it -ripping it out from under us like a stinking rug soaked in our own urine.

At this moment of midnight where the Son of Man finally announces clearly what He had been evading all through Mark's Gospel, we see a God who is unequivocally unlike.  All results and expectations are thrown out the window.  He simply is, and He is in ways that again overthrow all the world's ideas of strength, power, virtue, religion, and God.  He declares Himself to be YHWH, yet in weakness and powerlessness.  What a strange way to oppose the entire world.  Rather than joining our Nitzche-like quest for power and authority, joining our game which He could so easily win by flashing His glory or smiting the world with fire from above, He chose to reveal Himself, and to oppose our system, by standing outside of it in utter obscurity and powerlessness.  It is as though God is saying, "I came not to play your game but to end it."

What struck me most is how this speaks to me so clearly in my own suffering.  I have longed for God's rescue.  I am the one who wants to not live in today but live in tomorrow, where God will finally rescue and deliver.  I am the one who wants to escape the suffering at all costs and demands an account from God when He will not save.  Yet here I am on trial.  I see a God who, before the day when He finally overturns the suffering and betrayal and evil and abuse and insanity in this world, stands against it in powerlessness and weakness while simultaneously declaring Himself to be.  But this is exactly where I am.  This is where I live.  I cannot stem the tide of suffering.  I cannot make it all go away.  I am powerless against the world.  I can pretend I am not, and I can lash out against it for a time, but I will again face my inability.  I will either be crushed under its weight, or I will numb myself by divorcing myself from living in today.  Or, I will discover another way.  I will discover that I am not alone in it.  That there is a kind of power in living outside of it, in being... just as Jesus was being the "I am" in the midst of his oppressors... and in being with Him.  He is there.  He lives in the obscurity, in refusing to play the game and standing obstinately yet powerlessly in the shadow outside of the world and its ways.  He is found where I am, and I am found where He is.  When the fanfare dies down and everything is stripped down to what it is, just like when we are suffering, this is where God speaks, where God is made flesh, where He dwells with humanity.  And this is a far cry from anything else out there and anything that religion has to offer, ever.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Good Kind of Hopelessness

Sometimes abandoning hope is good and healthy.  In life, there are seriously finite limits to what we can accomplish and what we can handle.  Some of us burden ourselves beyond the point of emotional exhaustion and despair because we stubbornly refuse to admit this.  We don't want to say goodbye.  We don't want to admit it is hopeless.  We don't want to give up.  There is too much at stake.  There is too much emotional resistance.  There is denial, false hope, and the desire to live in a fantasy land where we tell ourselves that just around the corner, just over the horizon, is the change that we hoped for.

Sometimes there is good and virtue in hanging in there, in waiting (sometimes for years) for something to change, for God to show up, for good to come.  But other times, our false and misguided hope hangs around our neck like chains of death.  Sometimes, that aching longing makes the heart sick, and that sickness spreads through your bones like cancer, eating the life out of you and others around you.  It saps your hope in life itself, and it becomes a snare.  Sometimes, there is room for a reality check and hopelessness.

Good hopelessness is the realization that all of your efforts to try and change the situation or the person in that relationship with you or whatever have done nothing and will never do anything.  It is the realization that there is no hope, no power in anything you do, to produce what you want and wait longingly for.  What you see is what you get.  Nothing short of a miracle of God or a sudden epiphany in the other person will ever do anything to make things different.  It is what it is.

Coming to this realization can be very difficult, met with unparalleled emotional resistance, but it can also be very freeing.  Suddenly, that chain is loosed from your neck and, though you are now forced to grieve and face new challenges, there is the smell of change in the air -the smell of relief and the smell of hope.

Proverbs says that unmet longing makes the heart sick.  If you are in a relationship with a person, for example, and they are simply selfish and do whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of how you try to endure it or how you try to communicate your frustration, it will make you sick (sometimes even physically) to carry the burden of hoping that if you hang in there more, if you do this more, or if you do that more, or if this or that would just happen, that they would finally snap out of it and be the person you wished they were in your relationship.  It will bog you down and, in an ironic twist, it may start to infiltrate the relationship through anger and passive aggression, making you look like the bad guy and vindicating them in their delusion of being without fault in their selfishness.  That unhappiness in you will permeate you and start to make its way onto others around you, and they will not like it. 

Sometimes, what is needed is a reality check and a healthy dose of hopelessness.  You won't change them, ever.  They aren't going to get it.  They aren't going to wake up.  Once this really sinks in, new options spring up in front of you.... ones that will not be motivated by a desire to produce certain reactions in the other person.  Your new options will be for you, for your path, as you let the fantasy die.  And sometimes you are able to look at the situation with clarity and realize that the other person has been telling you this all along: "I'm not going to change.  Take me like this or don't."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Some Practical Parenting

Some parenting books irk me so much.  And I don't know what it is about Reformed Christians -we (I guess I am still unofficially including myself in this group) seem to overcomplicate and theologize everything to the Nth degree.  I just want simple.  I want to know what I can do, and I like instructions.

This entry is written about something I've really come to appreciate the importance of.  I'm not very good at multi-tasking.  When I am forced into a situation where I am pressured to handle more than one thing immediately I tend to get stressed out, and then when I finally sit down to do something for myself I do not want to be bothered.  So, this practical parenting item is very tough for me and really hits home:

Put in the time and effort to handle the situation properly the first time.

Instead of sitting there in your desk chair, engrossed in Facebook or maybe even something important like your job (if you work from home like I do), yelling impotent and completely unenforced commands and threats across the house to your mischief-making little miscreants, which only get louder and angrier the more you see they do not respond and obey you, building until you explode and storm out there slamming and yelling (all of which wastes time and energy, frustrates your child, and leaves you just feeling guilty later after you flip out), take the time to...

stop...
get up...
walk out there...
get down on their eye-level...
be clear and firm...
handle any discipline swiftly and immediately, such as walking your child by the hand to their bedroom for a time-out...
make sure they comply with your instruction...
without yelling...
before you get to the point where you are going to explode...
all of which takes about three minutes and usually resolves the situation, restoring peace to the home.

While this seems like way too much effort, because you don't want to get up and stop what you are doing, you will feel better about it and it will actually accomplish something, requiring much less time and emotional energy overall.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Immortals

Yesterday I went and saw the film "Immortals."  I had been excited to see this movie since I first saw the trailer months ago. 

I'm not going to waste time trying to review it.  I just want to note a few things that caught my attention.

One of the main themes was that of faithlessness versus faith.  Theseus, the hero of the story, grew into a strong, capable, but faithless young man.  He thought the stories of "the gods" were just made up fables, though his beloved mother was a woman of "faith."  This skepticism turned to full-blown bitterness when he saw his mother brutally slain.  Where were her gods then?  Why did they not help her?

This skepticism, it seems, permeated the Greek culture.  Even the king at Tartarus shared Theseus once-held skepticism (though by then, Theseus was a firm believer in the existence and power of the gods).

And then there was the evil king, Hyperion.  Hyperion also shared the faithlessness of the others.  His was much like the burning, bitter faithlessness of Theseus after seeing his mother slain.  It was not so much an unbelief in the existence of the gods as it was a hardened, hate-filled resistance toward them rooted in deep pain.  See Hyperion, in earlier years, saw his entire family killed.  And yet the gods did nothing.  Therefore, to Hyperion the gods were heartless and indifferent to the cries of those who called out to them for help and mercy.  They needed to be overthrown.  Hyperion's solution was to wage war on the human race and to unleash the Titans, who would crush the gods and punish them once and for all.  Hyperion intended to win, to conquer those who failed him, and to bring his own kind of bloody justice to the world.

I admit that I have roots of Hyperion in me.  There are some things I have been suffering with for so long, and there are things that seem to have no end in sight -every road before me seems endless and hopeless.  Where is God?  Unlike the "gods" of the movie, God has no rules to obey.  The gods of the Immortals film were bound by certain "laws" -for one, they were not allowed to interfere in the affairs of men (though they did).  But God is bound to no such thing.  The God of the universe is sovereign and wise.  So why, O God, does Your Word call you an "ever present help in the day of trouble" and yet when I cry to you for years it seems that the heavens are utterly silent and no help comes?  Have you cast me away?  Do you not care?  Or do you just not exist?  I do not merely whine for You to change my circumstances -I beg for you to give me what I need inside to bear it differently, to not live in torture within.  And yet... where are You?

I know the theological answers.  I know that having "faith" requires trusting in God's choice to deal with my cries in the way He so chooses.  But it just doesn't help.  I'm sick of suffering.