Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lessons from Ubering # 2: The Zen of driving in traffic

One of the first things I noticed as an Uber driver is that I don't mind traffic when I'm driving someone else.

Like many people, I have my moments of anger and frustration and flipping out while in traffic.  Especially on the 405 ... ugh, that 101 to 405 interchange - can't we come up with something better!?!

But when I'm driving someone else?  When I'm getting paid to sit in that same traffic?  I don't mind at all.  I'm  happy as a clam to sit there, slowly inching forward.  Peaceful, even.

Which tells me something.  When I'm driving for me, it's not the traffic, per se.  I'm not upset with all of those people for being on the road.  It's not that I'm late - I usually allow plenty of time for the traffic and still arrive early to where I'm going.  So what is it?

I think it points out an inflated sense of self.  Maybe I don't think I should have to sit in that traffic.  Maybe I think the world should cater to me a little more.

Lessons from Ubering # 1: God complex as career requirement

Yesterday I gave a ride to a doctor - he's a resident at a hospital.  We talked about the hours and some other stuff.

One thing we talked about was surgeons.  He's not going to be a surgeon, and he thinks it takes a particular kind of personality to do that.  The phrase I used was God-complex, and he agreed.  Like it takes a certain amount of ego to think that you can cut someone open and fix them.

I find it fascinating that certain careers have this sort-of unofficial requirement.  I would put Presidents and big movie directors in the same category.  There's just a certain amount of arrogance/confidence needed to believe that you can live up to what's required.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Parasitic Tendrils and Answers to Prayer

One of my duties at the church is to pass along prayer requests to the prayer team, and this week I included myself, just saying that I'm depressed.  This lovely woman responded with this email, which resonated deeply with me:

Hey Matt.  I was praying for you just now and recently have been trying to let the Spirit guide me in prayers. I'm stepping out in faith, but aware of potential human error. I'd love to pass this along, but please pray about it. 

So I saw Your heart. There's something parasitic that has wrapped black, spiny tendrils around it and is trying to suffocate it. Jesus is working on it, but because it's a delicate process, as to not damage you, it is a slow process. I see that you're awake during this "operation" and it's painful to you, but take heart because you will have freedom. I have two visions - one of a caring father pulling out a splinter from his child's finger, and then sort of an "all better!" moment where there's a hug and then the kid runs off all happily. The second is you basically running and jumping about, hooting and hollering like some of the older generations would call a heathen. Since this is not naturally a Matt Brennan trait, I think this must be from the Lord. Haha! I see freedom for you. But not instantaneous. 

Take care! See you Sunday!

Please let me know if that sounds right to you! 

My response:
Thank you for that.  That does sound right to me.  And as someone who doesn't really hear from God directly, I appreciate that you took the step of sharing with me.  Your words moved me.
It's funny, because I used to be a much goofier, more child-like, 'hooting and hollering' person, but I've lost a lot of that as I've grown older.  I like the sound of reclaiming that.  Here's hoping I reclaim some of it in this life.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving ... Alone

I’m starting to wonder if there’s something seriously wrong with me.  I keep getting lonelier and more depressed, even as I reach out more.

Okay, here’s the basic problem.  I’m not sharing my life with anyone.  I don’t have a wife or girlfriend or best friend that I connect with on a meaningful level.  I’m not close to my family.  I have plenty of friends, some of whom I can have good conversations with, but it’s just not enough.  And God, as usual, seems far away.  That’s all adding up to making life feel kind of pointless.

What am I doing about this?  I have a men’s group that meets at my apartment every week.  I have a new church where I’m meeting lots of new people.  I’ve reached out and started to spend time with some new people one-on-one.  I’m spending more time with my mother.  I’ve thrown get-togethers at my place.  I’ve prayed.

But some of these things are depressing me more.  Two nights ago I had folks over for poker, and afterwards I cried because I didn’t feel like I’d connected with anyone.  Spending time with groups of people can be either fun or awkward, depending on the people, but afterwards I feel drained and more depressed.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving.  I had a couple of invitations, but I hate the idea of being tacked on to someone else’s family.  So after a lot of internal debate, I decided to stay home.  I knew that staying home alone on Thanksgiving would be depressing, as I am acutely aware that everyone else is gathered together and feeling the warmth of family and friends.  But I did the math, and I’m pretty sure that if I’d gone to someone else’s gathering, I would feel even more like someone on the outside looking in, and that afterwards I would end up curled into a ball, worse than if I had simply compartmentalized my sadness and toughed out the day on my own.

Last night a frightening thought occurred to me: what if this is it?  What if this is all I have to look forward to?  Because I am trying.  But either nobody shows up for my movie night, or people do show up, and then I feel worse afterwards.  And while I’m enjoying the new friendships I’ve struck up … I’m starting to wonder if I’ve lost the ability to connect in a meaningful way.

In Junior High, my best friend one day told me he didn’t want to be friends anymore.  Just dumped me for no reason that he would state or that I could figure out.  In High School, one of my closest friends stopped talking to me because she was ashamed of some decisions of her own.  And in the past few years, three of my closest friends have abandoned me, not even returning my calls or emails, with no explanation.

I think it’s broken me.  I think maybe, as open as I try to be, it’s left me unable to trust or truly feel the warmth of friendship.  I haven’t cried with someone in a very long time, because that’s an intimacy that I can’t trust anyone to live up to.

So I’m spiraling deeper into depression.  And I don’t know how to fix it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I Don't Love Others More Than Myself

I don't think I've ever loved anyone more than I love myself.  Or even as much.

Not that I'm particularly thrilled with myself.  But I think you can't help but love yourself to some degree, in that you feed and clothe yourself and you treat yourself and tell yourself things that help you feel better about yourself.

But I think there is an experience which is both terribly human and also transcendent.  Which is learning to love someone else more than yourself.  I think it most often happens when you have kids, but also when you find a husband or wife (I'm sure it doesn't always happen, but it ought to).  For some, it's God.  For some it might be cats or something else, but that's a discussion for another time.

Something happens, over a short time or a long time, where a person's focus shifts off of themselves and someone else becomes more important.  My friend John will go home at the end of a long, tiring day.  And he will do the dishes.  Why?  Because while he doesn't like doing dishes, he knows that's how his wife will feel loved.  That's just a small example, but it happens over and over, day after day.  We all know there are much larger examples of parents who will go without food so their kids can eat and stuff like that.

And I think that's part of what sands the rough edges off of people.  They lose a lot of their pride and humble themselves by choosing to put someone else first.

I don't do that.  I mean, I do it here and there.  But there's nobody that I love enough to set aside my own wants and needs on a regular basis.  Which is a shame.  I think that's a big part of why I still have so many rough edges - I may be getting even rougher as I get older and spend days at a time with only myself.  Plus, I honestly think that's an amazing transformation that is worth the pain and annoyance that it takes to get there.

But you generally can't make yourself care about someone or something any more than you do.  You either care or you don't.  And I don't.  Which is not to say that I don't care at all.  I mean, I care some.  Sometimes a lot.  But never to that level where your focus starts to shift, where you make room for another ego next to yours.

And, obviously, this has repercussions for my relationship with God.  I think the best way to learn to love God is to practice with other people.

Plus, I've always believed that life is about people and relationships.  And this truth is at the heart of relationships.  So without it, my life seems a little pointless.

My Meiers-Brigg temperament is INTJ.  My type is called the Engineer and we tend to like picking things apart and seeing how they work and trying different combinations of things.  For some reason, this inclination of mine has always been on people, rather than on something like science or engineering - something where I could use this talent to make a living ...  Anyway, I've spent a good chunk of my life, when I'm not daydreaming about time travel, analyzing people.  Trying to figure out what makes them tick.  Figuring out motivations and emotions and tendencies and temperaments.  And I think that's why, even though I'm an introvert, I've always had a decent number of friends.  I want to spend time with people and make sense of them.

But this does often leave me on the outside, processing, looking in.

I wish I had an epiphany to end this one with.  I wish I knew how to engage more, care more.  I wish I could  sand off these rough edges.  But it eludes me.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How To Be On-Time

How To Be On-Time

Okay, let's say you've got an appointment/meeting/date that starts at 11:00.  First, you don't want to get there right as it's starting, so figure 5 minutes before that.  Next, estimate how long it will take to get there.  20 minutes?  OK - but wait, you wanted to stop at home and change, right?  OK, so 10 minutes to your place, 5 minutes to run in and change, then 15 minutes to the meeting.  That's 10+5+15 plus 5 minutes early, so 35 minutes.  One more thing.  Throw in a buffer 5 minutes, in case of traffic or spilling something on your shirt.  So 40 minutes.

There you have it.  A couple of quick mental calculations, and you now know you should leave at 10:20 to get there by 11:00.

How Not To Be On-Time

You've got a meeting that starts at 11:00.  Glance at the clock at 11:05 and say, "Gee, I guess I should think about leaving pretty soon.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Window Story

My boss sent me an email on a Wednesday night looping me in on a project we're going to be doing at my new church.  For those of you who don't know, I'm working for a new church plant in Santa Monica called Resonate.  And David's first sermon series is going to be on the Sermon on the Mount.

To go along with the series, David wants to get 10 artists to work with 10 windows.  The idea is that at the end of each message, one of the art pieces will be revealed.  And at the end of the series, we'll put together an installation at an art gallery.

So David wants me to find 10 windows.  Sound simple?  It's not.  A cursory glance around craigslist and ebay and other sites shows that it's not easy to come by used windows.  People don't replace their windows that often, and they have good resale value.  Even the few used windows there are on craigslist are going for $200 - $300.

The next morning I texted David asking him what kind of budget we were looking at.  While I waited for a response, I figured I'd browse around again, get a better idea of what's out there.  Meanwhile, I'm trying to think up ideas, like calling contractors to see what they do with old windows.  Maybe there's some window graveyard out there.

Craigslist.  Free Stuff.  Type in 'windows'.  There's an ad: 10 Free Windows to be used for art projects only.  Seriously?  And not just little ones, or ones with the glass busted out - they're all intact and good sized and there's some variety in the styles.  I call the guy and he explains that they shouldn't be used for building.  I explain that I'm looking for exactly this: 10 windows for art projects.

A hundred bucks to hire my friend and his truck and 2 hours later - all ten windows are ours.  Problem solved.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bringing God Into the Conversation

Lately, I have found it much easier to bring up God in conversation.  Observe.

What did you do today?

 - I toured a homeless shelter.  The church I work for is looking for opportunities to serve the community and the Ocean Park Community Center provides the homeless with not just a meal, but all kinds of services, from shelter to job training to accountability to community.

How was your weekend?

 - Pretty cool.  The church I work for helped organize over 200 people to clean up the beach in Santa Monica.

What's new?

 - Oh, I had this cool thing happen.  At the church where I work, the pastor came up with this art project to coincide with his next sermon series that involves artists doing pieces with windows.  And he asked me to find 10 windows.  Which I thought was going to be either expensive or a lot of searching.  But I went on Craigslist and there was an ad for 10 free windows, to be used only for art projects, not for building.

Where do you work?

 -  I work for a new church in Santa Monica.

Have you notices the common thread?  To be fair, I'm not mentioning God at all, but mentioning that you work at a church is a really easy way to slip God into the conversation unobtrusively.  He's there, but you don't have to force Him into the conversation.

Which has made me realize something.  Like a lot of you, I've always felt embarrassed about bringing God into a conversation.  But I'm realizing that it's not the God part that I'm embarrassed about, it's the bringing-into-the-conversation part.  I simply don't like to force God into a conversation, when it doesn't come up naturally.  Now that it comes up organically, as part of what I do for work, it doesn't feel embarrassing at all.

Which reinforces something else that's often bothered me.  Too many times I've heard a pastor or other church worker talk about evangelism.  Which is fine.  But then they'll give an example of how they were sitting next to someone on a plane (or in a coffee shop, or while surfing, etc.), and the person asked what they do for a living, and it came out that they're a pastor.  Which led to them talking about God, which led to an opportunity to witness to the person.  And isn't it great how that came up organically?  And really, we all should be trying to have these organic conversations with people.

Ya know what?  Those people need to pull their heads out of their asses and realize that they're living in an insulated bubble where it is much easier to talk about God if your job is at a church.  How about giving an example that doesn't involve your job?  How about helping folks figure out how to do it when they don't work at a church?  I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Introverts and Extroverts and the Art of Conversation

I’ve noticed something lately.  If you ask someone questions and take the time to listen, people will talk to you.  And talk.  And talk.  And never shut up.

See, I’ve been trying this new thing where I attempt to be friendly and get to know people.  I know – doesn’t sound like me at all.  Nevertheless, I’ve been smiling and introducing myself and asking questions.  And I have gotten to know a lot about quite a few people.  But I’m willing to bet they don’t know much about me.  Why?  Because they don’t ask.  I ask them about themselves and they talk and talk and talk.  If there is a momentary lull, they will rush to fill it with – you guessed it! – more talking about themselves and their opinions.

Luckily, some of them are entertaining to listen to or have interesting opinions.  But only some.
I think it has to do with the extrovert-oriented culture we’re living in.  Here’s something I’ve figured out about extroverts.  They like to engage in conversation.  It’s an activity for them.  And extroverts like to jump into activities and experience them to the fullest.  The priority is not to exchange information or find meaning or learn anything.  It’s just to do it!  Talk!  Converse!  Get in there and mix it up with words with other people!

The introvert, in case you’re interested, does not seek conversation as an activity.  They seek to learn, to understand, to have a point, even if the point is to be silly.  They want to engage with the other person, and the conversation is a means to that end.  They seek to connect.

Do I sound harsh?  Certainly, there are some extroverts who know how to hold their tongues.  If you are one of them – if you have learned that only the fool blathers on, then this doesn’t apply to you, does it?

And there are introverts who have adopted the extroverted way of conversing – going on and on.  Which is sad, because you’re so much more interesting if you take the time to think through some of what you want to say.

How about if we take the time to get to know each other, instead of just talking?  It reminds me of the animals in Narnia.  Once they started acting like animals, Aslan let them go back to being just animals.  And they lost their power of speech.  Hmm … maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Proverbs 18:2 – A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Introversion and Skydiving

I've just started reading "Quiet" by Susan Cain, a book that shines a light on introversion.  And I read something that gave my my minipiphany for the day:

"Introverts feel 'just right' with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book.  Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo."

I've never thought about introversion in terms of stimulus before.  I usually think about it mostly in terms of social interactions.  But Susan talks about how introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling while extroverts are drawn to the external life of people and activities.  "Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them."  And her inclusion of skiing made me pause.

Actually, I skied a few times when I was younger and quite enjoyed the rush.  But when I went skydiving, I didn't feel the same way at all.  I went with my friend John about 12 years ago.  John is a total extrovert, able to engage anybody in conversation, and his skydiving experience was absolutely thrilling.  Mine was ... fascinating.

People think that when you jump out of the plane, you get a rush, like on a roller coaster.  But that's not true.  Because you're already moving at the same speed as the plane that you're on.  So when you jump, your trajectory changes, but not so much your velocity.  At least not enough to feel your stomach doing backflips. At least not for me.  Instead, I found myself in an odd situation.  I'm up in the sky.  Falling.  The wind rushing past me and blowing my hair back.  The earth way down below.  Huh.  Interesting.  Not scary.  No rush.  Just sitting up here in the sky.  Okay.  So this is skydiving.  It's kinda cool.  It's a nice view.  Cool.

I can see now that my introversion gave me a completely different experience than John.  When we got to the ground, he was whooping and hollering and patting me on the back, and I almost felt bad that I wasn't sharing the same feelings.

Which brings me to another John experience.  His son has seizures pretty frequently.  The first time I saw him have a seizure was at a park.  John quickly rushed over to hold his boy, so there wasn't really anything for me to do.  And afterwards, as John will laughingly tell you, my first comment was that it was fascinating.

With both the skydiving and the seizure, my brain instinctively chooses to stop and process the information.  To think about it and try to find meaning, rather than react in an outward fashion.  Which can leave me feeling detached and make me appear aloof to others.

Which is not a bad thing.  It's just how I work.

You can check out Susan Cain by reading her book, or by watching her Ted Talk.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Art by Analog

My men's group has been going through Revelation, and I'm finding it pretty dry.  But my friend Whitney suggested something different.  Here are the results: imagery from Revelation chapter 16.  Without further ado, I give you ... the Analog Artpocalypse.

Here's mine.

Here's Erik's.

Here's Randy's.

Here's Allen's.

Here's Chris'.

Here's Ryan's.

Here's Mark's.

Here's Mike's.

Here's Adam's.

And Seer wrote a song.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lame is Good?

I was having a conversation the other day with a new friend - we're still getting to know each other.  And she asked me what my plans are for my life.


I explained that lack of drive is one of the biggest problems I have.  And I explained that I've had a variety of  careers, and that none of them has panned out.  And I explained that in this last unemployed period, I told God that I was trusting Him to take care of me, probably more sincerely than I ever have before.  And it looks like God has steered me into this new position with a church start-up.

All good, right?  Everything is in God's hands?  Except, it leaves me feeling lame.

'Let go and let God'.  'When we are weak, He is strong.'  Sounds nice, but the reality is that it leaves me feeling like a loser who can't accomplish anything on my own.  And you can tell me that it's good that I'm learning to trust God more, and I know that's true in my brain.  But it doesn't feel good.  It feels like I suck at life.

Then, yesterday, we were having our weekly Bible study at the pastor's house, which also works as a sounding board for the pastor, as we strategize on how to reach out to folks in Santa Monica.  And he asked  us to describe Westsiders - that bizarre, alien set that lives West of the 405 in L.A.  And it was an enlightening experience.  Every single quality that everyone listed was the exact opposite of who I am.  Westsiders are environment-loving, dog-owning hipsters who work in the arts or technology and who engage in moral relativism and project a carefully cultivated persona.  They are driven, they have money, they use social media, they have trouble committing to anything and they are resistant to marketing.  And on and on.

I quickly began asking myself what in the world I am doing at this church.  I believe in absolutes.  I don't care about wealth, as long as I can get by.  I strive to be open and honest and vulnerable with people.  My ever-present crocs make it clear that I have no interest in fashion.  How can I possibly relate to the people we're trying to reach out to?


But on the way home, it occurred to me that perhaps that's exactly why I'm there.  Because I'm the opposite.  Perhaps those very qualities are what will appeal to Westsiders, or at least make them take notice.

Specifically, I think I'm very real.  What you see is what you get - as opposed to a persona that I choose to project.  So maybe that's something to consider as I go forward.

Maybe I am lame.  But maybe God made me lame for a reason.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Philosophical / Theological Quandary

I have an ethical dilemma I would like to pose.  I would love to get feedback on it.

On the one hand, you've got the Bible.  And it says that when your brother is sinning, you're supposed to go to him, in love, and see if you can't nudge him back in the right direction.  Some Christians take this as an excuse to get in everyone's business and tell them what they can and can't do.  I believe it's telling us that we have a responsibility to gently correct those with whom we are in community.  Not everyone, but those within your circle of influence and care.

Alright, good.  But then there's this.

In my experience, people don't change until they get to the place where they're ready to change.  No amount of persuasion or clever arguments is going to sway them.  And the best way to help them along is often to lead them into a safe place of community and trust, where they can then feel safe enough to consider making changes on their own.  Sometimes they'll bring up their stuff in their own time, and you can talk about it.  And sometimes you just know (or hope) that you've reached a point where it would be OK to bring it up.  But if they're not feeling safe, then bringing stuff up will just make them defensive and make them retreat.

So there's my dilemma.  On one hand, the Bible tells me to gently correct my brother.  On the other, my philosophy tells me that people simply don't change until they're ready.  Got it?  Now, two real-life examples.

My nephew is an extremely talented film-maker.  I went to the premier of his feature documentary last night, No Cameras Allowed.  1800 people sold out the Wiltern Theater.  And it is an amazing film, which tells the story of how he breaks into music festival after music festival, from Coachella to Bonnaroo to Ultra to Glastonbury, culminating with breaking 16 of his friends into the Austin City Limits festival.  And he's still doing it to this day.

What he's doing is clearly wrong.  And it's past the point of youthful exuberance - I think it's understandable, maybe even healthy, to test the boundaries when you're young.  But, to me, it's beyond that.  It's just plain stealing, done because it's fun.

He's my nephew.  He's family.  There was a time when I had a little bit of influence with him, but that's long past.  So, what can I do?  What should I do?

Example number two.  There's a guy in my community who lies a lot.  Everyone knows it.  Big, audacious lies and small, don't-realize-it-at-first lies.  It's kind of bizarre, because it seems like he's trying to impress us, not realizing that we honestly don't care about the stuff he's lying about.  And we don't call him on it, because we're convinced that if we do, he'll stop coming around.  He'd deny it.  And we'd rather he stick around, so he has a place of community.

I don't know if I would call him a friend.  He could be a friend, but it seems impossible to get to know him, because I just don't know if anything he says is true.  Conversations are awkward between us because I choose not to respond to the outrageous things he says.  I so wish he would just stop or own up to it, so we could make a real attempt at friendship.

So, what to do?  Keep providing a safe place of community where he'll hopefully, eventually, get to a place of change on his own?  Or call him out and risk pushing him away?

There you have it.  Let me know what you think.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Funny Story

Wherein this skeptic allows that God may may have been at work in his life.  Maybe.

So, I was having dinner with my mother (actually dinner and show, but this isn't about the show - OK, it's Abbamemnon at the Falcon Theater and it's terrific - get your tickets before it's gone!) and she brought up an idea that some family members had cooked up.  I guess I'm a frequent subject, given my unemployed status.  My mother has some extra money coming in, and wanted to help me out, but she didn't think it would be healthy to just give me the money (I would tend to agree).  And my brother-in-law's cousin had a friend who was planning on starting a new church in Pasadena.  The idea was for my mother to donate money to the church each month, for 6 months, in exchange for them hiring me and paying me that same amount.  This would allow my mother to be charitable and get a tax write-off and help me, it would give the church plant some extra help, and it would provide a stop-gap for me while I continue to look for work.

My mother gave me the contact information.  I called and explained who I was, and gave my mother's name, my brother-in-law's name and the cousin's name.  And the guy called me back, confused, because he had no idea who any of those people were.  But he was intrigued by the suggestion, and we agreed to meet.

When we met, I told him about myself, and he told me about his church plant.  And I really liked him and his vision.  He's starting a church in Santa Monica, because that area is 95% unchurched people.  And all of his ideas about how to draw people in and his various philosophies about connecting with people in the modern age really struck a chord with me.  Two things to note.  First, he still had no idea who my mother or any of those other people were.  And his church was starting in Santa Monica, not Pasadena.

I called my mother, and she was also confused.  But then it dawned on her that she had given me the wrong contact information.  She wasn't sure how it had happened at the time.  She has since figured out that she had planned on giving the info to my nephew, who lives in Venice and is looking for a church.  But how bizarre is it that the wrong contact info was for a different church planter?

My mother gave me the correct contact information, and I contacted the right guy, and we met.  Let me say that he's a perfectly nice guy, but I didn't care for him or his vision at all.  The Santa Monica guy wants to reach the unchurched and is trying to draw people in through word-of-mouth, outreach projects and community events.  The Pasadena guy is going to send a mailer to every address in Pasadena.  The Santa Monica guy asked for my resume and references, and he called them.  The Pasadena guy didn't even ask.  Santa Monica was more of a discussion, while Pasadena was more of a monologue.

And after the Pasadena guy got done monologing, he asked me how excited I was by his vision.  I responded that I wanted to be honest with him, that I wasn't looking for a ministry opportunity, per se, but for a job.  That said, I might become excited along the way and I was especially interested in helping with the small groups he had talked about, as I've always had a heart for facilitating community.  At that, his face fell.  It was like he realized I wasn't drinking the Koolade.

So.  On one hand, the Pasadena gig would be much closer, and it seemed like there was somewhat better potential for the job to continue past the original 6 months that my mother was underwriting.  But the Santa Monica gig ... just felt right.

Well, I went home and thought and prayed and talked to some folks, and the answer just seemed obvious.  So, I called the Santa Monica guy and told him I was on board.  So, I'll be working for them part-time for a while, and we'll just see how it goes, but I'm excited and think it could be an interesting new chapter for me.

A few things.  First, I was feeling some jitters about the new position.  And at the same time, I've been quite frustrated the last couple of years, with my lack of having a close friend to just hang out with (several of my close friends have gotten married over the years, and it's left a gap, something I've prayed about quite a bit). What do these two things have to do with each other?  Well, just a few days ago, a friend from high school invited me to coffee.  I hadn't seen her in maybe 15 years.  But we clicked right away and had a terrific conversation for a couple of hours.  It so filled up my tank that I just about floated through the rest of the day and my jitters completely disappeared.  Now, she's busy with a husband and kids, so I don't expect her to become my new best friend that I hang out with every other day, but we are hanging out again next week.  And I think that her occasional presence may go a long way to alleviate my need for companionship.

Second, I've been praying in the past year that God would push me out of my comfort zone.  A scary prayer, to be sure, but I've become convinced that in our affluent American society, even someone like me who is unemployed and down on his luck, still has a roof over his head and food to eat - well, I think it's all to easy to become comfortable and complacent.  This new position is a nice blend of the comfortable (administrative work) and stepping out of my comfort zone (meeting new people and in a new arena).

Third, I've been praying during this time of unemployment that while I do my part to diligently look for work, that I would also trust God to provide for me.  And I've chosen to give that to Him and not to worry.  This new position helps my situation, but because it may only be for 6 months, it still leaves me in a position where  I'm going to need to trust God to take care of me.

And finally, as you may have noted just a couple of posts back, I've been frustrated by what I've perceived as God's lack of response when I pray.  And I think that God is oh-so-amused to pull all of these strings together at the same time that I'm bemoaning His lack of responding to me.

I am grateful to my God.  And I am inclined to agree with what so many have pointed out, that He has had a hand in orchestrating these recent events.

Inclined.  I think it's probable.  But you know, don't hold me to it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Asking and Answering

Dating – it’s a minefield.  But I do think there are a couple of simple principles that can help spare people overly hurt feelings or wasted time.

First, guys should ask girls out directly, and not wimp out.  I know for many guys it’s scary.  But that’s part of being a guy.  Man up, and just ask her.  Because it’s better and healthier to get turned down and have that solid answer than to live weeks or months not knowing or living in regret.

By the same token, while it’s fine to engage in some group activities or otherwise try to worm your way into a relationship through being friends first, guys shouldn’t let that go on too long.  And no, it’s not that you’ll get stuck in the friend zone – it’s that same thing of just taking the plunge and doing it.

Second, girls should give a clear answer.  If they’re not interested, they should let the guy know that.  Telling the guy that she’s busy or not ready for a relationship right now or something like that may seem like it’s better for him – ‘sparing his feelings’, ‘letting him down easy’ – but I think it’s just easier for the girl.  She gets to go on her merry way thinking she’s nice, while he’s left in a limbo, either not knowing where he stands or thinking he has a shot when he doesn’t.  Honestly, I think it’s quite selfish and shows a lack of thinking things through.

Okay, a few things.  First, I’m using the words ‘guys’ and ‘girls’ instead of ‘men’ and ‘women’, and I mean no disrespect by it.  Those are just the words that flow for me, like when we say ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’.

Also, in this modern world, I do think it’s OK for girls to ask out guys, or at least make the first move in some way.  But the responsibility on the receiving end is the same – if somebody wants to know if you’re interested, you should give them a clear answer.

And let me throw this in.  I know some girls have a policy of going out with almost any guy that asks her out.  As someone who’s been on the receiving end of this policy, I can tell you that I don’t care for it.  If you don’t know if you’re interested, that’s one thing.  But if you know that you’re not (and you know that sometimes you just know), then I don’t think you should waste your time or his.

I'll leave you with this.  There was a girl I was interested in.  She was cute and smart and could carry on a conversation.  And I'd had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with her during a vacation.  So, I called her up and asked her out.  Actually, I got nervous, rehearsed what I would say, thought about it, did some deep breathing, thought about it some more, then got around to calling her.  And she said yes!  Woohoo!  But two minutes after we hung up, she called back.  She explained that she did like me as a friend, but was not really interested in going on a date with me.  And in the moment, she was startled and said yes, but after having a minute to think about it, she decided it would be better to call me back and retract her answer.  Was it disappointing?  Yes.  But I have great respect for her.

Are You There God? It's Me, Matt.

I’m angry.  At God.  And it’s frustrating, because … well, let me start over.

I don’t have much going on right now.  I’m unemployed.  I don’t have a girlfriend.  I don’t have a close friend to hang out with frequently.  I’ve had any number of creative endeavors that have gone nowhere.  And I’m typing this on a computer that occasionally deletes a whole sentence or two because the key sticks.

Yes, I know: I have a roof over my head and food to eat and family and friends and blah blah blah.  And I don’t have a terminal illness and I haven’t lost my wife or child in a car accident and I don’t live in a country where people are persecuted.  I know.  I am grateful for those things.  Really. 

But, still … this is my life, and things are not going well and I’m angry.  And probably scared, too.  It came to a head earlier today and I let out some steam by screaming out loud a few times.  And then I stewed about it for the rest of the day.  And then I tried talking to God about it.  And boy was that unsatisfying. 

God doesn’t talk to me.  Before you throw out the standard clich├ęs, let me just suggest that you shut up.  I’ve heard them.  ‘You just need to learn how to listen.’  ‘God talks to different people in different ways.’  And the one I tell myself, that God stays silent with me because He wants to see what I’ll do with very little overt guidance – will I be obedient just because I know it’s right and pleasing?

But the way I’m wired is that I need to process things with other people.  It’s why I don’t normally read the Bible on my own.  I’ll read books and blogs that will include scripture, so I’m still getting some Bible.  But mostly I rely on the discussions in my small group, where we pull it apart and examine it and question everything together.

Or when I have an emotional problem.  Most issues I deal with on my own just fine.  But I know that sometimes my brain doesn’t fully process stuff until I discuss it with someone and they reflect it back to me.

This is how I work.  It is the way God made me.  And that’s why it’s especially frustrating to talk to God and get no response.  I talk to God just about every day, if not during the day, then at least as I’m going to bed.  I have little conversations, telling Him about what I’ve been thinking about and asking for His help with different behaviors and musing on some new time travel theory.  (At this point, I will be rewriting the remainder of this because my computer freaked out and closed everything and autosave only saved up to this point and my computer is a piece of shit and now I’m having trouble focusing because I’m angry and it’s not like I can remember everything that I already said.  Fuck!)  And I’ll let my mind wander, to see what might pop in there.  I think my prayer life is the healthiest now that it’s ever been.  But not satisfying.

I want God to show up in some emotionally satisfying way.  I want some kind of response.  I want to not feel like I’m just talking to myself.  And I know, poor me.  But really – I can’t figure out how to deal with this in a healthy way that allows me to understand or accept or get around God’s silence.

And that’s all I’m going to say.  There was more before, but now you don’t get to read it because my computer sucks.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Wages of Sin is Death

Here's my minipiphany (mini epiphany) for the day.  Maybe this seems obvious, but I'd never quite thought of it in exactly this way.

My men's group has been discussing different atonement theories.  The basic question is how does Christ dying and rising from the dead accomplish us being forgiven of sins and being reunited to God?

What popped into my head was a way of looking at it that I had not considered.  Because, for some reason, I had not taken the verse that says 'The wages of sin is death' literally.  I mean, I've sinned plenty, and I'm still alive.  God told Adam and Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit, then they would surely die, but they didn't die.  They lived a good long time after that.  So, I don't know how seriously I've taken that sin = death.

I've heard at church that we die a spiritual death.  I've heard that Jesus takes the consequences of our sins on himself on the cross.  But what if it is meant to be taken literally?  What if choosing sin begins the process by which our bodies begin to die?  And not that it's immediate - it takes time to die of natural causes - but it's inevitable.  And what if that is the end?

As a Christian, I've always assumed that I'm going to live forever, either in this life or the next.  It's why death doesn't really frighten me.  I've never thought much about the idea of absolutely ceasing to exist in any way.  But some Old Testament writers did think just that - they talk of going down into the dust and existing no more, as if there is no afterlife.

So, what if sinning means that you deteriorate until you die, and cease to exist?  Period.  It would be pretty hard to hang out with God for eternity if you no longer existed.  And what if the atonement, with Christ rising from the dead, allows us also to be reborn, resurrected from the dead?  Brought back from the brink of nonexistence?  Made to live again, so that we can hang out with God forever.

John 5:24-29

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.  Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.  And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.  Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out - those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Subjective Evidence for God

I believe in God.  Specifically, the Christian God, Jesus the Son, all that stuff.

I have a lot of doubts about what the church teaches.  Many discussions in my men's group get derailed (in the best possible ways) by discussions on whether the Bible is inerrant or not, whether Jesus was 100% human or 100% deity or somehow both, whether some people go to hell or if God will somehow save absolutely everyone, and many other issues.  But is God real?  Well, yeah.  I simply can not get away from that absolute truth.

There are some ways to logically prove the existence of God.  Not beyond a doubt, not actual proof, but then you can't prove gravity either.  But I have my own logical proofs that make sense to me.  Perhaps I'll blog that another time.  But another way of approaching it is subjective.

I can't help it.  I can't help but believe in God.  For me, it is innate. 

You know, I've spent the last few days depressed and angry.  Understandable, I think.  I'm unemployed, have no romantic prospects, and I spend far too much time alone in my apartment.  So ... depressed and angry.  And looking at way too much porn.  What can I tell you?  I'm here, it's here, I'm bored and depressed - it's a recipe for wanting to escape or to bury the negative feelings.

And then, this evening, sick of the rut I was in, I turned to God, as I always eventually do, and confessed.  Not just the porn, but the lack of faith that leads to the anger.  Because here's my thought process, as I unpacked it with God tonight.  Deep down, no matter how I try to pull away, I still believe that God is in control and that He has me where He wants me to be.  Not the depression or the lack of exercise or the other negative responses I've come up with, but this place in my life.  And, actually, in January and February, I was doing pretty well - I was keeping my thoughts positive and praying that God would work on my faith (never a good idea ...) and help me to just trust in Him.  And tonight I was telling God that I think I've actually done pretty well, faith-wise, in this current season, considering that I pretty much suck at the Christian life to begin with.  We both had a nice chuckle at that point.

And, look: I have a roof over my head and food to eat and good friends and thanks to winning my appeal for unemployment benefits and help from my mother, I've got money to keep going for a while.   I just don't like it.  I know that God has put me here, and I don't like it.  And it's hard to keep my spirits up and my faith constant.

But when I'm angry with God, who do I tell?  God.  When I'm pissed off at God and retreat into myself, who am I hiding from?  God.  To me, God is like the cameras in a reality show - you can try to pretend they're not there, you can tell yourself that your behavior is not affected by them - but reality always breaks back in.

I suspect that some atheists are the same way.  There's a huge wall they've built up in their heads, blocking out God.  And they don't dare look behind that wall for fear that reality will come crashing in. 

And let me be quite clear.  I think most people who know me will agree that I'm a pretty logical guy, and a skeptic.  Yes, I have deep emotions, too.  But I'm more on guard than most against getting carried away by my emotions.  So when I say that I just can't help but believe, I don't think it's emotional.  For many/most Christians it is (and good luck to them - I don't know how they can live like that), but God has wired me differently.  I don't ever really feel that God is speaking to me directly.  I haven't had a 'God experience' that I can point to.  I don't believe I've been slain in the Spirit.  I sometimes sense that maybe God feels a particular way or drops a particular thought into my head to steer me along - but I'm never certain and always allow room for it just being my own brain.  See, with me, I think God has made it clear (through my experiences) that He gave me a solid, logical brain, and that He wants to see (and is excited to see) what I do with it - watching me as I work out my faith with less direct intervention than He gives to others.

And my subjective but logical conclusion is that there is a God. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Is it a sin to be too nice? Well, yeah!

I'm in a grumpy mood today, same as yesterday.  And I'm going to tell you why, in the hopes that venting it will be cathartic.

One of the things that really pushes my buttons is when people do the wrong thing because they're 'being nice'.  I will give you examples.

I was eating out with a group of friends and my food did not arrive as I had ordered it (I'm a picky eater, so this happens often enough).  My friends noticed that I was not eating, and asked if something was wrong, and I explained.  I then waited for the waitress to reappear.  But when the waitress reappeared, one of my friends took it upon himself to explain the problem to her.  I was so upset that I could no longer eat and left the table.  Why?  Because I was already frustrated - I had ordered the meal correctly, but they got it wrong.  Okay, mistakes are made.  But my friend, by not allowing me to fix the problem myself, made it exponentially worse.  I need to work out problems for myself, or I feel unresolved, and he took that away from me.  Add to that, that he's not my parent - so why in the world would he jump in like that without even asking?  I don't need him to take care of me, like I'm an invalid.

Many's the time I've been in a parking lot and I get to an intersection after someone else, and they wave for me to go.  And I understand that sometimes people are figuring out where to go, or whatever, and need a moment - I'm not talking about that.  I'm talking about the clueless person, who happily waves you on as if they're doing you a favor.  They've got 5 cars waiting behind them, but they're giving me the go-ahead.  And when I wave back to them that they should go - oh, no!  They insist!  It doesn't matter to them that people are waiting behind them - they're doing their good deed for the day.  Well, stop doing your 'good deed', and just drive correctly!

Which brings me to yesterday.  I was in a line, and several people cut in line in front of me.  And each time it happened, I grew more and more angry, not just that they were cutting in front of me, but because what they were doing was wrong.  And the woman manning the table just let them.  So, I waited my turn, but I decided that I would say something when I got to the front.

Meanwhile, another friend was waiting for me.  She came over and was perplexed that I was still in line, so through gritted teeth and with a little bit of swearing I explained the situation.  Her reaction?  To 'take care of' the problem.  As you can probably guess from the earlier example, this did not make me happy.  I was already angry, so some of my anger spilled out at her as I told to to stay out of it.  'Cuz, what the hell? I'm an adult.  I already have my own plan for addressing the situation.  Where does she get off poking her head in where it doesn't belong?  Don't be fucking 'nice' - just leave me alone and let me deal with the situation the way I think best!

So she leaves.  And I wait.  Finally I get to the front and do my thing.  And as soon as I'm done, I lean forward and explain to the woman that she let a bunch of people cut in line (I believe I did this in a calm and confidential voice).  She looks genuinely shocked.  Now, did she apologize?  No.  She said something about not realizing and that she was just trying to help people.  But the point is that she should have been aware.  There was a line.  People were jumping to the FRONT of the line, right in front of her.  She should have noticed.  And you know what I think?  I think she was being 'nice'.  It would have felt awkward to turn to someone who just appeared out of nowhere and ask them if they had waited in line, so she chose not to.  And whether I'm right about that or not, I think she should have apologized, as her actions, whether intentional or not, did affect me.  But she did not apologize - she rationalized.  So as I was walking away, I turned back and said, with a glare, that that was why I was saying something - because she should have noticed.

So, I was in a bad mood the rest of the day, and I'm grumpy still today.  Okay, do I wish that I were a better person?  Yes.  I wish I could just let things go and not get worked up and not raise my voice and so on.  But I'm human, and sometimes these things eat at me and sometimes my darker nature wins.

And the bottom line is that I think I'm right.  I shouldn't let my pride get in the way over it, but I am right.  And people should be more concerned about doing what is correct instead of their own warped interpretation of what it means to be nice.  You want to help someone or be nice to someone?  Ask.  'I see that you're upset - would you like me to help you with that?' or 'I'm sorry, but did you see that there's a line?'

Because you think you're being nice, but you're not.  You're hurting someone. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

You're Monologing when you should be Dialoging

My Geeky Friend,

So, I wanted to bring something up, and I hope you'll be receptive to it.  See, I really enjoy hanging out with you.  95% of the time, we talk and laugh and discuss the things we enjoy and have in common.  But once in a while you shift into a different mode, and it kinda makes everyone else feel awkward.

You start monologing.

We were having a nice conversation, but then you got all ramped up and excited about a particular topic, and now you're going on and on and the rest of us are just a captive audience, looking around, wondering how long you'll keep going.

Look, I get it.  You've got things that you're passionate about - that's part of makes you a geek.  That is, in fact, part of why we all like you and enjoy having you around.  But, as your friend, I'm asking you to work on being more aware of what's going on around you.  Because if you've been the only one talking for the past 5 minutes, then that means everyone else has been shut down and has to sit quietly until you're done.

Perhaps you think that someone could interrupt or talk at the same time.  Maybe that's how it worked in your family.  All I can tell you is that I won't do that.  I don't tend to interrupt much in conversations, because I was taught that it's rude.  Yes, I will sometimes interrupt if I have something I feel is pertinent, and there's a certain ebb and flow to a conversation - I get that.  But if you're going on about a topic that I have no interest in or know nothing about, there's no opportunity to jump in.  Because what am I going to do?  Ask a question that keeps you going even longer?  Or completely change the topic?  Shut you out?  I don't want to do that.  I don't want to make you feel bad.

So, what I need you to do ... what I'd like you to do ... is just be a little more self-aware.  For example, don't just talk to the group at large, look at specific people while you're talking and gauge if they're tracking with you, or maybe avoiding your gaze.  Or practice thinking through what you're going to say, in a succinct manner, before you say it.

I feel weird even bringing this up, and I hope you'll receive it in a constructive, positive light.  Because we all really do enjoy your company.  It's just that once in a while thing.  And hey, I've got my flaws, too, and maybe one of them is that I need to be more patient.  So, just take it for what it's worth.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why I'm Mostly Ignoring Politics Now

I've mostly given up on following politics.  At least for now.  Here's why.

I used to love politics.  For the record, I'm a libertarian-leaning Republican.  I believe that government is best that governs least.  Over the years I've enjoyed the political talk shows, from Rush Limbaugh to Dennis Prager.  And it's not like I'm all that involved in actually doing anything - I just enjoyed following along and discussing with my conservative friends (and with more liberal friends, as long as it was a discussion, not a debate).  For me, the presidential elections were like the superbowl, but imagine a sports fan only getting that big event every 4 years!  I routed for my side to win and was bummed when my side lost.

In the last election, I really thought Romney was going to win.  Maybe that was wishful thinking.  But - and I'll try to be clear here - I think Obama is a poor president.  Not just his policies - obviously, I disagree with his policies.  And he may be a decent guy - I don't think he has any Machiavellian plans.  But with Clinton, I disagreed with most of his policies, but there's no arguing that the man was a master politician and that he was a decent president.  Look at what happened with welfare reform - he gave in and signed the bill eventually, because he was a pragmatist and he wanted to be reelected.  But notice how he got the credit for it, even though he was originally against it.  The guy's not stupid.

As opposed to Obama - I mean no offense to anyone, but I simply don't think he's good at the job, regardless of his political bent.  He's not decisive.  He often consults with political operatives instead of actual experts.  He puts ideology above the greater good.  And he's bent and possibly broken the Constitution on many occasions, whether it's in spending money that he has no authority to spend or continuing a military action past the date where it is lawful to do so without permission from Congress.  But I digress.

So I was disgusted when Obama beat Romney.  I decided to just tune out for a while - give myself a break.

And that's when something in my brain began to change.  At first, I was just surprised to find that I didn't miss it.  But over time, something new has dawned on me.  Which is that, as a Christian, it had become an idol.

Don't get me wrong - I think some people are either wired for or called to be in politics.  And that's fine.  I don't think Christians should steer clear of being part of the process.  And I think we all need to be responsible citizens who are aware of the issues and vote our conscience.  But I've grown a deeper awareness of this truth - as Christians, we are living in enemy territory on this planet.  And despite our freedoms here in the U.S., it's true here, too.

Too often, I have looked to the political process or a particular candidate as something or someone that will help get our county back on the right path.  But it's like I'm looking for the answer to the wrong question.  Because, really, what's going to change our country the most?  It's not welfare reform (although I think that was a good thing) or any number of policies that I agree with or would like to see enacted.  You know what has a larger impact?  Being a good parent.  Being there when your friend is in the hospital.  Buying groceries for someone who's in need.  Mentoring a kid.  Each of these seemingly small things, I believe, has a greater impact on our country than any policy we could get passed.

Perhaps you think I'm using hyperbole.  I'm not trying to, and I don't think I am.  I honestly believe that taking the time to sincerely love someone ripples across the universe in ways that we barely understand.

I've been reading G.K. Chesterton, and he talks about how a lunatic's worldview actually makes sense within the world he has constructed.  For example, if he thinks people are secretly following him, and you point out that they don't even know him, he can respond that that is exactly what they would say if they were covertly following him.  See - his logic is perfect and makes sense within his world.  His world is a like a circle - it's infinite, but he doesn't recognize that he's trapped himself in a logical circle that is smaller than reality.

I think it's the same thing with most 'ism's.  We build these ideologies, and we discuss and debate; we've thought it through and we know all of the answers.  And our worldview makes sense.  But we've trapped ourselves in an infinite circle that is smaller than reality.

Happily, for me, reality broke through.


"Take first the more obvious case of materialism.  As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity.  It has just the quality of the madman's argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out.  Contemplate some able and sincere materialist, as, for instance, Mr. McCabe, and you will have exactly this unique sensation.  He understands everything, and everything does not seem worth understanding.  His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cog-wheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world.  Somehow his scheme, like the lucid scheme of the madman, seems unconscious of the alien energies and the large indifference of the earth; it is not thinking of the real things of the earth, of the fighting peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon the sea.  The earth is so very large, and the cosmos is so very small.  The cosmos is about the smallest hole that a man can hide his head in. - G.K. Chesterton

Making Lists

I don't know about you, but I can get into a nasty downward spiral where I sit around doing nothing.  There are things I could do, but I'm too down to do them.  If I did them, I'd feel better. 

For example, yesterday I did little more than the bare minimum.  I clothed and fed myself and I did a little bit of reading and I hunted for a job online.  And I napped and watched TV and felt depressed all day.  And I know - I KNOW that if I just got out of the house or wrote a blog entry or worked on my book that I'd feel better.  When I get out of the house, there's movement and sunshine (or, even better, rain), even if it's just going for a walk.  And if it's an errand, all the better.  And if I work on something, then I feel constructive and like I've done something worthwhile - like I have worth.

But I get into that spiral.  I don't want to do anything because I'm depressed.  And I'm depressed because I'm not doing anything.

To the rescue - the To Do List.  It's such a simple thing.  But I know that if I make a list of things to do for the day, I'll do them.  So, this morning, I made a list.  It includes some simple, easily doable stuff like taking a shower and doing the dishes and reading the books I'm reading - stuff I probably would do anyway, but now I get to check it off of the list.  And it includes stuff that I'd probably blow off if they weren't on the list - writing this blog, working on my book, errands.  So, nothing earth-shaking.  I didn't include exercising for an hour or knocking on the doors of 20 businesses to see if they're hiring or becoming an astronaut.  But by the time I finish my list, I'll feel like I could almost fly to the moon.

In fact, just knowing that I was going to make a To Do List put a pep in my step this morning.  Ironically, the most important thing I'm going to do today is not on the list - because it is the list.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Chesterton Quotes

I'm reading Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton and there were some good quotes:

"Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact.  The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity.  They began with the fact of sin - a fact as practical as potatoes.  Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing.  But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt."

"If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions.  He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do: or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do.  The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat."

"Oddities do not strike odd people.  This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dulness of life."

"You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons.  The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world."

"To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain ...  The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens.  It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head.  And it is his head that splits."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Defining What Art is Not

I had a teacher in acting class who said this about art, and I've adopted it as my own: Art must be more than just a clever idea.

You probably see where I'm going here.  I think there's a lot of so-called modern art that is either very poor art, or not even art at all.

Let me put it this way.  I am not a novelist.  I have a million different ideas for stories - I'm a very brainstormy kind of guy.  But if you picked up my book that's 300 pages long and only 5 pages were filled out, I think you'd feel cheated.  I might describe an amazing plot and interesting characters and fill in the themes and arcs and everything.  But if I haven't actually done the work of writing the novel out, then it's not a novel (although it might be a novel idea - see what I did there?) 

One of the reasons I've never turned one of my stories into a novel is because I know I wouldn't be very good at all of the descriptions and pacing and onomatopoeia and all of that other stuff that goes into it.  I can write screenplays, because that's mostly telling what happens and who says what.  And I can write this blog, because part of the idea here is to get an idea across in a fairly concise manner.  But I don't want to waste anybody's time with my poor execution in a novel just because I have a great idea.

But that's exactly what some 'artists' seem to do.  And I just don't think that 212 layers of the same red paint on a canvas qualifies as art.  Where is the talent?

What else is not art? 

Something that merely serves a function is not art.  A car, no matter  how cool looking, is not art.  A technical manual would not be art, no matter how well it is written.  A well-brewed latte, even with a cute design in the foam, is not a work of art.

Something that is simply discovered is not art.  If someone finds some trash laid out in a manner that is pleasing to his eye and takes a picture of it, that is not art.  Let us not confuse something that is pleasant to behold with art.

Nature is not art.  Yes, it's God's art, but if everything is art, then nothing is art.

Some other questions arise ...

What about art by kids?  Well, I think you have to take into account the age and aptitude of the artist.  And let's be honest, most artwork by kids, while it is art, is very bad art.  You may like it for sentimental reasons, and that's completely valid.  But just because Billy's drawing of his mommy in some ways resembles a Picasso, don't be confused into thinking it's great art.  Only one of them was done that way on purpose.

What about architecture?  I think there are many things done with artistry.  But while I may consider the Golden Gate Bridge to be 'a work of art', I don't mean that literally - I'm using metaphor to make the point that it's architecture that is so beautiful that I feel justified in comparing it.  Now, something like the Disney Concert Hall is another matter, as it's made to be both functional and artistic, so it perhaps exists in both worlds.

What about video games?  This, again, is a hybrid.  Some of the images in video games are quite beautiful or haunting or what have you.  And these companies have hired artists to create whole little worlds.  There is definitely art in there, but I would not say the game itself is art, as the game itself could function with stick figures.

Anyway, those are my thoughts.  Feel free to disagree, as I'm sure some of you will.  But if you disagree, then how do you define art?  And don't say it's indefinable, as that's just a cop-out.  There may be gray areas, but surely you can come up with some boundaries?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Grown Ups

I don't know how the rest of you walk around acting like grown ups all the time.

I think with a lot of people there's an understanding that, on some level, it's an act.  That many of us, at some point, look at ourselves and think, 'When did I get old?  And wasn't I supposed to grow up at some point?'  Because I'm not grown up.  I mean, I'm not the person I was when I was 10 or in high school or even in my 20's.  But I don't feel like an adult.

I think that's one of the reasons I don't like to wear suits.  It feels like I'm pretending.  When I put one on, I feel like everyone will see me as the little kid who's trying to look grown up in the ill-fitting suit.

You know who I really don't understand?  Presidents and CEO's and high-powered lawyers and all of those people who have real, adult jobs.  Do they feel the same way?  And do they simply have a great talent for faking it?  Or do some people actually 'become' adults?  I look at anyone who becomes president, and I'm struck by the thought that if they feel even the slightest sense, like I do, that they're not really grown up, but just doing a great job of pretending, then they've got huge cajones.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Where do you exist, part 3

Wherein I discard my previous generalizations and try to make new ones.

I went on my yearly Dead Poet's Retreat this past weekend, and I was able to get answers to the question from about 20 more people.  And again some of the answers have thrown me for a loop.

My previous generalization about men being mostly in their heads and women being mostly in their hearts - I now throw it out the window.  Several of the men on my retreat indicated their gut as their center.  And two or three of the women indicated their heads.  Some new, random observations:
  • The gut thing is interesting, as in many ancient cultures, the gut was thought to be place where the soul resided.  And for at least one of the men who so indicated, I would consider him to be a bit more scholarly.  But that's probably a red herring.
  • I do think many women instinctively choose their chest as where they exist, perhaps even a majority, although a slim one. 
  • Two women now have indicated an area around their throats.  And these women have extremely different personalities.  For example, they are on the opposite sides of the introvert/extrovert spectrum.  I'm going to be giving a lot of thought to what they might have in common.  
  • One woman indicated the location by waving her hand over her head, to indicate 'way up there'.  Hers is an interesting story that includes an accident that erased all of her long-term memories, so that she essentially had to grow up all over again, and she has a completely different personality than she did originally.
  • One woman was very clear that her soul resided in her dreams.  She has very lucid dreams and remembers them all.  And she feels strongly that she 'belongs' there.
  • The first man to answer indicated his gut.  But he also predicted that his wife would be in her head.  And sure enough, she was.
  • I think my baseline for trying to unravel this mystery goes back to where it started.  All of the men in my men's group indicated in or near their heads.  And my first impulse was to generalize: men=head, women=chest.  Which turns out to not be true across the board.  But that doesn't change the fact that my first sampling did have the head thing in common.  So the next question is what else might they have in common that the head location could be an indicator of?  My next guess is that it's an inclination towards the theoretical.  In our group, we often get sidetracked by theological or philosophical tangents.  And we all enjoy it.  Now, I've had those types of discussions with non-head people, so it's not that non-head people can't enjoy a deep conversation.  But there is a certain giddy joy for the guys in my group in that regard.
As for me, I'm still joyfully mystified and trying to figure out what this all might mean, if anything.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Where do you exist, part 2.

Since I last posted, I've been asking around.  The answers are fascinating.  What I've determined is that for most men, their consciousness is in or around their heads, while most women live in their chests.  There are exceptions - I know one guy who exists primarily in his chest, and a woman who indicated her throat.  But for the most part, men feel like they are head-oriented and woman feel heart-oriented.

Mind you (no pun intended), I've always generalized that men are more logical and women are more feeling (it's a generalization, not a rule).  The question is how are those related, or which came first?  Does someone live more by their feeling because that's where they exist?  Or do they live in that space because their feelings are so strong?

Another thought I've had about this related to an earlier blog of mine regarding hugging.  It makes more sense now, that if women live in their chests, then hugging might be a bit more sensitive.  I've likened it to if a guy, upon meeting another guy, grabbed his head and pulled it to his own, pressing their foreheads together.  It would feel weird and inappropriately intimate.  So, I do wonder if some women have hugging issues for the very reason that it requires them to press their very selves into that other person.

And, clearly, this also explains why men love to lay their heads on women's chests.  Ahem.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Where do you exist?

My men's group tonight hit on a fascinating topic.  Each of us had a different location of where we feel like our 'essence' or soul exists.  You know, when you close your eyes and you're just thinking - where do you feel like you 'are'. 

Personally, my consciousness is right behind my eyes.  For a couple of the guys, it was also in the brain, but further back.  For one, it is right between his ears.

Two of the guys felt like their consciousness was not inside their heads, but attached, either on top or right behind.  One of them stated it was like Geordi LaForge's visor on backwards.

And one of the guys felt like his consciousness is several inches behind his head, completely detached.

Weird, wild stuff.  And it led to more questions.  Do women feel differently?  Do people with heightened emotions feel it more in their chest?  Is it different for blind people?  And what correlation, if any, is there with people's personalities?

Feel free to let me know where your consciousness resides.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Blog Therapy: My childhood may not have been as I remember it.

I had lunch with my mother today.  And she mentioned that I'd taken a certain medication from 2nd grade through Junior High, at which time I suddenly refused to take it anymore.  It was an early ADD medication, the idea being that I had trouble concentrating in class.  And I really don't remember taking it at all (she's told me before - it's not like it's a secret).  And when she mentioned how I refused to take it anymore, I didn't remember that.  But some of it's coming back to me.

I remember feeling like I wasn't really a part of my family.  I had this impression, almost like they were all 'acting normal', so that I would be lulled into accepting my place in the family.  Like those stories you hear when they find an abductee is living with their abductor and has transitioned into thinking it's normal.  And being adopted played right into that.  And I'm remembering that my reasoning behind the medication decision was something like, 'Who are you people, and why are you drugging me?  Well, I'm not going along with that anymore.'

There's this cautionary vibe around adopting kids these days.  Not that people shouldn't do it or anything, but just this warning that adopted kids, even if they're adopted as babies, will often have their own set of issues and that they'll have trouble fitting into the family.  And it's strange, because I remember my childhood as normal.  But I'm wondering if that's just because we tend to think of ourselves as the norm.  I'm starting to realize that maybe I am that problem child.

Because, in my family, I'm the one they had to put on medication.  I'm the one they held back a grade.  I'm the one who had that phase bordering on paranoid delusions of not belonging.  I'm the one who struggled with severe depression.  I'm the one who attempted suicide.  I'm the one they sent to a therapist.  I'm the one who didn't finish college.  And even today, I'm the one who's not married and I'm the one who has never settled into a stable job.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not having paranoid delusions now.  I think I'm a fairly normal guy with fairly normal struggles, only some of which have their roots in being given up for adoption.  But I am wondering to what degree I've whitewashed my memories.  I'm left with a sense now that in my family, I was 'special'.  And it's creeping me out. 

It's hard to say, though, because I remember so little - my memories of my childhood are almost nonexistent.  And what little there is - they're mostly not even real memories - I just remember facts about what I used to remember.  I think a big part of that is because I don't visualize.  My brain does not store images, so I don't have those visual cues to help me remember.

So, to my family - sorry.  I guess you did the best you could.  Not that all of your decisions were perfect, but it's trial and error and I get that.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Messing With the Count

You know how when someone is busy counting, some people like to jump in and count with them, but just a little off, to mess with them?  Well, they're doing it wrong.  It's the sign of an amateur.  Also wrong is throwing in random stuff, like '46 ... 47 ... blue ... horseshoes ...'  This is even less effective.

The most effective way is to start just above where they're at and count backwards.  Because people can usually ignore someone just messing with them, but that will make their brain go, 'Hey, wait, what are you doing?  You're doing it wrong!'

So now you know.

Challenging People

As I was going to bed tonight, I felt prompted to pray for someone.  This is a person in my life who can be a little challenging.  They would identify themselves as a Christian, but they've got a lot of issues to work out.  Still, this is someone I see fairly regularly, and I think that's a good thing.  For me, and for them.  For me, as I think we're called to spend time with challenging people, as it helps us to work on being patient and forgiving and all of that good stuff.  And for them, as good, christian community is so important and, frankly, life changing.

Anyway, I was prompted to pray for them.  And I was about to pray kind of my standard, 'Lord, help them to ...'  You know the one.  But I stopped, and evaluated for a moment.  And instead I prayed, 'Lord, help me to be more loving.'

Like I said, this person needs a lot of work.  Mind you, we all do - and I generally think of myself as the most flawed individual in the room.  But it just struck me.  We are to be His hands.  I want to figure out how to connect better with them, how to give them some of what they need.  How to help make this person feel secure enough that they can begin to make the necessary changes on their own. 

So, I did pray for God to help them.  But mostly I asked God to work on me.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Bob & the Blerg

Once upon a time, there was a God named Bob.  Bob had created a pretty cool universe for himself, and he'd spent quite a bit of time seeing all of the sights.  But it was time for something new.  So, he picked a planet, and made up some people to live there.

These people were known as the Anachondrians, and they looked a lot like you, only rather rainbow-hued.  And they loved their math.  They'd have lively parties where they'd engage in advanced calculus and trigonometry and several other types of mathematics that you couldn't begin to understand.  Bob would often join them at these parties, and they'd spend all night doing calculations and coming up with new formulas.

Bob was pleased with himself and how well his people were getting on.  So he decided to do it again.  He picked a new planet in a different galaxy, and created the Shrouds.  This was a race of intelligent gasses.  And they were the sneakist of the sneaky!  They invited Bob to join them on spy adventures and covert operations.  Oh, it was exciting, and Bob had a marvelous time with them, as well.

So, Bob kept making new peoples, each one special and unique.  One was a quartet of giant felines (so big the planet was almost too small for them) with amazing, poofy tails, that mostly lazed in the sun all day.  Another was a dragon made of water that had 18 heads and pondered philosophy for hours on end.  In all, Bob created 100 planets in 86 galaxies, and he had the best time bouncing from one world to another, hanging out with all of his creations.

One day Bob was visiting the Stak (androids with a hive-mind with beautiful voices and penchant for musicals), when his assistant, Angus McFoodle, popped in to report a problem.  Which caught Bob by surprise, because up until now there had been no problems.  Each group of people Bob had created was getting along fine, both among themselves and with their creator.  But Angus reported that on planet 39, the Blergs were not doing so well.

Okay, Bob wasn't completely surprised.  He knew if there was going to be a problem, it would probably be with the Blergs, as he'd given them quite a lot of free will.  Added to that, their life-cycle could be a little confusing.  The Blergs had three lives: Pre-life, Mid-Life, and the Afterlife.  Pre-Life seemed fairly straightforward - grow up, eat your vegetables, listen to your parents, figure out what kind of stuff you're into, and do that.  Mid-Life occurred after the Blergs had lived 70-80 years.  They would die and go to a place called The Waiting Room, where they could sit and drink root beer or coffee or what have you, and have deep conversations about poetry and the meaning of life.  Or, if they preferred, they could play video games.  And all that Bob asked was that they would take turns sitting on the Throne of Blergness while they all hung out and waited for the Afterlife.

The Afterlife was something all of Bob's people had in common.  Once each people had had a good long go-round on their respective planets, Bob was going to gather them all together for the biggest party ever!  He was so excited to see how the Shrouds would interact with the Amarm-a-mamoulles.  Or to watch the Papi-Papu exchange recipes with the dinner eaters from Rahnduva.  It was all very exciting, and it would be the party to end all parties, inasmuch as it would go on forever.

But now the Blergs were throwing a wrench into Bob's plans.  The problem started in Pre-Life.  Apparently, the Blergs, instead of taking the time to know and love and appreciated each other, were growing self-involved.  Each one only interacted with others when they needed to, and even then they could get quite snippy.  And the situation only got worse in The Waiting Room.  Instead of interacting, the Blergs each retired to their own room and played video games, and never spoke to each other anymore.  And because they weren't on speaking terms, there was no way to work out a schedule for sitting on the Throne of Blergness, so nobody did.

Well, this would not do.  Not only was it unhealthy behavior, it was downright anti-social, and would put a huge damper on the party.

So, Bob went down there and tried to explain to them that they needed to change.  And that's when Bob discovered another problem.  Most of the Blergs couldn't hear him.  They'd become so self-involved that their ear canals had changed over time to tune him out.

Fortunately, a few of the Blergs could still hear him.  So, Bob explained the situation to them and sent them as his ambassadors.  And each time Bob sent one of these ambassadors, the rest of the Blergs would come out of their houses and start talking to each other for a while.  But then they'd get sick of each other and start to bicker and fight and go back home alone.

Bob tried and tried to get the Blergs to change their behavior, but it wasn't working.  So, Bob came up with a new plan.  He created a machine and called it the Blergian De-Selfinator, and he installed in The Waiting Room, next to the Throne.  This machine would suck the selfishness right out of every single Blerg.  All it needed was for one Blerg to hop onto the Throne to power it up (it could only be powered by a Blerg).

And then Bob did something quite unexpected - he split himself in two.  One part he called Bo, and the other part he called Ob.  Bo stayed where he was, to oversee operations, while Ob turned himself into a Blerg.  And Ob went down and lived among the Blerg.  He grew up and ate his vegetables and listened to his Blergian parents and then became a famous movie star.  And when he'd become quite famous, he went on the Blerg equivalent of Oprah and explained that he was really Bob.  And he explained that he wasn't angry, but that he was there to help them all out by sitting on the Throne of Blergness for them.

The Blerg were not impressed.  In fact, they thought Ob was quite full of himself.  So they killed him.  Which suited Ob just fine.  He died and went to The Waiting Room, and plopped himself down on the Throne, and sucked all of the selfishness out of all of the Blerg there.

When that happened, the Blerg there were ecstatic.  They'd never been very happy in their selfish state, and now they were free to interact with each other and with Ob.  Life was back the way it should be.  And each and every Blerg from then on, when they died and went to the Mid-Life, was shocked to find themselves in a whole new way.

That's pretty much the story of Bob.  Eventually, they got around to that Afterlife party, and it was one for the record books.  The Creampuff Puffers of Dandeloss were a special hit, as all of the other guests could eat them for dessert and and not worry about calories (it's okay, the Puffers regenerate as fast as they're eaten)!  But everyone like the Blerg the best, as they were so friendly and engaging and seemed to flit about the party making sure everyone else was having a good time.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

The End

Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. - Luke 15: 3-7