Friday, October 10, 2008
Stand up beside the fireplace Take that look from off your face You ain't ever gonna burn my heart out So Sally can wait She knows it's too late as we're walking on by Her soul slides away But don't look back in anger I heard you say --Oasis, "Don't Look Back In Anger" I had a brilliant idea to follow up my string of Faith, Hope, and Love with Doubt, Despair, and Hate. Then I realized that, first, it was pretentious, even for me, and, second, I didn't have nearly the material to pull it off. Still, there is an interesting thought that keeps running around my mind relating to the topic. Besides, although it's a worthwhile endeavor to acknowledge doubt, despair, and hatred, it's best not to dwell on them overlong. When we tarry in the negative places we let them grow on us. We let them become us. We let ourselves be defined by what we don't want to be, who we want to hurt, who hurt us that we want to get revenge on. Meanwhile, I'm having this personal '90s era Brit Rock renaissance fueled by the Manic Street Preachers, so if you'll allow me to indulge, um, myself. On my blog. Filled with my stories (so, yeah, suck it!). This song has been my addiction for the last couple days: Wear your eyes as dark as night Paint your face with what you like Wear your love like it is made of hate Born to destroy and born to create So when you hear this autumn song Clear your head and get ready to run So when you hear this autumn song Remember the best times are yet to come --Manic Street Preachers, "Autumn Song" I, like most people (at least I would assume), like to blame my problems on, y'know, other stuff. It's not me, not really. Even when I say it's me it's really someone else. If something bad happens or, conversely, if something good isn't happening, I like to explain it away. It's easier to blame. It's easier, too, to come up with someone or something that I'm better than instead of doing the work necessary to be better than myself. I'm quick to identify this tendency in the people around me and slow to see it in myself. More than that, I'm quick to identify the way the people around me have hurt me, but slow to admit that I have done the same. I can only see the past and present, and the past is obscured by the sepia tones of nostalgia for a blameless me. So if I am not who I should be, if I am not where I think I should be, it can not -- must not -- be my fault. The weird thing is, I'm perfectly willing to take responsibility for my failings and frailties, but it's in a kind of after the fact sort of way that's still distributed with a healthy dose of blame for anyone else. While I'm preparing to do something it's not the right time or I second-guess my way in to believing I'm doing it for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way. Or, worse, I make sure that, when all is said and done, I can blame myself. I don't blame this tendency on my evangelical Christian past, but I recognize that some of the more dangerous tendencies of that world nurtured my naturally, um, scared nature. See, in that odd little (and when I say little I mean "creatively limited") world nothing can be allowed to happen unless it's "god's will." If you want to know what "god's will" is, all you have to do is pray and "god will tell you." This is extremely dangerous, as one may well imagine, since it has a tendency to create self-fulfilling prophecies (off topic: this is also the root of my generally terrified reaction to the possibility of a Pentecostal Vice President. Pentecostals are the fringe of the evangelical world and some of the more out-there ones are lunatics. It was the influence of pentacostalism that lead to my rejection of Christianity by way of period of time in which I'm pretty sure I lost most of my mind. My extreme swing to the other end of the spectrum over the last two years or so is influenced, at least in part, by the fact that any time I get close to religion in that form I hear the siren's call of the god who speaks on command). And if the prophecy isn't fulfilled, whether by your own work or the general randomness of life, well god was just trying to teach you a lesson about, um, faith or something. Generally it boils down to, "I didn't pray enough." Also, I honestly wish sometimes that I was engaging in over-the-top satire when I say things like that. There's something deeply unhealthy going on in the evangelical Christian world and I think most of the people who are in it aren't malicious, but they're perpetuating an insanity that's hurting all of us. All you need to see is otherwise intelligent people arguing that the universe is 6,000 years old because the Bible says so and realize that they're going to teach that to their children, too, and you can see it. One night back when I was still nominally Christian I was sitting in my girlfriend's apartment with her and her, shall we say, ditzy, roommate. I made an off-hand comment about the universe being 15 billion years old and later got a stern talking-to from said girlfriend because she didn't want to have to discuss that with the roommate. I honestly would have loved to see how that conversation went, since I don't think the roommate noticed, I don't know if she's ever thought about the age of the universe, and the girlfriend was the one who thought the universe is only 6,000 years old. This is one of the problems. Evangelical Christianity is filled with people who are, with genuine good intention, trying to protect the faith of the people around them. But this means that the protector assumes need on the behalf of the protectee. It's an echo chamber. It's also how I have had more than one person ask me, in all seriousness, why I genuinely thought about the danger to people I used to mentor before I pulled the ol' exit stage left. Okay, close parentheses. Tangent over. The most important thing to realize about that particular world is that it reinforces a sort of passive existence. If you're the sort who's content to sit and wait, good news, your primary goal in life is to sit and wait for god to tell you what to do. The absolute worst example is the twenty year-olds I knew who were already waiting for Jesus to come back. I wrote a book lo those many years ago (um, call it 2001 through 2004?) that shall never again see the light of day. I had a couple of friends read the manuscripts of it and one of them pointed out, astutely might I add, that the main male character was just kind of waiting around for things to happen and maybe, possibly, that was a reflection on me. Not only that, and this is why it shall never see the light of day, the book started with the main character running away from his life, then kind of being lead to where he was supposed to be. Moreover, it was pretty explicitly an explanation for how I saw the Christian life. I wouldn't necessarily label it a cry for help, but it is certainly eye-opening to look at now. Anyway, two weeks ago I drove to Kansas City to see the Peacemakers and hang out with a friend who moved to Dallas last year. I realized while I was at the show that when I've had a bit to drink I loosen up. I talk to people I wouldn't otherwise talk to, I do things I wouldn't otherwise do. I can also get annoying, apparently, since the same removal of inhibitions also allows me to say things I wouldn't otherwise say and those things are usually stupid jokes. When I'm sober I tend to get nervous and try to force non-funny jokes and do other such turn-offish things. So I decided that buzzed Geds and sober Geds needed to have a pow-wow. Sober Geds wants to be able to drop some of the inhibitions. Sober Geds wants to have fun, but not be annoying. Sober Geds, in short, wants to relax. By the same token, though, one of the problems I have is that not relaxing allows me to make excuses. I can be a complete idiot and more than a little annoying. I also know, however, that if I'm, say, talking to someone and I make a complete ass of myself I can use that to keep from having to try in the future. The larger point, though, is this: at the end of the day my unhappiness isn't anybody's fault but my own. If I can't do something I can't blame my lack of activity on anybody else. If I've been hurt I can't sit around and feel sorry for myself. Everyone's been hurt. Hell, I've probably done my fair share without realizing it. So if I should, say, see an attractive woman across a room and she should, oh, I don't know, smile at me and I should walk across the room and say, "Hi," I shouldn't do it because she's way better than that one who hurt me in the past. I'm already setting myself up to fail and may well end up hurting someone new. Endlessly trying to one-up the past is the ultimate way to create failure. Better days don't come from trying to outlive and make up for the past. Better days don't come from waiting. Better days come from seeing the good and running towards it, from taking chances, from forgetting the pain. And even if it ends up failing, even if it hurts, even if I hurt another, at least it won't be because I'm being a frightened, resentful jerk. The surest way to cause pain is to spend your entire life trying not to get hurt. The surest way to unhappiness is to spend all your time worried about getting hurt. There's no magic formula for success, but there is a surefire progression to defeat. The best times are yet to come.