Monday, February 9, 2009

Heavenly Daddy

You alone of old You in the sky I wanna know why clouds come in Between you and I --The Waterboys, "You in the Sky" Bear with me on this one. It might be a wild ride. I've been trying to combine a bunch of thoughts today. As with any good insight in to the universe, they're completely disparate ideas, at least on the surface. But it's the point of convergence that brings us to understanding. I was thinking about control earlier. I think it's natural to want to take some amount of control over our surroundings, make our world in to something that makes sense to us and bends to our will. I have a history of working far harder than I should to control the way people see me, to control myself. The religion I was taught was an extension of that control. There was a message that could be given in a specific way and was supposed to be received equally specifically. Once that message was received the believer was supposed to be able to take control of their sinful nature. More than that, the believer was supposed to take control of god. No, really. There was a lot of attention paid to the idea of surrendering to god, but there was so much folk magic mixed in with the religious message that god was at our beck and call. If prayers were never answered, it wasn't because of any sort of indifference on god's part or realization that the world is a hell of a lot bigger than us. It was because we had lost control. That wasn't the intended message, I don't think. But that's what came of it. It's weird, too, since now I look at concepts like surrendering to Christ and think, "Oh, I get it." See, that surrender wasn't, "Say the magic words, accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior." It was, "Give up control." These things are worlds apart. In the magic words/personal savior system the locus of control never really moves. Oddly enough, I think you get more control. Because now god listens to you, does what you want, makes the world revolve around you. And if the world stops revolving thusly, it's because you have done something wrong. Whether you say it's because god can't help you or god decided not to help you, it's still about you. Once again, this seems like the sort of insight that would have been useful a couple years ago. I considered Eldredge and Bly, fruitlessly searching for their Sacred Fathers and railing against their real ones. Wait, no. First I found this. It's rare that I see writing that borders on the transcendent on, but this approached it. Michael Phelps got caught with a bong. My first reaction was, "So the fuck what?" It's the reaction I pretty much have whenever some celebrity doesn't live up to our insane, impossible standards. But what is Michael Phelps, what is Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Mike Vick. They are heroes, larger than life, the vessels in to which we pour our hopes and dreams. They are, in the end, fallen gods. We hate them now as much as we loved them then. We hate them now because we loved them then and they turned out to be just like us. Sure, I'd never breed dogs to fight. At least, I don't think I would. But the height of the fall and the depths of the pit are part of the existential terror of realizing that our heroes aren't better than we are. Then there's the corollary to the Mike Vick story. At about the same time he was getting in deep shit for his dogfighting activities, Phillies pitcher Brett Myers was caught punching his wife on a street in Boston. The outcry was, shall we say, far less impressive than the one over Vick. When his wife didn't press charges, he was right back at the pitching game and helped the Phillies win the World Series while Vick was still languishing in prison. What is it about Vick's crime that we're still reminded of it on a regular basis? Hell, what is it about A-Rod, McGwire, Bonds, and Sammy Sosa taking PEDs that captures the nation's attention for years and leads to foaming at the mouth about the sanctity of the game and arguments over and over again about how much we've damaged America's great sport? Why is it that we remember these things but don't bother to mention a man punching his wife on a Boston street? On a similar note, there's Kobe Bryant. Right before last year's NBA Finals I saw a clip of him walking the streets of Boston. The voiceover was telling us how brave Kobe was to walk the streets of Boston, like he was in danger. I couldn't help but laugh. Here's a man in superb physical condition who can probably handle himself in a fight or escape from anyone he couldn't take. He was also surrounded by, like, four other guys and a camera crew. Yeah, real tough guy there. A global icon with a camera crew and a posse walking the mean streets of some nondescript part of Boston in broad daylight. Oh, and, like, two years before he was shuttling back and forth to games in a private jet because he was in court over raping a woman. And that whole thing didn't exactly end with vindication. It ended with a civil suit and Kobe saying, "Well, I guess it wasn't as consensual as I thought, my bad." And then there's poor Michael Phelps. He smoked some weed. Somebody think of the damn children. You know, the children who probably learned about weed when they were, like 10. What message are we sending to our children, anyway, oh great societal moralists? Weed and dogfighting is bad. Cheating to get ahead is bad. Raping and/or otherwise abusing women? That's not so bad. But I digress. Fallen heroes, right. It occurred to me that Mr. Bly and Mr. Eldredge might be looking for something different than they think they are. I can't say as much for Bly, since I'm still honestly not entirely sure what he's expecting to find in his quest for the Sacred King. But I began to wonder if Eldredge isn't actually looking for god's approval and misplacing his angst on to his own father. It's a weird idea, I know. And there's a better than even chance that I'm simply projecting. After all, I always had a much better relationship with my real father than my Heavenly Daddy. I always suspected that god kind of had it in for me, but I always knew my dad would be there for me. But, see, I had a friend once who seemed to conclude that I had no respect or appreciation for my parents. My friend couldn't make a single decision about much of anything without asking mommy and daddy and couldn't fathom that I regularly made decisions without consulting mine, or worse, that went in direct contradiction to their advice. My friend's concept of honoring thy father and mother was to keep them central in all aspects of life. My concept is to prove that they did a good job of raising a child by becoming an adult. There's something immature, something childish in my old friend's idea of the parent. There's a similarly immature and childish idea in Bly and Eldredge's concept of what makes a real man. I still have to separate the two here, because Bly does seem to get it, but seems incapable of making the leap to the next logical place, you know, the one that says we need to stop blaming our fathers, forgive them for not being perfect, and grow the fuck up and possibly become imperfect fathers with our own ungrateful little shits to raise someday. That all, in some weird, crazy way, goes back to control. See, the promise of salvation that comes from the types of churches I went to boiled down to a two-fold message. First, you'll never have to take any real responsibility. Second, god will do whatever you want god to do as long as you play by the rules. But god has this bad habit of not playing by our rules. Whether it's because god has a greater plan, god is indifferent, or god is nonexistent isn't for me to say. I don't know. In truth, I don't care. Neither god nor the universe has to stop just to answer to me. Actually, when it gets right down to it, the entire concept of religion as laid out in the book of Genesis is, well, wrong. Okay, wrong might not work. But it's certainly against human nature. The woman out in California who gave birth to octuplets and brought her mewling brood up to 14 a week or two ago kind of saddens me. I read transcripts of an interview with her today. She said that she'd always wanted a big family and that she'd always wanted one to give her a sense of place and belonging. It reminded me, of all things, of an episode of Dr. Phil. It comes on after Craig Ferguson here in Chicago. One night I was up late watching Craig and deeply absorbed in something, so I ended up kind of watching Dr. Phil. He was talking to some, like 14-year old girl who was desperate to have a child. Her mother was at her wits' end and turned to everybody's favorite TV "doctor" for help. He asked her why she wanted a kid. Her response was that she wanted someone to love her and appreciate her. Or, at least, it was something along those lines. Dr. Phil laid some reality on that girl. He told her that she was giving her theoretical unborn child a bunch of jobs. And those weren't jobs that kids are very good at. For the first few months all they do is poop and cry. Then sometime between six and ten they learn how to roll their eyes and the joy of sarcasm. Eventually they go away to college and never call. Okay, that's not really what Dr. Phil said. But, y'know, it's the general gist of the response to anybody who wants to have a child so that they'll be unconditionally loved. And, of course, the girl's frazzled mother was sitting there right next to her. Apparently she never got around to telling her daughter that it was her job to love her mother unconditionally. It's kind of sad, really. I can't imagine the pain and rejection that poor mother must have felt. Yet, if the creation account in Genesis is to be believed, we were created with a job in mind. We were god's children, expected from the get-go to love god unconditionally. God apparently screwed up big time. At least, if you buy it. I kind of prefer my idea of honoring thy father and mother by becoming a functional adult capable of making good decisions, even if they're not the ones my parents would have made. No matter how much a parent may want to manipulate a child, the child will fight back and grow up. No matter how much a child may want to manipulate a parent, the parent will try to make decisions in the child's best interests as the parent understands them (theoretically). I don't see turning god in to the magic cure-all to the problem of parent-child relationships. I'm kind of starting to wonder if Eldredge does, either. Most of my experience with the "work of god" was after the fact reflection. I'd go through a tough period for no apparent reason, then look back and say, "Oh, I get it now." Eventually that stopped happening. I stopped learning stuff about god and started learning stuff about myself from my strife. I started realizing that I brought things upon myself not because I was a sinner, but because I was an idiot. I realized that good things happened when I tried, I matched my skills to the situation, and I believed in myself. And, sometimes, I learned that you can fall bassackwards in to a good situation, then just as quickly fall out of it again. It's kind of random, really. The Christian theology I grew up with wasn't robust or flexible enough for that kind of consideration. Everything required a phone call to Heavenly Daddy. When Heavenly Daddy didn't answer, or, worse, seemed to send contradictory responses, it was mentally stressful. It was the sort of thing that invited doubt about god's desire or ability to care.


jessa said...

I'm sorry, but I'm going to relate this to mental health care again. Evangelicalism and mental health care both manage to make me angry, which is hard to do. Also, I think they are in cahoots.

Anyway, I was in a hospital program for self-injury once. There were many patients who had problems of different sorts with their parents. It was mostly, "my mom and I disagree, she won't let me do what I want, I hate her." I think that is pretty normal for a teenager. There were adults, people in their 30s who were still mad at their parents about these things. They would talk about it in group therapy and the therapists would not question that the parents were in the wrong, just say that "you have to learn to forgive, because you can't change your parents, only your reaction to them." For situations of actually abusive parents, this is fine. However, most of the situations weren't of abusive parents, so I wanted to scream, "Grow up already! So what if your parents weren't perfect? Neither were you!" (For the actual teenagers, I didn't want to say this, only to the people who were older, but still acting like teenagers about their parents.)

Both psychology and Evangelical Christianity want to say that the root of all your problems is in your parents. I don't think either really consider that the consequences of this logic are that if our own children are messed up, that will be our fault. I don't know why they think parents are such a good scapegoat. Perhaps just because that doesn't mean I have to blame myself, take responsibility for myself? And since psychology says not to bother with what other people think of me, and since Evangelicalism says to only bother with what God thinks of me (but of course, God knows where we suck, but in this situation, they are really saying we should think about how awesome God thinks we are), so we don't have to deal with the fact that we are someone else's scapegoat.

Separating from Evangelicalism, you and I both know that we bear responsibility for the things we do. We can't just blame our heroin addictions on our parents for not being God or God for not answering our prayers. Separating from the insanity of psychology, I know that I can't blame my heroin addiction on my parents for not being perfect, or the guy on the street who gave me a funny look the first day I shot up. (Note: I do not have a heroin addiction. I cannot speak for Geds.) My heroin addiction is my fault. I shot up the first time and the second and every time after that.

I have yet to figure out why it is okay in Evangelicalism to blame your parents for messing you up when it isn't their fault, may have nothing at all to do with them. It is dishonest and it destroys one's integrity. Aren't those bad things?

I don't know why this is okay in psychology, either. You are lying to yourself, creating a delusion to believe. Aren't those indicative of mental illness? Isn't taking responsibility for one's actions indicative of good mental health?

I suspect it is the Evangelicals and mental health care professionals who are wrong and hypocritical. But then again, what do I know? I'm mentally ill and possessed by the devil.

Mau de Katt said...

I remember a TV special about teenage mothers, that I saw decades ago. Most of the young girls profiled said they were keeping their babies because they wanted someone to love them unconditionally.

As you pointed out (well, pointed out that Dr. Phil pointed out), kids can't do that, especially babies. Babies are about nothing but their needs, that's all they are capable of. It's all part of physical, neurological, cognitive, and emotional development to learn empathy, selflessness, etc. It has to be taught and more importantly modeled by the parent/s. For some poor affection-starved girl, her baby can't give her this love, and she will most likely be so frustrated by the one-way demands from her baby that she will be incapable of modeling it back.

If you want unconditional love, get a cat or a dog. That's what they do.

(Well, ok, a dog. Cats are less forgiving of neglect and abuse, though even if moderately well-treated they are very loving animals.)