Sunday, 21 December 2008

Editing the day away

It's been a long time since I...well, rocked and rolled.  Band hasn't practiced for about a month due to the bass player (it's always the bass player, isn't it?  Well, he's educating himself, so that's good)  I'm on Christmas (there I said it) vacation for two weeks.  I've gotten right into the video editing for my video game console documentary.  It's shot with a home video camera using the built-in microphone, so is far from professional, but I'm having a lot of fun editing it.


On that note, I watched The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, finally, which is a documentary about a guy trying to get recognized for being the best Donkey Kong player in the world.  I hadn't expected to like it, and certainly not to find it disturbing, yet full of pathos and suspense.

Plans have been somewhat inconvenienced by a snow storm.  It's more the sense of not knowing how bad the snow's going to get that has kept my plans to leave the apartment in such pieces, rather than it actually being terribly bad.  I've seen worse.  Food stores are getting low.  I'll need to venture out tomorrow.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Quantum of Solace

I've been failing to visit my niece and nephew for a couple of weeks now.  I tried to set something up this weekend, and it didn't work out yesterday.  Today I was to go shopping in the city and take a friend to see Quantum of Solace, so I did.  I stopped at the Bulk Barn and bought a self-indulgent handfull of candy I've repeatedly heard referenced in British TV shows, movies and comedy routines, which we can't normally get here (Curly Wurleys, Minstrels, Jelly Babies, Caramel Logs, Polo Mints, and Galaxy, Milky Way and Milky Bars).  

My sister happened to be there, so I saw my niece and nephew in the car, but my nephew was strapped in, so all I could do was squeeze his little hand, and my niece was having a tearful meltdown, so had nothing to say to me either.  Then into the city for various things (including a further self-indulgent book purchase, after having bought a giant armload of used paperbacks at the used store not two weeks ago.  Today I picked up Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the book which the TV series Dexter is based on, failed to get the first Sookie Stackhouse book that the TV series True Blood is based on, and grabbed a Harry Dresden graphic novel, as I've been reading the text novels and saw all the episodes of the TV show The Dresden Files also).

It was all very nice.  We saw the latest Bond, and I'm no Bond fan, but liked it OK.  It had a lot of real acting, and dialogue and intrigue, once all the silly running,  jumping, crashing and noise of the beginning was over with.  Craig's the man.  Also, quite a lot of restraint was shown in not making absolutely everything explode three times.  Most of the explosions were saved for the end.  It was nice.  I hadn't eaten anything but candy since breakfast, normally a recipe to feel sick and headachey and perhaps get the shakes, but I was OK in time to leave the Bond movie, with its final scene of falling snow, to walk out into falling snow and get a pizza with shrimp on it, and a beer.  It was nice.

I bought a cheap persian style rug.  I think it really ties my room together.  I'm tempted to buy a more authentic one.

More Gaming Nerdosity

This weekend's nerdly activities involve capturing bits and pieces of video footage for the video console documentary I'm making.  I'm getting some PC game stuff too, to use for comparison.  I got an Atari 7800 emulator going, and got some 7800 games.  I got some more Colecovision ROMs and got some more Coleco game captures.  Then I started into the PC stuff.  I got Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Myst, Loom, Maniac Mansion and others.  I'm still installing some of them and messing about with the software.  

So far, I haven't figured out how to DOSBox the D&D games so the fighting takes place at a reasonable speed.  I also haven't got sound working for Loom, which is a game all about music.

 Wolfenstein 3D really pulled me in.  It's so simple and fast and easy.  The D&D ones were far too complex and old-school looking to draw me in casually. They require a commitment.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Some Atariing

Spent some time this grey afternoon and chilly evening at Troy's, getting footage of each of the consoles in his huge collection, and videotaping some Vanna-ing of them, including loading cartridges.  The above video (now removed) is a rough edit to give me some idea of how this will look.

Friday, 31 October 2008


You know that across our great land, some Christian kids have to stay home, and some Christian teachers call in sick or otherwise refuse to work on Halloween, because they feel Halloween is a religious holiday (for paganism,) and they will, therefore, take the day off so as to not sully their souls with it?
That's fine for them, but I personally don't approve, not that they care.  They are doing what they're doing, and they have that right.  Ironically, I think it reflects badly upon Christianity and Christ, and is exactly the sort of thing that would make the average person even less willing to listen to anyone speak on the subject of what they feel their relationship with God to be.  Some seem to show a spirit of bigotry, and others, a spirit of fear.  I'm sure no one wants me to point out that a spirit of hate or a spirit of fear is hardly given by God.  The bible actually says outright that, if you have a spirit of fear, God has not given it.  It's coming from elsewhere.  Anyway, I dressed up as Russell Brand (tried to) for Halloween at school this year, and looked more or less like this picture I took when I came home, right before washing all the black colour spray and hairspray out of my hair.
   So, I took a nap, and woke up, and some guy I don't know who added me as a friend on Facebook this week saw my "Mike is wishing everyone a hallowed evening" status, and as his read "J______ is We must obey God, He does not want you to give Satan the victory by celebrating Haliween..."  he decided it was time to contact me for the first time.

J_______ Hi how are you? 

Mike alright. And you? 

J_______ good. Have we met? 

Mike I doubt it. I think we're both Facebook friends with G____, though. and some others perhaps. I'm from the Ottawa area. 

J_______ What are you planning to do tonight? 

Mike I got a friend request from your account and accepted it as you seemed to be friends with G_____. Well, what I was really hoping was that someone could give me a big, annoying lecture about "Halliween." You up for that? 

J_______ What kind of lecture? 

Mike I thought you were trying to find out if I was going to celebrate Halloween or not, and that you would give a lecture if I was. Maybe I'm assuming too much. maybe you're not the sort who gives lectures at all. Are you? 

J_______ Look at my status tell me what you think. 

Mike well, yes, your status does make you look like the sort of person who gives annoying lectures. You're not, though, right? Because that would suck. 

 J_______ Well are you a Christian? 

Mike I mean, you're not really misguided enough to think that what the Lord most wants from you this evening is to find out if I'm a Christian, and if I am, give me a prepared Halloween lecture, and if I'm not, then preach to me to become one. Ask Him if that's what He really wants your first interaction with me to be, and then listen to what He says, instead of assuming you know what He WOULD say, given your own feelings on the matter, and the argument you have put together (or had put together for you by someone else.) 
J_______ I can't really give you a lecture if you are not a Christian, so you are going to have to tell me. 

Mike so you can give me a lecture? Then I won't tell you for sure. 
J_______ Why do you want me to give you a lecture? If you are not a Christian then become one and you will have true happiness. He will accept you no matter what you have done. If He can forgive me, He can forgive you. 

Mike I really, really don't want you to give me a lecture. I was just filled with the sinking feeling that you felt that was an appropriate thing to do upon first Internet "meeting" someone. Now I'm afraid my only options are "Don't admit you're a Christian and put up with his preaching, or admit it and get a Halloween lecture from someone who can't even spell "Halloween" correctly." 
J_______ Do you want to become a Christian? 

Mike you are preaching to the converted, brother! 

 J_______ What is your answer? 

Mike I was just avoiding telling you I'm a Christian, because I felt that your intention was to give me (someone you don't know) a lecture on Halloween, when your expertise and level of informedness on the subject doesn't extend to spelling it correctly. and so I told you to ask the Lord if that's really what He wants you to do, because I can't picture that being what He wants your first interaction with me to be. (a lecture) 

 J_______ I won't lecture you, just do what God wants you to do ok? 

Mike I am, thank you. because that's how I live my life. thanks for not lecturing me (much). Happy Halloween. 

 Then he came back on later and asked me "Has God ever told you to get out of your comfort zone to do something brave for Him?" and I told him about how God insisted that I stop going to church.  His response was "I have to go, bye"

I realize that it takes a lot of bravery to not celebrate Halloween (well, no, it doesn't.  In many cases it just takes being eager to make a spectacle of yourself, while trying to stir up some consternation and persecution from society at large so you feel more than usually Christian, as your self-image as a Christian is completely based upon "others not understanding," and, if you're really lucky, saying or doing something mean so you can feel like you're being martyred in some small, pathetic way.)
    I realize that sounds like an outsider's uninformed judging, but I can tell you EXACTLY how much bravery it takes to not celebrate Halloween, as I grew up not celebrating it.  Well, I dressed up once or twice when I was very little (as Steve Austin one time) and then Dad cancelled our dressing up.  We always gave out safe, tract-free candy, though, standing at the door answering questions as to why WE weren't dressed up, or out trick or treating like the other children.  
   I also know what it took to take black construction paper, scissors, glue and a stapler, and make a Darth Vader mask while the grade 5 teacher was teaching so I could wear it for the rest of the day.  To his credit, although he was angry when he found out that I'd done this, my dad didn't punish me for it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Video Games

(this is a montage that I made of video games, starting with arcade versions, then switching to the feeble attempts of home consoles to duplicate them, then pefecting sound and graphics beyond them)

I haven't posted in a while.  Mostly, this is because I've been doing a lot of teaching, and I don't blog about things that happen at school, because kids can read about that here.  Suffice it to say that today these words came out of my mouth: "Try coming off as smart instead of stupid.  You might like it."  Too many stupid things to recount (or even count) happen each day.  And I'm doing some of them myself.  Also, heart-breaking and great things happen too.

I've been building up my collection of  footage of  video games.  When Troy hasn't owned something (like an N64, a Playstation or a Playstation 2) I have picked them up used on the cheap, and some used games.

I am a hard sell on finishing games.  My attention is held only long enough to beat a couple of levels.  The latest PS2 ones are pretty engrossing, though.  Lego Star Wars II, Guitar Hero, Siphon Filter: The Omega Strain, Medal of Honour: Frontline, Burnout: Revenge and Return of the King are very cool.  I am the envy of my married friends, who are about a decade behind in video games (as was I, only last month).

I am having many interesting arguments and adding many interesting and unlikely people on Facebook.  Religious arguments can be as nasty as they can be pointless, usually simultaneously.  The weather is drippy, grey, damp and cold and has been for some time.  My friends are all off wherever it is they go until they need to talk to me again after a few months have elapsed. 

Monday, 6 October 2008

Science Again

Having proved that two people read this blog, I soldier on.

At a party on the weekend, someone was talking up how cool science is while stroking a cat.  Conversationally, I said "Wanna hear a limit to science?"  

She stiffened and said very coldly "There are LIMITS to science?!"

I said "No veterinarian or biologist can tell you what's making the sound when cats purr.  Y'wanna know why?"

Everyone wanted to know.  "Because dead cats don't purr, and when you vivisect a cat to find out what's making the sound, it stops."  

The response was "Well, that's not a limit to SCIENCE, that's a limit to our ability to understand science."  That sounded a lot like a limit to scientific method being adequate to uncover facts to me.  Too much of science is about cutting, crushing, smashing, boiling, dissolving, freezing, irradiating or otherwise ruining things to really be an effective way to learn much about living things, while they're still living, anyway.  Maybe that's why we feel we understand the process of a living creature suddenly ceasing to live and gradually turning into dirt, but can't turn dirt into a living creature of any kind, nor do we really understand much about what happens to make matter live or die.

The words "That's a lot like saying 'It's not that there's anything the Pope gets wrong, it's just that we fail to correctly understand his teaching' " were rising toward my throat along with "You realize you're being all religious about science?"  But before I got a word out, she held up a hand and said "And that's all I've got.  I couldn't really argue about it, because I've said more than I can competently argue."

Fair enough, right?

I was going to point out that, rather than viewing numbers, letters, mathematics and science as human tools, created by people and used to understand our world in the same way that religion is, she believes that the universe is in some mystical way, accidentally yet definitely MADE of numbers and inarguably yet coincidentally built out of the magic bedrock that makes up the occult permutations of science.  She appeared ready to punish the unorthodox.  

I doubt she thinks the universe is make of words and letters, but she wouldn't be the first person to tell me confidently that the universe is made out of numbers, and is built out of scientific principles, but no one built it, nor invented science.  Science and number are star stuff, and are behind the mystery of life itself, by happenstance, the story goes.  That's starting to sound nearly as metaphysical as quantum mechanics!

Monday, 29 September 2008

Bloggety, blog, blog

I write this blog periodically, but what I don't know is if anyone is generally reading it.  I'm curious to know.  So, please, if you've read this post, leave "hi!" as a comment so I'll know.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Retreat (and Why Christian Music Doesn't Do It For Me)

The world, the age, "people these days", society, modern western it what you will, it's out there.  It's got some pretty bad things in it, and if one were to imagine a unified, purposeful vision, plan, conspiracy or spirit to the whole thing, one would have to assume it was pretty destructive and wrong-headed, if not downright evil.  What to do about that? 

 [in case you don't get through the rest of this off-the-top-of-my-head-stream-of-consciousness venting, the little epiphany of today is this: The world is full of bad stuff, including bad attitudes.  I was brought up to hide from all that, to retreat.  I didn't know that you can be separate when you need to, but without that being a form of hiding.  I tried to further retreat from the culture of retreat, because I was dying in there, and this of course only left me more alone, and made the problem worse.  
    The answer is to walk around in the world, to not be afraid to know and touch the lives of everyone.  Many of us couldn't even touch the lives of our own families to any great degree.  Things aren't safe, and they aren't perfect, yet we're alive, right?  Looking after yourself, trying to not breathe in any of the germs, trying not to touch anything you ever heard might have hurt someone once in some way?  That's a sickness in and of itself.  Compulsive hand-washers and sterilizers of everything do nothing more than destroy their skin's natural ability to keep the germs out of one's tissue.  They also create super-bacteria which can survive any number of things designed to kill it.   
   You can be smart, of course.  You save yourself needless trouble.  You need to watch being overcareful, though, because excesses of caution can eat your whole life up.  The bible gives words of caution in places, but also says "be careful for nothing (for no reason)", which spirit is a strong, ennobling, powerful one.   
    We're in this together.  If we view others as "them" people and decide to avoid them and hide with "us" people to save ourselves, we have failed to grasp the spirit of Christ.  Christ sometimes went off alone, and sometimes was separate, but he was no hermit.  He did not have a building he stayed in with his followers, and careful rules in there, keeping out bad stuff while singing about how nice it was to be in there.  He was walking around and talking with all sorts of people all the time, and he didn't use preaching as a shield to keep those people's lives from touching his when he was out there.  He wanted to connect to people and he did, daily and effortlessly.  He wasn't scared, careful or easily offended by things.   
     I have been trained differently.  I was told "You aren't the Lord.  It isn't safe for you to walk through the world in the way that he did.  He couldn't sin, so he could associate with sinners and talk to anyone he wanted and go anywhere he wanted.  You can't live like that, because you can and will sin if you try."  
    Who then was to be my role model?  Not Christ.  Christians.  Our flavour of them, too.  Put me anywhere in the world, and following my training, I will draw off by myself, or with one other person, and talk about myself, or get them to tell me about themselves and then try to relate that to me, or learn lessons from their lives vicariously that I can use in my own.  Others raised similarly to me keep people at just as much distance by continually trying to force people to accept help of very specific kinds (pamphlets, preaching, Christian says and CDs and videos).  It's no good if it's merely the manifestation of a spirit which just doesn't get it.  Others will seek a church to shove their heads up.]  

Society Experiences a Death of Optimism 
When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, there seemed to be a slow death of what had been a prevalent spirit of optimism.  I don't know if it came from the hippies, or even the 60s in general.  I know that Nixon lying really wounded the idea that "the President of the United States would never lie."  Pierre Trudeau gave the office of the Prime Ministership of Canada not only a new-found personality and humanity, being unafraid to be known for eccentricities, indulgences, peccadilloes and quirks (along with the manifest pleasure in life that was going along with them) but also made us view the Prime Minister as "just a guy" more than ever before, when before we saw the Prime Minister as more of a creature of dignity, a serious face to show the world, a power figure, an authority cypher, a not-quite-or-merely-human bulwark against chaos.  
   There have always been political cartoons.  There was not always Saturday Night Live with every authority figure presented by actors as amusingly lying, stupid and or crazy, inhuman figures, and an audience of millions sitting back and saying "that's so true" when they increasingly knew nothing of these people beyond what they saw in the skits.  
Am I the only person who was shocked by Bill Clinton's verbal eloquence when hearing him speak casually, candidly and unscriptedly in interviews years later once he was no longer the all-too-fallible presidential figure, because I'd pretty much only thought of him as Phil Hartman in a white wig,

Science was to be our Saviour 
There was a great faith in science as well, and it was dying in the 70s.  Science had sent man to the moon.  What else would it do?  What could it not do?  Flying cars, family robots, holidays on the moon and meals in pill form weren't happening.  
    And now, we found that despite the most amazing increases in technology of all kinds, it wasn't fixing quite a few things we'd hoped it would, and all sorts of odd techno-problems seemed to be cropping up.   We know that messing with the food is making it unsafe, even if the intention is to make it safer to eat, for a longer time, simply by doing scientific things like adding chemicals or irradiating it.  
     We know that there is really no plan to do anything much with the moon at this point. We've sent things to Mars, and really, what good did that do? Baldness, cancer, the common cold, morning sickness continue to be beyond the reach of common, available to everyone scientific breakthroughs. Science continues down the "we can cut things up, chemically disrupt and break things apart right down to the atomic level, yet we don't know much about all the rest, including much about how consciousness works, much about the brain, what's making the sound when cats purr, exactly how animals navigate the globe, or how life works" path. We can't create life. We can barely prolong it.
What We Know About 
We know about matter turning from living to inert stuff, and about taking inert matter and smashing it so the energy comes flying out of it, but we can't do anything at all in the opposite direction. We've discovered all sorts of things we don't really know how to deal with, also. We invent things, and they change us in ways we didn't foresee and can't control or even understand until much later, if at all.

Hiding From Society's Ills 
There are hermits, Luddites, the Amish, new agers, and any number of religious systems which encourage and facilitate retreat from all of that.  I was raised in one:

"Movies, television, music and friends outside the group will infect us with the evil, dark Spirit of the Age.  We will create a lifestyle that is a hiding from it, a retreat, a refuge.  If anyone is foolish enough to wander outside the Safe Area, he or she will most likely get infected and have to be sent away.  There is no cure from the Spirit of the Age besides us quarantining ourselves.

And I see non-religious versions of this in fanatically atheistic people who don't let their kids partake of many of these very same things, with the addition of numerous food prohibitions as well.  It isn't necessarily a religious thing to hide from what is seen as "the evil."  Killing your kids with caution isn't only for Christians.  
Christianity Builds a Sub-Culture 
Christians today are homeschooling or Christian schooling their kids, and raising them with lives packed full of charitable and church-centric activities.  Where I had to make do reading the family encyclopedias and western literature, particularly if it was a hundred years old or so, because it would therefore be less infected with the Spirit of Today, modern Christian kids can had iPods jam packed with Christian analogues for Hannah Montana, Tool, AC/DC and Spice Girls.  They can have shelves groaning with DVDs which are the Christian versions of Friends, Seinfeld, American Idol and shows from the Discovery Channel.
   I'm sure there is a glut of christian reality TV right now.  I wouldn't know.  I know that there are Christian video games, comic books, textbooks and novels.  This means that Christianity can be a subculture now, and not just a denying of the culture we were born into, and replacing it with nothing much.  
What's Wrong With Stealing? 
And is that so bad?  Well, there is unarguably something plastic about Hannah Montana, as there was about the Backstreet Boys.  It is true that that music often was the cynical work of hitmakers, and not an actual attempt to make heartfelt points, or to share and express things that mattered deeply to people with their hearts in the right place trying to get and keep their heads screwed on straight.
    Is it an improvement to build upon that foundation, but with a Christian image and agenda?  I don't think so.  For instance, the Sex Pistols were definitely up to something, and had a crusade of their own (which, as I understand it, had to do with standing up and being counted as being angry, smirky and disdainful of the monarchy, the upper class, and what was thought cool in the 70s pop music scene, for instance, the Bay City Rollers).
    To take the look and their sound of a group like this, who were to a large degree doing their own thing in their own way for their own reasons, purely because "the formula worked" for them, and then to make the words all about how much we love Jesus and love to go to church is, to my mind, stealing.  Hard to respect, anyway.  
Why Is Stealing Music From God Better? 
There are any number of Christian bands which sound just like Tool and Korn and Primus.  They do sound very angry.  Often the individual words of the songs and things like the T-shirts and album covers look quite fierce also.  Deep down though, most of them are trying to point people toward Christian community, to church, to conservatism, to conformity.  That's odd.
   Ray Charles "stole" the church music of his childhood "from God" and used it to talk about women and partying.  For some reason, that worked.  He "got" the church music on a very deep level.  He felt it and grew up with it and identified heavily with it.  He didn't steal it from the outside because he thought it would make money.  To him, that's what music sounded like.  It was in him.  He took it with him when he walked out of church every Sunday.  The fact that he found heart and soul and inspiration in music he heard in a church isn't very surprising.  The music that black people heard in church was full of that, and it wasn't afraid of showing a range of deep, genuine emotions.  
    Why then do I have a problem with Christian people stealing riffs, costumes, fonts and sounds from Judas Priest or Black Sabbath?  It feels to me like they're stealing it from the outside, like they never understood the heart of that music on any deep level, and that, therefore, the jarring incompatibility of the heart of that music (which genuinely seeks to explore the dark side of humanity, yet also seeks not to be evil, but to be good with a wicked jacket on) with a message and lyrics which are often nothing more than infomercials for the superficial trappings of Jesus-ness (don't do drugs, stay in school, drink your milk, go to church, treat your folks right) and sound just as funny as when Mr. T would say those same things to the camera right after he'd beaten the living shit out of someone with a door he'd ripped right off the side of a Chevy Impala.  
What Emotions are Welcome Here? 
So, anger, angst, sorrow, loss, confusion loneliness, jealousy and all the other feelings that make up the emotional palette with which songwriters put out something that everyone can relate to?  All expressed eloquently in the bible.  Not welcome in most churches and most Christian bands, though, for some reason.  Also, where 70s and 80s rock music often has kind of an inclusive "Hey, kids, rock and roll!" and is about rallying together and finding commonality and accepting individual people, the spirit of much of the Christian community (of being holy when thou art not, of welcoming people to come in and put on the straightjackets, wear the uniforms and get the haircuts) is exactly opposite.
    Where Alice Cooper will sing wryly and amusingly about being a teenager and wanting to dress in a distinctive way which expresses the person one is becoming and learning about, he can simultaneously somehow touch a chord in everyone who's ever felt that way.  The Christian version of that song will too often encourage conformity and be about sacrificing one's true inner nature, what God made them to be, in order to embrace some supposed humility and think a certain way for the harmony and ease of the group in accepting them.  All the sacrifice, humility, quietness and devotion sound very pious, but they are being asked for in the name of a church community, rather than by God.
    When an arena full of people are asked to shout "No war! No War! NO WAR!" this is indeed a form of chanting.  It isn't about thinking.  When a hymn or church song of the 7-11 variety (seven words, sung eleven times) is sung, it is also a form of chanting.  When people shout together, sing together or chant together, it makes them feel connected, and makes them forget about the genuine differences which exist.  It reminds them of common emotions.  This also happens during riots.  And orgies.  It makes people feel united in feeling the same thing, but it can also be used as a great way to silence genuine questions, and to trivialize issues and slap pat answers, jingles and slogans over quite complex matters which require answers which aren't one-size-fits all.
   To generalize further: a disproportionate number of rock (and folk, and country and blues) songs are about asking questions, and about being confused or upset, trying to figure things out and not knowing things. 
An equally disproportionate number of songs by Christian artists are about what we have, what we know, about being in the know.  They are smug.  They are facile, and they do not acknowledge the complexity of the human personality that God made.
   So, I have pretty much never found Christian music which allows the feelings in my heart to come out.  And here's the odd part: when I write music which allows out the feelings that are in my heart about any number of things which probably bother me purely because I am trying to follow Jesus and his methods, spirit and teachings, (rather than just Western Christianity), the result is almost always that irreligious people of all kinds tell me "I really felt that.  I've felt that very thing.  That's very interesting."
    And Christians say "Why can't you just sing a good song about how much you love Jesus?"  Sing one hundred times "I love Jesus."  Like lines, on a chalkboard at recess.  Like they're scared they might forget.  Or like they're trying to make it true.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Being a Good Example (of Christian Arrogance and Judgementalism) and the MTV Video Music Awards

In America, people wear "promise rings" which don't mean they are promising to marry someone, but rather that they have pledged to remain virginal until marriage.  It isn't enough to simply privately do this because you believe it to be good and right, but there has to, for some reason, be a solemnization of it and an outward show made of doing it.  
    What's my problem with that?  The solemnization and outward show.  That reeks of pride.   The Jonas Brothers wear their rings and talk about what they are doing, quite contrary to Jesus' teaching that when one does something which could gain one piety points, such as praying or giving to charity, that it is to be done privately, the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, rather than advertising it around.  The Pharisees of his day got people to ring bells in front of them when they stopped in the street to pray, ostensibly because they needed to be able to pray at a moment's notice, but also to get everyone's attention drawn to their public display of piety by disrupting the flow of traffic in an area filled with honest, working folk who were meant to admire this piety, but who no doubt were just annoyed by the holdup and the bragging.  Jesus said these sort of people "have their reward" by which I understand him to mean that the reward is a present pious appearance, and not efficacy, being heard by God, reward later in Heaven or anything like that. 
     So, the Jonas Brothers are on MTV, with girls swooning over this, and Russell Brand, recovered junkie and self-confessed sex addict from Britain, is hired to make jokes about the people and things on the show.  Naturally, as a sex addict, he was very interested in the Jonas Brothers and their highly publicized purity, and so he made some jokes.  Quite a few, actually.  
    He said they were able to sleep with any woman they wanted, and chose not to, which was like Superman refusing to fly and taking the bus to get around.  This is not a disrespectful comment.  Then he produced a ring later in the show and said that he'd just personally taken one of the Jonas Brothers' virginity.  This was, of course, rude and disrespectful, but really rather funny, one must admit.   He was hired to stand there and be amusingly coarse and disrespectful, but many felt he'd Gone Too Far.  
    You can do what you like, but you can't joke about American religion and foreign policy.  Not being able to joke about something is proof positive that you lack a sense of perspective regarding it.  He apologized later in the show, but even Americans who have a great deal of pre and extra-marital sex were up in arms over his mockery.  How dare he stand on the very American soil which the Dixie Chicks weren't standing on when they exercised their free speech, and mock?  (Especially when he comes from the very place the Chicks were when they mocked the president of the U.S., and so he clearly, to the YouTuber's view, has no right to an opinion, nor possesses a perspective worth considering.) 
    Jordin Sparks, no doubt a terribly important person from American Idol I think, having no trouble with trying to be an idol, nevertheless "as a Christian woman" was upset at Brand's comments about promise rings, because she wears one.  She revealed her arrogance and contempt for people living any way other than her own, and her unchristian delight in offhandedly judging millions of people she doesn't even know when she said "promise rings are okay because not every guy and girl needs to be a slut."   
     Teasing three guys for their attempts to show off about and derive fame from their sexual chastity is apparently unforgivably horrible, but calling every single young person in America not wearing a promise ring "a slut" is just fine, apparently.  (I tried to get the exact quotation from her MySpace, where I'd have never, ever gone if I'd remembered that going there would mean that I'd have to listen to her in the very act of disgorging the insipid outpourings of rancid vole vomit she calls music.  Now I can never again be ignorant of what she sounds like, or what she looks like when her thighs have been badly Photoshopped either).  
     Thankfully everyone will have forgotten how important she actually is in a few months. Brand also ensured the success of his American career by saying that in the UK, no one would trust "retarded cowboy" George W. Bush with a pair of scissors, let along vote him into the Oval Office.  Go Russell.  Keep on reminding people what the job of a jester, clown or fool actually is.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Does God Get To Have A Personality?

Since I wrote the previous post, I've had three people tell me (in person) "But God's not a person."  
   I also had one person tell me that in email, and one tell me "the bible certainly depicts God as being a full-fledged person with a heart and so on, but I can't really think of Him that way. Jesus is a person, and God is too, but I can't think of Him like that." 
   Jesus didn't go around Israel saying "If God were a person, He'd be like me, but He isn't, so I'm His opposite."  He went around essentially saying "If you see me, you're looking at God.  If you know me, you know Him.  He's just like this, and I'm here so you know what kind of person He is, so you'll get to experience and understand what He's actually like." 
  I have to think that depersonalizing one's relationship with a loving God has huge consequences and puts major limits upon how one deals, just as any failure to deal with reality does.  I think many are challenged by even The Shack's schoolgirl attempts to depict God as having a personality.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Faith Basics

(for those unthinkingly accustomed to reading prose on religious subjects that has been aggressively studded with the shards of broken scriptures, or just verse references, in an attempt to endanger anyone who questions the validity of the thinking and add some cheap gravitas to it (how worthwhile is reputability by association?), I must warn you that I do not bother with that, wouldn't expect anyone to look up all the verse references if I were to put a host of them in, and yet I do still maintain that what I have written below comes from my own experience of the actual God, from life and not a little from reading the bible and having it shape my thinking and living.  If you don't believe me, skim through and look for things that came from the bible, and not merely from one verse, but from the whole thing, its structures, characters, and archetypes) 

 If you are going to believe in God, it’s important to do it right, or it will cause all sorts of problems. It is vital that you be spiritually focused upon God as a person, and not on religion as a social service which provides certain moods or frames of mind. 
    "But God's God.  He's not a person" some may object.  Well, He has a personality, doesn't He?  A heart (in the "heart-felt" sense of the term)?  He created people in His own image, didn't He?  You could speak with Elizabeth Windsor as "Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Queen Regnant of the Commonwealth Realms," but if you were her son, it would be appropriate to interact with her on a more personal level, treating her as a person with a heart, rather than merely and solely as a figure, a role, a position, an authority, a title.  This is our privilege when it comes to dealing with God, and approaching Him solely as a figure puts unnecessary distance between Him and us, probably on purpose.  
   Because God's a weird person.  Inscrutable.  Unexpected.  Mischievous.  Mysterious.  Difficult to deal with. The stories of the Old Testament show over and over the heart of God as a person who demands to be known, yet who has repeatedly to deal with a people who would rather invent religions with icons, vestments, music, idols, rules, lifestyle guidelines and rituals than know Him and what He's up to. 
    When we invent a religion, we are in control, and we’re making something that is meant to serve us.  God demands to be known as a person with whom we can have a relationship. Religions tend to be inflexible, inhuman and bureaucratic, and most of the truly evil atrocities that have been performed throughout history (human sacrifice, inquisitions, witch-burning, crusades, genocides, holocausts) were wholly or in part motivated by and perpetuated through religious fervour, rather than being the actions of people who had any connection with God and what He wanted. Today, we have a spiritual smorgasbord of religions and religious groups and activities, with icons, vestments, music, idols, rules, lifestyle guidelines and rituals. 
     In the Old Testament, God consistently objected to the people interposing a religion between Him and the secret focus of their hearts. He wanted a dialogue, and he wanted people to turn to Him for comfort, for challenge, for insight. When the people repeatedly insisted upon turning to human-invented systems of religious activity, He used the word “idolatry” to describe this behaviour, and sent prophet after prophet to voice His dissatisfaction with being replaced by a religious system. Most of the prophets were killed. It isn’t safe to speak out against religious systems. 
   I can speak freely, because I am not a member of a religious system which can threaten to sanction or expel me if I write inconvenient things. I used to be, but was expelled for just such behaviour.  So now I'm free, though I didn't choose to be.  God seemed to need me to be free.  
   The apostles, and Jesus himself, were actually killed for drawing a sharp contrast between dealing with God as a person, and pursuing a religious system in which He is, at best, a distant figure. Children wrestle with treating adults as people, and adults dealing with children (or subordinates) often wrestle with dealing with these charges as people, rather than merely acting as authority figures wielding authority. 
   Adults are often known to give sound bites, or express official positions, rather than speaking their hearts and true, personal thoughts. God, for His part, speaks from His heart. We tend to act like children. When confronted with a teacher, a child will view him as a mechanistic taskmaster with no human feelings, rather than making a personal connection with real mentorship happening. 
    When dealing with parents, children often struggle with remembering that parents are people with the same full, deep range of feelings that they themselves possess, and tend rather to simply deal with them as people to get around in order to be free, and as sources of food, shelter, clothing and money. When dealing with members of the opposite sex, human beings in general can be tempted to deal with them not as people with rich inner lives and feelings, but merely as a means of sexual gratification. It’s not any different with God. The struggle is the same one. God isn't merely an infinite force or an underlying principle.  He isn't just The Source of All Things.  God is a person. He has feelings. He not only understands that different people need to do different things at different times in different situations, He actually expects that. God isn’t one-size-fits-all. Neither should our approaches to Him be.  
   If we won't think of Him as a person, we can't deal with the simple fact that He is, nor will we let Him approach us in that way.  
   We can dehumanize a checkout girl, waitress or bus driver, refusing eye contact, giving orders but rejecting in some tangible way the fact that this is another person occupying the same space as you.  With God, we can likewise rob Him of His personhood.  A waitress.  A bus driver.  A deity.  Names?  Didn't ask.  Personal views on things?  Not interested.  Did you share any of your own self in the interaction?  Of course not. Is there any place for communities of faith? Of course. 
    One thing is certain, though: If the focus or activities of your faith community are in competition with personal dealings with God as a person, and if you are getting drawn into a system, a bureaucratic structure, if things start being unduly about protocols, authority structure (who gets to say and do what and who does not and how it must be done) then you are without a doubt falling into Old Testament style idolatry. Something else is certain: people who speak out against this sort of thing are no safer, welcome and heard than they were in Old Testament times. 
   There is no governing principle to keep faith communities from becoming empty systems, taking more and more time, money and soul. They just naturally seem to turn into that. Why do we deal with other people at all? Because sometimes two are better than one; sometimes two or three people can do things one cannot. It is important, however, to keep track of when one person can move more easily without being tied to 20 or 40 other people. It is also important to ensure that the standards of a faith community are set at achieving good, not just going through the motions of pious-seeming activity. If harm is happening, it’s important that the whole thing not descend into an interminable argument as to whether someone (who did harm) did wrong. If no good is being achieved, it is fruitless to be content to continue doing the same thing forever, and equally important that it not be justified by someone “being right” in some theoretical sense, though they’re doing no good. Right and wrong are quite distinct things from good and harm. 
   A great deal of time in groups is wasted on arguing about the former, to the detriment of correctly navigating the latter. God is a person, we are people, and any other human beings we deal with need to be treated like individual people as well. Whether we’re dealing with God, or someone struggling with alcoholism, it’s never OK on a personal level (when dealing with a person) to resort to gibberish, jargon, official positions, catch-phrases, empty slogans and other substitutes to genuine relating. God is a person; in fact, He is the inventor of the human personality, which is created as a reflection of image of His own. 
   Yet, we don’t want God to be a person. We aren’t able to wrap our heads around Him having “human” things like a sense of humour, a temper, passion, boundless artistic creativity, charm, preferences, whims and personal indulgences. God is a person, and if our religious activity deals in ritual and externals, if it is one-size-fits-all, if it is heavily structured and focused on power and privilege, if it is blindly habitual, then we are idolaters.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Grey, Damp, Boring Angry Weekend Of Hate

I went home and visited my family Friday night for my sister's birthday.  I didn't get any cake, though, because my niece went to bed, and it was to be served up the next day, when I wasn't there.  My mom was thinking of serving it up anyway so I'd get some, but my sister protected her own child's interests by saying it was "more important that she get to enjoy a birthday than that he does, because she's younger."  Or possibly my mother said that and my sister was trying to give me some cake.  I forget and it doesn't matter a bit.  Some nice chats were had. 
   All weekend long it rained and was grey and cold.  And no one phoned.  And nothing much happened.  I got into a hating mood and hated for most of it, and wrote a hating song listing a bunch of sorts of people and things that I hate and felt a bit better for a bit. 
   Sunday was "make mundane things slightly better" day.  I made a budget to keep better track of my money, rather than continuing in the "it all goes, and where it goes is a mystery" strategy.  I played Russell Brand's entire Ponderland TV series while I took down many boxes of junk and sorted through them and tossed out a lot of junk.  I washed dishes.  I updated my websites for my classes at school.  I slept a lot.  I paid bills online.  I edited video of my niece when she was a baby to put toward the video project I'm making.  
   I took a long, angry walk at 2am when it briefly stopped raining.  I read.  I cleaned my desk.  I watched some episodes of Angel, which I haven't watched for a few years, and now remember what I liked about it (a lot, but identified too strongly today with the "what's the point of trying to do good?" theme of season 2) I bought groceries. I cooked things.  I sent a couple of flippant, pushy emails to people and clearly annoyed them. 
   And I found an envelope of my collected 90s concert tickets.  I went through them and made entries on this blog on the dates that I attended the concerts, even if they happened in 1993, and wrote about them as I remembered them.  Now it's like this blog has existed for fifteen years.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

The Shack

Someone felt that my reading "The Shack" would help me emotionally. I'm always looking for new thoughts, so I read it. Today. In Massachusetts while my host seems apt to sleep away the entire day. 
    In terms of word choice, it is staggeringly poorly written, but the ideas behind why he chose to write it, which the whole badly-written fictional novel exists merely to present, are important ones most people don't know about. The style reminds me of The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew in a bad way 
("Quickly he quickly ran into the next room, adjacent to the one he'd sat perched cheerily in for so long, eyes wide with excitement, ready for a new tussle with the no doubt soon-to-be-exciting events of the day. He enthusiastically looked quickly around, and then quickly began to unpack his nearly overflowing suitcase, face reddening under his tan and eyes filling with tears while he thought mournfully about what his mother would think if she could only see him now and what he was doing, besides quickly unpacking his briefcase. She wouldn't like it at all, he quickly knew as he sampled his camomile tea and pondered the perplexing nature of it all.") 
    I get that the author had to set up a pretend-real character and introduce the idea that he'd been through a cool experience with God which changed him, before he could get across all of his ideas. I realize that, but felt all the parts of the book which don't directly serve the author's pretending God chose to speak to us in words recently, with a personality, really suck. The fact that he even alludes to, let along goes into and expresses opinions upon the topics which he touches upon completely redeem the book, though. 
    The fact that this book is available in the grocery store, and in #1 on the New York Times bestseller list in this secular society, boggles me. It's so badly written, and so full of things about God and religion and good and evil! People aren't allowed to think about that stuff anymore! They're just supposed to pick a side, unthinkingly believe it and blindly support it. 
   Curious, I looked at the reader reviews, and saw that almost no one alluded to the ham-fisted, amateur writing style, but rather that many felt liberated and enlightened by its looking at God and religion as separate things which have been grossly misrepresented. The reviews are almost all 5s and 1s. Characteristically, many conservatives were frightened by it and sought to "warn" everyone not to read it. 
   What amused me most was one guy whose most heart-felt, personal discomfort with it was that it had "an air of subversiveness throughout." He meant that clearly the author feels that religion, bible courses and colleges, and pulpits-and-pews churches don't do a lot of good most of the time, and so he just, like many of us, kind of cavalierly discounts them and is moving on to learn about God in his own way, without waiting around for them to deliver. How subversive! If that kind of thing catches on, people will stop attending churches in droves! (Oh, wait...) Those people show no faith that between them, God and a seeking person can EVER get anything right without church intervention, book study guides and supervision to eliminate any risk of error from the equation. How boring and ineffectual. Makes the whole thing an exercise in not colouring outside the lines, without ever looking at what the picture represent. 
   The God in this book makes points about relationship and loving and living being the central point of our existence on earth, rather than spiritual performance, correctness, obedience, duty and responsibility. Amen to that. We're supposed to play. It's how we learn, and how we most naturally interact. We have a duty to explore what He put here to live in. 
    I have been thinking lately about how very often religious (and zealous) people cause endless, lifelong trouble purely because they don't want anyone who says things they feel are incorrect or unusual to be allowed to speak. They are always warning of the harm in something or other. (Paranoia: Is It Eating Away Your Soul Without Your Knowing It?) They are more than willing to choose not to have any kind of human connection or relationship with the giant number of people on the planet who they judge to be incorrect, just to avoid proximity to what they feel is corrupting incorrectness. Cold. Closed. Not what anyone should see as holy or spiritually clued-in. 
   The same character (God as Mother/Father) also makes the point that just because you forgive someone something, doesn't mean you forget about it, or don't get to be angry, and it CERTAINLY doesn't mean that now you need to form a close, healthy relationship with him or her, just 'cause. The God character says that forgiveness isn't forgetting what the person did, or being ok with it, or understanding, it's just taking your fingers off their throat and leaving them alone. (sorry about using "their" and "them" as singular non gender specific pronouns) 
   I liked the point made in the book that "religion isn't about having the right answers" and as anyone who's ever been to school can tell you, often the kid with all the right answers has the least clue of anyone as to what is (or should be) going on in so many other ways. 
    I was going to say "Of course there's no harm in knowledge and duty" but then I remembered that knowledge, though as necessary and useful a tool as a chainsaw, hammer or axe, carries scriptural warning with it. "Knowledge (not exempting scriptural or religious knowledge) puffeth up" the King James puts it. Knowledge, however useful it turns out to be, inevitably makes people arrogant, and arrogance is a kind of self-centred blindness, no matter how informed you feel you are.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Performing at the Puppets Up! Festival

Here's us doing "All Apologies" by Nirvana.  Note Regan the Sound Guy in his canvas utility kilt.

Puppets Up!

It was the annual Puppets Up! festival where I live, which is kind of like a huge Mardi Gras for kids.  Our band performed twice, and it was quite a success.  Both times we got a whole lot of "people stopping to listen who'd been in a hurry a moment ago," which is great.  Also, my landlord and downstairs neighbors all came out to hear, and were taking pictures of us.  In other years we have played nice but more low-key sets with some teachers we work with who we constantly struggled to agree with as to song choices.  For instance, they did Hootie and the Blowfish, which wasn't a direction we'd have been comfortable with, I don't think.  
   We did a song of mine this year, which makes it really worthwhile for me. Sat in the pub and chatted with bandmates between sets while women's beach volleyball from the Olympics was on.  Talked with Katie Mulligan the local photojournalista about how to take good pictures (because she's excellent) and the like.   My whole family except my dad came (arriving an hour after we played and leaving two hours before we went up again) but it was nice to see them.  Some high school kids came over to talk.  I had my newly-acquired 310 to Yuma/Lynyrd Skynyrd hat on, and looked very much the part of A Musician.  That's cooler than "the English Teacher" or "That Weird Jesus-looking Guy who seldom leaves his apartment all summer."
I don't have any pics yet, so take my word for it that I looked uncannily like the late Ronnie Van Zandt from Lynyrd Skynyrd, but without the big belt buckle or black jeans.  
   The sound guy looked cooler than ANYbody.  Puppets Up attire often involves wearing motley (court jester kind of wear) and Regan the Sound Guy had a court jester's hat, a vivid tie-dyed shirt, a beard, a pipe, big boots and a giant tan canvas utility kilt you can hang hammers and power drills from. 
   It rained pretty hard, so when we played before supper with the rain having just let up, we didn't expect anyone to listen, but what happened was the entire street suddenly went from completely empty, to being lined with people who materialized from buildings or came and stood in doorways in case the rain started again, so we were on this white open trailer bed at the top of the hill at the end of the closed-off street, and we were looking down at a street sparsely dotted with stragglers, but all the doorways had people leaning in them, smiling at us, and people who were scooting by in a rush all smiled and stopped.  Hoorah
   The really surreal thing was that a fairly cracked-out, not at all sober-looking middle-aged couple with headbands and tie dye (she quite apple-shaped, and wearing a perpetually slipping tube top) were shouting stuff about "this is just like Woodstock!" and dancing to every single song we did, right in front of the stage.  This was very cool, actually.  You can't buy that.  (or me getting to say "This is a song by the funkiest man in music today" and then playing a funky version of "Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon" by Neil Diamond.)

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Comfort or Challenge

Time and again, when the irreligious comment upon religion, they say "Well, if it provides a bit of comfort, then it's ok, so long as it doesn't get out of hand."  Religion is being treated as if it were Prozac or Novocaine, as if it numbed and soothed life's challenges.  Well, that's what it is for some people.   When Marx said "Religion is the opium of the people" he wasn't totally wrong, he was just oversimplifying hugely.  
     The thing is, people pursue or fail to pursue both science and religion for their own reasons, and those reasons aren't the same for everyone.  There are two obvious kinds of people when it comes to this:  The first group is made up of the ones who want comfort, want structure, want answers, want to be told what to think, what to feel and what to do so their lives make sense to them.  They are concerned with being orthodox, with following, and with clinging to their religion or scientific thought, as handed down to them, prechewed and fully digested by someone else.  It really can be like a drug, a crutch, or like someone telling them what to do. 
"Tell me the story of where the world came from again..."   
"It came from God speaking/A Big Bang."   
"Oh.  Ok.  Thanks."   
"Any questions?"    
"Not really.  That's all I wanted to know." 
"Good.  Glad I was able to clear that up for you." 

    The second group is made up of seekers.  Their embracing of religion or science drives them beyond pat answers (whether delivered by organized religion or popular science).  They are always seeking, but they always somehow end up with more unanswered questions each time they dig into something.  People like this seem more interested in establishing what can and cannot be, what is and isn't actually known (what religious and scientific men of letters can and can't be trusted to know about, and what ground remains relatively unexplored.)  Popular religion readily answers "What" and "Who" and "When" questions in terms of behaviour and lifestyle, and popular science readily answers "How" questions in general.  
   The seeker is after "Why" questions, and many of these have no pat answers. Whether we're talking about science or religion, we're still talking about human beings, and their search for answers.  Religion and science aren't the same, but they're used by human beings to fulfil exactly the same psychological needs.  In both realms we find dogmatic, orthodox clingers who tend to persecute any questioning, disrespecting or disturbing of the commonly held, agreed upon, familiar approaches to things, and we also find seekers for whom the best answers of science or religion aren't nearly good enough at this time, who want to go out further and ask questions they're not supposed to ask. 
     Religion, the bible, church and God do not give me much in the way of comfort.  They offer me a challenge.  That means they upset me and get me thinking.  They cause me to need to grow, need to re-evaluate and change, raise standards and seek new approaches and mindsets.   The challenge of church for me is that I haven't been able to connect with the dogmatic/orthodox clingers, and they seem to be running everything.  Some people get very tripped out and undeniably high from going to the more orgiastic of churches.  That doesn't do it for me.  I am unable to accept it as real.  (Actually, I am well aware that people get pent-up emotion, and that our imperfect world doesn't allow them to let it all out, and that places like pubs, dance clubs, strip bars and churches serve this need, but I don't see it as "really real" but rather as wankery masquerading as consummate love-making, if that makes any sense.  I could, of course, be very wrong.) 
   The challenge of the bible for me is that I was given a filter through which to view it (the "The Bible Says We're Doing The Right Thing" self-justification of our religious efforts filter" I call it) and once I grasp that it's an anthology not written expressly to, for or about me, things get complicated, yet there's clearly gold in them thar hills.  It is a constant struggle to read the bible without falling into those fruitless, deep ruts worn in my brain from having it literally beat into me as a child, and see what it really is, and is really saying, once I've quit opening it with a trained and ingrained specific expectation as to what it will say (that "our" religious efforts and viewpoints are right) and an agenda to be told what to do.  
    It can inspire and challenge, but not if you're opening it to be reassured.  People like to compare it to a  book of rules, a map or an instruction manual.  It's horrible at being any of those in the way a screwdriver is a horrible hammer. God is a challenge to me whenever I admit that I don't understand Him and what He's up to.  It's when I think that I can explain about Him to myself and others that I'm really deluding myself and being smugly self-confident without reason so to feel.  For some people, their view on God really does simply boil down to "You will be in all ways explicable or I will decide you don't exist."  
   If only I could do that.  I know there are many inexplicable people in my life who I'd be much happier deciding didn't exist.  Many of them are the most interesting people I know, for good and/or bad reasons.  I do know a few people who seem completely predictable, explicable and justifiable.  They are boring as hell, and in a weird way, almost don't exist, at least not to the same degree their more difficult to explain counterparts do.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Approaching God


A central concept to Christianity (as presented in the bible, not on TV) is the idea that as human beings, we are imperfect, and start out with a dysfunctional, disrupted relationship with a God who is worth knowing and actually really wants to know us and be known by us. 
     Thing is, the starting ground upon which we stand before God puts us in the position of someone who has made a false claim, and we will be held responsible to come good on this claim unless we are willing to give up this ground. God, for His part, is quite willing to let us off the hook if we’ll let Him, but if we won’t give up the charade, His Hands are somewhat tied. 
     In order for the two of us to meet halfway, we can’t just continue stubbornly holding our distant, self-justified positions (“You’re unreasonable!” “You are selfish and lacking in integrity!” “Your standards are impossible for human beings to achieve!” “You are hurting other people for your own selfish reasons!”) but we have to “die” to our rigid, inflexible, righteous positions, and be flexible enough to lay all of it aside and come to a central meeting point. We have to be “born” into entirely new roles. 
     As human beings, we need to reach the point where we stop disagreeing with the Source of all Good, the Judge of All The Earth as to what is fair, how we’re doing, and what good and right actually are, as seen in our abilities to properly be what we were created to be. We have to lay aside “But I tried as hard as I could” and “That’s too hard” and "But he pushed me" and “That’s not fair” and “You wouldn’t throw the book at a guy like me,” and so on.  Hardest of all, we have to lay aside “If I keep at this, with the proper religious supports, I just might be able to meet God’s exacting standards for what a human being is supposed to be, or close enough that He won’t do His job and call it like it is.” 
     What God did was (in incarnation) lay aside His right to judge and His place as God, and take on a body and a human position with all of its temptations, stressors and limits. He then walked around, not judging, not saying any of the things that would signal that he was closing the book on humans and giving up. He talked to people and put out his hand and offered healing, insight, wisdom, forgiveness and help getting started on a better path. Best of all, he offered to alleviate each person’s duty to meet His impossible standard as codified in the Mosaic law. 
     He lived a whole human life, not as God Who Judges, having given that up, but as God Here Being Man So We Can Get To Know Each Other More Deeply. For our part, as humans, we have the chance to live, no longer as Humans Who Fail and Are Judged If We Can’t Meet God’s Standards (having given that up, or “died to it” as the apostle Paul would explain it) but as Children God is Helping Out and Showing Stuff To. We get a Learner’s Permit for life. God becomes driving instructor rather than road test official. God as Jesus is born human, and goes around studiously "not being God" so it's fair ("Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God") and tells us to be born anew, to live our daily lives as new creatures, no longer any more responsible to keep the Mosaic law and meet God’s quite reasonable standards for how a being created in His image should respond, both to Him, and to others like created. 
    When Paul writes to the Romans, the part we tend to call “Chapter 7” has a section which fully paints the picture of a human being who has fully realized his own limits, who is now fully in possession of the understanding that he’s not going to be able to satisfy God without the help that is offered from on high. The description is very clear: Paul can “will” or want to do good things, vow to be strong and kind and wise and meek, but his flesh (a metaphoric description of man at his best, falling short, being incomplete, giving in to the temptation to not walk according to What Is, to What God Wants, and What Would Be Good) is too weak, too childish, too foolish, too dark. Every time Paul says, “I hereby resolve to be better in this way and not do or want to do any of these bad things any more” he finds that there is something rotten through at the core of the infrastructure, and that it is weak and corrupted, and it all goes wrong every time, eventually. 
      The best of intentions fails to materialize in the harsh light of day, and troubling tendencies toward dark, petty, destructive behaviour are seen.
    The Mosaic law is good, in that it presents perfectly a codified picture of What God Expects As A Bare Minimum. It does not present how to be good. It presents how not to be bad. (Not how to excel. Just what would constitute failure.) The best it can offer is, if one were somehow able to keep from doing the things it describes as bad, then one has not done bad. God knew what He was doing when He didn’t lay a responsibility to be good on the Israelites. He was making a big point that human beings without help, without collaboration and cooperation from Him, couldn’t even keep from doing bad, stupid and weak things throughout their lives. 
     Point taken. What now? One of Carl Jung’s contributions to modern psychotherapy is the idea of a “shadow self.” The concept is simply this: there are parts of our personalities, of our inner selves, which we are tempted to pretend do not exist, habits or choices we are secretly drawn to which we want to tell ourselves we actually detest. It’s up to us what percentage of our unflattering inner selves we will pretend do not exist, or refuse to deal with. 
    The more we push these dark parts of us far back into the blackest corners of our selves, the more they are “off our radar” and will start repeatedly manifesting outwardly in troubling ways which are as much a surprise to us as to anyone looking on. 
    Another thing creating a strong "shadow self" by consigning a really significant part of us to supposed nonexistence will do is to cause us to “project,” so that the dark parts of our own selves are soon all we can see in others. The more we fail to accept the very existence of these darker parts of ourselves, the more we "meet" our own weaknesses everywhere we turn, in everyone we meet. Paul speaks of a concept quite like the Jungian shadow self when he writes, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” and explains, “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil that I would not, that I do.” He expresses how easy it is to have noble ambitions, but how impossible it is to live as if the darkness were not present, saying “for [to] will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” 
     No matter how lofty, religious, scientific or sensible the plan, it all comes down to wishful thinking and empty resolutions.  It all comes down to pretending we have more say than we do in what we will do and feel, when it comes to "the crunch." The answer to Paul’s dilemma is not acts of piety, the imitation of outer forms of religious behaviour, self-flagellation, penitence, law, religion, self-loathing and thinking upon his own wretchedness, or pretending that he can “just say no” when he needs to.  No, he reaches out for the Hand of God, extended on purpose to help him in this very situation. 
     God comes to earth as Jesus, to say “Here. You’re doing it wrong. This is how it’s done. It’s not the letter, but the spirit of it that’s the key. The letter kills (will condemn you), but the spirit I manifest here is intuitively grasped, is quite contagious, and the truth of it is able to set you free from all of this.” To further step apart from the rigid, adversarial roles that aren’t helping, God says “And if you agree to stop pretending you can do this right, completely without My help, I’d be overjoyed to remove from you that responsibility to do good rather than evil (knowing what they are, as you do) without My help. Then we’ll move ahead under a completely different understanding, in a completely different relationship.  That's going to get us both what we want a whole lot better.” 
     Paul thanks God that through Him in the form of Jesus Christ, Paul is delivered from this unenviable position. He no longer lives a life with the understanding that, without any help from God he won’t screw up. He will screw up. God and Paul have agreed that this is the case, and to work together to deal with it. God as Jesus has redirected any of the judgement that God as judge would otherwise be responsible to aim Paul’s way, onto Himself. 
   So, Paul screws up. He steals an Oh Henry bar. He loses his temper with someone who doesn’t deserve it, feels superior to him, and cusses him out just to feel better about himself. This whole time, he lusts after the wife of someone he knows, rather than going and winning the heart of a woman he can call wife.  As a human being, gifted with the knowledge of good and evil (but not the ability to do good), he knows that this isn’t good. If things with God hadn’t all changed, he’d be in trouble now. He’d be completely responsible to not do and be that fleshly, sinful, stupid, mean kind of person. He’d stand accused, convicted and awaiting punishment. But the punishment is gone. Even the accusation is gone. You see, Paul is no longer responsible not to ever sin. He has laid aside that responsibility, that understanding, that ground, that role. 
    This doesn’t mean that if he sins, or acts stupid, weak, corrupt or fleshly that this is now good. It doesn’t mean that his failure isn’t bad. But it isn’t anymore Paul’s obligation to never do bad things. Together, he and God can address the root of the problem. He can grow increasingly into a person who shows more and more of the spirit of Christ and is less and less weak and corrupt, and while he grows, the pressure is off because he’s got as many mulligans, as many do-overs, as he needs. This used to be called “grace.” It doesn’t make sinning ok. It just means we have a special arrangement whereby when we do things that aren’t ok, it’s handled. 
    It is very possible for Paul to lose sight of his new arrangement with God. It is very possible for him to, quite apart from God, adopt a bunch of ritualistic behaviours intended to brainwash him  into stopping doing the bad things that he genuinely, deep down, actually wants to do and doesn't know why. The more he cuts off from parts of his real, imperfect inner self, the more divided he becomes. Jesus pointed out that a house divided against itself will fall, all as part of explaining how stupid the accusation that he was casting demons out of people by using demonic power was. 
    The Jungians have a point when they say that, the more you push those “darker” parts of you away and refuse to look at them and accept that they are real and relevant and there, the more you are creating a monstrous part of yourself which will pop up in the very worst places and times. Men love darkness rather than light, Jesus said, because their deeds are evil. When you've got something to hide, you love having unmentionables, taboo subjects, and lots of shadows. 
    Jesus said this, and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde about a man who tries to scientifically remove all the dark, ugly and bad parts of himself, leaving only the good, handsome and noble, and in so doing repeatedly becomes and lets loose an ugly, violent, selfish little monster on the city.  When religion tries the same thing in real life that Henry Jekyll tried in science fiction, exactly the same result is seen. Moving in religious circles can very quickly engender competitive piety, and fear of not being genuinely affected by what everyone else is immersing themselves in, resulting in pretence. 
    The thinking of Carl Jung led (somewhat indirectly) to the thinking of the men who formed Alcoholics Anonymous. For this particular addictions program to work, it is essential that people are able to let the cold light of day shine upon the dark corners of their inner selves, and to walk in the truth of what’s really going on. There could be no more useless addictions program (let's call it "Abstinence Rocks!") than one at which people merely sang songs about how great it is not to be addicted, and then didn’t let on whether or not they were actually, personally struggling with addiction in any way, then drank coffee and went home. 
    Conversely, an addictions program (let's call it "Never Forget What You Are") that only allowed addicts who were clean to participate in any way, and which felt that the best way to deal with these "clean" addicts was to fill each session with numerous reminders to feel deep, unrelenting shame for what they’d done in the past, and then a careful, dutiful, studied dread as to what future missteps they might take, then to drink coffee and go home crestfallen, would be equally pointless, and truly horrible. 
     When I meet Christians, I must admit I tend to judge them on how much of themselves they are able to be. I think of them as "more alive" if they are being more of themselves, and "less alive" if most of them is locked away in a cell with loose bricks and a shovel in one corner.  With too many, it’s like they’re letting themselves feel free to be only a 5% of themselves that they’re content with, and their eyes show the strain of keeping 95% of their deepest, darkest, truest, most passionate selves secret, crushed flat, relegated to the shadows with no hope of any change apart from their outer shells getting more and more brittle, and Mr. Hyde going on more insidious nightly prowlings. 
    The lacks are not usually seen in their thinking so much as in their emotions being unconvincing, due to not being their own, real feelings coming from their own, real selves. If the work of Christ works for you, then the idea is to be able to sit down whenever you want with a friendly God and let Him shine the light of truth on anything inside you that He thinks needs looking at. Despite what the effect of modern religion upon people usually is, God Himself doesn’t shine this light into your dark corners because He wants to remind you of things you need to feel shame about, because you forgot or didn’t know to feel it. 
     He does it to make you free from more and more stuff through demystifying and revealling the true nature of it all, to make you more yourself, more what He intended you to be when He thought “Hey! Y’know what? I think I’ll make a [George Simmons or whatever].”  When God says "Hey!  You're doing that wrong!" He means "Hey!  You're being you wrong!"
It is scriptural and healthy to view ourselves as dead to the old problems and obligation before God to not sin, and born anew to a new way of living and dealing with God. It is unscriptural and unhealthy to view ourselves as divided now into two halves (“natures”), one of which (the 5%) has turned over a new leaf, and the other of which we don’t talk about, but wrestle with daily, from the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we close our eyes in repose at night.  The work of Christ worked.  If we're trying to do it ourselves, then we're doing it wrong. 
   God is ceaselessly, endlessly creative. He insists upon and delights in staggering diversity. Just look at kinds of butterflies He felt it important to design. In a way, knowing Him will make you more, not less different from His other children. There is no one-size-fits all path. Mottos, platitudes and mass-produced and distributed “individual interpretations” won’t cut it. They need to get tossed out in favour of something realer, truer and more alive.