Sunday, 29 September 2013

Some Random Thoughts on Small Love

I'm trying to learn about love.  Small love.  When it comes to "Do you love your country?" or "Do you love the pursuit of Truth?" that's so big that a lot can get muddled.  I'm trying to learn about grassroots, daily, mundane love.  Baby steps.
  I mean, big love: Do I love to teach/tell people all kinds of stuff?  Yes.  I really do.  
  But small love: when I'm facing kids in the classroom one at a time, am I kind, compassionate, loving? Stuff like that?  I'm abolishing "should" to learn about that.  Because you've got to.  If I am having a bad day, or am short on sleep or am dreading something, often I start out assuming that I will lack the kindness, patience or whatever, that I "should" have.  So, I don't try too hard for it. I conserve whatever kindness or compassion I think I have, keeping it inside.  In case I need it for situations or people more worthy of it, later in the day.  I say I "should" have it, but assume I don't, and let myself off the hook for not having it.  Without, as I've said, checking to see if I have any.  Just going by how tired or grouchy I feel.  Well, you can feel grouchy and kind.   And people can feel other people's feelings, quite a bit.  What confuses them is when you're clearly trying to hide yours, or keep them crushed inside.  They can still discern all that, and what they're discerning is a twisted mess, and what they're wondering is "Why did you twist your feelings all up like that?"  Lately I've been trying checking to see what's left in the tank, before assuming I'm out of anything good.
   Because I am a Christian, I do not believe that I am to love people out of obedience and willpower and duty.  No one needs that kind of love.  No one.  People can smell it a mile away, and they don't like it one bit.  Rather, I look within to see what's being installed in there by the work of Christ, working in me, as read about in Romans, and other books of the bible. I invite the Holy Spirit into things, as an interested participating Party, and see if we can't get some affection, concern, patience, understanding, connection and mutual goodness flowing.  You know, among the bunch of us.  Because that's a party.
   I mean, it's one thing for me to believe that a kid doing some school exercise is good for him, and then to get bitchy and snarky if he fights me about doing it.  It's quite another to present it kindly, and personally.  Like "I made this one. Try it out.  It's quite a ride.  Hard, but worth it.  Trust me.  I want to see what you come up with."  So different from "Shut up and do what I asked, just because!" 
  You present it "personally" like that, from one person to another, and if the kid's response means it's time to get annoyed, you can be personally annoyed, and have earned it.  You set up a dynamic, a relationship, and they have to betray that to get to your anger.  Rather than pushing your buttons because you're clearly just being paranoid, setting up no connection to the kids, watching for punk behaviour, and lashing out.  Personally is the best way to take stuff, once you're both well aware you're both people.  But not before then.  The hardest thing about my job is getting kids to view and treat me like a person, like a human being.  It helps if they're older teens.  They can see past "adult authority figure/obstacle" and see a person.  No wonder God has so much trouble with us.  Takes a while to grow out of viewing Him as  a figure instead of the source of every personality trait that ever was.
   When I'm teaching English class, it doesn't seem at first to be terribly relevant which kids are the sports kids, and which are the horse girls, and which are the skater kids or the gamer kids or the horror kids.  But actually, if you show the slightest recognition that a kid is a person who likes certain identifiable things, the kid immediately seems to like you, and feel accepted by you.  And this makes your job so much easier.  You've accepted the kid as a person who likes something.  The kid feels known and accepted.  And it's that kid's turn to reciprocate.  Who are you?  What do you like? 

"Love Is Idolatry!"
I remember growing up, and every time I liked something (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Batman, Spider-man, Star Trek, generally something story-based and a bit intellectual and a lot nerdy) my father got uneasy.  "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world" was something we heard at church and at home all the time.  Mostly we just heard the "love not."  God "so loved" the world, but we were to fear and disdain it.
   If the church kids got too "into" playing hockey, they were invited to realize that maybe hockey had become an idol for them.  This was what we grew up with.  So, what we did in response, many of us, was kind mute our joy response.  Kinda not love "the things that were in the world" by not loving.  Like, at all.  Not really.  We became detached observers.  We became people who, of course, couldn't enjoy things ourselves, but were really glad if someone else was having a good time.  We became people who mainly experienced joy vicariously, second-hand.
  We had tricks.  I mean, so long as there was some holding back, some level of sacrifice, then you were good.  I mean, I could make Star Wars spaceships out of old boxes and containers when I was a kid, but didn't get to watch the movies or wear t-shirts that said "Star Wars" or anything like that.  It was okay, so long as there was holding back.  So long as we didn't, in the words of Nike "just do it."  There had to be some kind of a limit.  Otherwise we might have experienced a clean, pure, straightforward love of something that maybe wasn't worth all that.  We certainly would have experienced what it was like to love.  It's a good thing many of us had pets.  You can love a pet pretty hard.  And people let you.  The Taylor-Hales Exclusive Brethren do not allow members to own pets.  I think that's very telling.
   I have come to believe that it isn't the supposed "worthiness" of the loved person or thing so much as the action of loving that's important for me.  We live in a very acquisition based society.  Far easier to buy things than lovingly create something.  Far easier to get sex than love someone.  (As if sex were the point.  As if the getting were more important than the giving.)  It is more blessed (lucky, worth it) to give than to receive.  That's just true.  
   Because we need to give.  And all of this holding back our pure and natural love for something maybe a bit silly, like Lord of the Rings or hockey or whatever, doesn't seem to be as "blessed" as it might be.  It was supposed to make us more Christ-like. Maybe it just made us more Pharisee.  Maybe it would have been safe to just go ahead and love Star Wars.  Maybe I would have outgrown it faster if I had.

Only Love People and Things That Are "Worth It" To You?
I was definitely far out of my teens when I first went to a science fiction/comic book convention.  These things are growing lately.  They're not mainly about comic books, either.  And when you go there, you find camaraderie, and people who aren't embarrassed to love something so much they're willing to dress up all in Doctor Who merch, or as a characters from stuff they like.  From shows that aren't even on TV anymore, and maybe were cancelled after only one season anyway.  People will dress up as a character from Firefly.  I've never done that.  Too dignified.  Gotta hold back.  Be cool.  Not commit.
   But when I see someone who's dressed up like something s/he loves, I don't want to judge them.  Not really.  Because they're loving something.  At worst, they look a bit silly (they don't care), or aren't Hollywood Pretty enough to convincingly look like the character they're dressed as (see above), or maybe, they love something that's a bit silly, and not worth the time and effort (ibid).  Is it worth the love, though?  Seems to be.
   It's my genetic makeup, it's my family upbringing, it's my religious culture and more things no doubt besides, which make me the kind of person who, when I feel a tiny glimmer of appreciation, or acceptance, or delight, or "wow!", I repress it immediately. 
   Will I look silly?  Am I associating with something or someone that anyone might criticize or disrespect?  Is it "age appropriate"? Is it worth it?  Well maybe eff all of that, at least a bit, at least once in a while.

Love: Is It In You To Give?
I'm sure a lot of people think I don't have much warmth, or love, or affection, in my heart.  That I'm just lacking all of that hardware entirely. And when they say stuff like that, or treat me that way, I have often been stupid enough to believe it.  But I'm starting to know better.  And I'm starting to learn to let it out a bit.  Which shows that it's in there.
   I first suspected this the first couple of times I reached my very conservative control freak "limit" as to alcohol.  I don't really get drunk or anything (I hold back there, as in most things), and so I do have a line I reach when I realize "You're getting a bit of a buzz on."  And then I stop drinking, and try to enjoy it, and let it fade gracefully.  Now, when people get there, what's in their heart comes out.  All manner of horniness, wrath, spikiness, manipulation, aggression and the like.
  Well, on the rare occasions when I've uncharacteristically gotten a wee buzz on (it's been a VERY long time), what I've started to do is loosen up and start liking everyone and everything around me.  And I start being humorous.  And warm and relaxed.  More open and trusting.  That's what's in me that normally doesn't get to get out. Well, I'm determined to get more able to be like that on a daily basis, and not need a few beer in me.

Brass Tacks
I think "love" that only works as a "yes" answer to a big, broad question like "Do you love your country?" and doesn't work at all, once it comes down to feeling a smidgen of kindness or compassion to "the least of these", one at a time, maybe isn't a very real thing.  
   "Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ?"  You say you sure enough do.  Well, are you capable, though, of being a tiny bit kind? Like, even for five minutes?   To children, to animals, to gay people, to people who've had a few too many beers, to pregnant teens?  People you hadn't been planning on running into, but hey, here they are?  Maybe if, generally, you can't do that "smaller" stuff, then maybe I don't believe your claims of the bigger stuff.  Maybe we do the bigger stuff through all the smaller stuff. 
  So, you're a missionary, you're a politician, you're a preacher, you're a novelist, you're a motivational speaker, you're on a committee or something; how do you treat those around you who might need stuff from you, and might not be able to do a whole lot for you?  When no one's looking? When you're not "raising awareness"?
  Here's the thing: there is no real lasting value for the world in your trying to be seen looking kind.  There is no real value in "acting" kind.  There is real value in getting kind.  In learning if there is any kindness in you.
  If you're a Christian, that should be getting installed in there alright, throughout your life. Maybe if you aren't, also, but I'm not not a Christian, so I have no idea.  You should take inventory.  Take a test drive.  Never mind slogans or photo ops or sound bites or "positions" taken on sides of "issues." Don't talk about it.
  Just do it.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Why Are You Guys All So Messed Up?

I had an uncharacteristically open and frank discussion with my Dad last Sunday, about the whole church upbringing and stuff like that.  It was in a Harvey's.  He asked a question that I think deserves consideration, if not a definitive answer.  I shall attempt the former, as I am uncertain how to properly arrive at the latter.  So, some thoughts:
  I was characteristically mentioning in passing to my Dad how very messed up the lives of various of us Plymouth Brethren people raised by his generation truly are.  And he got exasperated and said:
  "We all grew up in it, too, back in the day.  And we weren't all messed up by it.  Why is everyone nowadays saying they're all so messed up by it?  What's different?"
  Good question.

An Easy, Pat Answer
Here's the easy, pat answer, which may have a certain amount of merit:

  His generation don't know they're messed up.  But they actually really, really are.  

  Most of them seem to have put the Brethren church stuff before their kids, and no doubt as a result, today, the vast majority of these people's kids have little to do with that supposedly successful, helpful and essential religious movement we used to call The Meeting.  In fact, one could go so far as to say that an awful lot of the kids raised by his generation know nothing of God at all, nowadays, and many of them have strained or nonexistent relationships with their parents.  In many cases it's a "You resent me and I'll resent you right back" kind of thing.  A lot of people my age hold the Brethren upbringing against their parents.  A lot of parents have had to take a bunch of it back if they wanted to ever talk to their kids.  You know, parents who beat their daughters with a wire whisk for hiding a pair of jeans or sweatpants in their locker at school so they could break Brethren Girl Rule #1 and actually wear trousers.  Parents who refused to ever visit their college-age son because he'd gotten a television for his dorm room.  Parents who got their daughter kicked out of the Brethren because she was seen having wine with a meal in a restaurant.  Stuff like that.
  I know so many (am related to so many) Brethren-raised people who "turned out" atheist, or who resent or avoid or disrespect and have what could be described as an almost complete lack of relationship with their parents.  This seems almost to be the norm for people my age.  The Brethren churches of my youth seem to have a big hole in them.  A hole shaped like the people my age who used to be there.  I don't know about the younger folks who came after us.  I understand there is a solid population of younger people at some of them nowadays, and that a whole younger generation is, right now, making a go of it, still "in The Meeting."  I wouldn't know how it compares in numbers to Back in the Day.  I wouldn't know how they get by in there now.  Sometimes they tell me it's so much better. They're even allowed, on occasion they say, to go have a look at what's going on in another church, and they don't get kicked out for that or anything.  So long as they don't make a habit of it.  And they call that "free."

Another Answer
Another answer to my Dad's question relates to expectations.  People like my dad expected much less than we do.  They weren't raised to expect much.  And comparatively very little was expected of them.  And they got what they expected.  Because the Meeting system helped them get those things.  We, by contrast, expected more, had more expected of us, and got far less (and oftentimes, bad things) from our own Meeting experience.  And it was a very different kind of Meeting we experienced.
  My dad's homelife was chaotic, poor and shot through with parental mental illness.  All kinds of drama.  And like a whole lot of people, "Meeting" was the structure in his week.  It was what worked.  It got everyone in his family out of bed, bathed, dressed up, and out the door to the Meeting Hall five times a week.  No matter how insane or messed up things got at home, things were "normal" at meeting.  And meeting ticked past like clockwork, five times a week.  It stabilized things. It was always the same. Nothing changed.  Ever.
  And all the good, fun, social stuff was coming from there,.  There were endless youth activities: sleigh rides, hay rides, skates, hymn sings, swimming, sports and all of that.  All your friends were there.  And people like my father just showed up at all of that stuff, and their lives were largely looked after for them.
   There was a basic approach to fashion, rules of thumb for how to speak and comport one's self, and you more or less did it and it worked.  The slightest deviation or variation on what was commonly done were seen as quite scandalous, and this meant rebelling was easy.  Just wearing a "loud shirt" or an odd hat, and you were a rebel.  A bit of one.  Could be fun.  But it wasn't fatal. 
  People like my father met lots of young Brethren people at these gatherings. And when they met Brethren girls they liked the looks of at all, quite often they simply married them.  Within a couple of years.  They expected to have their social and dating needs taken care of by the Meeting, and these needs were indeed met, in the vast majority of cases, and had been successfully being met for generations.  The number of cousins and the shortage of different last names was mute evidence of this.
   My dad drove his car fast, and was considered a bit of a rebel, but he didn't swear or drink or smoke or go to movies or anything. Still, when my mother announced she was dating him, her Brethren foster-parents told her she'd end up pregnant.  Dire warnings.  But she didn't get pregnant until years after they were married.  Because my dad wasn't that kind of boy.  And that wasn't how it was done.

A Much Shorter Road to Adult Success
As far as one's professional life went, there was a whole lot less schooling required to do anything much in my Dad's day.  My Dad started kindergarten (there was no junior kindergarten or preschool), and went up to Grade 13, which was paid for by the government in those days, unlike now, when first year College and University must be paid for by teenagers, and are extremely expensive.  
  He probably could have gotten a decent job just by resting on the laurels of having actually graduated high school, in a time when people who didn't like school could drop out as early as grade 9 (or earlier), just by not showing up.
  Nowadays, we'll send truant officers and harass your parents if you don't show up most of the time, right up until you're old enough to vote.  Even if you are "known to the police."  You can kick up a fuss, you can show up to class high, you can go uptown instead, you can couch surf in neighboring towns.  We will find you and make you show up, no doubt resentfully, to school, where the other kids and teachers will need to put up with your surly spitefulness.  98% of the school's resources will be spent dealing with you and others just like you.  The rest of the kids will suffer.
  "Don't like school?  Perhaps you have emotional issues and/or a learning disability, and need counselling and medication to make you sit in a desk and listen to boring middle-aged people go on about vectors or the Reformation."
  It wasn't like this back then.
  And my dad wanted to be a teacher.  I don't know what gave him that idea.  Neither his parents nor anyone else in his family were terribly academic.  He wasn't terribly academic.  He liked sports.  Maybe sports at school and at Brethren events were such a highlight of his young life, that he wanted that to continue?  A couple of years as a gym teacher and I don't think he ever played a sport or exercised recreationally again.  Like, ever.
  And the thing is, he did his Grade 13, and then he needed one year of Teacher's College, which he did, rooming with a Brethren couple who let him live and eat with them, and the next year he moved up North in Ontario to be the principal/teacher of a small schoolhouse.  I forget if it was a one-room or two-room thing, or whatever.  But he was in charge.  At age 19.  Hard to believe.  He strapped kids almost his age if they lipped him.  This was not exactly my own educational experience.
  And he still went to all the Brethren stuff.  As he said last Sunday, "We did what we wanted. But we didn't have to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol..." 
  (Or go to the movies, or hear live music or attend exhibition sports matches.  Or date nonBrethren girls or try out neighboring churches.)  In other words, they "stayed in" the isolationist Brethren culture, and it worked for them.  They expected it to look after them, and it did.  It didn't throw them under the bus the way it did many of us decades later.  They did not live in constant fear of being kicked out, like we did.  And they weren't kicked out until middle-age or later.
  So, my Dad and his crew "did what they wanted," (and nothing they weren't allowed).  And to have all of that good, workable, Brethren stuff going on, in a time when impressing a teenager with fun wasn't anywhere near as hard as it is today?  Really worked.
  So, for them to also go out and drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes and got to the movies and stuff?  That would have been greedy.  Their expectations were already being totally met.  They'd be okay. Sticking with the System meant it would look after you and you'd be fine, for the rest of your days.
  And Dad went to the Brethren social stuff, and met a girl he liked the looks of (she was hot, and so was he), who he didn't know terribly well, and who had little in common with him (apart from coming from a chaotic homelife, which the Meeting added structure to.)  And they got married, without him really ever technically asking her to.  That stuff just unfolded. A System was in place.  The Meeting was that System, and it worked.  It was structure to those who needed it more than they needed to think and feel for themselves.

Providing Chaos Instead of Structure
For me, nothing chaotic ever happened in my homelife.   In fact, nothing much happened at all.  Ever.  That was the point of our home.  It shut everything out and increasingly nothing and no one happened in our house.  It was unplugged from everything.  Quiet and deathy.  No connections were made. No parties.  No trouble.
  Well, apart from stuff the Meeting actually caused. That stuff coloured the place alright. Political infighting.  Silencings. Shunnings.  A division or two.  Where my grandpa had merely mutely taken his kids out to the Meetings, my father was a Key Player in them.  I had to not make him Look Bad. He had to be seen to be obeyed in all things at all times.  If anyone thought he was in any way too lenient in anything at all, he had to stop being lenient about that thing or his "hardcore" reputation would suffer.
  And he eventually got "taken out" by people who didn't like the old-school isolationist teaching he was parroting.  They were ruthless and political, while he was earnest, sensitive and vulnerable.  The Meeting didn't look after him any more.  It made him Enemy Number One for a while there, and punished him in a thousand bitchy ways. And our whole family suffered. 
  This is not the experience of the Meeting that he grew up with.  From the first time I can remember, the Meeting involved what I can only call absolute shit. Chaos.  A sea of gossip.  Eyes everywhere.  Competitive piety.  Passive-aggressive backstabbing and callous reputation assassination.  A thousand little betrayals and infidelities.  Horrible mean-spirted attacks on each other.  By people whose kids often didn't have any connection to God or them, their parents.  By people who were clearly far more interested in fighting over doctrine or power than in connecting with each other or God. They tore each other up, and they tore the whole house down around our ears.
  That didn't only happen in the 1991 division.  The nastiness that resulted in it was building and bubbling and boiling away for my entire childhood.  And the worst thing?  While my father and mother grew up quite ignorant that any of this kind of thing ever went on in the Meeting, I grew up hearing it argued about endlessly in our house since before I can remember.
  We learn things together, as communities.  What was causing them grief and doubt and disillusionment at thirty was something I was experiencing at three.   Just like the stuff I'm struggling to learn, to grow and change toward now, in musty middle age, is the stuff that my seventy year old parents are struggling with too.

"Just Saying No" to Joy
I asked Caryl and Mark about my Dad's question. They had things to say.  Mark pointed toward how "done" the meeting was by the time I was in my twenties.   It really was.  Didn't work any more as a social system.  Worn out.  Out of ideas, and losing all relevance, power and ability to do anything much for anyone much.  An echo of the past, with no one behind the wheel anymore.
  The strain of living the isolationist Meeting Way grew ever more personality crushing. The World Around got more and more vibrant and interesting, as the meeting pulled us the other way and got more and more repressive, more paranoid. Increasingly, its rules and disdain for "the things of the world" got manifestly more hateful, arbitrary and weird.  
  My father grew up in a time when they kids were taught, in the fifties, by men who were still trying to keep the Jazz Age from happening.  You know, loose women, flappers, jazz music, drinking, substance abuse of various kinds.  Darkies dancing with white girls.  Shocking.
  But thirty years later in the eighties, these men hadn't died yet, and they were still trying to stave off the Roaring Twenties their parents had warned them of the dangers in.  And two world wars had changed how The World thought since the Twenties. And the Great Depression and the fifties had too.  There'd been rock and roll, and the sixties, pacifism and a lack of trust in the government.  There'd been the seventies, and the electronics boom of the eighties, and these shrill, prophet of doom Brethren preachers were getting more and more cultish-seeming.  Increasingly, we were being asked to live in ignorance of more and more of the World Around.  Increasingly, it seemed fake to do that, too.  We all knew what we weren't supposed to know.  And we couldn't help but be curious about and like the forbidden stuff our minders knew nothing about at all.
  But in a bad way, the cultish, isolationist, seperationist stuff really worked.  There was no one much "coming in" anymore.  Those walls of "We Are Too Good For Worldly Entertainment" were up.  No one much was "getting saved" and "getting Brethren" any more, where I lived, anyway.  Even many of the Brethren kids never "asked for their place" when they reached their teenage years, avoiding full membership.  Where once you went to Sunday School and Gospel meeting every Sunday, with a genuine expectation that someone "new" might be out, eventually whole decades went by in which pretty much no one "new" was ever out.
  It was like setting up a lemonade stand every Sunday for ten years and never making a single sale.  You had a choice: get a bit discouraged and feel a bit let down and silly, or else feel good about the fact that no one knew how awesome what you were selling was.  No one else knew, only you, which made you one of the most spiritually clued-in people around.  Taking pride in being "our feeble few."  We were the only ones who Knew.
  Nobody much "coming in."  And there were people "going out."  There was a slow trickle of folks leaving.  And while in the lives of Christian youth in other churches, there were modern translations of the bible, Christian rock, charismatic speakers coming in from out of town, new ways of explaining things, new styles of preaching, Christian videos and movies and books, we had none of that.  It was forbidden us, too.  We were anti-change, and growth requires change.  So we didn't grow.  If you don't grow, you die.
  As to image, we had no Christian schools with youth-appealing American Republican, conservative curriculum with a strong anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-liberal bias which painted Christianity in harsh black and white that appealed to people who wanted the whole thing explained once and for all, so they knew what to support.  We had none of that.  It was for other, lesser Christians. It was suspect. Dubious.  Using the Music of This World to sing about Jesus?  They should know better.  Voting? We were not of this world, and not to do that.
  They never fed who we were, only who we weren't.  We were not This World, and we were not Just Another Church.  We were what we were not.  And you can't live on that.

Locked In With Crazy, Old Dudes With A Vendetta Against TV
Increasingly, if you were Brethren, you felt locked into a room that grew ever smaller as the World grew ever more expansive and available and interesting. Eventually you couldn't breathe in there.  You couldn't grow.  Not only was the secular world shut out, but the Christian communities around were locked out too.  By frightened, odd, paranoid people with manifestly closed hearts, odd prejudices against other Christians and mean-spirits.  Hearts two sizes too small.  Christian elitists.  We had to be better. We had to be the only right ones.  By not being stuff.  By not knowing stuff.  By not doing stuff.  Stuff like Christmas, pagan holiday that it was.
  In the fifties, being seen going into a dance hall or pool parlour or movie theatre would have been scandalous.  Well, in the eighties, you could secretly listen to Bryan Adams on your Sony Walkman, or get a VCR and rent movies to secretly watch in your bedroom or basement.  The World had come into people's homes.  The old dudes were frantically, hatefully prophesying the doom of anyone involved in all of this, and clearly nothing as bad as their dire predictions was happening.  Young people were quietly watching Ghostbusters with impunity, and yet the death of their very soul for so doing was predicted weekly.
  The World got more and more colourful, digital, electronic and fun.  The church social stuff paled by comparison and really started to dry up and wither away.  It wasn't even trying terribly hard to be fun.
  Now, if our church had had the kind of "movie night and pizza" dealies that churches do now, they might have gotten somewhere.  But instead, people who had TVs were looked down upon, and sermons after sermon about the evils and error and defilement of the World were what happened inside those halls instead.  Nothing about acceptance.  Nothing convincingly about love, spoken by people we'd believe knew much about the subject.  Unceasing, wildly unsuccessful attempts to inject fear into kids who just weren't afraid.

They did far better injecting shame.  You paid for the privilege of watching Ghostbusters in the coin of shame.  You didn't really think it was actually bad or wrong or anything, but doing it made you a fraud, in Brethren terms.  You weren't doing Brethrenness up right.  You knew you were cheating.  It hadn't ruined your faith, but it meant you didn't deserve Brethren acceptance, which was earned by sacrificing entertainment on the altar of that insatiable Brethren shame god.
  The real God didn't matter as much.  He just wasn't as scary as the social god-collective, to those who increasingly feared the wives of old Brethren dudes far more, and knew their capricious prejudices far better than His intentions toward us.  You didn't follow the Brethren rules for your own spiritual well-being.  You did it for the Meeting.  Your sacrifice to the System.  When I was in my twenties, I was told I should not go to movies or drink the occasional beer, so as not to "possibly lead younger folk astray."  I was told that Christ had given me liberty so I could sacrifice it to them, for their own reasons.
  Increasingly, whereas once my Dad's generation hung out pretty much solely with their Brethren friends and relatives, my generation was making friends at school, and in their own towns and neighborhoods.  What would Jesus have thought of that?  So, many Brethren kids had "Meeting friends" and real friends.  Sometimes they tried bringing their real friends out to Meeting stuff.  That seldom worked or lasted.
  And the preaching senior citizens got more and more shrill, Victorian, frantic. and embarrassing.  You couldn't bring a hip, young Back to the Future-looking kid from school out to a Brethren board game and volleyball evening without someone old literally clapping his hand on the young Michael J. Fox wannabe's shoulder and asking in a dire death-voice, "Are you saved, young man?  Do you truly know the Lord Jesus Christ as your very own personal saviour?"  What a wonderful, faithful testimony!
   So you didn't bring your friends out.  And you knew that you were ashamed.  Not of Jesus.  Of the people talking about him, which was worse.
  Something was going amiss with all the "Us vs. The World."  You no longer had to go into a dancehall or pool parlour or movie theatre to learn what you were missing in The World.  It was on billboards, cereal boxes, Happy Meals, t-shirts, lunchboxes and note pads.  You know exactly what everyone but you got to enjoy.   How you gonna keep your kids on the farm once they've seen Chicago?

A Tired Old Horse
And the thing was tired.  Worn out.  The claims of being the Only Game In Town were getting manifestly untrue.  Other churches were doing all sorts of things.  They seemed alive.  The people there actually kinda liked each other.  And they had girls at them, too.
  By the time I showed up at Brethren youth group stuff, when you went to the sings and skates and hay rides and sleigh rides, the Brethren girls weren't "playing."  Weren't having any of it.  Were actively against getting thrown together with Brethren guys.  Dressed up like the frothiest Laura Ashley pinups with the biggest of hairstyles, and then stood in packs and didn't mix with boys much, unless they could trust said boys not to "like" any of them.  They knew that these events had always involved dating, and they were having none of that.  Any girl who might be a target for a specific guy would put buffer girls at each elbow so he couldn't sit with her.  It was all very confusing for us.  Wasn't this System, for which we'd sacrificed our youth, going to take care of us?
  And a whole lot of people were going out drinking at night at bible conferences.  It was something they did with their real friends, after all, and they were trying it out with their "Meeting friends," too.   While there was a comparative lack of social connection happening at the skates and sings and things, there was perhaps a sort of real connection in those stolen moments.  In the adventure.  Almost getting caught.  Sneaking around.  All this was far more exciting than anything else could have been.  
  And those of us who believed?  Who didn't break the rules?  Who'd been sold into Brethren servitude from birth and took that very seriously?  Who feared lest we tarnish our parents' Brethren reputation? Who didn't go out drinking or to strip clubs or movies? We Got Left Out of the Meeting youth social scene.  Entirely.
  It cost us to believe.  If you came out to Meeting, and accepted that it was fake, and played the game, and had a life outside of it, which wasn't too hampered by it, you were relatively unscathed by it.  And you quickly rose in social status and popularity. You were the most relaxed, colouful, thriving people there.  But those of us who are black and white, true believers who don't let ourselves break a single rule we believed in?  It started killing us inside very quickly.  We got pale and drawn and tortured.  And it eventually chewed us up and spat us out.  Sincerity makes the game-players look bad.  And it makes them feel bad too.  They use their status to crush you and never let you forget what you aren't.
  Socially, the Meeting wasn't stepping up to the plate, and it lost the attention of the youth.  It stopped being the fun-bringer and match-maker System, and increasingly became an oppressive system of fearing if anyone caught you having fun.  Especially fun of the kind you were all, mostly, having anyway.  It became manifestly only fake.  A lie.  For so many young people, it didn't work, but you knew that your job was to help make it look like it was working.  Shut up and sing the hymns. Where's your smile?
  But increasingly, Brethren people did not marry other Brethren people, in unprecedented numbers.  There were too many cousins.  Too few last names.  And Brethren youth sometimes betrayed the cause entirely and went to other churches which not only weren't all about shame and isolation and separation and doctrine, but were also actually about feelings and inclusion and relationship and authenticity.  The Meeting had gotten obsolete.  
  As to my Dad not understanding why the Meeting didn't work for us like it worked for him, Mark says "Horses require water, and that the fact that you've ridden a tired horse one quarter of the way into the desert does not automatically imply that he'll make it the rest of the way, or even the next quarter."  For many of us, it didn't.  It bucked us off, kicked us in the head, then rolled over and died.  It wasn't going to carry us for the whole of our life's journey.  We had questions that didn't match their prepared, dusty answers.  The men speaking were increasingly only parroting the words and imitating the vocal inflections of men long dead.  We wanted lives and this simply wasn't allowed.  The whole point was not having one, for God.
Divided We Stand
There was a division in 1992, and it took the vast majority of the younger generation with it.  My people.  They left it in droves.  It was partly about people who wanted to use modern translations or various youth-appealing strategies with the teens.  The fact that the men who tried to change the Meeting, and were kicked out as heretics were "active with the youth," and were accused of being open to new strategies and people and authors and ideas is very telling.  And they all left.  And they mostly "took the youth" with them.  Or the youth fell out through that big hole in the bottom of the bag, left by tearing out anything associated with these former role models, who were now disgraced.
  The youth who got "read out of fellowship" during that division mostly ended up dispersed to more fun-friendly, feelings-dealing churches, but an awful lot of them ended up atheists. (This just made "us" look more right to ourselves.  "We feeble few."  But it didn't help us.  Their absence left a gaping wound in us. We never recovered.)
  We'd go out to Meeting stuff, and we'd look around and bemoan who was "left."  We pretty much wept, having seen how the temple in our day couldn't compare to the past glory of Solomon's temple, as it were.  Gone were the giant youth events and huge bible conferences.  We were in our twenties, and who were we going to marry now?  There were mostly just little kids left.  When they grew up, they might all marry each other, but what about us?  What we mostly saw were the leftovers.  Those too unimaginative to have even considered leaving.  People whose faces were too tight and whose eyes didn't look right, parroting Brethren dogma from generations past.  A number of girls whose inbred Brethren heritage was painfully obvious upon their countenances, hearts and minds.
Caryl added a whole new thing to the discussion.  She spoke of the prodigal son.  To outright steal her comments and edit them rather aggressively:

Their generation is a different kind of messed up. They don't have a clue how to relationship.  How to be in them.  How to build them. It was the rule- keeping era. It was largely the prodigal son's elder brother's era. 
  We, who came after them, are largely the younger son's era. Both have large distorted views of the Father's love. Which impacts how we father, friend, neighbour, and are. 
   The younger son took off. Messed up and hit bottom. The prodigal son thought of his father and made up a speech he was going to tell him. About not being worthy and how he was willing to be a hired servant, so long as he got to come home again. He really thought his father wouldn't accept him back as a son. He had a major distortion in his thinking, believing that his father's love was conditional. He had the "I'm not worthy" mindset.  As if being worthy earned the love.  He thought "I hate myself. I'm not accepted because I did this. I wasted dad's inheritance, etc". 
  But when he came back, even from afar his father had compassion. He wasn't accepted back because of his speech. He didn't even get to finish it before party plans were in motion. His dad was just happy to have him back at all. His father was thinking about the relationship being able to continue.
  So many from our generation spend a lot of time in this mindset. Self hate, doubt. Not worthy. Too fucked up. We don't realized we aren't accepted because of what we did or didn't do. It's because of what Jesus did. So we spend years carrying an idea about God and his love that hurts us. We feel God might not accept us. Might not love us. Might not care about us.

The older brother mindset was focused on doing right. and when his brother came back, he said "Look (didn't even call him Father) I've done all this. I've done everything right. I didn't leave the meeting. I didn't sleep with Sarah. And yet I never got a fatted calf. I didn't get a party."
  And this son has a very distorted view of the father and his love too. The father goes to this son and entreats him, begs him to come celebrate. BEGS. "Come in to the party!"
  And he won't.  He doesn't get his father's love either. This older brother doesn't think he needs a savior. His morality is his savior.  The rule-following.  The duty and obedience and work.  His morality is what he thinks wins his father's love. He misses out so much relationally with his father. He does the formulas. He does his time. 
  But then he gets angry. Like we do today when we are like this: 'God I served you, why won't you heal my damn knee?' 'God I did all this for you, and you didn't give me that job'  
  This son told his father what he should do. He felt he had a say in how his father did things. He felt justified remote-controlling his father.
  And he missed his father's heart. That he wasn't loved based on his dutiful ways. He thought his father loved him and accepted him based on doing good stuff and not doing bad stuff. The younger one felt unloved and unaccepted based on the bad stuff he had done. 
  The older brother probably said shit like this to his little brother: 'I knew you'd be back.  'You're such a loser. You spent all your money, now you'll never turn into anything.'
  And the younger brother probably thought 'I am a loser. I do suck. I am wicked.'
  And today the church has a lot of older brothers in it. People who only want people who have "earned it" to get God's grace.

  Our parents had a distorted view of God's love. So we didn't feel it. We didn't know grace. We didn't see them enjoy Christ. Christ was a burden.  Rules. We didn't see them at the party the father prepared, celebrating. They didn't celebrate things.  They warned and regretted and feared and scolded.
  They were in 'older brother mode,' needing to feel like they were following the rules in order to believe they were loved. 
  And more of our generation were in younger brother mode, and got the disrespect that the grace-free, conditional love view of relating gets you. And the two modes suck. Because they hurt our celebrating. They paint God right up ugly. I've been in both these brothers' mindsets many times over. When we have a distorted view of our identity, our acceptance, and what love is.  We don't turn out well at all. 

  So, for our parents' generation we couldn't handle the bar that their older brother mindsets gave us.  The rules were still there, and the life, the warmth, the acceptance, the celebration was gone.   So a lot of us 'went to the pigs' and others of us became older brother minded, mean-spirited, judgmental and ignorant of how grace or love or relating or celebrating even work.

Very few of us went in to celebrate. 

Did The Meeting Work For Our Parents?
Our parents are lonely.  They have no friends and precious few hobbies.  Their lives are so empty.  So many people they once knew have left the Meeting and they never see them anymore, even if they live up the road.  They attend tiny Brethren gatherings, and many of those don't bother to even do Sunday School or gospel anymore.  The lemonade stands are closed.  The Meeting is a place for them to remember, and to mourn, and to be dutiful and faithful and steadfast, breaking bread there until they die.
  And there are some "young guys."  You know, like, fifty year olds.  They are vocal.  They have kids who don't talk to them, but they run youth events anyway.  They'll tell you all about the Rapture, Creation, Daniel, Revelation, whatever.  What they can't do is connect. Relate.  Be humans talking to other humans.  And they smile, and are "gracious," and spout doctrine, but they're obviously lonely and bored.  Muted.  Dead inside.  With dark secrets.  And they don't know what to do about it.  Often they shoulder some kind of "cause" to rail against ceaselessly.  To aspire to some kind of zealotry.  Abortion or homosexuality are pet causes to tilt against.  Or modern translations of the bible.  Or any doctrine that's different from Brethren.
  I don't know what the younger Brethren generation can do. It looks to me, from my much-removed vantage point, like they're repeatedly asked to sacrifice knowledge and relation with a God who likes and gets and works with them, to simply "Being Meeting" instead.  They believe in a Bully god, and don't know how to reach out expecting grace unless they feel worthy.  They believe we "live in days of ruin" and they expect God to ruin their lives if they "let Him in" too much.  First, that's not Him. Second, He's "in" already.  But what are they to do?
  Going to Africa seems to be a better and better idea for them.

Friday, 20 September 2013


So much in my life isn't easy, lately. It's a balancing act. There are no guarantees of anything.  Not even more days stretched out ahead. But there probably will be, and I need to face them well, and not miss out on taking in and participating in good.
  So I ask myself what I have control over and if I want to "act into" that, and what I have no control over and if I can let all that go. And I ask myself what I can do today. What would be good? Day sized chunks.
  Don't always know if I should act, but sometimes I get full of something and it pours out.
And some people are guaranteed to think it was bad, and refuse to see God in it.  So long as it is pure and real and alive, though not guaranteed to "pay off," so long as I mean it and am not lying.   So long as it was me being myself.   Then maybe it will work out.  No guarantees.
  God gives opportunities and potential. We can grab them and hug them to ourselves or not.  We don't have to do anything at all. We can put them on the shelf. Let them gather dust.
  You know what we do?  We shoulder constraints from other people's assumptions and expectations, and then blame God for forcing us to be under them. If we knew how free He wants us to be, we'd flee in terror. We don't like Him very much sometimes because we put His face on boxes of limits and laws and constraints, and not on the love, the connection, the good.
  God is in so much stuff. And we think He isn't. On our own head be it if we only attribute the difficult stuff to Him, distrust Him and shut Him out, and then find, shockingly, that we don't feel very fond of Him.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Hard to Accept

I think I'm just going to stop listening to other people much at all.  About me, and how best to be me, mostly.  Because I'm starting to think that listening to other people tell you what's wrong with you actually makes that wrong with you.
  Popular psychology suggests that a lot of people have a lot of pent up anger and grief and stuff, and that this needs to "get out," and so one needs to seek outlets for it.  When I was in my late teens and early 20s I thought this.  I got a bow and arrows, a punching bag, a drum kit and  a lot of things like that.  When I turned 30, I took Kung Fu.  To "let anger out."  Thing is, something wasn't working about that.  In my latest book, I think I hit upon a reason why:
  My anger always gets out. It's not like I have no idea I have anger, and am in denial about it, and need to come to terms with it, and express it.  It gets out alright.  And since I was a teen, people were always telling me I was angry.  And I listened.  And my anger grew.
  Also, people were always asking me why I was unhappy, given that I had nothing to be unhappy about, having a lovely family and wonderful church and so on.  I didn't notice how often I hadn't been particularly unhappy to begin with, but the more times someone demanded I explain my lack of happiness, or conversely, made me feel like I needed medication or therapy, the more this actually fed unhappiness.  I'm not sure it didn't cause some of it to begin with.  But I listened to them too.  And the more I did, the more unhappy with myself, and my inability to be happy and not be angry, I became.
  People expressed concern or complained about my lack of joy, my lack of warmth, my lack of positivity. (which, according to Facebook and Blogger, isn't a real word.)  But I was missing something, and so were they.  Or maybe they weren't expressing it so I could understand: I wasn't lacking these things at all.  I was just blocked and awkward and unsure how to let them out.  They were in me alright.  But the anger?  I knew how to let that out.  Because anger tends to fly out pretty naturally.  But affection?  Appreciation?  Acceptance?
  But people judged me judgmental, were critical of my critical spirit, were negative about me being negative and on and on.  Oddly, this didn't help much, though they claimed to be trying to do that.

I "took lessons" from a lot of friends and a lot of 90s TV and movies about how to be funny and sarcastic, and how to shoot down people who were making me feel like a freak. Because I always felt like a freak, and the 90s was the time for sarcasm, irony, parody, satire and all of that.  But I always felt like Mr. Negative.  People certainly presented me to myself like that.  But I had as many good feelings in me as anyone.  And I really didn't know that.
  In my book I wrote about that, and about how, lacking familial and church role models for how males could express and share positive feelings, I never really learned how to do that. I wrote about how those feelings welled up inside, and then, unshared, rotted and turned sour and acidic in there.  And got out only as anger.  Leaking and dripping out of me as nastiness.  
  No amount of playing drums or punching a punching bag was ever going to let out the affection and love and optimism and hope and dream and stuff.  And that stuff dies if you don't use and share it.
  I tried certain things, to let out affection and acceptance.  Dangerous things, mostly.  I wrote poems and songs and drew pictures and painted paintings for girls I liked.  Church girls, mostly.  For most of my teens and twenties, I seldom actually shared these with the girls in question.  I rightly knew that many of the girls in my circle would have been every bit as unable to receive warm acceptance as I was unable to share it.  And when I did share it, I got awkward silence, for the most part.  Overwhelmingly so.  Which I took as rejection.  Which made me feel like a freak.
  I also tried to connect to "happy Christians" (you know?  The ones who "just didn't understand" why I didn't enjoy their church stuff, and therefore was clearly so unhappy, and who made me near suicidal with their continual doubting my ability to feel okay about myself?) I would even go to their churches.  Could.  Not.  Connect.
  The cycle circled.  The circle cycled.  Round and round.
The other thing I learned about people and their impression and treatment of me is that when people weren't just projecting upon and creating in me their own crap, often what they were giving back was an echo of my own crap.  Partly something from the past that I was creating and recreating.  Echoed crap.  Still crap.  Let me try to explain:
  One time I drove some students to Toronto a back for a tournament.  One guy, who I will call Steve, had had a difficult relationship with his Mom.  She was always accusing him of stuff.  That's pretty much all she did.  Accuse him.  Keep him thrown off-balance.  Never let him breathe without an accusation.  
  What this meant was, every conversation he had with anyone, he was really having it with a proxy for his mother.  He never said anything without verbally hedging it all around to try to stop the listener from accusing him of something.  It made him need to use a lot more words and talk really fast.  And the listener increasingly became aware that s/he wasn't actually accusing Steve of anything, but that he was defending himself as if s/he was about to, anyway.  Many people avoided talking to him and didn't get him at all. I was in the vehicle with him and another teacher.  So I had to listen to him defend himself against illusory accusations the whole time he simply talked to us.   I had to hear his witty, funny, but horrible self-image.
  Of course I told Steve this, eventually, on that trip.  He responded by trying to defend himself against what he heard only as an accusation.  He felt accused of taking everything as an accusation.  Needed to defend himself against what he heard as an accusation that he always defended himself when no one was attacking him.  He wasn't, in fact, able to hear me saying anything his Mom wouldn't say. 
   Another example: I worked for this guy I will name Ken.  At lunch, and in every conversation, Ken was continually recreating times he "told" someone.  "I told him!"  "I said to him..."  Lunch was about him sitting with us and doing that.  He regaled us all with incessant tales of him getting the last word.
  Now, we were a pretty quiet, laid-back bunch of guys, but Ken was recreating every strife-filled social interaction he'd had, so he could present himself as someone who got the last word, who told people.  It was like no matter what social context he found himself in, he expected someone to try to get away with something. More strange yet, Ken was looking for opportunities to catch someone trying to get away with something, so he could successfully fail to be taken advantage of.  This was his whole view of himself, and his view of others.  And it formed his view of the world.  He never lived outside of that. And people did take advantage of him. 
  Now that I have become a high school teacher, I have found myself acting, not only like Steve (given my upbringing), but like Ken also.  I regale people with stories of kids and parents and colleagues trying to get stuff past me (and trust me, that stuff happens to teachers a lot) and what I then did, or what I said, so as to not be taken advantage of. It's making me a very tedious conversationalist. All war stories.
And I have a dad who didn't understand much of anything I ever did.  He was always demanding to know why I was like I was, and why I wasn't what he'd expect a son to be.  Why I always did something he'd never think to do.  Why he couldn't understand anything about me.  I took this as rejection, while actually it was mostly just confusion on his part.  We are very different in certain key ways.  But what I grew up with was, every time I made my mind up to do something, I would be attacked and questioned about it.  And I would still mostly do things my own way, cowed and feeling horrible about myself, but helpless to be anyone but myself.  Stubbornly, helplessly being me.  And this happens at work now, too.
  I have had several bosses or supervisors who, when picking who to bully around a bit, or doubt, or question, or misunderstand, misquote or resent, can see "he's used to that" written all over me.  And I find I've somehow magically recreated my relationship with my dad.  Always doing what I want, feeling horrible about myself, and resenting the accusations, the lack of understanding, faith and trust in me, the lack of accepting and respecting what I routinely can and do do on a daily basis.
  My dad shows me more acceptance and respect than he used to, and I think it's making it a lot easier for me to stop recreating that situation in musty middle age.  The more my dad can look at me and decide "Oh, he's okay.  He'll do fine. He knows what he's doing," the more I can see glints of that in the eyes of those who are in authority over me. No doubt said glints might have been there long before I started to be able to see them.  I was "blind" to them until they needed to doubt or accuse me over something, and only then did I suddenly feel like I was "seeing" them.  Because I had trouble seeing anything but opposition.  Blinders?  On.

A common old-school school saying that teachers bandy about is "This is a tough bunch of kids.  Don't let them see you smile until a few months in."  (Or "...until Christmas".  There are variations.)  What a horrible thing for me to listen to! I'm not good at smiling.  When I have a smile inside my face, there's often nothing at all on the outside of it to indicate this.  There are whole facial expressions (such as surprise) that I just came into this world entirely without.  And my voice is deep and resonant, but it's very lacking in emotion, most of the time.  Soothing, but boring and not terribly warm.
  So in the first week, the kids get a face-full, gale-force dose of my resolve, my pickiness, my structure, my personal vendetta against school being a meaningless experience, of doing brainless busywork with the kids, or letting surly thugs and clueless space cadets take 99% of my time away from everyone else.
  And what they don't get, what needs to get out, is that I like kids.  (that sounds wrong.  I like hanging out with them.  I like telling them stuff. I like helping them.  I like hearing them talk and seeing what life's like for them.  They remind me on a daily basis of what it was like to be a kid.  They make me feel old and they keep me young.  And the older I get, the more funny it is if I drop words like "twerk" into discussions of Shakespeare or the Renaissance.)
  But sometimes the kids, in my first month of teaching them, might miss this.  What they might get is "He hates kids.  He's trying to make us act like adults because he hates kids."  And if they've been fighting with their parents, I'm just more of that adult trouble.  They can recreate or flat out continue arguments they were having at home, once they walk into my classroom.
  I think I'm getting better.  The more I teach kids who I taught last year, at which time they saw me loosen up over the course of the semester, the better.  Now they're back, us having learned to work and joke together, us knowing stuff about each other, and them having learned things, and matured.  Once they talk to me like a person instead of a faceless authority figure/obstacle to their getting out of the room, the more I feel like I'm getting better at how I'm dealing with the room.
  You know what helps?  Through a series of apparently disconnected events, I'm teaching all the senior kids this semester.  Usually I get grade 10s.  Not this semester.
  When I started out in the school, it was all "new kids," (kids new to me and the school alike, all mutually unknown quantities) every single semester, for years and years.  I was new, they were new, and no one knew anything about anyone.  That's wearing.  The power games never stop.  And just when you've gotten to know each other, the semester is over and you get a whole new batch of new kids to start all over on for the next three months.
  But when you've already gone around the proverbial mulberry bush ("I didn't know it was for homework"  "It's on the class website." "The printer doesn't work."  "Here, let me help you") a few times with the majority of the kids in the class?  If you get the same kids again, you just slide comfortably into what you were doing at the end of the previous year.  And the story continues, rather than reboots.
  And the end of a semester for me is always a very relaxed and happy time compared to the start of the semester.  I smile a lot more at the end of a semester. And I ask "So, what do we want to do today?  The one thing we do, or that other thing we do?  That thing we tried a couple of months back?"  And I can relax so much of the structure and order I needed to start them on, because we know each other now, and it's just going to work.  Almost no one's going to be a jerk, not now that we know each other.  And we all know each other, so we know we're people and we have to treat each other like people, not like annoyances or problems.  The room simply isn't going accept one person acting like a jerk anymore. Day 1 is Me Vs. Them.  The game is won by how soon it becomes The Room Vs. The One Kid Trying To Wreck Things.
  So this year, I've got a lot of familiar faces.  And I'm feeling the benefits of being able, awkwardly, tentatively, eventually, to put some warmth and affection and acceptance out there right off, and to get it right back, from most of the faces in the room.

I used to argue on the forums on the Internet a lot.  On each one I poured everything into it for a year or two, and then eventually left, sick of it, feeling fairly cut up.  Because what I did on them was recreate my church experiences.  Arguing mostly with the stuffier people who didn't want me to be me or act like myself.  I'm sure it's entertaining for the audience looking on, but it's always taken a toll on me, and hasn't necessarily been good.
  But I've armed myself to the teeth against these straw men who for me represent the unheeding, heartless men who were "church" to me, growing up.  I've told them to fuck off, I've told them they sound like the whiniest of the bitchiest of the fifteen year old girls I teach, and I have heard white-haired old men have nothing better to offer in return than "No, YOU sound like... that."  (And I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.)  It's been fun.  Cathartic.  I don't know that's it's been altogether good, though, to carry on for too long with.  I don't know how much it's allowed me to grow.
  We wrestle not against flesh and blood.  Sometimes we're wrestling with our own pasts and our own psyches, trying to deal with it all.  Those not-quite-dead-yet men who silenced the voices of my dad, me, and all my friends, who demanded I sacrifice my heart, my soul, my spirit, my thoughts, my life, to them and their dubious expectations, cannot be beaten.  Because the spirits they embody live on after them.  Be quiet.  I'm right. You're different.  That's not okay.  What kind of Christian are you?  How can you say, feel or think that? Touch not, taste not, handle not.  And on the forums of the Internet, they rise again and again like an unceasing, everlasting tide of zombies.  Head shot.  Head shot.  Head shot.  Satisfying. And yet eventually you've gotten bit a lot. And you start to feel sick.  And you're running out of bullets.  And it's not fun anymore.  In fact, it's exhausting.  So I left the most recent one.  I don't think anyone noticed anyway.

What do I need?  To give and get acceptance.  Connection. What I do not need is to put out honest feelings somewhere almost no one else (certainly no one else male) is sharing feelings unless they sound pious, and then perhaps either have my feelings grudgingly "approved", translated carefully into thoughts or "positions,"  subject to some doctrinal correction and redefining of terms, or else to have them rejected as unChristian, with demands about "Well, how do you get around Hez 4:3, then?"  When I feel something, it's not good or bad, Christian or unChristian, true or false.  It's a fact.  I feel what I feel.  I may not act upon it, and my thoughts may not go along with whatever it is, but if I feel it, I have as much control over the fact that I feel it as a meteorologist has over the clouds, and less than the mother of a two-year-old has over what her child is feeling.  So, when I feel something, I don't need to get it "approved." I don't need to run it past a bunch of Christians to see if it's okay or not that I definitely feel that.  So why do I feel like I need to do that?  I don't think I need to do that.  So I'm not going to do that anymore.
  I do not need to have my precise use of the English language continually quibbled over, when I'm just trying to talk, trying to say what I have to say, any way I can, even though sometimes I'm saying things that are almost impossible for me to put into words.  When I'm finding I actually seem to need a lot of words to get to the bottom of a thing.
  Increasingly, I am tired of talking to men.  Tired of the one-up-manship, the "I told him!" stories,  the "so sad that you/they don't know the scripture on this," the jockeying for who is oh-so-helpfully mentoring or helping whom, who has "special knowledge" or the only correct interpretation, the "As a second year theology student with a lovely wife, a dog, a minivan and a wonderful church ministry" stuff, and all of that.  Tired of people who know how to repeatedly ask "Why?" but never "Why not?"  Of people who panic if discussions head toward any suggestion that Christians are free (or can get that way), or could be happy, instead of just obediently "rejoicing" joylessly, (however one does that, exactly).
  I have had it with trying to connect and instead finding people who all desperately need to be righter than each other. Than people who don't go to their church.  Than younger people.  Than everyone.  I am particularly sick of being one of those people myself.  I am sick of repeatedly backsliding, "going native" and getting sucked into acting, thinking and feeling just the same way. Answering the most emotionally stunted folk according to their emotionally stuntedness, being emotionally stunted myself.  Dumping gasoline on the fires of obsessive people, by being every bit as obsessive as they.  Face answering to face.  Being a fool and answering Grinch-hearted, obsessive, mercurial fools according to their folly.
  I want to be challenged. I want to talk to people so emotionally healthy that I'll look like a freak if I don't grow up. I don't need a place where we're all equally emotionally retarded (I use that word literally).  Not unless we're connecting to get better.  Definitely not if we're feeding our stuntedness with "being right" or "I told him!" when what we really need is to get and give acceptance.
  When I have had good Christian talks, over the last few years, it has almost always been with women.  And not all of them were even Christian women.  Women seem to naturally "get" that connecting, accepting, valuing, not failing to miss the significance of things, keeping lines of communication open, having each other's backs, that all of this is a large part of what real Christianity is about.
  When I tell a woman that I think or feel something, she generally is able to accept it and respond to it, even argue with me about it, and all without it feeling like I'm not "supposed" to think or feel that way, nor like they need to "approve" it for me.  Women, at the peak of their game, are the best at acceptance and connection.  With men, usually it's, in some form or other, a firehose of "Listen to me!" to the face.  "As a first-year theology student and member of the local militia, I know what I'm talking about!  And so I told him!  So sad that so many today aren't clear on what I, and possibly you (?) are clear on!"
  And I'm no better than any other phallically equipped human.  And when I talk to a man, usually that's where the conversation fairly quickly goes.  Whose doctrine is bigger, more powerful, more upright.  Whose logic and bible knowledge thrusts more deeply and more correctly.  But when I talk to a woman, I act less like that. I am better.  It feels great when a woman unthinkingly accepts who you are and what you're doing, and you can give that right back.

I naturally like talking to people with problems, though.  Then I get to be the mentor. That makes me think, male-wise, that I'm "on top" of the situation.  That I'm helping.  That I'm useful.  That I have a role and am being accepted.  Of course it's a way of feeling accepted.  It's a buzz.  It's what being a doctor, teacher, nurse or many other professions provide, on a good day.
  And if I don't get to do that, often I am miserable, and certainly vulnerable to people deciding to mentor me.  To give me advice.  "Change the name of your blog."  "Change your language.  Don't ever use swear words."  "Change your hair and clothes."  "Change your attitude."  "Change your circle of friends."  "Change your Facebook profile picture."  Change. Change.  Change.  (sometimes we need the opposite. Sometimes we need to be accepted.  Right here. Right now.  By someone who doesn't need us to change a thing first before that acceptance is grudgingly, conditionally granted, subject to withdrawal at any time.)
  So I don't need the continual prodding to change anything and everything that doesn't suit people.  I have had a lifetime of it.  I don't need a personal army of pastors, counsellors, life coaches, therapists, agents and consultants helping me get "acceptable" so I can, maybe, get accepted by the largest number of people.  This isn't how Jesus or Paul or Jeremiah lived.  I'm not Justin Bieber. I also need to outgrow going rogue, like Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan, and doing whatever it takes to be unacceptable, but "edgy." To get noticed and accepted as the poster child for "unacceptable."
  I never do what anyone says anyway.  I have listened more, to more people, sought out more people for advice, then listened some more, pondered their points, remembered every single word, repeated what was said to others, and never quite did a damn thing they said anyway, than probably anyone on Earth.  I'm annoying like that.
  Because I'm not looking for a mentor, or even someone who needs one.  I'm looking to accept and to be accepted.  That's all.  I'm not looking to meet who people think they want to be, to eat a sandwich with what people hate about themselves, to chat with who people think they should be, to have a beer with who people plan to be, or hope to be.  I'm looking to accept and be accepted by actual, real people.  Being their real selves.  Now.  In realtime. With faces and voices in the same room as me, if possible.
  Can you accept that?  If not, that's too bad.  Because it's what's on offer.


Monday, 2 September 2013


My thoughts on this are kinda forming as I type them, so don't expect anything terribly polished and coherent. It is, oddly, very emotional.  Very.
  I read Psalm 119 the other day.  The one we Sunday school children would joke about being asked to memorize.  Because it was way too long.  
  We had to memorize chunks of the bible.  Whole short chapters and such.  We had to do that, and we didn't mind.  But some memory tasks would have been too hard.  Like memorizing Psalm 119.  I'm sure someone somewhere did it.  But that would have been pretty impressive.  It's pages long.
  My problem with Psalm 119 the other day, though (and I did have a problem with it) wasn't that it was too long.  It was that I was reading it in the ESV translation, and it kept saying stuff about "rules."  The KJV tends more toward words like "statutes."  And "Rules" was a word that brought back my childhood all too vividly and made me unable to read it properly.  Rules.  Church rules.  No Star Wars figures.  No television or movies. No running, swimming, sports, games or novels on Sunday.  No sneakers or jeans, shirts with stripes, pictures or patterns on them, worn to Thursday night bible study.  Church five times a week no matter what.  No being alone anywhere with a girl.  Avoiding "every appearance of evil." (which should have been translated "every form/guise of evil", limiting it only to things that actually were evil, rather than anything the person in the church with the dirtiest mind could imagine being a tiny bit evil.)  Because we "generated" our own rules, as kids.  We knew what would be a rule, and we came up with it in advance.  If we didn't, we were still punished. It was pretty easy.  Rules were there to limit happiness.  To bridle and stamp out unbridled joy.
  So the other day I had to think about Psalm 119.  It was all "You've got the best rules.  I love your rules, so bless me.  The wicked people don't love them like I do, so kill 'em.  You've got the best rules.  Really."
  I saw some stuff on the Brethren Believers Uncensored Facebook forum about obedience.  Asked Mark and Dave stuff about Psalm 119.  And I'm still thinking about it a bit.

Unlike in my church, the rules, laws, statutes, commandments, instruction, teaching, decrees and "ways" of God weren't written to primarily deal merely with how things looked.  They weren't followed to make people fit in at church.  They weren't followed to "be a good testimony" to people looking on, for the benefit of grouchy, old folk at church with hearts two sizes too small, who'd be lucky to spell "love" correctly, as it was a four-letter word.  The rules God passed on were very different.
  The family rules, the church rules, were legion.  Limitless.  Any new freedom or technology or entertainment sensation spawned a whole new clutch of them.  And they were ones you had to "just know."  It wasn't like church people were willing to write them down, and certainly not discuss them.  I tried.  These rules added up to something.  They created an entire church lifestyle.  And it was a life "style."  Made you look and behave a certain identifiable way.  And the rules were accomplishing something no one was really willing to admit: they were to keep us from embarrassing our family and church by not looking as pious as other parents' and churches' kids.  
  I mean, one guy wasn't allowed to join our church because he was having trouble paying his alimony.  He was trying to pay it, but he warned us that he couldn't always pay it.  And we shut him out when he wanted to worship God, as this would be "unseemly."  Translation: it would make the church look bad.  We wanted no part of that.  So we shut the door on him.  He wasn't breaking a rule (she'd divorced him).  He was doing what he could.  But he was a threat to how we looked.  We were trying to look "seemly."  Not that we actually were, judging by how we treated others, and what our motives were. It was all about competitively looking good.  Like the Miss America Pageant, only more superficial and less spiritual.  With no talent portion.
  What the family rules and church rules were NOT, was designed for our health and learning and benefit.  I mean, the vast majority of them were entirely about us looking pious, as I have already said.  And embarrassingly often, we'd find ourselves in situations where how things looked and how things actually were no longer were the same thing.  We'd have to decide to choose between doing something good, or following a rule instead.  And we'd have to go with how things looked every time.  It looked bad to break rules.  Even if the rules were making you do bad stuff, or stopping you from doing something necessary.
  Because we lived almost entirely for how things looked.  We were raised to be actors, enacting little morality plays, rather than being God's beloved children growing and learning and loving and living actual lives.  Jesus called the Pharisees "hypokrites" for living like this.  He didn't mean they "said one thing and did another."  He meant they lived for how things looked to others.  To seem pious.  Like actors.  As if God is pleased by us impressing one another with how devout we seem.  The bible is very clear that God doesn't even listen to people who are playing that game. Not even when they pray prayers of pious thanks.
  Jesus didn't play that game when he lived down here.  He didn't care about "giving the wrong impression."  At all.  He didn't even care enough to avoid getting a reputation as someone who hung out with drunks and women of ill repute. He knew what he was doing.  If no one else did, that was their problem. He was living his life.  Oddly, obeying God the Father, and meeting the expectations of pious folks were often opposite things.  Meeting the expectations of pious folks probably would have resulted in him living a long, safe, careful, explicable life.

Obeying God
I'd always been taught that it was very important to obey God.  I'd also somehow been taught, without quite hearing it in a single sentence, that if any of us ever did anything that anyone at the church found at all unexpected or unusual, this was clear evidence of self-will, of disobedience to God, of waywardness and lawlessness. Rebellion. Worldliness.  You could be godly (a good church kid) or worldly (like anyone outside our church, including any other Christian group).
  I'd also been taught that every man shall give account of himself to God, one day, for his life.  Will actually stand before God and answer for it.  When I was twenty-five, I was driving in my car and I realized that if I gave my accounting for my life, I was mainly going to have to say "Well, I did that, and that, that and that, and I didn't do that, this, those or that, purely because of what church people expected of me. It wasn't exactly my own decision.  I just did what they expected." Jesus didn't live like that. Jesus wouldn't live like that.
  I realized that, although I was driving my own car, that I wasn't driving my own life.  And I had the chilling realization that this church, which unfairly "silenced" my dad, kicked out 60% of its own population in a "division" and was generally weird, unloving and out of touch with most of the fruit of the Spirit, while shamelessly, proudly manifesting many of the fruit of the flesh, was driving my life down a very dark road.  And that I increasingly saw God as Someone with different priorities, and that I'd have to answer to Him one day.
  So I realized that I couldn't obey God simply by meeting church expectations.  I realized that those  differed from God, sometimes, just like with any human system.  And I realized I needed to take control of and responsibility for my own life and my own decisions.
  And so I did.  For the first time in my life, I was able to follow God, unencumbered by the thoughts of human beings.  God is, to say the least, far more creative, unpredictable, funny and unexpected than the church folk had been.  It was awesome.
  They were already shunning me by that point, kicked me out less than three years later and soon thereafter stopped taking my calls or returning my written correspondence and emails.
  It really does seem that what and who they cannot control, they pretend simply does not exist.

But I got liberty.  The liberty Christ died to get me.  I didn't do a whole lot of odd things with it, but it was a new and challenging feeling to realize that I was now making my decisions for God, and could screw them up, and if it didn't go well, I was no longer going to be able to say to God "the church which Thou gavest me, IT told me to do this stuff (and not do that other stuff)."
  A bunch of us got this liberty.  We weren't "supposed" to have it, and we weren't raised or instructed or prepared to know how to deal with it, either.  At all.  We had to fight through shame to get at our own lives.  And we ran with them like we'd stolen them.  Some got addicted to things.  Some lived extremely lawlessly.  A couple died.
  The missing piece is, I think upon reflection, that we were supposed to keep sight of a fact: we were getting free from the traditional church shame/control/fear culture of competitive piety, of How Things Look, and What People Might Think, purely to follow God.  Freedom for freedom's own sake was reason enough to get it, but there was more for us.  We'd feel free, but empty until we went after God for it.

Following God
I'm comfortable with the idea of following God.  I like the idea of Him having ways/paths/tao for me to walk in because they end up with me being someone useful, somewhere good. I like the idea of growing and exploring and getting more wisdom and experience, courage and discretion.  I like the idea of being taken along on an adventure.  On  a life.  But the word "rules" (and "laws" and similar) don't sound to me like that's in store.  So I've been following/walking with/hanging out with God.  And it's much, much better than the church shame culture.
  But when I look in the bible, I see the word "rules."  And I think of it all wrong. With what Dave calls "distortion."  There are rules if you go on a roller coaster.  There are rules for bars and rock concerts and even wars.  But I'm never thinking that way, usually, when I hear the word.  "Rules" just means "No. Not for you. Not in my house.  What would people think?"
  When I trip over the word "rules," I think of something arbitrary, and obstacle put in place so that anyone fool enough to follow it will lose important joy and freedom, while those who break it will scamper about, having fun with relative impunity. Like at my church.  It's possible to worship a lifestyle built of rules, and leave God pretty much out of that. I know, because we did that.
  I kept the rules.  Made me feel like a sap. The guys who broke them are all youth pastors and missionaries and other important church folk today, if they are into that.  All they had to do was say they were very, very wrong to have broken those unwritten, "understood to be binding" church rules, and are done with that, now that they've milked the experience for all its worth.
  And of course they have to avoid getting caught re-indulging.  But it they do, they just need to give talks about how dangerous whatever it was, is.  And warn how wrong it is, and tell how appealing it seemed to them, but how much better they feel now, standing up in front of people demanding their attention.  But I also know people who "lead" their rule-buttressed churches, yet are breaking every church rule there is. The kinds of rules I kept.  They just need to never question the rules, if they want to secretly break them.  Questioning them is to question some people's anti-pleasure god.  The one they sacrifice their kids to.
  I am not a youth pastor.  No one has ever asked me to speak at their church.  The difference is that I did the unthinkable: I kept the rules and learned that a heart full of rules and no love makes you want to die.  And is dead.  Because there is no God in it.
  Eventually I decided that I was going to break some of the rules everyone else seemed to be breaking.  Thing is, I didn't hide it or lie about it or deceive about it. If I thought a rule was dumb, limiting, pointless or bad, I was going to ignore it.  And I announced that I was doing it and thought it was perfectly okay.
  Well, they couldn't have that sort of thing going on.  That's not how it's done.  You can break the rules.  Just don't question them.
  But I was trying to follow God.  And I knew right well that "following" requires freedom to go around and do things.  To leave the playpen.  The greenhouse.  And church was always and only about not doing things.  We didn't even really do any evangelism in my church.
  From time to time I meet people who I can tell are following God, rather than jamming their head so far up their church they can't see the sun.  And I am overwhelmed by them. They are real, they are alive, and they know about liberty and love alike.

God's Authority
My church and my dad heavily limited my freedom and their only role in our lives, most months, was that they imposed rules that made them look powerful and in control of us.   The rules weren't for my benefit.  And they didn't make sense, often.  I could read piles of comics at people's houses who "let their kids have comics," so long as everyone knew that my parents didn't let us kids have them. It wasn't my reading them that was the concern. It was my parents possibly being seen to allow them that was the reason for the rule.  Why I couldn't have them.
  And obviously, the happier I seemed to be to follow more and more rules, and the more pious I seemed, the better they looked.  "Freedom is Slavery" George Orwell would have put it.  Smiling, singing slaves are the best slaves.
  But the rules in the bible are very different.  They are love.  Jesus summed up the "ten commandments" entirely in:

love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind
love your neighbour as yourself

  That's it.  Love.  Well, I was raised to hate myself, by people I could tell didn't like me much, and were desperate to control, crush, stunt and deform what potential God had built into me.  I wasn't raised to love.  I wasn't raised to look at my neighbour and approve and accept.  Instead, I was raised to continually contrast myself with my neighbours, who didn't go to our (the only right) church.  There was "us" and there was "them."  We were to be in all ways overtly, obviously, glaringly opposite to "them."  If there was a way we were the same, we felt uncomfortable about that, and looked to somehow contrast ourselves comfortably.  We didn't love ourselves, really.  And we didn't interact with our neighbour, really, except to step right over them to get to continue down that path of perceived superior piety.  Love wasn't a priority, any more than liberty.  We need to repent of these things.  Not just feel remorse, regret.  We need to rethink it and change inside.
  Because it's hard for a kid to love God when for him, God is church rules and Nothing Else.  No running, no laughing, no talking, no moving.  You're in church.  It's Sunday.  If you can't stop squirming or giggling, you will be spanked again, like last time.  And don't look out the window, either.  Or at Scott.  
  And so, we tried to love God, but He was rules and nothing else.  Hard to love.  We knew He had infinite authority, and we tried to obey Him/the church rules, but no amount of obedience makes you love someone.  And He wants that.  And He's worthy of it.  Because He's more than just rules designed to make Him/our parents/our church look good, no matter what it costs us.

The bible says you can do any number of miraculous things, but if you don't have love (giving, accepting it), then you have nothing, and are as annoying as a cymbal someone's smashing a rock into repeatedly, beside your ear.  Just banging on and on for no good reason.
  What I'm learning, so late in my Christian life, is that God's redirections (When He does that at all.  He will let us screw things up to an absolutely terrifying degree) are to help us get somewhere good.  Because He cares.  What I'm having more trouble even believing in, is that God does anything besides limit things.  Besides blocking my path, shutting doors, locking up and generally saying "no" to everything.  A God who wants me to be wise?  Strong?  Interested? Happy?  Never.
  So long as I follow Him only because sticking with Him seems to keep me out of trouble (like Hell, and my church), it's kind of okay, a bit.  But the idea that He's going to bring about good things?  That He will bring good people, places, ideas and things into my life?  I'm grasping after that.  
  The structure (rules, laws, commandments) in the bible isn't there to make people (even God) look good.  It is to keep people from hurting themselves and each other.  And the rules in the bible aren't paranoid like the church ones were.  They are about actual danger.
  Not "Don't listen to rock music."  More "Don't kill people, lie, steal, commit adultery, swear at or about God, worship fake gods you've invented" kinds of stuff.
  The bible speaks out against stuff I really, really don't want to do anyway.  Against stuff that will hurt me and others.  (Unlike the rock music)
  And the main point of the rules in the bible is to keep us from making ourselves into someone we can't accept, nor reach out to other people, thereby torpedoing all of our relationships.  Relationships are important.  With other people. With God.  C.S. Lewis pointed out that there are very few virtues, and just as few vices that can be done "properly" when alone.  Relationship is the thing.  The "point" of salvation isn't the debt we owed or the punishment we deserved.  It was being alienated from God, who demands a relationship.  Because that's why He made Man, and that's why He made Woman.  Relationship.  Love.
  Someone who loves you "gets" you.  Knows what to get you.  Isn't about to jump out and "get" you.  That's where I'm at right now.  Learning to follow God and learn from Him because it will lead somewhere amazing, rather than somewhere quiet, safe and tidy.
    I guess it applies to all kinds of human relationships and connections.  Jobs.  Friends.  Are we trying to meet up with someone we can "be safe" with, and stay out of trouble? Or are we trying to build a relationship with someone we love because we know that with them, we will go awesome places, and grow and learn and explore and all that good stuff?Aslan's not a tame lion.  God's not boring like all of those rules were.  He doesn't lightly make rules, like we did.
  That's all I have to say about that.