Wednesday, November 1
My purpose in writing this piece is to explore what I believe is a common mistake on his part, common because most believers make the same mistake - he has focused his attention and his efforts on obeying Christ rather than focusing on Christ Himself. The difference is subtle, but important.
My friend believes that by focusing on obeying Christ, he is focusing on Christ. I argue that focusing on obedience is self-centered, not Christ-centered.
And how do I justify my point of view? For some reason, I ended up thinking about language. We use language to express our beliefs about ourselves and about God. My young friend is determined to obey God, so his thoughts about the subject at hand could be expressed as:
I will obey God.
Every properly constructed English sentence has at minimum a subject, (the Actor), a predicate, (the Act), and an object, (the recipient of the action). So the sentence "I will obey God" can be parsed like this:
I: the Actor
will obey: the Action
God: the object of the Action performed by the Actor.
In this sentence, the Actor, (my friend) performs the Action and God is the passive recipient of that Action. In contrast, consider these sentences.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
The difference between the two sentences is that "I" am the actor in the first sentence and "God" is the actor in the second. Another way to describe the contrast would be "Law" and "Grace". Under Grace, God is the Actor and I am the passive recipients of His action. Under The Law it is just the opposite, I Act and God is passive.
While we are certainly free as Xians to attempt to obey The Law, we are doomed to be disappointed by our efforts. The Law is spiritual, but we are made of flesh and blood. The Law, though it is perfect, holy and good, kills us. That's why God is no longer playing that game, (and we would do well to quit it, too.)
I know my friend is concerned about being holy, and I guess he believes that unless he gives it everything he's got, God is not going to be able to do His work. This approach to God is known as "Grace plus something else". It has the advantage of making us feel like we are contributing something to God's work, but it has the disadvantage of being utterly ineffective.
I guess some Xians believe that God lowers His standards for behavior once they become believers. They act like they believe that even though they occasionally lust or gossip or engage in gluttony or unrighteous anger, God is cool with that as long as they say "I'm sorry" and promise to try extra-special hard the next time around.
Jesus said that the entire Law was summed up in these two commands:
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
I know absolutely no one who manages to obey those two laws perfectly, yet they are very simple. Worse, we cannot WILL ourselves to obey because the command is to LOVE, and LOVE is something that cannot be coerced, it can only exist in an environment where it is freely given. My young friend tries to obey God because He fears what will happen if He does not, yet in His fearing, He is failing to obey. How in the world can we escape from this dilemma?
Jesus was asked once, "what must I do to do the works of God" and His explicit answer was, "believe on the One whom God has sent."
God is not now, and never has been, impressed with our efforts. Our righteousness is as filthy rags to him. Our job is not to work hard. Our job is to trust Christ - trust Him in spite of our sins, trust Him in spite of our successful attempts at righteousness. Trust Him in spite of our fear. Trust Him to do what He said He would do. Trust Him to act on our behalf. Trust Him.
Thursday, September 28
Today is the end of a journey that started on August 8 last year - the JDA/Mervyns project. The time was exactly seven months after the end of my marriage, and I was still in the just-slightly-better-than-catatonic stage. The demands of the project were rigorous: travel every week for over a year, fly out early Monday morning, fly back late Thursday night. But I needed it. I needed something that was as absorbing and as demanding as this project to get me through the coming months.
Divorce, by the way, is the most fun you can have short of self-flaggelation. Inexpressible pain wrapped around loss, confusion, grief, fear, anger, hopelessness and ultimately, acceptance. I had everything I loved wrenched from me and had to start a brand new life, pretty much from scratch. The only constant was my job, and I think it went a long way towards helping me maintain my somewhat-tenuous hold on sanity during those days.
I've recovered a lot in the 14 months since the project started, and have actually reached the point where I am ready to move on. I have a new life - not the life I dreamed of, but a life for which I am grateful nonetheless. I survived the worst I could imagine and am now full of hope for the future.
Hope, by the way, is something I could not begin to conceive I might have 14 months ago. But time heals all wounds, and also - apparently - wounds all heels.
I don't know what comes next, but I do know that it is time to steer my own boat. The world looks so much different through these eyes. Not bad, just different.
I can hardly wait to see what comes next....
Wednesday, September 27
What am I running for? Would you believe the Arizona House of Representatives? (Yeah, me neither...)
I ordered a pile of stuff from The Teaching Company last week and am eager to commence my long-neglected liberal arts education. Having said that, I am also very aware that an awful lot of intellectual activity is little more than mental masturbation.
I shall try to avoid such self-abuse.
I finish the Mervyns project this week. 14 consecutive months on the road. Over 200,000 Marriott points. 4 free round-trip tickets on Southwest. Executive Elite status at National.
I filled out one of my candidate surveys and indicated that one of my priorities was the enforcement of property rights by changing the police culture from "crime-solving" to "crime prevention".
Here's an example of one Florida community that is actually doing that.
Animal rights advocacy would be more aptly named "idiocy". I question whether these people are capable of rational thought, and I fear they are not to be trusted with anything more dangerous than a plastic spoon. Here's more proof.
Pray to God that they don't decide that your children need to be "rescued" some day.
Tuesday, September 19
Monday, September 18
Inspired by anonymous commenters...
As best as I can figure, we humans have two possible ways of relating to God:
1. A business relationship
2. A family relationship
A family relationship is based upon the the nature of the persons in the relationship. A business relationship is based upon the quality of the transactions between the parties, without regard to the nature of the persons on either side of the transaction.
As I understand it, God intends a family relationship with people, but people seem to prefer a business relationship with God. Why? I think it has to do with pride and control. In a business relationship, we can maintain both our pride and our sense of control, but in a family relationship, there is no place for pride or control.
If the nature of our relationship with Him is transactional - in other words, a business relationship - then we can maintain control of the relationship by trading value for value with Him; our inate inferiority to Him is a non-issue in the relationship as long as our transactions are evenly balanced.
But if the nature of our relationship to Him is familial, then the difference between Him and us is fundamental to our relationship; His superiority to us in every way puts Him in complete control of the relationship. He is forever Father and we are forever children.
In a business relationship, whatever inequalities may exist between "buyer" and "seller" are immaterial, as long as each party trades value for value. In a family relationship, the weaker party is dependent upon the stronger; the child is dependent upon the parent.
A business relationship evens the playing field between both parties in the transaction, a familial relationship highlights the inequalities between the parties. A business relationship is maintained by the fidelity of both parties to the standard of "value for value". A familial relationship is sustained by love.
In a business relationship, as soon as one party ceases to offer value for value, the relationship is over. In a familial relationship, no action or lack of action can change the fundamental reality of shared blood, shared bone, shared flesh.
In general, people don't like having their inferiority and dependence spotlighted. That's why they prefer a business relationship with God. And that's why every religion in the world exists - to manage and control the relationship with God
In my experience, most Christians operate a business relationship with God. Though they may protest, their language betrays their core beliefs about the relationship. For example, here's a quote from an anonymous commenter:
You could become a great man if you would bow your knee and yield to the One who made you - because after your short years here you will face Him. Fall on the Rock before the Rock falls on you.
Implicit in this comment is the belief that God is Gonna Get You! You're gonna PAY!
Oddly, people seem to like this message. Do good, and all will be well with you. Do bad, and He will come down on you like a ton of bricks. In fact, the reason you are not getting blessed by God is that you are not making the payments God demands in exchange for His blessings.
An appealing message - but it's not the Gospel.
Here's another example:
From where does the idea come that God's will is for any of us to be happy? He wants us to be holy. Happiness can be a byproduct of holiness, but holiness will not come as a result of seeking happiness.
Apparently, in this commenter's religion, God doesn't value Happiness, but does value Holiness. Therefore, He'll trade us something of lesser value to Him - Happiness - if we will pay Him something of lesser value to us - Holiness. In other words, the reason you are not Happy is because you have not paid the price that God puts on Happiness. Happy people have paid the price; UnHappy people have not.
This position appeals to our sense of pride and control, and we jump up and applaud wildly: Yes! Yes! Preach it!
But it's not the Gospel.
This is how religion operates, and it is why the early Christians were so frequently ignored, marginalized or martyred. Their message was simple...God is out of the accounting business - permanently. From now on, God is gonna think of you as His own child, not as a servant. ...but it thoroughly destroyed the very premises of religion. It really pissed-off the religious people, (and make no mistake - everyone is religious), so they tried to silence and/or kill those foolish believers who were spreading it.
What's the point of following rules and sacrificing animals and paying tithes and doing deeds of penance if God doesn't value all my hard work? I pour an awful lot of effort into proving to God that I am good enough and holy enough and righteous enough and committed enough and serious enough, and then these yahoos come along and say that God simply isn't interested in what I am trying to pay?
This Gospel of the Kingdom, carried by early believers to the uttermost parts of the earth, proclaimed that God had decided to throw open the Divine Party to anyone who wanted to come in and partake of it. He was giving away the riches of His table - for free. All you had to do was take Him at His word. All you had to do was show up. (See, for example, the parables of the Great Banquet, the Prodigal, the Pharisee and the Publican, the Talents.)
For some reason, the religious folks thought this was Bad News, and they've spent the last 2000 years trying to convince everyone that God Still Demands Payment! The only reason I can imagine for such foolishness is because most people were (and are) addicted to their own sense of worthiness and control vis-a-vis God. They want a business relationship with God, not a family relationship.
Oh, and they also realize that people who are no longer living in fear can be awfully hard to control.
Me? I'm completely convinced that I have absolutely nothing of value to offer God. Therefore, a business relationship with Him is not even a remote possibility for me. If I have any chance at all of being in a relationship with God, it's gonna hafta be because He Loves Me.
You know - as if I were His own child or something...
Wednesday, September 13
I wrote for years. Years and years and years. Reams and reams of dreck and piddle. And what did it get me?
So I quit writing. And now when I do write, perhaps it will still be dreck and piddle, but at least I am not attaching any salvific attributes to the act itself.
I subscirbe to an newsletter called Monday Morning Memo - highly recommended by the way - that is the marketing piece for a man who calls himself the Wizard of Ads. (No links provided - feel free to google it yourself.) I recall a piece he sent out a while back that was a eulogy for his father. Lemme see if I can find it....
Yep - here it is. (You're welcome.)
Anyway, as I read it, and read the tombstone, and imagined the man about whom that eulogy was written, I thought to myself, "wow - he lived a life, didn't he?" And I realized that I am living a life, too. Not exactly the life I wanted, but closer now than I was before.
Conscience makes cowards of us all. I believe that was Hamlet, a coward if ever there was one. It was that quote that came to me when I made a choice that my background and culture told me I should regret, but which hindsight tells me set me free finally to be who I wanted to be and to live the life I wanted to live.
Fear has kept me bound for a very long time, but I have slowly and certainly begun to shake it's gnarly bonds. Each day gets me closer to living the life I have imagined; each day leads to me to stare my fear full in the face and say "what the hell..."
No one gets out alive. Hamlet eventually learned that. I do not intend to die young, but neither do I intend to die without living. I have finally - finally - started to live. And I'll be damned if I am going to give it all up for some bastardized version of puritanical morality masquerading as "What God Wants...."
No one but me knows what this means, but everyone can benefit by clicking on the link referenced above.
Tuesday, August 8
Monday, July 31
If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, (and it is obvious that the writer of the article has not), then you might not recognize how completely wrong the story gets the fundamental issue here.
A similar story can be found here.
I am not remotely surprised that Fight Clubs are popular amongst adolescent boys and white-collar 20-somethings, nor am I surprised that the egg-headed professors quoted in the story place the blame on video games.
In our public culture, we Americans have utterly abandoned the idea of anything transcendent, with the possible exception of the state. I'm pretty sure most of these kids involved in fight clubs have fully imbibed at the well of nihilism, moral relativism, and consumerism and they simply are looking for something that is real.
Pain is real.
Flesh is real. Bone is real. Blood is real.
They are tapping into something visceral and latent in every man. They are no doubt rebelling, (subconscious though their rebellion may be), against the intense feminization of their entire culture - school, work, public debate - all of it intensely anti-male. Through the machinery of state-funded education, they find themselves mechanized, industrialized, systematized and finally traumatized by the sheer banality of the modern secular state.
I can't blame them at all.
Wednesday, July 26
Atticus lives in a hotel in
He is the father of four beautiful, intelligent, creative, charming, independent and free-thinking children, ages 16, 19, 21 & 23, and father-in-law to one beautiful, charming, creative, intelligent and feisty daughter-in-law. He also fills the position of concierge and
He occasionally plays keyboards in a band that occasionally plays Rock-n-Roll cover tunes, but he listens mostly to jazz, country and sports-talk radio.
He blogs. He invests in commodities, but not equities. He plays options but not futures.
He reads lots of non-fiction, (economics, history and theology), and a little fiction, (high-brow snooty literature mostly, but also has occasional forays into comic books.) His favorite film has never been released on DVD. He believes the best shows on television are all cartoons - Futurama, The Simpsons, Family Guy & King of the Hill. His hero is Bugs Bunny. (Perhaps we detect a theme here.)
He's an ENTP, although he believes that Myers-Briggs is deeply flawed, in spite of its ubiquity and reputation. He also believes the demise of western civilization can be traced directly to the advent of Astro-Turf and the Designated Hitter rule and can be traced indirectly to public edjumakashun, fiat money, premilennial dispensational eschatology and Rationalism.
His reach exceeds his grasp. Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do. Time flies like an arrow, fruit fries like a banana.
I'm here all week. Don't forget to tip your waitress.
Tuesday, July 25
Anyway, it was a lot of fun to shop for something I knew she would love: tickets to see her beloved Red Sox. I got us tickets in section 116, row 32, just to the left-handed hitters side of homeplate. We spent roughly a zillion dollars on a couple of crappy hotdogs, a couple of drinks and the worst tub of popcorn I have ever eaten in my life.
Welcome to Oakland.
Josh Beckett pitched for the Sox, Barry Zito for the A's. The Sox roughed up Zito - he gave up five earned runs - but it was easy to see how he can be so dominating when his pitches are all working. Papi and Manny both homered, which delighted her. Beckett overcame a shaky start and was dominant for 5 innings. The Sox turned 3 DPs. Papelbon closed it out. In short, we got to see all the things she would want to see.
Banners around the stadium exhorted "Let's Keep the A's in Oakland!"; apparently Oakland is not doing a great job of supporting the A's. At several points in the game, the cheer "Let's Go Red Sox" rumbled through the ugly old barn that the A's call home. Not only were there nearly as many red Sox fans as A's fans at the game, the Red Sox fans were far more rowdy and loyal to their team. We stood and cheered the homers and the key defensive plays, talked smack with the A's fans around us, and took photos with fellow Sox fans after the game. They really do treat one another like "brothers" within the closely defined context of "Red Sox Nation".
I love the pace and rhythm of a baseball game, the ebb and flow, the phases of the game, (beginning, middle, end). It feels like life-writ-small.
I sat there thinking, "I need to attend more baseball games" and began plotting my purchase of Diamondbacks season tickets next year. I imagined myself becoming a real fan, knowing the players, the teams, and my fellow fans. I imagined myself charting pitches, keeping a box score, and just generally giving myself to the Diamondbacks, not because they would reward my loyalty by winning but because the rhythm of the game helps me to unwind. I also imagined how the pace of my life during baseball season would change as I made attendance at the games an integral part of my life.
I have no idea how much it will cost, but I like the dream.
Monday, July 24
I spent the weekend in San Francisco, which is not merely on the opposite side of the Bay from Oakland but is also the opposite side of the world, culturally speaking. I love San Francisco; I will live there for a year at some point in the future.
Saturday I decided to drive into town rather than take BART. It took 20 minutes to get to the traffic jam waiting to get through the toll gates for the Bay Bridge, and then another hour of crawling to get to the gates. At least we were sitting in air conditioning. I did not at the time know what a blessing that was. Once through the toll gates, we breezed along across the bridge at 60 mph. 20 minutes later, we parked close to Union Square and stood in line to get on the cable car.
While waiting, we saw one guy wearing a scarf on his head and admiring his reflection in the shop windows. Another guy was standing on his head on the street corner. Uh huh. This is San Francisco.
It was a touristy kinda day. We rode the cable cars, strolled through the Cannery, had a Beer at Jack's Cannery Bar while listening to a guitarist play through Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon all by himself. We hung out on the beach down by Ghiradelli Square, napped a little bit, then walked back up into town. We had exceedingly hot Hot Wings at a little diner on Lombard, got a brief massage from an aspiring massage therapist whilst waiting for the 28 bus to the Golden Gate Bridge, and then walked across the Bridge at sunset, snapping photos all the way.
We took another bus to some swanky neighborhood on the Pacific side of the peninsula down by Balboa Park I think, We walked a lot more and finally found the the Muni back to Powell station. We finished the evening with dinner in a Jazz place down by Union Square. I had a mostly boring mixed greens salad, a pretty decent boullabaise, and a Neopolitan to finish off the meal. The music was good, but the service was abysmal. Just like Europe!
While trying to find the Bay Bridge again, I made an illegal left turn and got pulled over by a motorcycle cop. He asked for my license and registration. When I told him it was a rental and I was from Arizona, he replied, "I thought this was gonna be easy", and let me go without a ticket.
The trip back to the hotel in Pleasanton took less than 30 minutes. THIRTY MINUTES.
Sunday was completely different - we decided to take BART. The trains are apparently not air conditioned. It was - uhm - unpleasant. (Did I mention this was the hottest weekend of the year? Temperatures inland reached 110, and it was in the 90s in SF.) I couldn't help wondering what it must be like on a weekday afternoon packed with bodies. Bleh again. While trying to find a rail car that was not 10 degrees hotter than the blistering outside air, we got separated, which resulted in 30 minutes of trying to reconnect, which we ultimately did at the West Oakland station.
Together again, we rode BART into the Mission District and began wandering around. I had hoped to find a killer Peruvian-fusion restaurant called Limon where I had eaten before, but really had no clue where it was. As we walked up 16th Ave past a bagle shop, I overheard a couple of guys talking about Limon. I interrupted, asked them to point me to the place, and it turned out we were less than a block away. Eureka!
It was a little before 4 when we arrived, so you could say we beat the dinner rush, which was nice since we got the opportunity to ask our waitress not only about the food but about herself. (Ashley, from upstate New York, in SF for about 18 months.) We ultimately chose the sampler with 4 kinds of cerviche. Then we did the tuna tartar patty and some amazing shrimp-stuffed calamari in saffron sauce - all exquiste and well-balanced. We washed it down with a bottle of some kinda white spanish wine, (instead of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I’d requested), and finished with latte and two decadent deserts - a dark chocalate truffel with vanilla ice cream, and home made short bread cookie sandwiches with 4 kinds of sauces. The cookies were a tad too sweet for my taste, but overall, it was a thoroughly fabulous dinner.
We then wandered 3 doors down to a joint known as Blondies Bar & No Grill. Black walls. Black ceiling. Black floor. Minimal signage. No Grill. 16 ounce martinis. This is a place you come to drink, to lounge, to groove, to lounge and to drink. We drank, lounged and grooved - and thoroughly, completely, utterly enjoyed ourselves. The Tour de France was on the tube above the pool table in the back, a very eclectic, very San Fran sound track was playing at conversation-enabling sound levels, and a lesbian couple was making out in the back corner.
We each had only ONE 16-ounce martini because ONE 16-ounce martini is enough for anybody.
Next, we crossed the street to a little curiosity shop specializing in used clothing, snarky refrigerator magnets, (”Divorce is Expensive - Freedom is Priceless”), and anti-George Bush knick knacks. It occured to me that the humongous market for Anti-George Bush tchotskis has probably helped to keep the economy afloat - an irony which would no doubt really irritate the George Bush-haters if they had a capacity to appreciate irony, which I doubt.) The place was buzzing - at 7:30 on a Sunday evening! We bought nothing, but enjoyed the experience.
Finally, to complete our Sunday of Decadence, we wandered down Valencia back toward 16th to a dive called Casanovas Lounge. (I have a thing for slightly seedy bars with quirky character.) As was Blondies, Casanovas was mostly empty, and mostly dark. Whereas Blondies has an air of world-weary sophistication, Casanovas has more of a 19th-century opium-den vibe going on. Not that I’ve ever been in the 19th century, or in an opium den, but this is the kind of place I picture when I read Sherlock Holmes.
What little light there was in the place was provided by red-tinted lamps scattered around the room. Paintings, not posters, were hung all around the back part of the bar. When our eyes adjusted to the dim light, we realized that the paintings were mostly nudes, and that the sofas in the back were invitingly low and soft and cushiony and easy to get real comfortable in, if you get my drift.
We took seats in the corner across from the bar just in front of the back lounge where we could watch people both in the bar and on the street. (San Francisco is a great people-watching city. If you can’t see it in SF, it can’t be seen on the planet.) Back behind the sofa-strewn lounge area was a smaller room with couches on three walls and heavy drapes framing the doorway. The drapes looked as if they could be drawn to make a private area, but they were open the entire time we were in there. A lesbian couple was making out on the cushions behind the drapes. Of course.
We decided on shots of Don Julio Silver since neither of us was driving. Lick the hand, sprinkle the salt, shoot the tequila, lick the salt off the hand, suck the lime. Weird, but fun. In fact, so fun that we did another shot.
Directly across from our table, a DJ was spinning actual vinyl albums with actually terrific rock & roll. Most of it I had never heard before, but I really liked it. It had a 70s feel without being 70s schlocky. Oh, and it too was played at a volume that did not prohibit conversation. (What marketing guru recommended that music be played so loud that your guests cannot hear themselves talk? And who thought shouting into an ear 3 inches from your mouth makes for a fun evening? Huh?)
At some point, I remembered that I was actually supposed to work on the morrow, so we hopped BART back to Pleasanton. The return trip was a good deal cooler and less eventful than the trip out. Thank God.
It is hot in the Bay Area. HOT. Aitch Oh Tee steaming hot. I’m glad my stale, lifeless cubicle comes equipped with A/C.