Month: November 2014

Exit 30. I have a past.

Several years ago, back when I still used to do chat rooms, I said something to one of my chat room friends about my brother.  She replied, “It’s weird to me to think that you have a family.”  I asked why, and she said something about how she doesn’t know any of my family, and it’s like I just came out of nowhere.

I’m still not sure exactly what she meant by that, and I know she didn’t mean it as an insult.  But she does have a point.  Most of my closest friends now don’t know my family, although my brother has come to a couple of my birthday parties and 20th Century Video Game Nights.  I definitely have a family, though.  I’m not one of those bad-ass superheroes with dead parents, like Batman or Spider-Man or Kinsey Millhone.  My parents are very much alive, and they raised me.  I didn’t come out of nowhere.

But for a long time, I have felt that something similar was missing: childhood friends.  I don’t have that lifelong friend whom I’ve been close with since kindergarten.  In elementary school, I was the kid who constantly got picked on, and my attempts to fit in were met with ridicule and rejection.  I started making friends as a teenager, but once I graduated from high school and moved away, I would only hear from them sporadically, or not at all.

A few days ago, those of you who are my friends on Facebook may have seen a picture I was tagged in, a group photo of a bunch of kids with bad 80s haircuts wearing San Francisco Giants gear.  The picture, taken in October 1989, was from my 8th grade yearbook.  That was also the year that the Giants played (and lost to) the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.  Since those two teams are the closest to the school, we did group pictures of fans of each team.  And now, 25 years later, someone scanned that page from the yearbook, pointing out that we’d been Giants fans for a long time.  Similarly to the stories I told last month about my class reunion, this was a guy I had had a couple of classes with at one point, but we didn’t really run in the same circles later on in life.  Yet he still thought to tag me.

I hear friends talking about their childhood friends that they still spend a lot of time with, and sometimes I feel like that was something I missed out on.  Pretty much all the people I hang out with these days are considerably younger than me, and I feel like I’ve always been an adult as far as they’re concerned.  It’s like I came out of nowhere, like that one friend told me once.  But I have a past.  I had a childhood, I had teen years, and thanks to Facebook and the recent reunion, I feel a little more connected to my past than I have in a while.  I really should stay more connected with my past.

Exit 29. I need to know the world that they live in.

Recently, I was reading something posted by a friend who is currently a missionary with a different church.   In writing about trusting God during times of difficult trials, my friend referenced Brittany Maynard, the terminally ill woman whose assisted suicide was widely covered in the media.  My friend said that she didn’t know the details of the story, because missionaries in her church focus on the people around them, not on the news.  This seemed a little odd to me.

(By the way, I’m not writing this to argue in favor of or against Ms. Maynard’s decision to end her life.  I am also not writing this to argue whether my friend’s church is genuinely part of Christianity and whether or not my friend and her fellow church members are saved or not.  I know people with strong opinions on that, but this isn’t the time or place.  The point I’m going to make here applies to all branches of Christianity, and to some extent to viewpoints other than Christianity as well.  Let’s just leave all of these things between the individuals involved and God for now.)

Anyway, not following the news seems odd to me for a missionary, because if your goal is to help people and teach them that they need to know Jesus, then you should understand who these people are, where they are coming from, and the world that they live in.  Using the example of Brittany Maynard, a missionary, or a Christian in general, should understand that a lot of people find Ms. Maynard’s actions heroic and justified, and feel that taking one’s life when one’s health begins to deteriorate irreversibly is a brave and noble decision.  This view flies in the face of what many Christians and many churches believe, that life is given by God and should not be taken away in this manner; that God is found even in suffering; and that there is always hope that Jesus will heal even the most supposedly terminal physical ailments.  One who wishes to teach people that they need Jesus will need to meet these people where they are, because people who do not know Jesus aren’t moved by Sunday school reasons like not going to Hell.

I know some Christians who seemingly spend all their lives in Christian bubbles, without a lot of interaction with people outside of the body of Christ.  What I think bothers me the most about these people is how they seem to make such a big deal about all the secular music they don’t listen to and all the R-rated movies they don’t go to, as if that somehow makes them better than anyone who does.  I have a really hard time believing that Jesus is impressed by all that.  Jesus befriended sinners and spent time with them in their world (see, for example, Matthew 9:9-13) without participating in their sinful behavior.  He never went around and made a big deal about how holy he was, and some of his strongest words of criticism were directed at those very religious leaders who made a big deal of how holy they were (see, for example, Matthew 23, the whole chapter).

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with choosing not to engage in certain behaviors.  For example, I choose to abstain from alcohol because I’ve seen too many bad decisions made under the influence of alcohol, and I’ve seen alcoholism ruin too many lives.  But I’m not going to go around and act like I’m better than those who drink, nor am I going to try to change the behavior of Christians who do choose to drink in moderation.

For so many of these Christians in the bubble, their faith gets reduced to slogans and buzzwords that mean nothing to those outside the faith.  Why is Christianity right and other religions wrong?  “Because Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.”  Why do bad things happen to good people?  “Because God has a plan for you.”  Why do we believe that homosexual behavior is sinful?  “Because it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”  I’d find it surprising if anyone was convinced to embrace these positions by hearing these slogans alone.  Those outside the body of Christ don’t see the faith-vs.-works dichotomy in the use of the words “religion” and “relationship,” because that slogan presents the distinction using words that don’t describe it well at all.  To non-Christians, it’s hard to understand God’s plan without seeing a context of how God has worked throughout the history of his people, and Adam and Eve are just mythological figures.  And kids who grow up with a faith as shallow as these slogans eventually will meet atheists and homosexuals who are genuinely nice people, and they will have their faith tested in ways that they can’t see God’s plan, and that is precisely what causes them to leave the faith.

During the time Cruithne, the ex-roommate I didn’t get along with, was tearing me down on a regular basis, he said that I was immature and weak in my faith because (among other reasons) I wasn’t out there bringing people to Christ, and I was wasting my time with non-Christian friends if I wasn’t trying to bring them to Christ.  Really?  My friends don’t like to be treated as projects, and my relationships with my friends go a lot deeper than that.  I spend time with my friends because I love and care about these people.  I’m going to be who I am, I’m going to continue to love these people as Christ would love them, and I’m going to bring up Jesus when it comes up naturally, when my friends are ready to hear.  Sometimes all these people need is to know a Christian who isn’t going to try to force Jesus down their throat or act like a self-righteous jerk all the time.

One time a few years ago, I was one of the few sober people at a raging drunken birthday party.  I was laughing really loud at something, someone was commenting on my reaction, and I said it was funny, because I was having the loudest reaction despite being completely sober.  The birthday boy, who had been drinking quite a bit, walked by at that point, overheard that one sentence, and said, “You know, it’s really cool that you can come hang out with us and not drink and still have a good time.”  God needed him to have that realization at that moment for some reason.  I can be a part of that world without becoming drunk.  I know some people can’t do that, because of their past; the temptation is too great.  But these people know that I am going to go have fun with them and not judge them for choosing to behave differently.

If I am ever going to share the Gospel with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, I need to know the world that they live in.  I need to understand what their lives are like, what they experience, what drives them.  I need to know their fundamental beliefs and their views on the reason for existence.  And I can’t do that if I stay in a bubble.  I can’t do that without building relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.  And that is what confused me about my missionary friend’s post about not following the news.  I asked her about this, and she said that they ask the people they serve about where they are coming from and what is important to them.  So they do at least make an effort to reach people where they are, and that is important.  I still would prefer to know what is going on in the news, but I’m not in a place to tell my friend how to do her job.

This is still something I struggle with, though.  Cruithne has a point; even though I spend a lot of time around non-Christians, I don’t really spend much time talking about what I really believe.  This is probably something I need to work on.  And just so we’re clear, I’m not writing this as a cop-out, but I believe that all have sinned, that our sins separate us from God, and that only by believing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior can we receive eternal life and reconcile with God.  Doing good works in Jesus’ name do not save us, but those should be the response if we genuinely believe that Jesus is Lord.

Exit 28. Maybe we’re not supposed to forget the painful times.

Last week, I was sending someone a happy birthday message on Facebook.  I also asked how she was doing, since I can’t remember the last time I saw her.  For that matter, I’ve only met her in person a few times; she is friends with some of my dancing friends.  She messaged back the next day, and I was in the middle of writing her back, about 22 hours after this exchange started, when a thought of Procyon popped into my head.  As I was dismissing that thought, I realized that I was pretty proud of myself for having taken 22 hours for that thought to even cross my mind.  This must mean I’m finally moving on and getting over stuff.

Let me back up and explain here.  Procyon is my astrocode name for someone I dated very briefly in early 2007.  She was a brat.  She was into putting down things I liked, and one time when we were arguing about this, she told me that I was immature because I didn’t know how to fight in a relationship.  Excuse me… it’s like she’s saying that it’s my fault that the last girl I dated before her (Vega) was a nice person and never did anything to cause a fight.  She acted like she thought it was cute the time she humiliated and falsely slandered me in public, which occurred approximately three hours after the not knowing how to fight argument, and approximately twelve hours (most of which were spent trying to sleep) before the official breakup.  I really don’t think there was anything I saw in her other than that she was a female human who seemed interested in hanging out with me.  About six months later, she briefly started coming back to the Bible study where we met, where she kept going on and on and on about how wonderful her new boyfriend was, right in front of me.  Less than a year after that, she was marrying this guy, right around the same time I went on my first real date after she and I broke up.  I never knew what happened to her after that, and to be completely honest, I’ve never really wanted to know.

Anyway, my friend with the birthday last week has never met Procyon.  My friend looks nothing like her, and my friend isn’t mean like her.  But this friend has often brought up a brief passing memory of Procyon in my mind, simply because the two of them have very similar names.

It takes me a long time to get over things, particularly when the things involved are being hurt romantically, since dates and romantic relationships are so few and far between for me to begin with.  It takes me a long time to forget hurtful things, just because of the way my brain works.  But maybe I’m missing the point here.  Maybe we’re not supposed to forget the painful times.  If we forget the hurt, then the good times won’t feel as good, because we won’t remember what it’s like to go through times that aren’t good.  If we forget the hurt, we won’t remember the lessons we learn in hardships and trials.  And, while this isn’t really true of Procyon, there are some people who have caused me hurt who were also responsible for some very good times before things fell apart.

Things have happened that didn’t work out.  I can’t change that.  They weren’t meant to last.  But these episodes are part of my past, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.  No one can live a full life while haunted by decisions made in the past, or by the fear of things that might go wrong in the future.  I don’t have to tense up and get mad every time I see a Facebook comment by someone who hurt me, or by someone who has a similar name to someone who hurt me.  It’s not easy to move on from things like that.  It takes a lot of time, and conscious effort.  But I just have to keep practicing, because of that old saying about drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.

Of course, now that I’ve written this, I’m going to think of Procyon right away every time my similarly-named friend shares anything on Facebook.  But that’s okay, because I’m choosing not to carry around that hurt anymore.

Exit 27. Knowing when to hold on to something and when to let it go.

Twenty years ago, I was a freshman at UC Davis, and early in that school year, I attended my first football game.  (For the non-sports people reading this, trust me, this entire article isn’t going to be just football; it’s more of a backdrop for something I was thinking about earlier.)  I watched a lot of school football games the last couple years of high school, so I figured I’d just keep doing that.  I don’t remember the opponent or the final score (I just spent a couple minutes on Google to find that it was a win over Southern Utah, 41-16).  I remember it being crowded, and loud, and I remember someone giving me a lyric sheet to the school fight songs and thinking that some of the lyrics were kind of strange, since I had no idea at the time of the history behind the songs.  I went to every home game that year, and while I did not keep up that level of participation in following years, I still went to a couple games every year that I was an undergraduate, as well as a few basketball games every year.

I have close friends who are almost like family who have season tickets to University of Virginia football, and during my adventures on the road in 2005, I went to a game with them.  I realized at the time that this was the first time I had seen football live, at any level, since five years earlier when I was running the scoreboard at the first school where I worked.  I decided that if I ever ended up settling back in northern California, I would get back into UC Davis football.  On October 29, 2005, my time on the road had ended, I was staying at my parents’ house indefinitely, and I took an overnight trip to Davis to watch the Aggies’ football game, a win against Cal Poly.  It was my first UC Davis football game in eight years.  I attended the other remaining home game that year, a win against the Bears of Northern Colorado, and since then, nine years later, I have only missed six home football games.

Watching the Aggies beat Cal Poly is always special.  They’re one of the Aggies’ two primary rivals, but also one of the reasons I chose UC Davis over Cal Poly was because when I visited the campuses (campi?), everyone at UC Davis seemed friendly and welcoming, and everyone at Cal Poly seemed unhelpful and snooty.  (Of course, I have friends now who attended Cal Poly whom I would not describe using words like this, so please don’t take offense at what I just said.  But this just goes to show how first impressions make a difference.)  That year especially, though, the win over Northern Colorado felt just as special.  Two months earlier, while on the road, I had spent a weekend in Greeley (where the University of Northern Colorado is located) staying with an off-again-on-again online acquaintance.  I didn’t know her as well as most of the online friends I met in person during that adventure, and to be completely honest, as I got to know her that weekend, I thought she was an arrogant hipster snob.  She regularly put down things I like, both hobbies and political positions.  I went to her church the Sunday I was there, the kind of church where almost everyone was under 40 and they try to reach out to people who don’t like the traditional church experience.  Her church seemed to give off the vibe that they were better than traditional churches, with pews and hymns and old people and Republicans, because they were authentic, and relevant, and postmodern, and insert whatever other Christian pop culture buzzwords apply.  According to their mentaily, that makes them really spiritual, whereas traditional churches are full of a bunch of fake people who only care about the superficialities and don’t really love Jesus.  So I know this is pretty much irrational, but ever since that weekend, anything at all related to Greeley makes me think of her and that snooty messed-up church, so therefore I particularly enjoy watching the college football team from there lose.

Anyway, last night I was in Davis for the football game, also against Northern Colorado.  I thought several times about how it was the least fun I’ve had at an Aggie football game in a long time.  That got me thinking, why do I still go to every game?  What purpose does it serve in my life?  Am I going to keep going to every home game forever?  If I am no longer enjoying Aggie football, maybe it’s time to cut back.

Now there are reasons specific to tonight that made this game less fun than usual.  The crowd was pretty sparse, particularly in the loud and raucous Aggie Pack section where all the students sit.  (I’m not allowed in that section anymore, of course, but they’re fun to watch.)  My theory is that a lot of students were still nursing their Halloween hangovers by the time the game started at 4pm.  I was exhausted from a late night of Halloween parties myself, and I found myself nodding off a few times during the first quarter.  It was a slow first half; at halftime, the Aggies were behind, but the score was only 7-0.  And it was cold, or at least colder than it’s been in this part of California for the last few months, and I didn’t bring my big jacket.  And, finally, the Aggie team is pretty bad this year.

But as much as I enjoy watching football, I’m starting to wonder if maybe it’d be okay not to go to every game.  I started going back to Aggie football (and basketball, and, for the first time ever, baseball) games during the 2005-06 school year, alone, partially because I had no other social life at the time.  Now I do, and sometimes I get busy with other things, or I have to arrive late at a friend’s event because I was at the game.  This year in particular, there have been Saturdays when I’ve been tired and behind on housework and life in general to the point that going to the game starts to feel more burdensome than enjoyable.  I missed a game this year for a non-sports social obligation.  And going to games alone isn’t particularly productive socially; I occasionally run into people I know,  but I’m not meeting new people at football games or anything.  Sometimes I need alone time, and I enjoy spending my alone time going to a football game, but tonight I just wasn’t feeling that.

I don’t like change.  Aggie football has been my fall tradition for ten football seasons now, and even before that it was a connection I had to the past.  I remember that 2005 game against Cal Poly, the first one I went to as an adult, how much I enjoyed hearing the same fight songs that I learned as an 18-year-old freshman.  And while there is a lot to be said for keeping traditions alive, there is also great value in knowing when to hold on to something and when to let it go.  I love returning to the campus of my alma mater with all the old buildings, all the big trees, all the memories of that time in my life.  However, as I’ve said before, it’s really easy for that kind of nostalgia to degenerate into a longing for a past that truly only existed in my selective memory, with the bad parts forgotten, and a frustration over how life was so much simpler back then, without providing any solutions for navigating the current reality.

Fortunately, I have ten months to decide whether or not to stop going to Aggie football games.  There is only one home game left this year, against Sacramento State.  The Hornets are the Aggies’ other primary rival and the next closest college football team to UC Davis; their respective stadiums (stadia?) are just 22 miles apart.  I already bought a ticket to this one, since that game is always exciting and actually has a chance of selling out every year, so I’m definitely going to that one no matter what.  So I won’t have to decide to change my tradition until next fall.  And I don’t have to stop going entirely; I can still go to some games without making it the primary focus of my Saturdays in the fall, which may leave room for something new I might need in my life.

Incidentally, last night, after falling behind 24-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Aggies made the rest of the game exciting.  They looked pretty good for most of the fourth quarter and closed to within 24-21 before fumbling away the first turnover of the game.  That led to a field goal, so it was still a one-possession game (27-21), and the Aggies drove down to the Bears’ 18-yard line before throwing several incomplete passes, followed by an interception with eight seconds left.  Oh well… at least they fought hard.