Month: September 2015

Exit 74. What are we getting wrong?

I recently read the book Last Mass by Jamie Iredell.  For those of you who know me, it will become quickly apparent from my description here that this is not my usual kind of reading material. Last Mass is a collection of paragraph-long reflections on the history of Catholicism in California during the time of Junipero Serra and his contemporaries, mixed with the author’s own reflections on growing up Catholic in California and the experiences that led him to stop attending Mass in young adulthood. Although I stopped attending Catholic mass at age 20, for very different reasons than Jamie did, I still tend to get a little defensive when reading anything critical of Catholicism, or of European-American culture in general, although from the historical record one cannot argue the fact that that Europeans mistreated Native Americans.  It is a story that needs to be told, so that we do not repeat such abuses in the future.

So in light of that, if this isn’t my usual kind of reading material why did I read this book?  Simple: I knew Jamie as a teenager.  We went to middle and high school together.  We had several classes together over the years.  I didn’t really hang out with him outside of school, but remember, I didn’t really hang out with anyone outside of school at that age.  We lost touch after high school, as I did with almost everyone I knew, but we’ve been back in Facebook contact since 2008, so I’ve seen his posts about the books he’s writing and the pieces that have been published in literary journals.  For a brief time last year, another of his books, I Was A Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac, was being offered as a free Kindle download.  I read it, and I really enjoyed it.  That one was a collection of personal essays that felt kind of like reading a blog like this one, but more well written.  He doesn’t know that I’m writing this, but I’ll probably tag him when I share it to Facebook.

Last Mass was very thought-provoking.  Jamie has a way of connecting his stories about Father Serra with his stories about his own life in just the right way.  It’s always interesting to read his stories, especially when he writes about himself at the age when I knew him.  I never knew he did so many drugs, for example.  While I do not share his conclusions about leaving the Catholic Church (I left for different reasons and opted instead to worship in a different branch of Christianity), I can relate to a lot of the struggles he shared, particularly those about the guilt and shame experienced within the normal bounds of puberty.

Any time I read about abuses perpetuated by Christianity in the name of the Church, such as the Crusades, the mistreatment of the Native Americans that the missionaries were trying to convert, or the acceptance of slavery within historical Christianity, it makes me wonder: How could they have gotten things so wrong?  How could Father Serra and his contemporaries have misinterpreted God’s teaching to the point that natives were whipped and beaten for keeping their cultural practices, native women were routinely raped, and natives were plundered of their possessions?  Of course, those who carried out these abuses were all products of their time and culture, and they should not entirely be judged by modern standards, but still, I wonder how the culture could have strayed so far from God’s teaching in the first place, with so few men or women of God standing up for the truth.

But there is a more important question here.  What are we getting wrong today?  What is it that Christians are doing today that seems perfectly normal in our culture, but blatantly contradicts the Word of God and will make future generations of Christians wonder what we were thinking?  Is it our tolerance of divorce within the church?  Our love of building big fancy church buildings while neglecting the poor in our own communities?  Our desire to water down the truth in order to be accepted in society?  (I don’t mean to be judgmental here, especially considering I have a lot of Christian friends who are divorced, and I’m not. But this is something I wonder about.) This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.  The Bible is full of stories of God’s people grossly misunderstanding his teaching, and it will probably continue throughout history until Jesus comes back.  The important thing to remember is that I should be making decisions as a Christian based on the Word of God, not based on what the culture says.

Exit 73. Read your Bible.

I’ve been having some strange dreams lately.  I’ve been having trouble sleeping in general, and at least twice in the last week, I’ve had already short nights of sleep cut even shorter by waking up from some really bad dreams.  Last night’s was particularly creepy.

I was at some sort of church gathering, but I wasn’t at any church that looks familiar to me in real life.  And it wasn’t a regular service, because we were outside.  I don’t remember if there was a band playing, or a guest speaker, or just a church picnic type event, but we were definitely outside.  During this event, there were these two children walking around, probably around 10 years old.  I couldn’t tell if they were boys or girls; I thought they looked more like girls, but if so, they hadn’t been through puberty yet and they weren’t wearing shirts.  They definitely looked out of place, like they had been raised in a cabin deep in the mountains and hadn’t had much contact with contemporary urban or suburban life. They kept walking around telling people why the Bible is wrong and all this stuff about contradictions within the Bible and inconsistencies between the Bible and other historical records.  They spoke in an expressionless, monotone manner, as if they were reciting words that they had memorized and recited many times before.  It seemed like whoever they were, they weren’t really sharing opinions they had; instead, someone had probably trained them to go around to church events and do this just for the purpose of trolling, to upset Christians just for the fun of it.  Maybe they had parents who were militant atheists who enjoyed doing this, for example.  I even wondered if they were demons sent by Satan to sow doubt and discord among the Christians in the crowd.  Every time they spoke, they would finish by regaining expression in their mannerisms and saying “Read your Bible!” in the sense that if you read the Bible, these contradictions would be obvious.

The behavior of these girls in the dream (I’ll call them girls, even though as I said I’m really not sure) reminded me of two other things.  Back when I used to do chat rooms, sometimes there would be these trolls who would come to Christian chat rooms and copy and paste statements about apparent contradictions in the Bible specifically for the purpose of trolling, much like the behavior of the children in my dream.  Also, I saw a video once of people who were driving around groups of people lined up to buy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and shouting spoilers to the crowd solely for the purpose, again, of being jerks.  In at least one instance, the trolls mispronounced a name that appears prominently in all seven books, proving that these people knew absolutely nothing of the Harry Potter universe.  I got the same sense from the little girls in the dream, that they didn’t really know what they were saying.

At one point, the girls were running around on the roof of the building, doing their usual thing.  All of a sudden, I felt myself levitate above the crowd, and the next thing I knew, I was on the roof too.  It was as if God had placed me up there specifically to preach.  I spoke to the girls.  I told them, “Jesus is the Son of God!  Jesus is my Lord and Savior!  And Jesus loves you!”  That last one finally broke the expressionless face on one of them.  She seemed to be struggling to comprehend this concept that Jesus loved her.  I told her that Jesus wanted her to come to him, that he brings life in a way that no one else can.  She looked like she was about to cry joyfully at this news, but then suddenly the lack of expression came back to her face and she continued her thing of reciting who Jesus really was in history and how this contradicts the Bible.  I took a step toward her, and at that point she fell off the roof.  I didn’t know if she survived the fall, but I kept feeling that I had a chance to save her eternal soul, and if she didn’t survive that fall, she was going to live all of eternity without Jesus.  I woke up with chills at that point, without knowing if she survived the fall.

It was 3:30am.  I had only been asleep for two hours, and I didn’t know if I was going to get back to sleep after that.  I had to pee, but I was too afraid to venture out of bed for a few minutes, in case there were half-naked demon children in the hallway waiting to tell me everything supposedly untrue about Christianity.  I did eventually summon up the courage to go to the bathroom, after praying for a few minutes.  The first thing I did once I got back to bed was download the YouVersion Bible app on the new phone I wrote about last week, and I read about a chapter and a half from where I left off the last time I had read the Bible (which I’m sad to admit was about a week ago) before I started falling asleep and decided to give sleep another try.  I got about three more hours of sleep.

This whole experience got me thinking a lot, though, about how I haven’t been reading the Bible as much as I should be, and I’m not always good at explaining what I believe, and why.  So I’m going to go read the Bible now before I do anything else today.  And as for explaining what I believe: Human beings are inherently sinful, and this separates us from eternal life with God, our Creator.  Jesus came to Earth to live with us and die for our sins so that all who proclaim him as Lord and Savior can live eternally with Him.  It is the work of Jesus on the cross that saves us, not our own good works, but our works can reveal whether or not we are true believers, whether Jesus is truly our Lord.  And it is not our place to act judgmental or hateful to those who don’t share our beliefs, but it is our place to make sure that as many people as possible know this truth so that they know how to find eternal life.

Exit 72. Smart phones, dumb people.

As of today, for the first time ever, I have a smartphone.

I’m not going to get into what kind it is, or what features it has, or any of that, because (1) that’s beside the point of what I want to write about; (2) one of the things that bothers me the most about smartphone culture is the way people obsess over this sort of thing; and (3) if it ends up being a piece of crap, I don’t want to hear everyone’s I-told-you-sos and suggestions.  If I know you personally, I might be willing to discuss this in private.

There are a lot of reasons I held out for so long.  The main reason was that money was tight for a long time.  I was working at a private school, making a lot less money than I am now.  I didn’t have a lot of money left at the end of the month, and paying more to get Internet on my phone just wasn’t the top priority.  It seems like, over the course of the last several decades, life has just gotten a lot more expensive in general, as things that were once seen as luxuries for the wealthy are now expected to be necessities.

I also don’t like what I call smartphone culture, in general.  People these days seem to be obsessed with their phones. A lot of people don’t pay attention to their surroundings because they depend on their phones to tell them everything.  Smart phones, dumb people.  I don’t want to turn into that. Also, certain phone manufacturers even seem to inspire a cult-like devotion among their users.  People with perfectly good phones that work just fine line up for hours every few months whenever a new phone is released, so they can blow their money on something that’s half an inch longer and about 5% faster.  (I know, I know, there’s a dirty joke somewhere in that.)  It’s ridiculous, and it’s scary how phone manufacturers have been able to brainwash people like this.  I had a dumbphone that I bought in 2011 when it was already somewhat outdated technology.  It works just fine.  The battery typically lasts at least three days.  And I was paying $27/month for unlimited text and far more voice minutes than I ever used.  And people were constantly giving me funny looks, wondering why I had never “upgraded” to a phone that would cost about three times as much per month with 10% of the battery life.

So why did I suddenly get a smartphone now?  Because one thing I’ve learned about myself recently is that I tend to assume things and sabotage myself, and I’m not willing to try new things because of my assumptions about what things will be like.  Despite all my hangups about smartphones, there are plenty of times I’ve wished I had one.  I can afford it now.  Worst case scenario, if I hate it, I’ll do something else after a couple years. And as for turning into the kind of person who doesn’t pay attention, I don’t think that will ever happen to me. I held out on getting a cell phone of any kind until 2003 for the same reason, and 12 years of using dumbphones didn’t stop me from paying attention, so I don’t think having a smartphone will either.

Let’s see how this turns out.

Exit 71. Not everything is meant to last forever.

I don’t often remember dreams.  When I do, they’re really bizarre and nonsensical, and they don’t usually mean anything.  However, I have one very clear memory of having a dream and waking up with a clear sense of what the dream meant.

It was December 2011.  In my dream, I came home to my parents’ house.  From the time I moved away for school until 2006, whenever I would visit my parents, Mom would go find the remaining cats from my childhood that we still had, and she would bring them to me and say to them in a falsetto baby voice, “Look!  Your big brother is home!”  This practice stopped in 2006 because that was the year that Pee-Wee, the last cat from my childhood, passed away.  Mom said once, and I’d have to say she’s probably right, that Pee-Wee was always my favorite of the many cats I grew up with.  I said once that she was the closest I ever had to a little sister.

Back to the dream.  (I wrote about this in a friends-only Facebook note back when it happened, and I’ve told this story many times, so this may sound familiar to my long-time friends.) I got home, and Mom went in the back yard to find Pee-Wee.  She brought her out and said, “Look!  Your big brother is home!”  In real life, Pee-Wee had died five and a half years earlier, but in dreamland, she was still alive.  I remember thinking she was really looking old, and I thought to myself, how old is she now?  18?  19?  No, wow, she’s 23!  That’s old for a cat!  (Leave it to me to do math correctly in my dream; she actually would have been 23 had she been alive on the day I had this dream.) I noticed (here’s where it gets dream-level weird) that her skin was falling off, and I could see bones and internal organs in one spot. Then Pee-Wee ambled out into the street.  A car approached, and she moved so slowly in her old age that she barely got out of the way in time. She went to sniff something in a bush, and more of her skin came off, and I could see her brain. Then I woke up.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had a was in a long distance relationship at the time that just wasn’t working, with a woman who I’ve called Acrux.  In a few weeks, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, she would be visiting her old housemates up here.  I sat there thinking about the dream, about how letting go of the past can be really sad, but often quite necessary. Not everything is meant to last forever, and sometimes holding on for too long can just cause more pain.  I’ve never been a fan of euthanasia in pets or humans (and I’m not interested in getting into a political discussion right now), but in the situation I dreamed about, Pee-Wee was in a lot of pain holding on to this life.  And that’s when it hit me, that this dream wasn’t really about Pee-Wee.  It was about Acrux all along.  She wasn’t going to change; the events of the previous few months had shown me her true colors. Holding on to this relationship, trying to salvage a combination of what we had in the beginning and what I always thought a relationship should be like, when she was clearly unwilling to do so, was just causing more hurt and nothing else. If I stayed with her, things wouldn’t be the same as my idealized memories of what things were like in the beginning. I knew at that moment that I had to bring this up when she came for a visit a few weeks later, and I knew at that moment that our relationship would not survive to the end of her visit.  We broke up on New Year’s Eve.

Now some things should not be discarded so lightly.  I believe that marriage, for example, is a lifetime commitment.  (If you are divorced and reading this, don’t take that as judgment on you.  I’m just stating my beliefs here, and everyone has their reasons.)  Also, another example, one’s core spiritual beliefs should not change if they should suddenly become inconvenient.  But some things just aren’t meant to last forever.  When I first started writing this blog, for example, I was looking for a new job, although I didn’t go public with that until it was a done deal.  Things at my previous job had changed to the point that everything I had enjoyed about working at a tiny Christian school just weren’t there anymore, and it wasn’t worth the low pay anymore.  Letting go of my job of seven years was a positive change for me, although it certainly wasn’t easy.

I have a few other things right now, one major one in particular, where I’ve been wondering if the time has come to let go of something that has been a major part of my life for a long time, but which has changed to the point of causing hurt.  Saying goodbye is hard.  This whole concept is hard for me.  I want things to last forever.  And I want to be a voice against any further changes, but this is unlikely to happen at this point, so maybe it’s time to find something better somewhere else.