Month: May 2016

Exit 108. Maybe I’m braver than I think.

I recently finished rereading through the entire Harry Potter book series.  It was the third time through for me, maybe fourth; I’m not entirely sure.  (Those of you who are familiar with the Harry Potter universe can skip the rest of this paragraph.)  In the books, Harry’s school, Hogwarts, was founded in the 10th century by the four greatest wizards of that time: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin.  (Apparently it was quite fashionable for wizards in 10th-century England and Scotland to have alliterative names.)  The four of them each had different qualities and traits that they sought in their students, so students were separated into four houses representing each of the teachers’ preferred traits.  The four founders created a magical hat to sort the future generations of students who would attend Hogwarts after their passing.  Gryffindors are brave and courageous, Hufflepuffs are loyal and hardworking, Ravenclaws are intelligent and clever, and Slytherins are powerful and ambitious.  There are exceptions, but Harry and most of the major protagonists of the series are Gryffindors, and the majority of the villains are Slytherins.  Voldemort, the main antagonist (who is basically Wizard Hitler), is the last direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin.

Some time ago, around 2004 I think, I found a quiz on the Harry Potter website that would sort you into one of the four houses (kind of like those “Which ___ Are You?” quizzes that become trendy on the Internet every few years).  The first time I took it, I was sorted into Hufflepuff.  I was a bit indignant at first, because in the book, the house of Hufflepuff is often portrayed as unexceptional and somewhat weak, the leftover wizards who aren’t good enough for any of the other houses.  Of course, several Hufflepuff students in the book (Ernie, Hannah, Justin, Susan) are key allies of Harry and his friends during the battles of the later books, and there is no shame in being one of them.  But still, I wanted to be either a Gryffindor, because I identified with the heroes of the story, or a Ravenclaw, because I see myself as intelligent.  I took the quiz several more times, sometimes changing one answer on questions that had two choices I couldn’t decide between, and sometimes leaving my answers the same, and I think I got sorted into all four houses at least once.  But the more I thought about it, I realized I really could identify as a Hufflepuff.  I am certainly loyal and hardworking.  I’m not necessarily brave enough to be the first one to rush to a fight, or the most clever one to use my brain to solve major problems, and I’m definitely not the most ambitious one out there.  I quickly became proud to be a Hufflepuff.

In the meantime, a new official Harry Potter website called Pottermore was launched.  Recently, while I was rereading the Harry Potter books, I decided to take the official authoritative sorting quiz on Pottermore.  I was looking for confirmation that I really was a Hufflepuff, although I answered the questions as honestly as I can.

This quiz put me in Gryffindor.  So much for all that Hufflepuff pride.  Really, me?  A Gryffindor?  I’m not brave.  I’m just me.

There are some interesting side plots in the book, and fan theories, about how students are chosen for Gryffindor.  The Sorting Hat almost puts Harry in Slytherin, but he chooses not to go into Slytherin because he has heard that many dark Wizards were Slytherins.  Ron and Hermione, Harry’s two closest friends, have qualities that are more stereotypical of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, respectively; one unconfirmed fan theory is that they somehow chose to be in Gryffindor too.  And Neville, one of Harry and Ron’s roommates in Gryffindor Tower, is portrayed as timid, quiet, and forgetful, not qualities often associated with Gryffindor.  Neville’s story is most interesting to me.  He comes from a family with a long history in the wizarding world, and many of his family members were worried for a long time that he would not have any magical powers at all.  The reader finds out more of his back story later, which I will not give away here.  But in one of the final scenes, when it looks like the bad guys are about to win, Neville courageously stands up to Wizard Hitler and refuses to proclaim allegiance to the house of Slytherin.  He then uses the sword of Godric Gryffindor to kill a certain magical creature, which is a key step in the plan for how to defeat Wizard Hitler.  (I can’t explain why without giving too much away.)  When the moment happens, Neville shows himself to be a true Gryffindor at heart.

Maybe I’m like that.  Maybe, when it counts, I’m braver than I think.  Maybe I’ll have moments like that where I need to stand up for who I really am, and I’ll find the courage I never knew I had.

Bring it on.

Exit 107. Not alone.

Eight months ago, I left my church of almost 10 years, as I have mentioned several times on this blog.  There were a variety of reasons for this, but the last straw was a major change that they seemed intent on implementing, looking only for approval from the congregation as required by the church constitution, rather than debating publicly whether or not it was a good idea.  At least, I always felt like no one was listening to me when I told them that this was a bad idea.  (Ask me privately if you want to know exactly what that change was.  That isn’t the point I’m making today.)

I haven’t cut all ties.  There are still a few people from that church who I see semi-regularly.  I am still in Facebook contact with many people from that church, and I still follow the church’s Facebook page itself.  Recently, the church Facebook page posted two pictures showing a big step that has been taken in regards to the changes I mentioned in the last paragraph.  I replied with a snarky comment.  I also liked every post made by others who seemed to prefer things before the change, and replied to a few of them.  In one of them, someone replied to my comment, asking if I was done yet or if I was looking for points for every comment I made.  I tried to stay calm and civil, because, well, everyone knows what arguing online is like.  But I explained that, when the church was presenting their new vision to the congregation, I would have appreciated knowing that there were others out there who felt the same way as me about what they proposed, and I was commenting to make sure that those who do not agree with what has happened to that church know that they are not alone.

After reading his comment, though, I decided I probably was being a little mean-spirited in my comments, and I said nothing further on those posts.  He replied something about how he had gone to that church for most of his life, and he would pray that I find a church.  His response, incidentally, highlighted another questionable aspect of this church, in that he acted like he had no idea who I was, and he was interacting with me for the first time.  This is not true.  I don’t know this guy well, but I can remember meeting him on at least three distinct occasions, and if I were to see him out and about in public, I would recognize him well enough to put a name to the face.  But he didn’t remember me, which tends to be typical at a very large church, particularly when I have been feeling more and more disconnected over the years.

Shortly after this exchange occurred, someone else I know, not connected to any of this, reposted by coincidence something that said, “I don’t share my opinions on the Internet because I want to change people’s minds.  I do it to let like-minded people know that they are not alone.”  (That’s a paraphrase, not necessarily word for word.)  I thought this was interesting, because I had never thought of this in this way before, and here it came up twice within a few days.

I often feel alone in this way.  My views, my beliefs, and my lifestyle are different from those of many people around me.  I know that this need not be a barrier preventing me from having friendships, but sometimes it matters.  Someone recently asked me if I would still believe in Jesus even if I were the only one on Earth who did.  I replied that I ask myself the same question fairly often.  But I know that I’m not as alone as I tend to think.  I have more in common with people than I tend to believe.  And I can still encourage other like-minded individuals in their beliefs.  I just need to do so without hostility toward others.

Exit 106. It’s only holding you back.

During the course of my life, I seem to find myself getting rejected by women, in both platonic and romantic situations, in progressively more unbelievable and outlandish ways.  Whenever I think I’ve been rejected in a particularly shocking way, a few months later someone comes along and rejects me in an even worse manner.  By the way, I’m not being sexist here.  I’m sure that other combinations of genders have just as many outrageous rejection stories.

The other day, I was having a conversation on Facebook with a close female friend, regarding a guy she likes, and whether or not it would work.  I said, attempting to be snarky, “Well hopefully he won’t do this,” and then proceeded to describe a scenario in which he behaves toward her in the same hurtful way that a former love interest once behaved toward me.  My friend knew exactly what I was trying to do; she replied, “Did you just put me into one of your past situations again?”  I said yes, of course.  She replied, “You’ve got to stop doing that.  It’s only holding you back.”

She’s right.  It’s a harsh truth to hear, but she’s right.

Why is it so hard for me to let go of past hurts?  I think it comes down to the lack of justice.  The people who have treated me wrong (men, women, friends, love interests, acquaintances, strangers, everyone in general) get to move on with their perfect happy little lives, leaving me bruised and wounded, lying on the side of the road like a piece of trash.  What they did was wrong, and it’s not fair that they can get away with it.  I know this is a vastly oversimplified perspective, but on the gut reaction level, it feels like I’m doing everything right, and I’m miserable, whereas those who do everything wrong reap all the rewards of life.  I told something like this to someone else recently, not the same friend I mentioned above, and she pointed out that those people who do everything wrong probably aren’t as happy as I think they are.  I just don’t see the consequences of their decisions.  However, even if I did, that would not change the fact that I’m miserable.

Life isn’t fair.  Some people are jerks.  And there is nothing I can do to change that.  If I am going to interact with other human beings in any way, I am going to leave myself vulnerable to being hurt.  There are times when I have seriously questioned if it was worth it, or if I should just go become a hermit and live in a cabin in the forest.  But I don’t think that is the best solution either.  I just have to find a way to let go, a way to stop allowing these past hurts to continue to destroy me from within.  Everyone walks a different path, and it is up to God to deal with those who, from my limited human perspective, appear to be rewarded for doing everything wrong.  And it isn’t like I’m claiming to be perfect either.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the past, even if they aren’t the same kind of mistakes as the others in my circle.

It will take a lot of hard work to change almost forty years of this kind of thinking.  A big part of it will involve prayer and Scripture.  I will need to place myself in more positive situations.  I may have to have some difficult conversations with people still in my life who have hurt me, and I may have to cut others out of my life entirely.  There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  All I can do is keep taking steps in the right direction.

Exit 105. A little recognition and encouragement would have helped.

On Friday, one of my students was carrying two Mylar balloons filled with helium around school with her.  Both of them had congratulatory messages on them, and I overheard her telling several of her friends who apparently did not read the balloons that it was not her birthday.  I asked her what the balloons were for.  There was a special barbecue lunch that day for students who had made honor roll the previous quarter, and she said that her aunt and uncle (whom she lives with) had gotten them for her because it was the first time she had ever made honor roll.  I said good job, and gave her a fist bump.

Then I started thinking.  This student really has made a turnaround since the beginning of the year.  Some of it certainly seems to be related to changes at home.  She started the year living with her mother and doing just enough work in my class to get a D.  She moved in with her aunt in December, and she has been doing pretty solid B work ever since.  I reserve Thursday afternoon for students who want to come to the classroom to work or to get extra help, and while she is often chatty when she comes in Thursday afternoon, she has been the most regular of any student all year, and she usually at least gets work done while she’s chatting and being silly.  Some of you who know me in real life, or from Facebook, remember her from a story I told about a Thursday afternoon a couple months ago.  She showed me a worksheet where she had to label diagrams of a penis, testicles, vagina, and ovaries, and she said, “Look what we’re learning in science class!  It’s disgusting!”  Later that day, she said something about her history class, where the regular teacher is out on maternity leave.  She then holds up her science homework and proclaims, “When she comes back next year, I’m going to show her this, and I’m going to say, ‘I KNOW how you got pregnant!'”

Anyway, the first thought I had was that it was nice of her aunt and uncle to encourage her for making honor roll.  She really has started working harder, and she deserves some kind of recognition for it.  But then I thought of the hundreds of students who made honor roll and did not receive any balloons from their parents.  Of course, they are recognized by the school with certificates, and this barbecue, and students with straight As additionally received a coupon for In-N-Out Burger.  (As I was passing them out, I told the students that if they didn’t like In-N-Out Burger, they could feel free to give me their coupon, and I’d put it to good use.  No one did, unfortunately.)  But I know that it often means more to a child, or even to an adult, to be recognized by those closest to him or her.

My past is full of times when I felt that my talents went unrecognized.  Mediocre students would often talk about their parents giving them money or rewards for good grades, and nothing like that ever came up for me, because I always got good grades.  I’m not saying that I necessarily agree in all circumstances with the concept of material rewards for good grades.  But a little recognition and encouragement would have helped.

Friends, if you have children, encourage them at things that they are good at, even if they are already consistently performing well.  If you have adult friends who are overcoming challenges of any sort, encourage them.  Tell them that it is inspiring to see their hard work.  Maybe they need to hear it, even if you never doubted their ability to complete these challenges.  And those of you who are running marathons, practicing healthier lifestyles, pursuing advanced education, or doing volunteer or missionary work in disadvantaged environments, good for you.  Thank you for sharing.  I enjoy seeing the fruits of your labor and your hardworking spirit.