church with problems

Exit 222. Celebrating what we have in common and working together.

Recently, I was invited to a large worship and prayer event at a church about 40 miles from me.  I found myself a little nervous walking in.  I had no idea what to expect.  I had never been to this church before, I didn’t know how big of a crowd there would be at this thing, and most importantly, I didn’t know where to go off the top of my head.  The person who invited me described where she would be, and I found her pretty easily, and the rest of the night was great.  But this got me thinking, trying to figure out why I was so nervous in that situation.

I think I was mostly just afraid of the possibility that I was going to wander into the wrong room and find myself horribly out of place.  I’ve seen that happen from both ends, wandering into the wrong room myself and having to excuse myself and go find where I’m supposed to be, or being in some sort of group, meeting, or class, and seeing someone else wander in thinking that they are in a different group from the one I am actually in, and discovering it much later.

I specifically remember one such experience along these lines, although technically I was in the right place that time.  It was 2005, during my four months on the road.  I was in a rural area in the Ozarks in southern Missouri for several days. I was visiting two people in the area who lived about 10 miles apart but didn’t know each other.  Let’s see, I should give these people names… “Pherkad” is a friend from college, and “Rho Serpentis” is someone I knew online and had not met in person before this trip.  (We lost touch a year or two later.  I don’t remember exactly why… I think she met a guy and stopped being online all the time.)  For much of the time I was in the area, I went back and forth, spending some of the time with Pherkad and her husband, some of the time with Rho Serpentis, and some of the time alone, depending on who wasn’t working or in class (Rho was a college student at the time).

One of the more interesting experiences of my travels of 2005 was getting to experience so many different kinds of churches.  If I was staying with friends who went to church on a Sunday, or on a Wednesday if their church had a mid-week service (which apparently is very common in the South and Midwest but rare among the churches I’ve been to in California), then I would go to church with them.  Otherwise, I’d just kind of randomly pick one.  But that’s not part of this story.  I was going to go to church with Pherkad and her husband on Wednesday night, and Rho was going to come with me.  But Pherkad and her husband weren’t going to be in the service, because they were going to be volunteering with children’s church.

So we got there, Pherkad and her husband went off to go work with the children, and Rho and I sat down.  A couple minutes later, I knew something was not normal.  Apparently this week wasn’t a regular service, it was the church’s annual business meeting.  And being that I was just visiting, I had never been to that church before, most likely never would again, I felt very out of place.  The meeting dragged on and on and on for an hour and a half, and when Pherkad and her husband finally got back, they apologized profusely for making us sit through all of that when we didn’t really know much about what was going on with their church.  I probably should have said something, or left, but I didn’t want to make a scene or look any more out of place than I already was.

I did learn something from that experience, though.  One of the major issues being debated by that church at that time was whether or not to use Awana as their children’s curriculum.  I hadn’t had a lot of experience up close with Awana specifically, but I had heard of it, and I knew that a lot of churches used it for their children’s programs.  I didn’t see why anyone would have a problem with it.  But a number of people in this church’s business meeting kept bringing up the fact that Awana was a separate organization not specifically affiliated with their denomination.

This all made me kind of sad.  My experiences with Christianity up to that point mostly had not included such toxic nitpicking over the minor differences between denominations.  The different branches of Christianity have so many important things in common, but Christianity as a whole is torn apart by people who argue over the things that aren’t really worth arguing about.  And many people tend to treat any little disagreement as a line separating those who are real Christians from those who will burn in hell.  They don’t realize that all of this does more harm than good and turns people away from Christianity as a whole.  And the situation hasn’t really changed… in the 13-plus years since this happened, I have seen many other times where Christians disagree over issues that do not affect how they respond to Jesus’ message of salvation, and mistreat each other because of it.

So all of that didn’t really have anything to do with the event I attended last night.  I didn’t end up in the wrong room, and it didn’t end up being a church business meeting.  And appropriately enough, this was an event that had people from many churches all over the area.  But all of that just got me thinking about denominations and different branches of Christianity… and how maybe we need to spend more time celebrating what we have in common and working together, rather than calling each other names.


Exit 172. But it isn’t pretty.

As a new Christian and a youth group leader in the ’90s, I listened to a lot of Christian music.  Since 2001, when I was no longer working with youth, that has tapered off, to the point that I do not recognize many Christian songs anymore other than the ones I hear at church.  There are a number of reasons for that.  I don’t have a social group at church that purposely introduces me to new Christian music.  I have also matured to the point of realizing that some Christian music just isn’t very good.  I can’t reverently express to Jesus how much I love him when singing or even hearing others sing phrases like “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”  (Besides, didn’t you people tell me back in the Josh Harris era that kissing was bad, because it leads to temptation and babies and stuff, so I shouldn’t even think about kissing until my wedding day?)

But, as unfortunate as this is, another part of the reason I haven’t been as much into Christian music is because sometimes I feel like I can’t relate.  A lot of Christian music is just too overly sappy.  Sometimes I’m feeling angry at the world, and there is very little angry Christian music.  I’ve even been told my some ill-informed Christians that the reason for the lack of angry Christian music is because anger is not a Christlike emotion.  (Right… I’m sure Jesus was feeling all happy and cheerful when he turned over the tables.)

The other day, I was in the car, and I heard a song that I realized sums up my history and experience with Christianity pretty well.  But it isn’t pretty.  And it isn’t a Christian song.

This isn’t a new song; it was released in 1991.  It isn’t a new song to me either; this was a huge hit when I was in high school, and it was on MTV all the time back when MTV still played videos for part of the day.  But apparently it has taken me over a quarter century to really appreciate the song.

New blood joins this earth
And quickly he’s subdued
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules

Late ’90s.  I’m a new Christian, and that’s great, but I’m quickly scolded by peers for telling dirty jokes and having lustful thoughts.  I learn the rules… there are cliques within the group.  Sometimes, from my point of view, the people who go serve Jesus in other countries during the summer seem more respected than those of us who don’t feel that calling, for example.

With time, the child draws in
This whipping boy done wrong
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on…

Early 2000s.  I’m in small groups at Church I With The Problems where pretty much all we do is confess our habits of masturbation and looking at porn and talk about ways to stop that from happening, or have long discussions about exactly what minute of the night we should leave our significant other’s house so that other people don’t see us there and think that we’re having sex.  When I share my thoughts that maybe there are more important things we should be concerned with, everyone just tells me I must not be mature in my faith.

They dedicate their lives
To running all of his

A few years later.  I’m at Church II With The Problems, where everything I say or do feels micro-managed, and every slightly socially awkward behavior or comment is treated like a sin I have to repent from.

He tries to please them all
This bitter man he is

After I move in 2006, I spend the next decade trying to live the good Christian life, but only becoming more and more bitter, as I see others who didn’t live the way I was taught find happiness and success, and my own life leads me to be more and more of an outcast.

Throughout his life the same
He’s battled constantly
This fight he cannot win
A tired man they see no longer cares

This has been going on for many years.  I’ve been looking for a place where I can find other people who live the way I’ve been trying to.  But I can’t win, I’m not going to find one, because I’m not 20 anymore.  There isn’t a youth group for 41-year-olds.  I don’t know how to live in my current situation, and I’m becoming more and more tired and bitter about it.

The old man then prepares
To die regretfully
That old man here is me

And this is the direction my life is heading if nothing changes…

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never be
Never see
Won’t see what might have been

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never free
Never me
So I dub thee Unforgiven

Unforgiven… ironically, that is the complete opposite of the gift that Jesus Christ gives us.  Am I unforgiven?  Have I not truly received the grace of Jesus Christ?  I don’t think so.  But I might be looking for the wrong things.  I might be trying too hard to do all the socially acceptable right things instead of just living in the grace of Jesus Christ.

But that is not who God made me to be.  I don’t want to fit in that box.  But I need to figure out how to do that.  I need to look to Jesus, not church culture.

And if I’m now hearing God speak to me through Metallica lyrics, I suppose I’ve taken a step out of the box already.

Exit 157. Mystery blogger award.

Hi, friends.  Alli over at Hey Worms tagged me in something called the “Mystery Blogger Award.”  I’m not sure what’s so mysterious about it, but it gives me a topic for this week’s post, and this was a busy week, away from my usual routine, so an award like this with the topic all spelled out for me is just what I need.  By the way, go check out Alli’s page; you’ll be glad you did.

So I have to do all of this stuff:

  • Thank whoever nominated you and leave a link to their blog.
    (Done, see first paragraph)
  • Mention the creator of the award
    (The creator is someone called Okoto.  I don’t follow Okoto’s site; maybe I should go check it out one of these days.)
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  • Nominate 10-20 people
  • Ask nominees any 5 questions of your choice
  • Share the link to your best/favorite post of yours.

I guess I’m on the step where I have to tell three things about myself. I did another one of these blog award things a few months ago where I had to tell things about myself, so I’m not going to repeat any of those things.

  1. I’ve been to 112 different In-N-Out Burgers.  In-N-Out Burger is a drive-thru burger place that started in the 1940s near Los Angeles.  Their menu has stayed pretty simple over the years: burgers, fries, shakes, drinks, that’s it.  No chicken nuggets or salads or kale and broccoli wraps with pine nuts or anything.  They were exclusively located in southern California until the early 1990s; since then, they have expanded to over 300 locations in six states in the western and southwestern US.  I had my first In-N-Out Burger in late 1997 and was instantly hooked.  Two friends from college (one of whom was Jeff from 80isenough, a frequent commenter on this site) were talking about taking a road trip in the summer of 1998 to go to every single In-N-Out Burger in existence (there were 130 of them at the time).  They never did it, but that inspired me to go to as many different ones as I could, just for fun.  So if I’m on a road trip through a part of the country with In-N-Out Burger restaurants, I’ll take a little side trip to check one off my list, or sometimes I’ll go to two or three of them and only get one item at each one so I can check off more than one.
  2. I’ve never had kale, as far as I know.  I make fun of kale all the time, but I don’t really have an opinion on it; it’s just easy to make fun of.  Kale is basically the Nickelback of vegetables.
  3. Let’s see, how about one that isn’t about food… My first gray hair and my first kiss on the lips came in the same year, in that order.  That could mean that I started getting gray hair unusually young, or that could mean I didn’t kiss anyone until I was older than most.  I’ll let you decide which one you think is true.

I’m also supposed to answer questions that Alli asked to the people she nominated.  For some reason, that isn’t on the list of things to do that I got.  Hmm.

  1. What is one big decision you made in your life that could have changed everything?  I’m not entirely sure about the wording of this question, but I’ll say that I quit my job in 2005, spent four months traveling trying to find myself, and eventually moved to where I am now.  Had I not done that, I probably would have stayed in the same job where I was, as I gradually became more and more cynical and felt more and more out of place, and more and more disillusioned with Christianity since one of the major reasons I moved was because I couldn’t find a church.  I probably would have reached my breaking point of being tired of life a few years later, when California was in a budget crisis and not hiring teachers.  Maybe I would have moved out of state.  Would that have been better or worse than the life I have now in the long run?  I don’t know.
  2. Would you rather be poor and in love or rich without a partner?  I can’t decide, because either one is an improvement over being poor without a partner.  I should point out, though, that I’m really not poor from the perspective of how most people on planet Earth live.  This is also a tough question because I don’t really don’t know what it feels like to be in love in a healthy way.  I’ve experienced all of the pain of relationships with little to none of the good times.  Even my five months in my late 20s with Vega the Nice Ex weren’t really representative of what it’s like to be in love, because that was a medium-distance relationship and we only saw each other in person a couple times a month.  My gut instinct is to say I’d rather be poor and in love, but sometimes I wonder if maybe being in love isn’t right for me.  I’d have someone around all the time.  Would that be difficult for me as an introvert?  I still tend to think that if I were really with the right person, we’d find a way to work it out.  So I’ll go with poor and in love.
  3. What’s a fun fact you know that most might not?  Are you kidding?  Just one?  I’m full of fun facts that most people might not know.  I’ll go with this one that most of my real life friends have heard me say: “Business Route 80” in Sacramento (an old routing of Interstate 80 that has since been bypassed) is actually state highway 51 on paper.  Caltrans doesn’t want to put 51 on signs, because apparently they think that this would be too confusing having highways 50 and 51 in the same city.  Apparently having two different highway 80s in the same city is less confusing, but this kind of nonsense is typical of California’s state government.
  4. What is one of your favorite lyrics?  My screen name on this and several other sites is literally one of my favorite lyrics, so I should probably go with that one.
    Live a life less ordinary
    Live a life extraordinary with me
    — Carbon Leaf, “Life Less Ordinary” (2004)
  5. Why did the chicken cross the road?  Because the chicken was moving with a velocity vector that intersected the line of the road, for enough time that the absolute value of the coordinate of this intersection point minus the coordinate of the chicken continued to decrease until it became negative.

Next, I have to nominate 10-20 people.  I don’t like this step, because some people like doing these and some don’t.  So I’ll nominate anyone reading this.  If you want to do this post in your blog, or other social media site, go for it.  And if you are, these are your five questions:

  1. What is one of your favorite bands that most people have not heard of?
  2. What was a time when something that happened in a way that you didn’t want ended up being better in the long run?
  3. If someone made a movie about your life, who should play you?
  4. Have you ever met someone in a really unusual, noteworthy, or humorous way, and ended up becoming really close with the other person?  Tell me about it.
  5. Are we there yet?

And finally, I have to link to my favorite of my own posts.  This is a hard one… but I’m probably going to go with #86, in which I discussed the correct pronunciation of the term “.gif.”  People get so worked up over this, and it says some interesting things about us and language.


Exit 101. It’s nice to feel trusted.

I was recently visiting someone, whom I’ll call Albireo.  She was babysitting her 7-year-old cousin for part of the time that I was there.  This kid is hilarious, and once she quickly got over the initial shyness that many kids seem to experience when in the presence of an unknown adult, she seemed to take a liking to me.  At one point, Albireo had left the room for a few minutes to check on something that was in the oven, and the little girl decided that it would be hilarious to tickle me, repeatedly.  I eventually tickled back, and we got into a big tickle fight that eventually led to her standing on the arm of the couch and jumping on me like a wrestler jumping off the ropes to body-slam his opponent. Albireo walked back in the room just as I was getting body-slammed and quickly told her that jumping on people was not acceptable behavior.

During the whole time I was getting tickled, I was a little hesitant to tickle back, and even when I decided I was going to play along, I felt hesitant… mostly because I didn’t want to do anything that might be construed as child molestation or anything like that.  People are way too sensitive about this kind of thing these days.  In my line of work, of course, that kind of allegation can be quite damaging, and I have often been cautioned to leave the door open when students are in my room by themselves.  I was relieved to see that Albireo seemed to trust leaving me alone in a room with her.  It’s nice to feel trusted.

But, wait, you’re probably saying. Albireo is your friend.  Of course she would trust you.  Is there really a reason you think she wouldn’t trust you?

If you’re asking because of anything that happened in the past specifically involving Albireo, then no, I don’t think she would have a reason not to trust me.  But given things that have happened in the past involving other people, one incident in particular, yes.

In 2003, I was attending a Bible study meeting through Church II With The Problems.  Someone I didn’t know brought a baby.  I remember briefly looking at the baby.  I don’t remember exactly what I did or said to the baby, but it wasn’t anything unusual that I, or any normal person, wouldn’t do in a circumstance like that.  A few minutes later, a guy who I had known for almost eight years, since long before I started attending Church II With The Problems (he was essentially how I found that church in the first place) pulled me aside and said that the baby’s mom had told him that I had touched her baby inappropriately.  Whatever it was, it was either a lie or a misunderstanding, and I honestly to this day don’t know what happened to bring about this false allegation.  But what hurt was that the guy who pulled me aside to talk to me was someone I had known for years, far longer than I have known Albireo now.  I would expect him to trust me enough that he could have told the baby’s mom that I wouldn’t do something like that, but he did not.

At work on Friday, the principal stopped by briefly during every period to talk to the students about something, and during my most difficult period, one student was interrupting enough that she asked him to leave the room and talked to him about it before he came back.  (I honestly don’t know if he was given detention or anything like that.)  As I was leaving later that day, I saw the principal, and she asked how the rest of the day went.  I mentioned that it had been good, except that the period when the one boy had interrupted her was unusually poorly behaved the rest of the day, even for them.  As we were talking about various ways to handle that class, not once did she ever make a remark along the lines of, “Well, you just need to control those students better,” nor did I ever feel like I was being scolded for having a class that was out of control.  I felt that from many of my superiors in previous jobs over the years, but it has not been like that here.  I generally feel more trusted and supported currently than I have in the past.

Trust is a touchy subject for me.  As I said, I am used to others not trusting me, because of various negative experiences in the past.  I am also used to being too trusting of others, and then having that trust betrayed.  Be careful whom you trust, but if someone trusts you, don’t ever take that for granted.

Exit 99. Sometimes I feel guilty for having friends who care.

I’ve been going through a rough couple weeks, both because of issues with work and things going on with friends.  Times like this really make me appreciate the friends who are there for me, who are willing to listen when I’ve had a rough day, or invite me out for a last-minute karaoke outing at 11pm followed by the kind of crazy late night at Denny’s that have been fewer and farther between the last few years.  (By the way, I know that one of the individuals involved in the things going on with friends used to read Highway Pi, and in case she still does, I should point out that nothing in this post is intended to be passive-aggressive.  At this point, I feel that everything that needs to be said has.  And the nature of these issues is not where I’m going with the rest of this post anyway.)

Even though I greatly appreciate everyone who has been willing to listen and offer comfort the last few weeks, sometimes I feel guilty for having friends who care.

As I’ve said before, I had issues with outbursts as a child, to the point that it sometimes affected my ability to function in a classroom.  I’ve definitely outgrown this to some extent, but not entirely.  In elementary school, no one cared about how I was feeling.  I didn’t really have friends.  When I was upset, the other students would just laugh at me and provoke me to get a reaction, and adults such as teachers and my parents would generally make me feel ashamed for overreacting.  I know they were trying to help, trying to make me realize that my actions had consequences, and that better ways existed to deal with the issues underneath, but this had the unintended side effect of making me feel like I didn’t deserve to have people care about me when I was upset.  I remember about halfway through my first year of college, when I had my first such outburst in front of my new friends, I eventually left the dorm building and sat in my car for a while trying to calm down and decide what to do next, whether to run away and leave it all behind, or sneak back in the building, try to get some sleep, and apologize to everyone in the morning for my behavior.  I chose the second option, but I didn’t even make it to my room, because all my friends who saw me get upset had been in the lobby the whole time praying for me.  When they saw me come back, they didn’t seem upset at all; they were mostly relieved that I was safe.  I wasn’t expecting that.  I was expecting them not to want to talk to me anymore, or at least to be scolded for having that kind of reaction and reminded how inappropriately I was behaving, because that was the way I had been treated most of my life.

There weren’t exactly any outbursts involved recently… well, not quite.  But even when I’m feeling quietly upset, I’ve often been told that no one wants to hear about my problems, and no one really wants an honest answer when they ask me how I’m doing, it’s just an empty greeting.  (I’ve written about this before.)  So when I am upset, and I turn to a friend for a comforting ear, I always feel like I shouldn’t have to do this, and I feel like I need to apologize afterward.  I really don’t want to be seen as the kind of person who whines about everything to the point that no one wants to be around me.  I’ve been accused of that before.  But in my efforts not to be perceived that way, sometimes I am so cautious that I tend to think that the other extreme is preferable, where I feel like the ideal is to put on a fake happy face all the time.  Of course, I don’t put on a fake happy face, but the point is that I feel guilty because I’m not.

It really shouldn’t be this way.  That’s not what friendship is about.  Friends should be able to share everything with each other, the good days and the bad, both giving and receiving that comforting ear that is so often needed.  I don’t want to feel guilty for that.  But I don’t want to take advantage of people either.  There has to be a balance.


Exit 63. God cares much more about the condition of your heart than the position of your arms and legs.

Last week, my church hosted a major week-long event for children. On Sunday morning, the usual worship team was joined by a group of children and preteens leading the congregation in two of the songs that they sang during last week’s children’s camps, with the young people leading the hand motions. That got me thinking about something. I spent four years (1997-2001) volunteering with the junior high youth group at the church I went to at that time. It was a lot of fun. It was good to relate important spiritual lessons to the world of young people, and to see them react to it and make positive changes in their lives. I enjoyed the games and activities we’d do with them, and I’ve stayed friends with a few of those kids, now in their late 20s and early 30s, over the years. But there is one thing I never particularly cared for when it came to youth ministry.

I hate doing hand motions to songs.

I don’t know why, but I have a theory. Hand motions are usually associated with music for children. Younger children like the hand motions because it gets them involved with the music. It’s fun to them, and it engages them in a way that the sound and lyrics alone may not. Older children like the hand motions because it reminds them of their childhood. It’s something fun they did as kids that they don’t do as often anymore by the time they start to hit puberty. But I was never involved in a church group as a kid, so I didn’t have that nostalgia for the hand motions of my childhood Sunday school class because there was no such class in my past. As an adult, I prefer to reflect quietly on the lyrics.

Different styles of worship can be a major point of contention between different churches and denominations. There are some whose worship imitates pop and rock music, there are others who sing everything a cappella because they believe that drums and guitars are from Satan. I’ve seen it sometimes up close, too. For example, I remember at Church I With The Problems hearing a talk about being obedient to God in worship. The (pastor, or worship leader, or whoever it was giving the talk, I forget) specifically mentioned a song that includes a line about “standing on holy ground,” and he said something to the effect that if you are not physically standing when you sing that line, then you are being disrespectful to God. The same goes for another song with the line “we lift our hands”; if you are not actually lifting your hands at that point, you’re not worshiping right. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with that. Come on, people… It’s just a line from a song. I believe that God cares much more about the condition of your heart than the position of your arms and legs. Don’t get me wrong. If you want to mimic any physical movement described in the lyrics, if that helps you feel closer to God, then by all means, do it. There’s nothing wrong with it. But don’t assume that I don’t love God because I don’t. Sometimes I sit in quiet reverence because I’m tired, and my feet hurt, and standing would be less physically comfortable, which would distract me from the lyrics and keep me from feeling the presence of God.

Let’s think about this, folks… getting on my case for not standing or not doing the hand motions… where else have we heard about people who got worked up over someone not following their religion’s minor rules, while completely ignoring the condition of their hearts? Maybe the Pharisees of Jesus’ day? (See, for example, John 9) And didn’t Jesus reserve some of his harshest words for people like this? Fortunately, I haven’t had any incidents at my current church regarding me not standing when most others are, or not doing the hand motions with the children. Hopefully it’ll stay that way. So go ahead, encourage your children to do the hand motions, but don’t make a big deal of it if they don’t.

(By the way, to the worship pastor who said yesterday that all the cool people are doing the hand motions: If you’re reading this, I know you didn’t mean that seriously, and I wasn’t offended at all by it, and your daughters did a great job with the hand motions. Like I said, I haven’t had anyone give me a hard time at our church for this reason, and the things that I heard at Church I With The Problems weren’t directed at anyone personally either. I just wrote about this because it got me thinking yesterday.)

Exit 44. I like to follow rules.

In all my reflections about opposite-sex interactions and dating, I’ve recently discovered something interesting and slightly unsettling: I like to follow rules.

That shouldn’t be surprising, given my logical mind.  Rules make things happen in an orderly fashion, leading to predictable outcomes.  I did well in school because I followed the rules.  I did my homework, I studied for tests, and I never showed up to class drunk or smoked pot in the bathroom between classes.  I got my college applications in on time, and I got an academic scholarship to study at UC Davis, one of the top public universities in the nation.  When I got to college, I attended class every day, except maybe two or three times when I was sick, plus one class I missed to see the Return of the Jedi Special Edition on the first day (midnight showings weren’t really a thing in 1997, so the first shows were around 11am) and two whole days of classes I missed for a church trip.  I graduated with honors in four years.

I became a Christian in college, and I learned promptly that Christianity isn’t about following rules.  The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus did not come to Earth to give us a bunch of new rules to follow (see, for example, Romans 3:19-26), and some of Jesus’ harshest words during his lifetime were directed at those who have an unhealthy preoccupation with following the rules (see, for example, all of Matthew 23).  I didn’t realize at the time that this was happening, but it’s funny that sometimes the churches who preach the loudest about how Jesus freed his people from living a life of following rules have some of the harshest rules to follow.  I didn’t realize at the time that they were rules; I just thought that those were just things that all Christians agreed on, since all those around me certainly did.  Don’t use the F word.  Don’t get drunk.  And of course, there were all sorts of rules about interacting with the opposite sex.  Don’t be in a serious relationship without marriage being the goal.  Don’t date a non-Christian.  Don’t have opposite-sex roommates.  Don’t stay overnight at your significant other’s house.  And the writings of Joshua Harris were very popular at that time, in the late 1990s, where he essentially says that dating is inherently un-Biblical and unhealthy.

After I left Davis, I found myself at Church I with the Problems, where I discovered much more that not all Christians believe exactly the same thing about everything.  This group was even more legalistic than anything I had experienced before.  One example that came up a lot in conversation was that that church taught strict young earth creationism.  (I have written about this issue previously.)  They had even more rules for how their members should behave, like not watching R-rated movies and not dating people who serve in the same ministry as you and not voting for candidates who aren’t 100% anti-abortion and anti-homosexual rights.  Next, at Church II with the Problems, I saw that some of the old rules didn’t apply there.  There were Christians who swore and smoked and drank and had tattoos.  I had other more serious problems there not related to legalism, but that is a topic for another time.

Some of these rules don’t work anymore, and some of them never did.  Life has changed, and the world has changed.  I wish I could throw my fear in the sea of no cares and just not worry about all this.  But the few occasions on which I did something approaching this didn’t work out so well.  I’ve written before about Mimosa, a much younger girl who I had a brief fling with in 2010.  A lot of things that happened that week broke the aforementioned rules, and that led to a lot of hurt, in the form of miscommunications and misunderstandings, creating a tension that seemed to overshadow our remaining friendship for some time afterward (although we are friends now).  Ultimately, the main issue was that we were at different points in our lives, and I blamed much of the misunderstanding on the age difference (13 years, 4 months).  I settled that by making a new rule for myself, which I called “Simpsons Rule” as an homage to the similarly-named theorem from numerical analysis.  The rule was this: If she wasn’t born yet on the day that the TV series “The Simpsons” first aired*, then she’s too young for me.  I chose this date somewhat arbitrarily in order to give my rule a clever name (although I don’t think I ever shared this with anyone), but also because one of the first things I noticed about Mimosa was that her date of birth is very close to the day that The Simpsons first aired.  (She falls just barely on the too-young side of that date.)

(*”The Simpsons” first aired on December 17, 1989)

But sometimes these rules I make for myself become arbitrary and pointless, and even counterproductive.  A couple years back, I saw a Facebook comment by a friend from college who I’ll call “Kallichore.”  We were still in touch for a while after I was done with college, I have one of those weird distinct memories of something she said to me that would have happened around 2001 or ’02, but we lost touch through natural causes shortly after that.  Anyway, I saw something that Kallichore posted to one of our mutual friends who I have stayed in touch with, and I thought about adding her because she was always a good friend who was nice to me.  I decided not to, though, because of an awkward incident that happened in 1997 involving a failed attempt by me to ask her out.  If she happened to notice me on Facebook and send me a friend request, then wonderful, it’d be great to hear from her, but I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to initiate anything.  A couple years pass, and just recently I saw something she said on Facebook to the same mutual friend.  I replied directly to what she said… and then I got to thinking.  Yes, I had a failed attempt to ask her out in 1997.  But that was more than seventeen years ago.  Furthermore, we were still friends long after that, and I even remember a conversation we had years later in which the 1997 incident came up, and she cleared the air about what really was going on in her mind at the time and why she turned me down.  So why would there be any lingering awkwardness so many years later?  I was over that by 2001-02ish, I’m over it now, and ignoring her after I specifically replied to something she wrote on Facebook just seemed rude at this point.  So I threw that rule out the window, sent her a friend request, we got to catch up over Facebook, and it’s been good hearing from her again, as well as reading funny stories she posts about her kids.  (Kallichore, if you happen to read this and recognize yourself in the story, I hope I didn’t make things weird by bringing up things from the past.  When I friended you on Facebook, I had no intentions beyond that you were always a good friend and I wanted to hear what you were up to now.)

So why not just throw the rules out and live free?  There were certainly other times I’ve thrown out the rules.  When I was dating Vega the Nice Ex in 2006, she lived 100 miles away, and sometimes I’d stay on her couch on a Saturday night and drive home Sunday morning, despite the fact that some legalistic Christians believe that such an action gives off the appearance of sexual immorality to the outside world.  During that same time period, I had a female roommate, despite that fact that legalists say the same thing about that.  There was never any sexual tension between that roommate and me, and for that matter, we kept to ourselves most of the time.  I was in my room grading papers and chatting online with babes, and she was in her room studying and playing World of Warcraft.

The problem is knowing which rules I should keep and which I shouldn’t.  Some of them kind of fall into Biblical gray areas.  Don’t get drunk, good rule, but do I really need to abstain from all alcohol?  I know plenty of Christians who occasionally drink enough that they could qualify as drunk; does that make them bad Christians?  I don’t think so.  Don’t kiss on the first date, that’s probably a good idea for me personally, since the one time I did break that rule (Mimosa), that made the heartbreak a lot more intense, but does that mean I should be afraid to, say, hold hands with someone I’ve been out with a few times?  Maybe is it even time to throw out Simpsons Rule, if I meet someone that young who I seem to click with?  Age differences become less significant over time, and a lot of women young enough to fall on the too-young side of Simpsons Rule (they could be as old as 25 now) can be pretty mature.  I don’t know.  Life is complicated, and the rules don’t always apply the same way in every situation.  How do I know which principles I should hold on to in every situation, and how do I know which ones don’t always apply?  There is no easy answer other than to keep seeking God’s wisdom.

Exit 9. Six songs that have shrunk off me.

In other words, today I will be sharing six songs that I used to like, or at worst feel neutral toward yet respect for their cultural value, yet I can’t listen to them anymore.  I’m calling this phenomenon “shrinking off me” because it’s the opposite of “growing on me.”  I can be very passionate about music and what specific events and people I associate with certain songs.  Sometimes I hear a song once, and I know it’s going to be one of my all time favorite songs.  Sometimes it takes a while for a song to grow on me; the first time I’ll hear it, it’s okay, but it takes a while for me to figure out that I love the song.  Either that, or I’ll see it in a different way after time passes.  And sometimes the opposite happens; sometimes I like a song, but then after time, for various reasons, I realize that I don’t like the song after all, or the meaning or association of the song changes in a way that makes me not want to listen to it anymore.

I didn’t have anything better to write about for this week, and one of the songs on this list came on this morning, so I thought I’d share.  And there’s nothing special about six, nor is this an exhaustive list, nor is the list in any particular order.  I just figured five is a nice round number, so I’d think of the first five such songs with interesting stories behind why they shrank off me, and write about those.  I thought of a sixth before I actually sat down and took the time to write this.  These are just my opinions and my experiences; I suspect many of my friends will disagree.  If you like these songs, that’s fine.  Good for you.  I’m not going to judge you for it.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with these songs; I’ll even link to them in case some of you reading don’t know all the songs.  I just can’t listen to them anymore.

Since Independence Day here in the USA is coming up in less than a week, I’ll start with…

1.  Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA” (1984)

Any of you who are making playlists for July 4 celebrations, please do yourself a favor and leave this song off of it.  At least listen to the lyrics first before you decide… the rest of the lyrics, not just the part that goes “I was born in the USA.”  The song is not a celebration of the USA; it’s about a Vietnam veteran struggling to make his way and find meaning in his postwar life and lamenting what his country has become.  Brutally honest, but not exactly what we’re celebrating on July 4.  This is not a patriotic song in that sense.

This song reached its height in popularity during Ronald Reagan’s campaign for reelection.  Reagan began quoting the song (only the chorus, of course) in campaign rallies and holding up Springsteen as an example of the hardworking conservative American values that he sought to associate with his candidacy.  Someone on Reagan’s staff didn’t do their homework, or else they’d know the well-documented fact that Springsteen was a liberal Democrat who had been known to criticize Reagan and conservatism in comments made between songs at live performances, not to mention in song lyrics themselves.  And I’m so tired of this song still being misunderstood 30 years later that I just choose not to listen to it.

Speaking of comments made between songs at live performances…

2.  Pearl Jam, “Black” (1991)

This was a difficult song to stop listening to, honestly, because I’m still going to say it’s a beautiful song, in a dark way.  It’s so sad and full of anguish, just like me sometimes.  The reason I’m not listening to this anymore has nothing to do with the song or the lyrics itself; it’s more of a personal vendetta against Eddie Vedder.  (I could have just as easily included Alive or Even Flow or any other Pearl Jam song on this list, I don’t listen to any of them anymore after this, but I chose Black because it’s my favorite of theirs.)

First, some background information that seems totally unrelated but isn’t: In 2008, the owner of the Seattle Supersonics basketball team (Eddie is from Seattle and Pearl Jam started in Seattle, remember) gave up after many failed attempts to get a new arena built in Seattle and moved the team out of state.  They are now the Oklahoma City Thunder.  In 2013, the owners of the Sacramento Kings (my home team) reached a deal to sell to a wealthy San Francisco businessman with Seattle roots who intended to move the team to Seattle.  The owners never publicly announced that they were considering selling the team, and they made little if no attempt to find new owners who wanted to keep the team here.  Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a retired NBA player, used his connections to get an ownership group together willing to match the offer, keep the team in Sacramento, and build a new arena here, which ultimately led to the NBA owners voting 22-8 against moving the team to Seattle.  As soon as that vote was in, the owners started talking to the group wanting to keep them here, and they sold relatively soon after.

Meanwhile, a group materialized getting petitions signed that would require a public vote for any sports facilities built partially or completely with public money.  The rich guy who tried to move the Kings to Seattle secretly and illegally donated a buttload of money to this group.  Some jerks just don’t know when to quit.  After he was caught, he made a token hollow celebrity apology, but the group still used the signatures that his money funded.  The petition was thrown out by the courts because the group didn’t follow proper procedures.  I could write a whole lot more on these issues and my stand on them, but I’m straying from the point here, the point being why I don’t like Eddie Vedder right now.

At a concert in Oklahoma City, Eddie was saying something about their city stealing his team, then went on to say that “the people that really f***ed us over is Sacramento.  F*** Sacramento.  When you think about it, if you’ve ever been to Sacramento, they’re already kind of f***ed.”  You want to talk about my home that way?  Fine.  I don’t need you.  Don’t take it out on me that you’re just angry that you had one great song 23 years ago and haven’t done crap with your life since.  I’m sorry your city is full of people who can’t get a plan together to keep their team, who have to resort to dirty politics when they don’t get their way.

By the way, If any of you are like me, you’re going to want to get really technical here and remind me that I don’t actually live in Sacramento.  I don’t think such things really go through the minds of those who give pissed-off profanity-laced rants before crowds of thousands.  “F*** Sacramento.  But the suburbs aren’t so bad, and neither are the pockets of unincorporated neighborhoods that the city never annexed.”  Yeah, I don’t think Eddie sees it that way.  And I could just as easily go on with what I really think about Seattle, but I’m not going to stoop to that level.  I’ll just go enjoy walking outside without a raincoat instead.

3.  Bill Batstone and Andy Crouch, “To Every Generation” (1996, but see note)

I’m not sure exactly to whom to credit this song.  The above link is performed by the band at Intervarsity’s Urbana 1996 conference, which is where I learned the song.  After Urbana, it quickly spread to evangelical church worship services and local chapters of Intervarsity and other college and youth ministries.  In my research for this article, though, it appears that this song, as I knew it in the ’90s, is actually the chorus of an earlier song (by Batstone) combined with a new verse (by Crouch).  Batstone’s original had different verses.

Anyway, back on topic… before any of you accuse me of blasphemy for including a Christian worship song on this list, hear me out.  One reason I don’t like this song anymore is because of how it was so overplayed, and so repetitive.  The lyrics are very true and uplifting, but I just got sick of singing the same thing over and over again every week.  Worship, and Christianity in general, shouldn’t be about repeating the same things over and over again.  That’s how one’s beliefs and faith degenerate from something meaningful from the heart into a mindless, meaningless ritual.  There is another reason, though.  The Church With The Problems, which I have mentioned in previous posts, took its name from a line from this song, and for a while I associated this song with that church.  I wanted to get away from that and not think of them, to put that behind me.  That was a while ago, I’m over all that, but I’m still sick of this song from it being so overplayed.

4.  Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, “Zoot Suit Riot” (1997)

Yeah, you know this song, the song with which most people on the outside associated the resurgent popularity of swing dancing in the late ’90s.  Back then, I was in college, and some of my friends, the same ones with whom I sang “To Every Generation” again and again and again and again at church, got really into swing dancing.  I wanted nothing to do with it; I thought they were crazy and obsessed.  A few months later, in June of 1998, I got invited to go swing dancing by some cute girls, and that was all it took.  I went off and on for a year and a half, quit because most of my friends didn’t go anymore and the crowd was kind of cliquish and unfriendly, started again in 2007, and have been going ever since.  And this was the song that they played every week that got everyone excited, because it was the swing song that you actually could hear on the radio.

The reason I don’t like this song anymore is a combination of the Born in the USA effect and the hipster effect.  No one seems to know what the song was about (specifically the mistreatment of Mexican-Americans by American military personnel, and the military personnel’s wives/girlfriends cheating on them with said Mexicans).  It’s dirty and inappropriate… it’s not the cute dancing song that some thought it was (and not to mention the band’s name being pretty inappropriate as well).  And, it was, to quote the stereotypical hipster, too mainstream.  This is the song that people who knew nothing about swing dancing associated with swing dancing.  There were so many better songs out there to dance to.

Despite the fact that I refuse to dance to Zoot Suit Riot, however, I’m perfectly open to dancing to this song:

Interestingly enough, I never knew this until I started writing this article, but the lead singer of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies is named Steve Perry.  He is no relation to the other Steve Perry, who was the lead singer of…

5.  Journey, “Faithfully” (1983)

I spent the later months of 2011 in a long distance relationship.  One time, I was spending a three day weekend visiting her.  It was an eight hour drive, and when I left, I shared this song on my Facebook.  One of my friends, who knew where I was going for the weekend and why I shared that song, said it made him cry.

We broke up on New Year’s Eve 2011-12, and it was not exactly a good breakup, by which I mean I never saw her again, and our only communication after that was a text the next day regarding giving some stuff back that I had borrowed.  So why can I still not listen to this song?  There are plenty of other things that remind me of her even more directly that I didn’t cut out of my life when we broke up.  Maybe because this one is actually about a long distance relationship (in a way).  Maybe because of my friend’s reaction.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m just weird.  I still love Journey, they still have plenty of great songs, but I just can’t listen to this one.

6.  John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)

Wait a minute.  “Imagine?”  How can anyone not like that song?  Isn’t it about peace and love and unity and all that good stuff?  And Mr. Lennon died tragically at a fairly young age!  What kind of heartless jerk are you that you don’t like that song?

Unity, yeah, great, but no, “Imagine” is not about peace and love.  It’s about atheism and communism.  Again, listen to the lyrics.  I do not believe that atheism and communism are the ways to achieve unity.  We didn’t win the Cold War just so a new generation can rediscover this song and use it as a touchy-feely rallying cry after every national tragedy.  Seriously, though, I’m not saying America is perfect, but I would much rather live here than in a communist dictatorship with “no possessions” and “no religion” to turn to for hope and meaning.

Will I never listen to these songs again?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  I can think of several examples of songs I didn’t like for over a decade, then suddenly something happened to change the way I saw them.  Maybe that will be another post.

Exit 3. Learn it till you earn it.

About a month ago, I was talking with someone about how I don’t give a very good first impression in certain situations, and that makes a certain aspect of life hard for me.  (I know I’m being vague here, but I can’t really go into specifics, given the sensitive ongoing nature of some things that are happening in real life right now.  If you know me in person, you can ask me privately.  That’s not important to the point I’m making today.)  She told me something along the lines of, “If you want to make a good impression, you’ve got to learn exactly what these people are looking for, and say and do those things.”  I said that I’m not good at BSing.  She said, “Then get good at it.  You’ve got to fake it till you make it.”


There are two reasons I hate that phrase, one general and one specific.  The general reason is that faking it isn’t who I am, and fake people annoy me.  If someone doesn’t want the real me, then I don’t want to waste my time on them.  And I don’t want to waste my time with fake people who won’t let me see who they really are, although usually their real selves come out in some ugly way eventually.  More specifically, though, that phrase sticks out in my mind as part of an infamously memorable conversation I had 10 years ago.  I was attending a church that had a lot of problems.  I had been accused of things that were really misunderstandings and half-truths.  The details of what happened are the topic of another story, which I may tell someday, but essentially I felt like my state of social awkwardness was being treated like a sin I needed to repent from.  People were uncomfortable around me because I was a little different, and I was being told whom I was and wasn’t allowed to talk to in order not to make people uncomfortable.  (There are still a few people from that church who I’m in Facebook contact with; if any of them are reading this, please understand that I hold no grudges against you or this church, but that is honestly how the actions of that time made me feel.)  After all this crap hit the proverbial fan, I stayed at that church for three months, trying to figure out if maybe I had done something wrong, and I had some helpful conversations where I learned things that I did that may rub others the wrong way.  In one such conversation, someone was telling me that one of my traits that turns others off was that, when asked how I’m doing, I actually answer the question.  “When people ask, ‘How are you?'” she said, “they don’t really want you to answer how you are.  It’s more of a formality.  They just want you to smile and say fine.  No one cares if you’re having a bad day.”  I said that that seemed horribly fake, shallow, and disingenuous.  “You gotta fake it till you make it,” she said.

Honestly, I think what this individual was trying to tell me 10 years ago is that there’s a time and a place to talk about why you’re having a bad day.  And I agree with this.  I can see where some might find it unsettling if, say, a stranger in line at the grocery store whom I had never seen before were to start talking about their bad day.  And I know that I do have a tendency sometimes to dump all my problems on people I barely know.  This probably is something I should work on.  But this wasn’t about dumping my problems on strangers.  This was about being at church talking to other regulars at church who I know.  If I can’t talk to my brothers and sisters in Christ about my struggles, if I have to be fake and put on a happy face to cover all the hurt and brokenness, then the problem is with them, and with this church if this sort of mentality is encouraged there, not with me.  Let’s look at what might have happened if the people in the Bible had this mentality.  The passage starting in Mark 10:46 might have looked like this:

Then they came to Jericho.  As Jesus and his diciples, together with a large crowd were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus waved, and said, “Hey, Bartimaeus!  I hope you’re having a great day!”  Then he kept walking.  The disciples asked, “Why didn’t you help him?”  “Because his begging makes me uncomfortable,” Jesus said.  “That guy has serious mental issues.  There’s medication for people like him.  He just needs to fake it till he makes it.”

Or the passage starting in John 11:17, when Jesus comes to visit the recently deceased Lazarus’ family:

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.  “Jesus!” Martha said to him.  “Hi!  How are you?”  Jesus said to her, “I’m fine!  How are you?”  Martha answered, “I’m great!  Mary and I had a girls’ day, we went and got our nails done and went to Starbucks!  It’s kind of sad that my brother is dead, but hey, everything happens for a reason, right?  God is blessing my socks off!”

These are extreme examples, I know, but in concept they’re really no different.  This is not the Jesus I know, and a church that acts like this is not a church I want to be a part of.

Back to the other conversation, the one that happened recently: I have had another opportunity since then to make an impression in the sort of situation that prompted this discussion, and I don’t feel that it went well.  This lack of good impression is something that is negatively impacting my short-term goals in life, and thinking about this later in the day, I realized that I really need to start taking this more seriously and learning how to make a better impression in these situations.  And that got me thinking about faking it till I make it again, and how I can’t do this, I just can’t be fake.  But I realized something more important: I can learn how to do better in situations without being fake.  Before my friend used that phrase, she said that I needed to learn exactly what is expected in these situations and act accordingly.  I can’t be fake, I don’t want to pretend to be someone else solely to impress people, but what I can and must do is learn how to present myself so that my best side, and my most appropriate side for the situation, is what people see.  And this will be something I will work on in the immediate future, so that I can continue to move forward in this short-term life goal.  Learning and practicing for these situations isn’t necessarily synonymous with faking it.  So instead of using that phrase, I’m going to say “learn it till you earn it.”  I’m not faking.  I’m learning how to present myself better, how to make sure that the impression I leave is the side of me that the situation requires, but still really the real me.