About people, part the fourth.

People like to be mini-tyrants: a little slice of land where you’re the uncontested authority. You like to be a petty dictator. Every man, woman, and child in the entire world has one or maybe more of these.

You build little towers on your little tracts of land and watch the citizens of said tower build it higher and higher. Of course, as a human, you’re quite confused when they all start speaking their own languages and moving to Wales.

Dan (I end with a metaphor. Aren’t I pretentious?)

About weakness.

What will it take to make you weak? It’s a good question to ask, and one that really defines what you think the Christian life is all about. What does it mean to you to follow the Way? And if you do it well, how do you end up looking?

II Corinthians 11:30 says, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” Why? II Corinthians 12 goes further and says, “He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” That passage may be about persecution mainly, but how much more does it apply to those things we hardly ever admit to eachother? We’re screwed up people, all of us, and I think I can speak for the human race, especially with its history in view.

I Peter 5:5 “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ ” Substitute the words “proud” and “humble” with “strong” and “weak” – our pride doesn’t allow us to admit weakness. Our humility is that we are weak to the last man and woman.

I wrote this in an email today: “I don’t like people to think of me as weak: I want people to think I’m strong. I hide my faults and try to work on them in secret. I’m not really an honest person about my failings, and when I am it’s at my lowest points when I’m my weakest and I need someone else to lean on. And even then I hate myself for looking weak to that person. Why is that?”

I think I know why; it’s because I’m by nature a proud person who likes to look like I have it all together. But I don’t, and neither do you. The fact that we wear masks itself is evident that we’re weaker than we want to admit. It’s hard to take off a mask, to apologize, to admit fault, to confess sin (even to God!), and all those other things we don’t do often enough.

At the end of the day we all think of ourselves as islands, little kingdoms that we rule, where we patch the crumbling walls with our own pitiful spit and clay. And of course when those walls tumble down I realize this much: when I am weak, God is strong. Not the other way around. God’s strength is not displayed in my victorious “Christian” life where my demons have deserted me and I sing lustily with the organ and smile at my friends over coffee and crumpets.

Of course it doesn’t end there, does it? God’s strength is perfected in weakness, and my weakness isn’t the final word in the matter. Christ’s weakness is. If he was tempted at all points like I am, and if he has empathy because of his own human frailty, who else should I lean on? And in what context? To rephrase the saying, we all lean together, or we all fall apart.

Dan (There, I’ve said it. Now I can sleep.)

About me.

My name is Dan. I am a white guy. I weigh about 235 pounds on a good day. Some of that is even muscle, I’m proud to say.

I own a black 2003 Ford Focus. It’s pretty dirty inside right now because I’m posting on my blog instead of cleaning it out. Actually, there’s another car parked in my driveway and I can’t clean it out on the road. Instead, I’m polishing my shotgun collection. Okay, I live in Canada so I’m not really allowed to have a shotgun collection.

I have a fish. The fish should have died long ago due to the fact that I didn’t feed him for a two-week period when I was majorly depressed and wanted something other than me to go belly-up.

My answering machine is currently on the system default answer. My telephone number is 9056158247. My social insurance number is yeah right you don’t get that particular set of digits. I don’t have a cell phone anymore mostly because when I drive I drive and that’s all I do and I hate being interrupted in the middle of driving.

I am a Christian. No, not one of those mildly-crazy barnacles on the good ship James Dobson, nor an I the fling myself at the wall and call it a spiritual gift sort of person. In fact, my religious experience is less of having strong feelings of romantic emotion toward God and more of a safety in the knowlege that I’m not dead anymore. I’m Calvinist, but thanks to the internet and its monks, I need to qualify that I’m not going to take the Institutes and beat you with them until you repent in blood and ashes. On the other hand, if you’re not a Calvininst, you’re wrong, even though you’re probably still saved if you’re a Christian of the evangelical variety. I know, it’s not particularly en vogue to say those sorts of things, but:

I believe that there is a right and there is a wrong theology. I also believe theology is in the fingertips: many an Arminian I’ve know has had better kinetic theology than the Calvinists I’ve become aquainted with over the years. Of course, they just don’t know they’re living a contradiction, but there you have it.

I haven’t written a song in a week. Sad to say, I know. My sister is getting married. I have several more that don’t seem as anxious to make it to the altar. I’m singing a song at her wedding.

I am tired.

Dan (But it’s not late! Dang!)

About people, part the third.

Why do people go to see councelors? Shrinks? Doctors? Pastors? Friends? Co-workers? The answer is simple: self-diagnosis is almost is almost always a bad idea. Even the most self-aware people have blind spots.

Imagine that you had cancer in your brain, and that cancer caused you to see colours and contrasts differently. Now let’s say you could, and did, MRI yourself and found nothing on the results. Absolutely nothing. Do you trust your MRI, or the fact that you’re having constant and massive headaches.

Let’s say you take it to your friend who isn’t even a doctor and he points to a mass growing inside your skull. You protest that there’s nothing there, but he insists that there’s something wrong with your eyes.

Who do you believe? Yeah, it’s a bit of a contrived example, but there you have it. These things happen. You are in the situation, and sometimes that’s all it takes to push you past the place where you can make a good, balanced decision. And when it comes to things like core attitudes and motivations, you are maybe the last person that can make a judgement call.

The crucial point is this: your attitudes affect the way you view your attitudes. So if you have an attitude of superiority, you may just think that very attitude isn’t really a problem because you really are superior! The same thing with an inferiority complex. Even if you can admit it’s a problem, you don’t change because you really don’t believe in your heart that it is – you can assent to something with your head and with your mouth and have it not really touch the inner bit of you, that rudder that takes you where you’re going.

Dan (You can admit you have a problem and spend the rest of your life ignoring it.)

About people, part the second.

Here’s something not to do: don’t give glib answers. No one believes you. If you don’t have an answer, don’t give one; a good answer tomorrow is better than a bad one today.

Here’s something else: don’t spin off platitudes instead of actually addressing issues. Most people respect straight shooting, and even bosses hate bullshit.

Another one: keep a dayplanner. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Otherwise, no one’s going to believe a word that comes out of your mouth: if a man can’t keep a small committment, what about a big one? And if he makes a promise easily, what else slips out his mouth without him thinking?

Dan (I write this not to discourage you, but rather to spur you on to not being an ass.)

About people.

You know what? I don’t think it’s a bad thing to expect people to not be idiots. It’s not too much to expect people to have at least a modicum of skill at life and not blame whatever extenuating factors for their lack.

Of course, one can’t expect people with disabilities to overcome them, but most people don’t have disabilities. Most people are just lazy, and because they’re lazy, they’re stupid. Most people have the capability to be intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually more than they are, but never actually try to get anywhere.

For instance, some people genuinely don’t understand why people don’t like them. Other people genuinely don’t care. Other people are so brilliant that such trifles are below them. But most people could figure it out if they thought about it or asked someone else: they just don’t, for reasons unknown to me.

Dan (Is sick of dealing with people who can’t be bothered to learn how computers work.)

About the Old Testament.

I think sometimes we modern followers of the Way brush over the Old Testament – you know, the beginning bit of the Bible – far too quickly. If you take a look, all the themes in Genesis (for instance) are repeated again in the New Testament, just louder, and with more clarity. More to the point, the OT deals with the relations of God with his people corporately, whereas the NT deals mostly with God in relation to idividuals. But I don’t think God changes his dealings that much in the 500 intervening years: he’s always dealt with individuals, and always with his people: the tricky thing is that his people are made up of, like, actual people.

Take an OT instance: God saying “I Am who I am.” How many times did Jesus edge those words into a statement or sermon? Think about what it means – I don’t need explaination. Or alternately interpreted “I am the one who is.” I exist, and that’s enough. Or again “I will be here, as I am here.” I will always be present with you. How often does that seminal idea germinate in the New Testament?

I’m of the opinion – can I have some backup here? – that every aspiring preacher should be dumped into an ice-cold bucket of Old Testament study and be held down until they surface into the New and can say “So that’s what it’s like to breathe!”

Dan (Of course, my opinion is light a fart in a tornado.)

About the lies we tell our children

I think the saddest lie we tell our children is also the most culture-pervasive one: “You can do whatever you put your mind to.” We all know it’s qualified by the physical universe – I still can’t stick my elbow in my ear no matter how hard I try – and that seems enough for most people. We here and now living in a land of opportunity and freedom have choices and everyone is equal and look at the rainbows and (again) the unicorns running around in the field.

It’s wishful thinking. The bareboned facts are that we don’t all start of equal, we all have different qualifications, and some of us really suck at what we want to do. If you start poor, sure, you can become rich – but rags to silk is the exception, not the rule. Many, many people are driven to succeed because of their living standards as children and adolescents, but few of them ever get anywhere. In fact, the reality of the situation is probably more an incremental increase from poverty to the median over generations.

And what’s the point of trying to be a tennis player if you’re skilled at the oboe and seem to be all left feet? Do you have something to prove, that you’re not pre-determined but, no, you’re a self-made man? How stupid is that? Can you imagine a person fighting against their natural abilities all their life to accomplish some dream, and then be celebrated for struggling against the odds? I can: our culture’s great athletic stories are men and women triumphing over outside factors to achieve some sort of dubious glory. Here we are, celebrating the human will. And it’s bullshit most of the time. What exactly is the shame in giving up and doing what you were made to?

I will never, ever tell my children that they can do whatever they put their mind to. I’m not going to sow false seeds of egalitarian hope in their little minds. Nope, the world is a harsh place, but enjoyable. You can do what you can do. You find out what you can do by trying to do it. If it doesn’t work, try again. If it still doesn’t work, try something else. If the girl keeps dumping you, let her go. If you can be a programmer, be an artist. If you can’t be an artist, be a chef. If you can’t be a chef, be a mother. If you can’t be a mother, be a lawyer. Rinse, repeat.

Dan (Doesn’t like lying to children.)

About church.

Yesterday I played the full kit at Jon Balt’s church, which was fun. I absolutely love doing that sort of thing, although there was some trouble with the crash cymbal…

In the evening I went to my home church, Living Waters, where Pastor Vogel is apparently on vacation. We had one of those student ministers. Oddly, it was Curt Van Dyken, who I know from the conference circuit way back. It was sort of odd seeing him on the pulpit, but good all the same. And it’s been a long time since I’ve heard a sermon by one of those Greenville students.

Dan (Exciting Sunday.)

About a couple of things.

I’ve been thinking lately about a few thing. I know, I know, you all are either cringing or rejoicing, thinking I’m going to go off on some invective-laden rant about my circles, or people I know, or the government, which will all be very entertaining and invariably make me look like a narcissistic ass with a serious ego problem and possibly a martyr complex. Someone’s going to write me a nice anonymous note explaining how what I wrote is hurtful and possibly borderline inapropriate, at which time I’ll explain how anonymous notes carry all the weight of a snowflake in August (in the Sahara) and some anonymous note-writer will feel as if he or she were slighted when he or she – probably a he, because that’s the way those anonymous notes are composed, grammatically – could have just left a real name so I could interact like a real person with real cojones was on the other end of the keyboard.

See, there, you think I’m a narcissistic ass. But the problem with people leaving anonymous notes is that they either don’t understand the technology they’re using and do it by mistake, in which case they should probably actually read those cute little boxes with text on top of them – they’re not just to make the site prettier! – or stop reading blogs altogether because the concept of social interaction via the web is probably lost to them. The other class of people is probably the ones that would scream at the top of their lungs or at least nicely (and I’ll get to that later) suggest that it’s the internet and everyone can read it! In which case, it’s the internet, it’s not anonymous since you obviously know me well enough to make a point, so why not at least be consistant and leave your name? I’m really not going to track y’all down and pour acid on you while you’re sleeping. I won’t even egg your house – I promise!

That aside, I think my circles suffer from a problem involving people I know meddling in the government. Oooh, a trifecta! No, wait, I’m kidding around. See that? It was a joke. No subtext. I’m making fun of me – ridiculous, I know, but there you have it.

No, what I’ve been thinking is that society in general and Christian circles in particular are suffering from a condition called Nice Guy. You know, the kind of men who seem to think that their duty in life is to be as innofensive as possible, never to step on anyone’s toes, and wear a disarmingly and sickenenly bright smile all the time. These tend to be the same men – and I’m generalising here, so don’t take it too seriously – that will speak nicely to your face and go home and unload all of this on their wives and children, assuming they have them, which in my circles isn’t such a wild assumption. Alternately, they’ll go home and unload on their little invective-laden blogs, where they’ll come off like narcissistic asses with serious ego problems. I know this, ladies and gentlemen, not because I am psychic or so exceedingly wise that I can instantly analyze any problem and come up with a reasonable solution, but because I am that guy.

Yes, yes, I know, some of you who are reading my blog at one of your grown-up friends houses are saying, “But you’re possibly the most in-your-face don’t-care-what-people-think kind of guy I’ve ever met!” And you would, of course, be partly right. I’m not really here to defend myself: what’s the point? I’m not going to change your mind, no matter how wrong your ego might not want to admit you are.

But firstly, I’m not really that guy anymore. I think I caught a virus along the way somewhere and actually decided that the community is a tiny bit more important than my own little silly preferences, and though I’d like to dress in black and suffer heat stroke, and pierce my face with all sorts of pretty little dangly metal things, I don’t. Although I’m not sure I want to do any of those things anymore either. Which is sort of confusing for me, probably like it is for you. I don’t blame you – if I don’t understand me there’s not a chance in, um, purgatory (note that my invective involves a place that doesn’t actually exist, so no worries there) that you’re going to do it – and if that’s not bad enough, my sentence structure leaves as much to be desired as the foundation of that tower in Italy, you know, the one that leans over on its side sort of? Second, I never really challenge anything terribly important. Never really did. A few cute little customs and traditions, and a few droning organs that haunt my sleeping hours, but its not like I showed up at church with a “PORN STAR!” t-shirt, or claimed that Fred Durst was, in fact, the Apostle Paul re-incarnated. And, for crying out loud, I’m wearing a suit to church tomorrow, and I’ll sing at the top of my lungs while the organ chokes out screaming faux-trumpets from its electronic bellows. If something like an organ is that important to some of the older folk – note the term of endearment – well, by all means, don’t take their pretty toys away from them! It’s not that terribly important to me; I’m only a 24-year-old pup whose tastes tend more toward things like pianos and guitars. Let’s not raise a fuss about little things like what sort of music we play in church. And I mean that.

But all this talking about me has really gotten off the track about, well, talking about me. I used to be that guy: if I had had a wife and kids – and thank God I didn’t, because I certainly wasn’t ready for that arduous trek into adulthood – I probably would have sounded off to them about all those little surface things that bother me so much that it breaks fellowship with the all-important people that actually make up the church. You know, the church, that thing that’s about God and his people, not God and whether or not the pastor reads a form from the back of the Psalter Hymnal ™? And I most certainly was that guy who sounds off on his blog – I mean, these blogs, they’re a curse! Okay, I don’t believe that. They’re only a curse when used improperly, like sounding off about stuff that should remain between you and the people that it actually involves. Some darn stupid things made themselves onto the pages of my blog back in the day via my fingers, and since I’m not the perfect man and haven’t learned to bridle my tongue completely they probably still do. Of course, the solution to that isn’t to stop blogging – that’s like telling people that because we say stupid things that we should duct tape out mouths (however fun duct taping out mouths might, in fact, be).

But deep inside of me – and this is partly cultural, due the fact that our culture seems to frown on actual honesty and any offence whatsover, unless a feminist or an atheist is doing it, or even better, a feminist atheist man who’s had himself neutered – is this thing that wants to just get along, sing the Love Jive, and dance with unicorns under rainbows on a hill covered in swaying grass while holding hands with everyone. That part of me has got to go. I mean it. And if you took any sort of offence to this post up to this point because you didn’t actually want to engage the ideas and only want to look at the tone, that part of you probably has to go too. Not because we should all be nitpicking sarcastic losers constantly slapping eachother with flyswatters and pointing out those horrible eye-flecks of our imperfect neighbors, but because if anyone told you that love involves ignoring big problems, then you’re living in unicorn land. Have some Skittles, will you? Everything’s going to be just fine.

Like the elders of my church – they had a problem and they addressed it recently in a letter to the congregation. It was a good thing, because not only are they not hiding under rocks with machetes, ready to go all Antonio Banderas on the first bit of criticism to come their way, but also because they made right. It’s a manly sort of thing to do. It’s not, “Oops, look at the little peccadillo!” Rather, it’s owning up to something and taking resposibility, which is a huge part of leading the church as actual leaders who actually lead with actual leadership.

I had a friend who was tailgating some people the other day for no good reason whatsoever. You know, if my friend tailgates people like that, he could die. Cease to exist. Shiny wood box, lots of people crying, welcome to heaven young tailgating man. So what should I do? Should I say something? Why would I not? I don’t have to be a jerk about it. I don’t have to bang his head on the bumper of his car to get the point across that bumpers and heads do not mix at high speeds. And he could point out that I’ve tailgated people in the past (after all, as I’ve pointed out several times, I’m pretty much imperfect too), but why would he? Am I bringing this up because I’m an anal-retentive asshole who has to have the entire world just so> No, I’m concerned for his safety. Ignoring it, of course, would be nice thing to do, but I’m pretty sure that it would be dead wrong. Note my pun. It was a joke. Levity is a wonderful thing!

In fact, from my 24 year of experience, I’ve observed that the nice guys don’t give and can’t take. You know what? You want to be a man? Then don’t ignore what people say to you and pretend like they’re somehow wrong because you didn’t like the way their voice inflected when they reached the second sentence and that really offends the female side of you wants to go home and cry on your pillow. And I’m not insulting women here, you really do cry more than guys do, okay? What I’m not saying is that presentation isn’t important – part of loving people is not hitting them over the head with the truth. Be gentle. Just don’t be nice. That’s all I’m saying. Not giving and taking criticism when its needed isn’t nice; it’s incredibly selfish. Are you merely a bodily extension of your ego? No? How about your fear glands? No? How about your easily-pierced feelings? No? Good, then you have a head start of me, because I have an ego problem, I fear confrontation, and my feelings are easily injured. I am a basket case of psychological problems stemming from an incident with an extra slice of cake when I was child and the fact that I didn’t get to go skiing enough. Oh, Freud, how you’ve enlightened my childhood! Good for you! But seriously, I have this desire to be a nice guy. I don’t want to be a nice guy. I want to love people, not with a stick, but also not with a egomaniacal emotional sponge-bath that inevitably turns out to be a facade.

Enough of that. I think you get my point. It was a very long point, but I think well made with plenty of pleasant small-talk to bend your mind away from the fact that not only was I talking about me, but I was talking about you! And yes, I mean you you, not the other you.

The other thing I was thinking about is how people tend to get upset if someone things he’s right, especially when the corellary is that others are wrong. Now, this may seem incredibly controversial, but what’s wrong with being right? (Again, there’s something to be said for not being a jerk who’s always right.) And what’s wrong with thinking that I’m right? Let me ask you a question: how do I operate under the opposite assumption? Am I supposed to constantly second-guess myself in order to appear humble? I see absolutely no use in that. Everyone thinks they’re right. They have to – the other possibility leads to madness, or maybe to being a Nice Guy.

Now, I’m only 24. I’m not always right, but when I’ve come to a conclusion in my head about something, why should I doubt it? Here’s where you’ll probably say, “Oh, but how can you be the arbiter of what’s right and what’s not?” Well, how else? Do I form a committee and we take votes? Should I amass a collection of quotes from dead Christian leaders that I can reference every time I think about something?

Hah! You thought I’d say “No!” to both those things. Well, you’re wrong. I’m right. Ding!

I never come to a place of thinking I’m right about something just because I said in my head that I am. Nor am I schitzophrenic, so I’m pretty sure I’m right about that, too. There’s history, scripture, God, friends, Christian leaders, and even tradition to guide the way. History can be wrong, as can friends and Christian leaders (and for some reason, especially tradition). Scripture can’t be. Nor can God. I can, however, get my signals from God crossed and read scripture wrong. On the other hand, I’m surrounded by a whole group of people who have probably wrestled with similar problems and issued before, so I’m not the first bloke to take a shot at this. All that input is very valuable. And once I’ve made up my mind about something being right, you’re right. I am the final arbiter of what’s right, to me. I can’t function any other way. If I don’t truly believe something, I can’t function as if it were true. I trust how most of you can see how silly that would be. On the other hand, I’m quite open to you proving me wrong, as so many of you have done so many time. Or at least once. I forget.

Being right is not a sign of narcissism. It’s a sign of being right. It’s pretty simple. Being wrong and clinging to your idea is narcissism of the highest degree – also known in some circles as being a liberal. No, no, I jest.

Anyhow – that’s long enough. Feel free to disagree. But if you don’t leave your name, I warn you, I will treat your comments as if a monkey had randomly typed it out on a keyboard.

Dan (TOO MUCH TYPING!)