Category: That Guy


This is a reposting of a blog I just wrote for my new Broken Clocks section of my band’s main blog at www.thelastcityformiles.com.  The mood fit this blog better, but the purpose fit the other.

***

(Please Read Introduction First for Disclaimer)

I think the fastest I have ever driven a car was about 10 years ago, on the two mile strip between the Forest Drive and Leesburg Road exits on I-77.  I don’t know for sure but it was well into triple digits, in a car that was already ten years old, and had such bad alignment that the whole car, starting with the steering wheel, would shake at any speed above 60mph.  I wasn’t under the influence of anything illegal…the only thing messing with my mind was the two hours I had just spent injecting The Fast and the Furious directly into my brain.

i-077_nb_exit_009_01

I am not a bad driver, actually I’m a rather safe driver (based on my accident and near collisions record, not on my speeding tickets…) but that day I went well pass the 10-to-15-over-the-limit my conscious and wallet allowed.

I recently watched a self-censored version of Don Jon on Netflix (fair warning to you all, it more than lives up to its R-rating).  The synopsis caught my eye, and truth be told, for me the “moral” at the end was worth the frequent “oh, look, what’s that on my foot that I should stare at for a while” moments.  Spoiler Alert.

The main character is addicted (or by his definition just a HUGE fan) of porn, and while he is a ladies’ man with his choice of the fish in any sea, he admits to prefering the women on the laptop screen to the women in his bed.  Why?  Because the girls in this fantasy world will do whatever he wants, say whatever he wants, won’t try to change him, and require no real commitment.  Until finally he meets HER…

The “Perfect Ten” (appropriately played by Scarlett Johansen) isn’t like the “others“. She makes him wait, teases, forces him into a certain level of commitment, then when he is uh, shall we say “fully ready to commit”, she finally, uh…blesses him.  And then he’s found it.  The experience, the stars-aligning moment where for a time, fantasy and reality mix and mingle.

However, in an astounding, completely unpredictable, mind-blowing turn of events, one day she is no longer enough, and he goes back again to what always offered him the experience he wanted.  Fast-forward; she catches him (a few times), they break up, and months later, they meet up again for that “closure” talk.  She berates him, saying that essentially, if he loved her enough, he would do anything for her, and she is worth a man who will do everything she wants and be everything she needs.  He walks away with the conclusion that she was as deceived by her romantic movie porn as he was from his own little cinematic adventures.

So…Porn and Worship…

1)  “Porn” offers an experience that can most likely never be real, or if so, only for a moment

2)  “Porn” creates unnatural expectations that, even when you are well aware that it is impossible, distort your interaction with the real world

3)  “Porn” does nothing to prepare you for what is real, and may impair your ability to cope with reality

4)  “Porn” is empty in word, substance and representation of reality

5)  “Porn” is escapism, and never an answer to real problems, often only amplifying them

***

You only need to check the gross earnings of 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight to see that these and other kinds of “female porn” are not limited to a little niche of deviants.  Substitute “female porn” for “porn” and the 5 things listed above all fit perfectly.

Now I want you to go back through them and substitute “worship“.

Before you either condemn my apostasy or grab torches and a stake, let me define what I mean by “worship” in this case.

By “worship”, I mean something with the lyrical depth of a third grade poem (minus the occasional biblical reference for good measure) and the musicality of a third grade composition (minus the occasional secondary dominant thrown around in minor mode).

By “worship” I mean a hackneyed chorus with all the swooping promises of love, loyalty and unlimited offering that made Edward Cullen a romantic demigod.  Here’s a fun game, see how many lines you can think of that you’ve heard both in the climactic build to the kiss in the rain and the climactic build of the bridge to the drop-off.

“You are my everything”

“What would i do without you?”

“I love you more than life itself”

“Just dance with me”

‘I would do anything for you”

(Mid-rant rant: Buckley styleThis is just as much a symptom of the church culture as it is the American/Japanese/other-places-I-could-name-but-won’t-because-I-haven’t-had-the-personal-experience culture. I could just as easily go after the fact that one of the highest honors and signs of musicianship nowadays is doing the best YouTube cover, aka copy of someone else’s song.  It doesn’t matter that you did it acoustic, and it doesn’t help that your originals sound exactly like every other cover on your channel…I’m …gonna go back to my first soapbox now

By “worship”, I mean something that is intentionally designed to disengage the mind.  And I don’t mean that complex is better than simple, or that getting lost in a song is wrong.  I just mean that rest is not the same thing as escapism.  The same as going to see a movie is not the same as binging on Netflix.  The same as thinking that a girl is beautiful is not the same as lusting after her.

By “worship” I mean something that produces all of the feelings, emotions and atmosphere of how we want things to be without producing or defining any of the actions that follow, or the awareness of the limits of the fantasy.  It would suck if a three year old didn’t pretend to be an astronaut because he was convinced it was a pipe-dream, unrealistic and a waste of time.  But it would be absolute insanity for the same kid to hit high school and college, and be convinced he is an astronaut because he watches Apollo 13 every weekend.

I don’t think it is constructive anymore to simply bash something.  I (and many, many others out there) get an uncanny joy out of pulling back the shades on whatever is masquerading around as the answer to all our problems.  However, I am becoming more and more convinced that it is not simply poor taste but callous and inhumane to run around spewing disdain, whether you’re right or not, without either offering help or empathizing in your common unknowns.  In a world where so many people are desperately piecing together a house-of-cards happiness, the last thing we need are people running around kicking dirt on them.

So here’s a unexpected conclusion…even for me.  I launched into this blog on a high-horse of righteous indignation, ready to take a katana and slaughter some lies like some kind of Truth Ninja.  But there are more than enough people out there happy to get blood on their hands for what is “right”.

How many people are willing to get someone else’s tears on their shoulder even if they are wrong?

I am certainly not saying that porn is ok, or the effects aren’t horrific for everyone involved.  But neither is the empty, formulaic romance movie that puts discontentment and misplaced, self-centered expectations in the hearts of girls and women.  And it’s far from ok for songwriters, worship leaders, and congregations to produce and promote vapid, repetitive, commercialized “worship” and sell an experience for 10% of your income and the cost of a cd/mp3.

The problem now is this; none of these things are going to be substantially changed by a blog post, a petition, or even a law.  The only thing I know to do is start being real, and be ok with it.  Life is potentially boring.  Good sex is work, and…potentially routine.  Relationships are dirty, painful, and have a lot more valleys than peaks.  The Christian walk is sometimes empty, passionless, filled with doubt…scary even, the deeper you go into the dark side of the Bible.  The illusion of a world without these feelings, or with a clear purpose and answer in the absence of perfection, or with a fast-forward-montage/left-click/”perfect”-verse to help us skip to the easy part is dangerous, but still alluring.  Almost addictive.  Scratch that.  Absolutely addictive.

***

And that’s the only way I can end this.  I would be both over-simplifying and hypocritical if I wrapped it all up in a bow.  But this is the only point I can stand by…don’t take the easy way out.  Wrestle with it.  Be bored, feel stagnant.  You may never feel your cup-overfloweth, but two drops of the real thing are worth an ocean of emptiness.

“That Guy” Entry Seventeen: Missing the Point

I can’t be the only person that has heard the “right words” come out of my mouth, and not felt right about it.  But if I’m not, I’m still in the minority…

I hate knowing what I know.  I know enough of the bible (after years of structured and unstructured study, education at the hands of religious professionals, a lifetime of solid biblical teaching, and hours of podcasts) to answer, or at least give a reasonable response to, most any question.  I don’t say this with the slightest hint of self-righteousness or pride…it is more of a desperate plea to un-know it all.  It is a desperate plea to start fresh, un-jaded, unconvinced.

I was getting my daily education from the Daily Show this morning and the Johns did a bit about how the Middle East was original divvied up.  Boundaries were drawn with little to no regard for what was natural and most conducive to peace,  and that was that.  Same with Africa.  People with negligible understanding of a land and its people did what best suited their own needs, and called it a day.

I can’t help but feel a little bit like that about the church.  I recently began a study on the origin of denominations; and the first few pages were a balm in Gilead.  We got so many things completely wrong…there are entire wars, generations of prejudice and sheer hatred between these denominations…often times over a single verse.  Sometimes, the argument is over something that isn’t even in the bible.

It could be the effects of my recent nightcap, but I just about lost it reading this article.  And I can’t conclusively say it if was in a good way or a bad way…I just knew (again) that something is fundamentally and catastrophically wrong with the church.   My best defense for the church recently is that sin is so pervasive and debilitating that no one, especially the church, is even the faintest shadow of what or who they should be in Christ.

A few days ago I heard a sermon about Matthew 22:1-14 , the parable of the wedding banquet (this all ties together…or will soon after I figure out where I am going).  A frustrating story at best, but also one with more potential than most to be distorted (not saying it was in this sermon).  The answer to “Why was the man silent?” could have a buzzfeed top 10 based on denominations.    Last night, we had an informal bible study, during which we discussed our reactions and conclusions from the sermon.  They were all over the place.  New context was presented, alternate understandings of the man’s reason for silence were debated, a brief study of the word “chosen” happened…and then I had to leave for another appointment.

Later that night, I was talking with The Wife about the bible study, about the sermon, and ended up in a bit of a rant.  I knew that somehow we were missing the point (see, it ties in) of not just the story, but what it means to be a Christian.  It is not a label, it is not a sworn allegiance to a set of rules, it is not a merit badge on your sash or a golden ticket.  It is a relationship.  If someone asked you while on a first date “What are the conditions of this relationship? What am I allowed to do and what is off limits?  Will I have to change to continue receiving your love or can I just be who I am now?”, you would kindly ask for the check, run to your car the second you were out of sight, and spend the next two weeks dodging every text, call, email and knock.

It’s tragic that we evaluate our romantic relationships by outside standards.  “We are doing ‘x’ so we must be happy…we have ‘x’ so we are doing ok.”  It sucks even more that we define our PERSONAL relationship with God by the standards of those around us.  We are so disgustingly confused that we often look to everyone around us, not for wisdom or advice, but for comparison and affirmation.

I read my bible 15 minutes a day, and he only reads for 10.

I tithe and he doesn’t.

My family has game night once a week, and their family doesn’t.

My wife and I share a bank account, and they don’t.

Who at the wedding feast (bam, full circle) is looking around to see if their robes are nicer than the people next to them?  Who is worried about how many more chicken wings they got than the person beside them?  Who is dividing themselves into groups by the people who like grape juice and those who like wine?  Who is kicking the vegetarian out of their group and judging them for not laying into a drumstick?

Gonna try to end this here, because obviously, if I could resolve this question in the next 100 words, I would be the greatest religious mind since Saint Paul.  Best I can sum it up is in this…STOP.  There is a wedding feast laid before us.  Stop listening to the bible to hear what you want to hear.  Stop looking around to see if you are good enough.  Let’s just get to the place where a relationship with God is the foundation.  Let’s stop trying to pretend that love is someone who accepts us as we are and would never try to change us.    Let’s stop trying to be infatuated with God for what He can do for us, and burn everything we have to go to Him.

“That Guy” Entry Sixteen: Knowing is Not Enough

I managed by the skin of my teeth to read through the whole bible in 2012…which I am proud of, but in more of a “checked that off my list” kind of way.  The amount of reading each day was just enough to make getting a few days behind torturous (overstatement of my career), and it was incredibly easy to skim.  So, this time around, I wanted something more than just a badge of completion, so I developed a new blog, called Knowing is Not Enough.  Basically, I am beginning a two year bible reading plan and through the perceived pressure of having to make a post each day, forcing myself to read for content, and for application.

So far so good…I hope through the next couple years to provide a daily, reasonable Call to Action, to that there is something beyond the reading to do.  So if you want a hopefully daily means to act on your faith, I hope to provide that.  Just head on over to http://knowingisnotenough.wordpress.com/ and sign up for the daily email.

“That Guy” Entry Fifteen: Touch

A week ago, my pastor spoke on Luke 8:40-56, aka Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick (Bleeding) Woman.  I have heard a couple of really interesting takes on this story, especially from Max Lucado in He Still Moves Stones.  This time around, it was presented with a special emphasis on touch.   Continue reading

“That Guy” Entry Fourteen: Right and Right?

everything belongs

There’s nothing like having everything you cling so tightly to challenged…and then cracked…and then slowly eroded away.  Admittedly, “everything” might be a bit of an overstatement, but as with all “life changing experiences” the fallout is never as evident in the beginning as it is decades down the road.  Seemingly meaningless events, words, and images have a way of psychologically snowballing, and I think an open-minded perusal of Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr could be a catalyst.

***

I read a book before getting married called His Brain, Her Brain.   Continue reading

Rob Bell Strikes Again

When I first heard about Love Wins, I was a bit worried.  I mean, I loved Rob Bell’s earlier work, what was this?  And then when I heard an interview where he defended the book on Unbelievable, I was incredibly impressed by the verbal tap dancing he was able to pull out to avoid answering the questions everyone wanted to hear.  Then I heard about him resigning from Mars Hill, and figured it was the end of an era.  I went to his website and subscribed to his newsletters, just out of sheer curiosity to see if he would back pedal, offer a better explanation or just fade into obscurity.  Then I got the email about his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God.  And I was sitting in an airport in the middle of a 12 hour layover and thought “sure…what the heck”.

Rob Bell

***

I began reading it and finished it within 48 hours.  So, a quick blurb about what this book is about, why I would recommend it to Christians and Non-Christians alike and why I will probably be reading it again in the future.

First his own take on it…

“God appears to be more and more a reflection of whoever it is that happens to be talking about God at the moment.” Continue reading

“That Guy” Entry Thirteen: None of Us Die Alone

At first it was more intriguing and curious than unnerving.  The idea of a suicide forest near Mount Fuji was unreal in a fantastic kind of way.  I had heard and forgotten about it in a matter of hours.  But then this video…

***

I had to write something about it before the whirlwind of “obligations” swept me up again.  I don’t think it matters if you are the quiet, stoic man who seldom says a word or the chatter-box woman who is always talking but not always saying anything, I keep feeling more and more that something is desperately wrong with the depth and means of communication.  We each do our best to justify our specific brand of avoidance and escapism, pointing fingers and vilifying the caricatures of personality stereotypes, but when all is said and done, the problem is pandemic.

Just thinking about the laundry-list of responsibilities, expectations, social exigencies, and personal stresses, I feel overwhelmed.  And I know I am not alone in this.  Each day of life is another lesson in social and emotional intelligence, and when we are still struggling to deal with what we have learned so far, the thought of actually being who we think we could or should be becomes more and more daunting.

On a good day, I check enough off of the list to feel accomplished; on a bad day I hide in either literal solitude or walls of sarcasm and accusations.  On most days, though, I get so caught up in trivial distractions, menial duties and evasive conversations and interactions that I never stop to think about how much my life has diverged from the path I wish I was on.

What scares me is how much I, as well as many of you, could probably relate to the people whose bodies are found in this forest.  The same disconnected feeling, the desperation for something, anything to validate our life, and feeling trapped by tasks and jobs we don’t take anything away from but a paycheck.  What is the difference between them and us?  Scares me to death to think that some of th0se people asked themselves the same question, then got their answer.  Something is wrong.

“That Guy” Entry Twelve: Choreographed Perfection

Working with children is one of the most convicting experiences you will ever have…if you are honest with yourself.  I remember one of my disciplinary motifs: when a kid came to me or a counselor brought them to me for something they had done wrong and they said they couldn’t help it, I would say “Raise your right hand.  Stand on one foot.  Now say ‘Nants ingonyama bagithi baba’.  See, you have control over what you do.  So why did you hit so and so again?”

Which led me to the next logical step:

Continue reading

5 Tips for Improving Your Church

spiritual forcast

I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church in the heart of the “Bible belt”.  I was educated in Christian elementary, middle, and high schools.  I went to Grove City College, a liberal arts Christian College in Pennsylvania.  I had and have Christian parents, friends, teachers and mentors.  And the world is completely justified in saying that Christians are terrible people (bet that wasn’t where you saw that going).  Now before you have an aneurysm, I am not saying that all Christians are awful.  I am simply saying that the majority of people who call themselves Christians are not living lives that even begin to reflect it.   I am even lax to call myself a Christian, not because of shame or fear or because I am not, but simply because describing myself that way means immediately having to dig myself out of a hole of preconceptions and judgements.  And that’s just terrible.

Continue reading

“That Guy” Entry Eleven: Weltanschauung

I remember riding in the car with my dad once when he asked me a simple question that changed my life.  He just asked “What do you think a comedian sees when they walk into a room?”  Since then, I have tried to walk into a room and create observational humor from first glance.  I’ve tried to train my brain to see the humor in the mundane things that Jerry Seinfeld thrives on.  Then I remember the Jason Bourne movies…especially the scene where he is in the diner, listing how many cars are in the parking lot, what their license plates are, and the best place to find a gun.  I had on some level accepted that people see the world differently.  Being a peculiar personality type myself, I had gotten used to people thinking a bit differently and having different interests and preferences.  But I don’t think anything prepares you for a difference in Weltanschauung.

Continue reading