I’m not from Richmond, VA. I’m from Turnersville, NJ in Whitman Square. I grew up with a lot of Eastern European and Italian families who didn’t seem to need a day job. There were a lot of Cadillac’s and nice German sedans in the driveways of my neighbors. My Dad was a bit of an oddball, with his job designing power supplies for main-frame computers, his love of Mexican food, and his fondness for the Beach Boys. His beloved Chevy II station wagon was a bit low-brow for our neighborhood. His adopted home didn’t quite get his fashion choices—the turtleneck sweater and pocket protector—very cool for Berkeley, CA in the ‘50’s but out of place in Whitman Square.
I am not an expert on what makes a redneck. Even my Scots/Irish heritage doesn’t help, complicated as it is by marriage to the daughter of a Russian Jew and an old money Yankee. But, lately, certain politicians have taken to battering rednecks as no account, stupid Luddites who cling to their guns & religion. I just posted an anti-racism rant that should bring warm fuzzies to my Peepulz Demokratik Republik of Bezerkeley friends. It is one of those pieces of orthodoxy you have to plant your flag on to be included as one of the good guys in that clique. A laughing mockery of rednecks as backward racist hicks who stupidly stick to outdated tradition is another tick-mark on the checklist. If being a redneck means:
Honoring Thy Father & Mother
Honoring God and Country
Owning, and properly using weapons for self-protection and hunting. Yes, weapon. Any of our soldiers will tell you that your genitalia is your gun. The AR-15 you have in your hands is a weapon, not a gun. Get it straight. Gun control means controlling where you put that genitalia–a good idea.
Owning and caring for land that provides for my family
Delighting in good music and dance
Enjoying arts & crafts as a natural part of daily life
Telling great stories, old and new
Being suspicious of needless government
Here, I’ll say it in French so the folk in Berkeley will think it’s cool: “Si je suis à étiqueter, un redneck racistes stupides pour les attributs ci-dessus alors je veux être un plouc. Si je perds lecteurs et sont rejetés pour les 10 qualités ci-dessus alors je veux être un plouc. Je ne gagne rien en essayant de tenir dans une foule qui prétend être de la diversité et pourtant me fuit parce que je ne rentre pas leur modèle superficielle du prolétariat. Si je fuyais et étiqueté un redneck parce que je ne pas génuflexion devant une statue de Mao cinq fois par jour alors je veux être un plouc..” I read the FoxFire magazines as a kid. I loved them. I loved it that there were folk who didn’t need everything we had in our Whitman Square home to have a good life. I still do. I wasn’t born a redneck. A lot of what characterizes a redneck are qualities I admire and try to embody. I’d like that to mean that I can deemed to be a redneck. Even if it means being shunned (again) by my PDRB friends.
Maybe you too have friends like this. They are in love with the apocalypse. Each time you meet then you have to grind through another rant about how we are all screwed, our tinfoil hats will just melt into our skulls making our scalps shiny and us easy targets. It is the end they say.
It is the end and it isn’t the end. Rome burned in 64AD. Rome was sacked several times before the collapse of the Empire in 1453. There are still people living in the capital of the Empire. Now, the nation is called Italy and the old capital is called Rome. Constantinople is now Istanbul, Turkey. It is a vibrant city with the ruins of the old empire still on display. There was/is a tomorrow for Rome.
Glen Beck and Donald Trump are in a dystopian mood. Kim Davis, the Rowan County Court Clerk in the news because she won’t issue marriage licenses in defiance of the Supreme Court, said that these are then end times. This is the end. These are the last days. The devil is in charge, God is somewhere off recovering from a hangover after an extended period of debauchery. Guys like me, WASP, middle aged, Christian, are prey. If you believe this, there is no tomorrow.
The death of the Roman Empire was brutal. A lot of people died in wars, from the usual depravities of urban life, as players in the games at the circus. For those folk, their day came and they met their maker. There are no more tomorrow’s for them. I’m not them.
There have been apocalyptic events through history. Each time there is tremendous destruction and death. You all can name the ones that come to mind. I’ve posted a video here of the Tsunami that hit Japan after their earthquake in 2011.
My point is this, each time something horrible happened there are survivors. People eventually moved back to the places that were destroyed and built lives. There was a tomorrow. The Chicken Little bunch like Glen Beck and others, wants you to believe that the moment has come to pucker up and kiss yourself goodbye. For some in 2011 it was. For many more it was time to grieve, clean up the mess, and figure out how to build a life in the aftermath. Humans are incredibly resilient.
For all my hardships, I’m still here. Lately, I am doing better. Every time I hear about another dystopian Christian, who is sure that we’d better pucker up, I remember that the city of Rome is still there and where there was once an Empire there are still people living lives under different rule. The common constants of most lives, the need to earn a living, maintain a household, maybe raise a family, these continue. The latest idiot to wear the crown changes, has changed, will change. Government’s fall to be replaced by yet another clown who wants to be in charge. The world can end. Some will survive and in the meantime, do what needs doing. My constants are the need to maintain that small town, do for each other care that is part of our culture. To maintain relationships with our neighbors so we can thrive in hard times. Alone we are weak. Together we may still be weak but our odds of thriving improve. I’ve quit worrying about what our politicians do or whether it’s the end times. I plan on being around through it all, thriving as I have in good times and in bad. In the meantime . . .
I was asked by someone I met through Tinder if I am “gay friendly”. Her daughter is going to marry her longtime girlfriend. I am not “gay friendly”. Homosexuality is a sin. Marriage is something between a hetero-cis-female and a hetero-cis-male. This puts me at odds with the majority mood of the country. It also gets me shunned by some. Outlier that I am, I’m good with that.
I wasn’t asked by God to go on annual mission trips to a nominally third-world country and put in a well or build a church or give a cinder-block home to a family that previously lived in a mud hut or be a prayer warrior against James P. Sullivan. I was asked to serve right here, in Richmond, VA, to people who live around me.
To serve those I am asked to serve it is almost assured that I’ll encounter someone doing something I think is taboo. To serve as I am asked to serve it is almost assured that I’ll be in places where the shiny teeth bunch believes I’ll be prey. I would be in good company if I reacted with horror and tried to make the folk in the scary places stop being so predatory and transgressive. Plenty do. My crowd isn’t the bunch that will quickly agree that they are doing something so macro-aggressive. More likely, we’ll punch you in the face and tell you to get the hell away from us. We don’t take kindly to being told what we already know–we are a hot mess and some of what we do causes problems for others. I’m not the one who feels fulfilled if I close another deal at the altar with another soul saved. I was asked to serve us, the problem children, the brats, the monsters under the bed. Thus, to do my job, to fulfill my call, I am going to be uncomfortable and perhaps afraid.
I also know from those I have served that my service is diminished if I bend my principles in order to be more palatable to those I serve. That’s the second part of my call. I am to remain true to Christ. He is my model. He is how I live. This means I’ll make some I serve uncomfortable because my faith conflicts with their values. So be it. If the tension created by my truth is strong enough to tempt you away from your lifestyle then maybe change is in the wind for you. It’s not what God asked me to do. I’m not the one who will hit you upside the head with a bible. I’m more subtle, more difficult. I’ll just do what I’m asked to do knowing that my service, my authenticity as a Christian may mess with you.
This too. In the places where everybody is chasing their tail trying to please everybody, offend no one, and increase freedom from distasteful rules, the strictures against what you can’t say or do are far more burdensome than places where people pretty much don’t care. These phrases are not new to those who live in these cultures: micro-aggressions, trigger warnings and cultural appropriation. These come from a crowd so wired for perceived threats that they self-incarcerate in safe-spaces that exclude everyone except those who fit a superficial profile of African-American traits–kinky hair, broad nose, thick lips, brown to dark-chocolate skin, fluent in Ebonics as a way to protect them from the dangers of those different from them. BOO!
For this crowd I am evil incarnate: WASP, from a bloodline that traces its origins to both Plymouth and Jamestown, over 30, hetero cis-male, conservative, Christian, convicted abuser and deemed racist. This is the crowd that by their choices creates the very oppression they claim to protest. The difference is the target of their discrimination, oppression and the unintended consequence of incarcerating themselves in their hate. This is why this space is the way it is. I am pugnacious because I am authentic. I am pugnacious because my values, my principles are at odds with those who claim to be for the peepul. And . . . if you can set aside all the crud you load on me without actually knowing me, you may find that my authenticity, my speaking truth to insanity, is more compassionate than locking oneself in a room to be only with those who don’t generate triggers.
My Christian brethren who obsess over darkness, who worry that it is Lucifer himself under their bed every night, and hide in the safe confines of a sanctuary doing the rosary and startling at every odd noise, these too need to calm down. They are a bit full of themselves. Too much of their prayer life is devoted to asking God for protection from him, from James P. Sullivan and his buddies. I have disappointing news for them. You are not that interesting. You taste bad to Lucifer. There are plenty of souls in his pantry far tastier. If these brethren really believe in Christ then Lucifer can’t really touch them. I’m wasting my breath, though. This paranoia over Lucifer and Sully is as pernicious a psychosis as believing that I, hot mess that I am, have an evil control over that hapless college student who happens to feel black and has yellow-brown skin and blue eyes. It takes more than a blog post for them to release their attachment to the monsters under their bed.
I’m not like that crowd huddled in a college library study room carefully allowing in only those who feel safe. I’m a lot more tolerant, patient, willing to work than that bunch. You don’t have to preface a joke with a trigger warning. You don’t have to go home and change to meet me if you are currently dressed in a pastiche of men’s & women’s clothing. Nor do you have to schedule your same-sex partner’s time around my schedule so that I don’t figure out that you mix nuts & bolts. Probably clean up the needles, pipes, bongs, roach clips & empties for me, though. Addiction is one on my naughty list. Otherwise, do you. Be you. We’ll be fine.
My core tasks are to serve all and be true. My service would be less meaningful if I back-peddled on my emulation of Christ. I can still serve you as you are. You can do the same. Here is the cool thing about this. It’s not something that requires you to be a member of my church or any church for that matter. You can come out of your safe space. You can be with us and learn that we are not micro-aggressive (more probably macro-aggressive and trigger-rich). You can drop the chains & shackles of your effort to avoid triggers. If you want to follow me, do as I do, just look around you for someone who needs a small act of kindness done with great love. Do that. Do the small act of kindness with great love. Having done it, be done with it. Don’t look over your shoulder, call the recipient, text them, poke them on FB, or Instagram or whatever. Do it and walk away with no hope of any return or influence on the outcome. Anybody can do this. Everybody should do it at least once and hopefully more than once, hopefully a lot.
I’m good with being uncomfortable. I’m in this for the long game. I don’t have to win today or even at all. I know that I am on the right side of God and eventually some I serve will turn in my direction. I know that there are plenty of my Christian brethren armed with bibles who are really good at that whack upside the head and cajole for the desired answer to the altar call. I don’t have to be comfortable. Our opposition is has no lack of brethren walking about with messenger bags holding copies of the Communist Manifesto or Mao’s Little Red Book at the ready for a similar whack upside the head and a cajole to come to a seminar on redistribution of wealth. I’ll leave the snake oil sales to those who feel that their service is through closing deals on heathens. I don’t have to sell Mao, Lenin or Cheezus to serve God. I’m no less of a Christian if you flip me off. I don’t have to be right. In the end, if it is meant to be, I’ll win anyway. If not, in the meantime.I’ve got plenty to do.
Adam, the first man, is dead. He’s been dead a while. The Bible says, “Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died.” Archbishop Ussher of Armgah in 1650 pegged the age of the world at 4004 years, naming Saturday, October 22, 4004 B.C. as the first day of creation. For this piece we’ll say that Ussher was right and it being 2016 A.D. as I type this, the world would be 6,020 years old and counting. This means Adam has been dead 5,090 years. Mitochondrial DNA studies putting the age of Eve at somewhere above 100,000 years? Yah Yah. Can we move on?
Ever since I posted the piece on Eve having her reasons I’ve had Adam in my head, pissed. He’s been scolding me, saying that I didn’t understand. It wasn’t his fault. God had gone to meddling twice, first with Lilith and second with Eve. Eve offered him a piece of a fig without telling him where she got it and if God and those two women had just left him alone, he’d be fine. He didn’t need to know of good & evil. He didn’t need help.
The first mistake was God deciding that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. The second and third had names: Lilith (bitch) and Eve (wife). From day one with both, it was nonstop nagging and judgement. He had to wipe his ass. He had to smell good. He had to work to hunt for food. The garden of Eden was nice, but most of the plants that she liked to eat had thorns, so gathering what she liked was fustrating. There was no pleasing either of them. He’d gather figs and she’d ask for greens. He’d gather greens and she’d ask for nuts. He’d kill a turkey and she’d say she wanted fish. It was just endless.
He was happy finding a tree that had a nice overhang and some mostly clear ground. The rain didn’t really bother him and he never minded the cold. He hunted small game, fished and otherwise ate what he could find.
She. She worried about the cleanliness of the water. She wanted a shelter. Shelters took hours to make. Before the women he could just kick aside the worst of the offending thorny plants in a nice spot and catch some sleep. Not with her. No, every day included a couple hours of work on the shelter, sometimes an old one they’d had for a few days, sometimes building a new one. She didn’t want to be wet. Her skin busted out in red pustules all over her every time she got one little bug bite. She didn’t like sleeping on the ground because of the bugs. She wanted to sleep under covers. She wanted walls. She asked for animal furs to sleep on. She was incredibly annoying.
God kept on about life being better if Adam would just learn to love and trust him. Why? What had God done for Adam? Create him? Thanks for nothing. Alive in this bug infested, cackling, miserable jungle called Eden? To do what? To help her, help the ex-bitch and #2, who was somewhat better but still a huge pain in the ass. Love? What’s love? Love God? That fat lazy bastard who is always hungry and full of ‘spose to’s? Yeah, right. Sure. I’ll get right on that.
Probably the best day of Adam’s life is when he discovered that quinoa left in a gourd with some water would ferment into wine. Hala-frickin-luia. Second best was God showing him how to make fire. Beer & BBQ made her a lot more tolerable. God, drunk, was way more fun than God sober. Her, though, drunk, was a reason to leave for a few days and hunt. She was meaner than a honey badger coked out and psychotic.
And then. And then . . . God shows up and wants to know why he and Eve were covering themselves. Adam didn’t know. Eve insisted on covering her crotch and chest with leaves. She wouldn’t look at him unless his crotch was covered also. Whatever. Happy wife, happy life, right? Stupid wife. Well . . . it turns out that wasn’t just any piece of fruit. It was fruit from that tree, the one God told them not to eat from. Adam really didn’t care. There were plenty of trees that had good fruit. One less wouldn’t make any difference. She cared for some reason. Like it would really be better if he peed out of shouting distance instead of right in front of the shelter. Like her piss didn’t stink. They lost their home in the garden.
Life in the Savanna was harder. Now he had to farm. The edible plants in the savanna were nowhere near as good as what they could get before. There was less water and of what they found a lot of it was spoiled with animal piss. When they planted seed the birds ate most of it. What the birds didn’t eat the rabbits would get as it sprouted. Later the deer would feed on what they planted without having the good grace to hold still as he drew his bow.
It wasn’t fair that my piece about Eve’s reasons painted him as the bad guy. How is it his fault that God decided to meddle and create Eve? Why is he to blame because she decided that he should eat a piece of fig from the one tree he was told not to eat from? Lilith flew from Eden and he had peace and quiet for the first time in a long time? Why not let Eve slither out with the serpent?
Still, he could make beer and that made things better. Then God talked to him about children. He was cool with the part where you laid down with Eve to start the process. The rest of it, though, sucked almost as bad as hoeing a muddy field. If he could just have the sex without all the rest . . . God saying it was part of the plan he had for Adam–thanks for that, yeah, just great. Oh for the days of a meadow full of snorting wild boar and a quiver of arrows . . . It wasn’t fair that I had posted a piece saying that Eve had her reasons. He felt I should give him equal time. I needed to understand, he said. He said this as he walked away to help Eve skin one of their rabbits. Happy wife . . .
The stream of news is ceaseless. Picking a bit of it to write about feels overwhelming. A few weeks ago it burst forth in a spew about another mass shooting and the requisite call for more gun control. I still have that post sitting in my queue. It hasn’t posted because I don’t want to just fall into line and be another member of the chorus singing my part in the predictable propaganda either side of the issue. I want something to say that is better than, “no more guns” or “MORE GUNS!“. Two weeks ago I thought that meant research. I’m kind of over that idea. Now I’m in prayer trying to decide what I want to say. If you must know, I’m not a fan of increasing gun control.
This morning I am writing this from Tyler, Texas, where there are flash flood warnings. We are fine. Our hotel is on a hilltop. The worst of it for us is puddled roads that could cause hydroplaning if we drive too fast. I sort of feel like the weather matches my mood.
Two weeks ago I had an amazing time with my son celebrating his birthday (10/14) and mine (10/9). We shopped a bit. I got myself a charcoal grill, an iron and a microwave. October makes a year at the house I rented. I finally feel safe buying things you would buy for a house. If you follow me you’ll know I’ve been down & out as well as on the rise. The fear that I could be down and out hangs around like a drunken alien. He leaves for a few days then comes back hungover and pukes all over my tub for a while until collapsing on my couch. I’ve not been able to get him to leave and stay gone. So it is an act of courage to do small things like buy a grill and a microwave. I left a tract for all the local AA meetings in the pocket of that alien. Maybe this time he’ll keep going to meetings.
The weather outside is miserable, we can’t drive and let the camera photograph rain, I’m inside, in a warm hotel room writing this. Why complain? Well . . . because without good weather we sit in our hotel rooms biding our time and only being paid a piddly stipend. The big paychecks I’ve been getting wash into the storm drains along with alien puke and my good mood. I start to regret buying my microwave two weeks ago. This big money job ends in six weeks. I have until then to get ready for the looming drop in my income. I survive these storms in my life. I have so far. Each time they come it’s no fun at all. My anxiety skyrockets. I behave badly. My drunken alien starts recovering from his binges in the extra bedroom I use as an office. He messes with my TV remote so all I can watch is blocked Playboy TV and TrueTV. It sucks.
With this weather, with perhaps being idle today and tomorrow, two of the six weeks remaining will be small paychecks more like what I usually earn instead of the inflated windfalls I’ve been getting. Grumble. Instead of having to move from my 5th floor walkup in the bad part of Mt. Olympus in a few weeks I may have to move on Monday. Grumble. The alien tells me being roommates would make things better. Cost sharing and all. Right. Cost sharing with an addict. Think about it. Grumble.
I have a hard time writing stuff like this without trying to end positive. Without landing on some sermonizing. With forgetting that what I like about the blues is that it stays there–in the lamentation. With closing the narrative I’ve started about a drunken alien by saying he’s two weeks clean & sober and there is hope. It’s a rainy day in Tyler, Texas. The wives are arguing with their husbands about getting more sandbags. It’s Saturday and the power is off. The kids are bickering out of boredom. I just got a text message from my friend who is watching my house. There is a trail of alien puke from the back door to the toilet. The alien has left the house. My friend is headed to Walmart for Pinesol. I’m warm, dry, well taken care of and anxious about what tomorrow brings. Another day in my little heaven.
This morning (07-Jan2016) Whoopie Goldberg made news because she said we should ban automatic weapons that were banned in 1934. In 1989 California banned assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Gun manufacturers modified their semi-automatic rifles so that they could still be sold in California. The main difference? A California AR-15 has a fixed magazine holding no more than 10 rounds.
The headlines which prompted this post have fallen out of the news cycle. The press is bored with the story and has moved on. Lately, it’s Billary & Sanders who have their attention and whether Billary was derelict in her duty as Secretary of State while our embassy in Benghazi, Libya was being attacked. The spin being espoused has a lot to do whether you believe in the orthodoxy of the Republican establishment or the puritanism of the Democrats.
Back to what this post was about—gun control. I have a hard time with any phrase that is xxxxx control. Drug control, crime control, gun control, blah blah control. I distrust the success of any law attempting to impose control on us. Somewhere in me is an abiding suspicion that I and those like me are incorrigible. We outliers are the minority exception to the majority rule. Yes, some of us get caught and spend time in jail. Some get tired of the criminal justice system and quit behaving in ways that cause them to catch more cases and time. Some don’t. Some die unrepentant.
Propaganda that pitches the need for gun control as, “there was a person shot to death with a gun today. That’s one too many deaths by guns. We have to ban/control guns to stop this onslaught of gun violence and death“, just annoys me. It sets of a tough to resist impulse to scream and yell at the TV about the stupidity of that problem and solution statement. The blame is placed with the weapon used to commit the crime. The conclusion pitched is that if we remove the weapon we’ll stop the crime. And the sad truth is that humans intent on murder have been rather darkly ingenious when it comes to the means by which murder is committed. Without guns we’ll invent something else, suicide bombs anybody?
As I type this a woman drover her car into the crowd of the Oklahoma State homecoming parade. 4 people are dead and 50 are injured. This may not equate, but I’ll say it anyway. If removing guns from the hands of people who shouldn’t have them will reduce gun crime then can we also say that removing cars from the hands of those who shouldn’t have them reduce car crime? We don’t know yet the status of this woman’s driver’s license. I doubt she was worried about that as she decided to plow into a crowd of innocent people and kill 5 of them. Also, since this post was first drafted some crazy person found a sword and used it in Switzerland to kill two people and injure two others. The optics were earily similar to our mass shootings at public places which were a favorite story of the press for a while.
We are scarily talented when it comes to conceiving of ways to kill each other. A lack of guns isn’t the impediment to violence we wish it would be. Swords can be just as deadly in the wrong hands. We have the logical fallacy of taking the specific instance and trying to generalize from it. One more crazy person shot up another public place, this time a college in Oregon. And so the propaganda that we have to make sure this never happens again by ensuring that no more crazy people can get a gun. My itch to scream at the TV is getting much worse. Us, the outliers, are not dissuaded by laws saying we can’t do what we do. I don’t wish to see another shooting at another public place. I like the idea that we could do something so that this last shooting remains the last shooting. But I’m an outlier and I have friends. There are too many of us who won’t obey the law for me to be comfortable with another iteration of laws attempting to keep us from getting guns.
The problem isn’t the weapon, be it a gun or a sword, or as C.S. Lewis spoke of, a baseball bat. Gun control laws have not prevented the crimes we were promised they would prevent. Miyamoto Musashi (宮本武蔵) won deadly duels against steel katana and trained solders using a red-oak practice sword. The problem is the collective heart of the country reflected in the leadership we have in office. Our collective heart is in a rather dark place and some of the ways this darkness is manifested is through these mass shootings. The solution is not a legal one but a spiritual one. We need a change of heart, a change toward compassion and leadership to help us with that.
So, no kidding there are assholes and you can arrange your life in ways that push away all others so only the assholes are left. There are self-help books and whole bunches of fans of “The Law of Attraction“. It’s old news, that you get what you give. If you put out spiritual dung and behave in ways that are dissonant, your life tends to be filled with events and people who are spiritual dung and dissonant. I hope that is obvious. If it isn’t, go on Amazon and start reading. I don’t have to be the one to explain it to you.
One thought that feels reasonable is to diagnose the problem as the assholes. If they would stop being assholes then we would be fine. But, and this is where codependents get into trouble, assholes are consistent. Relying on assholes to behave in desirous ways so that we can have the life we wish for is a recipe for disaster. By definition, assholes don’t behave in desirous ways. If they did, they wouldn’t be assholes, would they?
You hear this from addicts. If some sumbeach would behave as I want them to then I could stop using, stop being an addict. But, that sumbeach probably doesn’t and won’t behave so the misery will continue. I also hear this from yungins, that someone else is the cause of their misery so what has to happen is that the someone else has to change so that the yungin can be less miserable. It’s the same reasoning destined to fail. Remember this prayer? “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.” You are not changing assholes. It’s what they do. So, the task is to figure out what it means to accept assholes as something you cannot change.
To the “Law of Attraction” folks. This is true up to a point. God made this world. He is in charge. We do have an influence over the direction of our lives. We can make things better or worse for ourselves by the choices we make. But there are things we cannot change. There are aspects of our lives in the hands of God. He made us, we didn’t make Him. So, yes, you can improve things a bit but ultimately, we are powerless. Our incantations and prayers only go so far. God does answer prayer. Whether he answers it in ways we desire is another matter. This amuses me: the thought that one could name God an asshole because he chooses to either ignore our prayer or answer it in a way we dislike.
It’s age-old. The more modern model for it is in the 12 Steps. You admit your powerlessness, surrender to God, do the inventory to identify what you can change, do the changes, offer reconciliation where possible, then seek ways to serve others. Another age-old practice: treat others as you wish to be treated, love God, love your neighbor and your enemies, serve others through small things done with great love. Not my ideas but ideas I live by.
And . . . sorry, I don’t want the world where there are no assholes. Most if the innovation that has occurred through recorded history has come because someone decided to swim upstream when everybody else was swimming for the ocean. This site is a celebration of assholes. We are where the malcontents live. Jesus was one of us, a malcontent who defied the church of his day. He died a martyr unjustly crucified by the Romans. If it ended there we would have forgotten him by now. It has not ended there. IMHO, the world is better for his defiance. You may not be able to change the assholes in your life. You don’t have to. Once you change the way you treat them so they don’t get traction by being assholes you may find that they move on to other targets. It really is that simple.
This is funny to me. Siderea describes asshole filters here. She finds it epiphanic that there are assholes afoot and that you can behave in ways that filter out other people to leave only the assholes. Siderea, baby, hey, yeah, uhm, I’m one of those, one who would be left in with your asshole filter.
Siderea writes of Fred, who produces conferences, and his duplicitous use of a personal and conference e-mail. He asks that for matters related to a conference being produced people use an address set up for the conference. Then, he doesn’t work that e-mail address effectively so it becomes a black hole from which no action is ever taken. He compounds his troubles by revealing to certain favored insiders that they can get him to take action if they use a personal e-mail address and gussy it up with subject headings and introductions which take on a Chicken Little tone.
So . . you can attract assholes to your life and you can attract drama to yourself. This is news? This was worth a blog post and a thread of flattering comments? Wow. Siderea. I am one of those. I am that guy who has been called an asshole.
Lately, because of the mood of some, my letters, WASP, male, over 30, born of upper middle class parents, college educated, deemed privileged, I am ascribed by some as the reason for all their troubles. Whatever it is miserable that befalls them it is my fault. Worse, I am divorced from my wife because I abused her. I was convicted and served time for the two instances of abuse that the courts know about. I am that guy, Siderea, who would be the soon fired thorn in Fred’s side.
Siderea, my name is Alan Webb and I am an asshole. Those that blame me for all their troubles flatter me. It is humbling to hear that I hold such power over their lives. Though, I don’t want the power that they accuse me of having. I got older. I am more than two decades past age 30, when I realized I couldn’t do it like that anymore. I read John Bradshaw, tried AA meetings for a while, went back to church, and slowly tried to make the last night in jail remain the last time. What has worked for me best is to study church history and learn how to emulate Christ as many did in the early centuries of the church before Constantine came to Him. (Actually, of all the assholes ever, Constantine is one of the greatest. You could also argue that Jesus was an asshole to the church of his day. Herod wasn’t too fond of him either.)
Siderea’s post is funny to me. You can absolutely screw yourself by not establishing and enforcing boundaries and rules. Lately, upon return from a temp job that had full-time travel, I’ve got a backlog of personal business to attend to. One bit is my car, which isn’t legal and needs fixing to make it so. When I got home this week I tried to start it and found that the battery had gone flat. The Chicken Little tactic would mean that I’d light up my contact list with some story about a world ending apocalypse if someone didn’t drop everything and devote the next few days to helping me start my car and get it legal. That’s the asshole move.
My friends should, and did, yawn, crack open another Bud Lite and go back to watching “Let’s Make a Deal”. A few more days waiting for the things I need to jump the battery and get the car to a mechanic won’t accomplish the apocalypse I could have suggested. People do that, though. They make it about themselves and narrate the story such that everybody has to jump to attention and deal with whatever misery has befallen them lately. Though, usually, it’s just raining.
Us boomers, who were seduced by the idea that freedom from the rule of law would foster the utopia we sought–to be coddled and protected in a cocoon where we could fuck every woman who passed our way, blast loud music all hours of the day and night, consume food, alcohol, drugs, whatever debauchery flitted into our fancy, and escape all consequences of our bacchanal, we thought we could do this by ignoring the rules and declaring a reborn Eden operated by anarchy. Then we turned 30. Our failing health betrayed us. The string of women we slept with started demanding child support. Our arrest record got long enough that we no longer qualified for drug court or weekend jail. We tried to have our glory rave at 32 the same way we did at 22 and those 19 year olds started to look at us like creepy old men. There are four roads ahead of us, more hospital time, more jail time, another stint in rehab, or death. Except for death, each of these roads can lead to health and a diminished role as an asshole to society. The choice is ours to make and not all of us repent.
Siderea, guess what. The world has assholes in it. Get used to it. God’s creation includes free will, including the will to be an asshole. Because there is free will we can also make choices which push the assholes in this world away from us. A few nights ago I was approaching a street-car station in downtown Dallas, TX. There were a half-dozen street people on the opposite platform. This has all the markers of a potential mugging and a half-day dealing with the cops and maybe the paramedics. If I made my train I’d get to the airport, make my flight and get home on time. If things didn’t go well getting home would get rather expensive and take a lot longer. I’m sure there have been some in my circumstances who did get caught up in a maelstrom and got home days later, much worse for wear. Because I am an asshole, because I have learned to deal with my kind over the years, it was a nervous half-hour on that street-car platform talking to the street people (mostly drunk) and paying a dollar each to two of them. And then my train arrived and I made all my connections, eventually arriving home in the afternoon as scheduled. The trick is to shut down the will to continue to be an asshole. Disrupt the behavior right then. Make it fail. The art is in doing so in ways that preserve the ability to continue the behavior but interferes with the desire to do so. Also, to keep a merciful heart surrendered to God. We are not going away, us assholes. But we can be dealt with in a way that makes things better for everyone.
My fellow blogger Aubrey Eicher posted an essay on Eve and the apple.” She writes, “When we love, we do not want to do anything to hurt the heart of the person, or in this case, God.” Which are fine words from a young Christian woman writing in 2015. So many have said it’s Eve’s fault without considering her predicament. We have at least five millennia of experience in what is and isn’t out of bounds behavior. If you doubt this, do something out of bounds to a woman and see what happens. Actually, don’t. There is enough out of bounds behavior without my encouraging it.
Neither Adam nor Eve had knowledge of how you love, what love is/was, and what is and isn’t out of bounds behavior. *Everything* is new, a first, including what it means to be a partner to someone. Aubrey says, “Surely, myself included, we would love to go back to the garden and slap the fruit out of Eve’s hand, and give her a piece of our mind, ‘What ARE you doing, you dumb broad, didn’t you hear what God said?
Yes, Aubrey, she did. Eve didn’t have the benefit of a few thousand years of hindsight. Worse, not knowing of good and evil, she had no way to express nor process events and behavior that felt out of bounds. Adam could and probably did, do things that caused Eve duress. But it was all good (right?) because without knowledge of good and evil there is nothing that is out of bounds. Last, a word from us, the malcontents, we know, she knew and it wasn’t enough, isn’t enough.
I find it beyond reason that the purported prior-fall Eden was entirely sunshine and lollipops. God created a world in which free will exists. This includes the freedom to use his creation for ill as well as good. C.S Lewis, in his, “Problem of Pain“, talks about a baseball bat being a tool for sport as well as a weapon.
God made the baseball bat. Man makes a choice and it is either used for sport or for a crime. He leaves it to us to decide what to do with His creation. I find it hard to believe that the lack of knowledge of good and evil would obviate the possibility of ill will. Either he made an Eden where free will was impossible and thus made a couple who were not completely in His image, or he made an Eden where they didn’t know what was and wasn’t in-bounds behavior but could, out of innocence, still behave in ways that were transgressive. You could slap the fruit out of Eve’s hand and she would still be stuck with an impossible to understand feeling that some of what Adam did was not right. Enter the serpent. Eve had her reasons.
To recap: the serpent tells Eve that if she defies God and eats of the forbidden fruit she will gain the knowledge of good and evil. She ate and fed some to Adam as well. In all the sermons I’ve heard and retellings of this tale I can’t remember any time spent in the run-up to her choice. It’s narrated as a series of disconnected events, the serpent talking to Eve, then Eve eating, then Eve feeding some of the fruit to Adam, then feeling shame at their nudity, then clothing themselves, then hiding from and being found by God, then banishment and consequences. It is beyond reason to me that Eve was not talking to Adam through all this. On many Sundays, in the sermon, I’m told that Eden before the fall was a paradise where evil was impossible. A paradise for whom?
A Box of Rocks
The bible is conspicuously silent on what Eve was going through in her early days. Or that Eve wasn’t processing the events of her life and trying to figure out (a) what it all means and (b) what she should do about it. It was all new to Adam as well. He had no frame of reference, save what God had been telling him, of how to live on God’s good side. Not knowing of Good and Evil, without the law, he had a hard time with Eve, who was not as rebellious as Lilith but was still crazy-making. There was no one he could commiserate with, no parents to talk to, no fellow newlywed men to joke about married life with. He had to bootstrap all of this himself. Eve, younger than him, didn’t know either and for all it mattered, was dumber than a box of rocks.
There is another discredited narrative lurking about in Jewish folklore–Lilith. She, it is told, was the first woman, created of the same soil as Adam, and banished from Eden because the fight between her and Adam got so severe she fled to the desert, spewing threats and curses the whole way. One more element. We don’t have a story that connects Lilith to Eve. Lilith exists in Mesopotamian folklore and predates Judaism. If folk tales of Lilith and Eve exist they have not survived.
Suppose these two women were alive at similar times, are we sure they never spoke? We can’t say because we don’t have anything to connect the two. But . . . this space is the realm of the bard. This is not a limitation here. This blog can say it, taking the privilege of the storyteller, and proceed from there. We’ll say Lilith was able to fill in the details of the dispute over a salad of smoked rattlesnake, sunflower seed, and kale dressed in lime, cilantro, and peanut oil vinaigrette served with a nice Riesling. Eve would hear that she wasn’t the first, and why Lilith lived in the desert, shunned.
If He Knew
This means that if she was to get along with Adam she could not merely defy him. She could not plant her flag on equal liberty with Adam and expect to gain his assent. There had been too many words between the angels, Adam and Lilith, too much done, to make that reasonable. Eve needed a new way to be with Adam. Could it be that if he knew what he’d done wrong, if he could be made to see the error of his ways, that there could be rapprochement in Eden and the strife of the past could remain in the past, leaving Eve safe?
Consider Eve’s position. She is newly made of Adam’s rib. She is physically a woman, fully capable of everything God expects of her. Adam has all these “should’s” and “spose-to’s” from his disastrous relationship to Lilith. He’s still seething at the mention of her. He feels entitled to being treated a certain way, full of rants about being respected and the proper place of a 妻. Though she is physically mature she is still young to this life and so much is hard to sort out. Knowing the right thing to do isn’t straightforward. She has no history to refer to, no older kin to speak with. Her only source of reference is God, who is at a turn loving and paternal in frustrating ways, and Adam, who isn’t helping.
Eve has no friends save for these two men, one her father, the other her husband. They are men. They try when she wants to talk. But . . . guys are not girls and though they mean well, it’s not the same talking to them. Lilith is banished so getting to speak with her is extremely difficult. Eve and Lilith had that lunch but since then God has had angels watching her so getting out hasn’t been possible. Adam and God have no clue what it’s like to be a woman in this paradise. Instead, there are legion expectations and pompous, chest puffed, chauvinist ideas about what an ideal woman should be. Into this comes the serpent, who is wise enough to know when to shut up and let Eve talk.
Hope for Change
God’s call to Eve was to be Adam’s helper. God keeps talking about children and that’s just disgusting. Adam has a lot to say about this, much of it conflicting with her conversations with God. God wants Adam to love him more dearly and wants Eve to help him with this. Adam seems to want sex (which, btw, could not have gone well at first, “You pee with that thing. You want to put it inside me and pee inside me? That is so not happening ever.” hot meals, a willing ear and someone to clean up after him.
No mention of loving God in that. No shortage of what God owes Adam, though. So, here she is, newly made, newly married, to this creature who is inconsiderate, stubborn, resentful, angry at his ex, loudly declaiming that God owes him, and demanding of her. The serpent says that if Adam knew the difference between right and wrong maybe he’d understand the error of his ways and stop being such a prick.
Keep things the same in the garden, tolerating Adam and his anger toward women, toward Lilith and by extension, Eve, trusting God to work it out, or . . . disrupt, defy, and in the defiance maybe get this lug head to come to his senses. Yes, the price was death but as in many of these broken relationships, physical death may be threatened but it is the spiritual death long ago initiated that has destroyed the souls of those involved and made physical death seem comforting. Plus, the serpent kept telling her that she would not physically die, not really. She would know from Lilith that the price was more probably divorce from Adam and banishment. So, it became a choice miseries.
Maybe Tomorrow is Better
Eve chose to eat of the apple and lived to suffer another day. Adam, it seems became a farmer and settled down enough to father Cain and Able. For Eve, good enough. She could live as a farmer’s wife and let the raucous early days of her life fade into fond family stories. For the rest of the story, you can read your Bible. It’s all there.
Eve’s sin is still the sin of hubris. Though, not the sort of pride I’ve heard in so many sermons on so many Sundays. No, the old lie the serpent tells us and that we still fall for that we are alone, that no one else understands our problem the way we do, and that we have to take care of it ourselves. It is a pride that comes from fear overtaking our trust in God and in turn letting Him open our eyes to the hidden love and solutions possible once we stop being so scared and proud. Eve was young, thought she had to figure it out for herself, and listened to the serpent as he talked her into feeling isolated and desperate. It doesn’t justify her sin. It’s maybe like Chris Rock said about OJ Simpson–it isn’t right but you can understand.
As I sit in the office I set up in the spare bedroom in my house without a job, with less than $40.00 of accessible cash, it’s easy to label myself as poor. If I don’t figure out how to pay my cable TV bill soon I’ll be stuck watching Netflix and will miss the new Season of Mythbusters. Horrible, right?
This still sticks in my head like a stray cocaine addled ex-girlfriend who won’t leave. When we say we want to end poverty, what do we mean? Half of the world lives on less than $2.50/day. I feel impoverished because after I buy my cup of coffee from Starbucks I’ll only have 23¢. Who is really poor? Am I poor because I don’t have enough cash to buy my usual list from our local supermarket? Those people who live on $2.50 a day, are we saying those are the poor folk?
Let’s just make that claim. That for things to be fair everybody has to live on more than $2.50/day. Thus the answer is to dump cash into their country so that everybody can have oh, maybe $10.00/day to live on. We’ll make some sort of UN resolution that imposes sanctions or whatever on nations that we consider wealthy and force them to give their wealth to our designated poor countries so that everyone can have their daily Alexander Hamilton. Good plan, no?
Best Laid Plans
No. The places in the world where we in the first world have diagnosed the problem as a lack of cash and thus the solution is to empty the coffers of the first world into the third are cesspools. The sudden influx of cash breeds crime & corruption. The well meaning, utopian ngo’s & government officials responsible for administering the flood of cash are too easily corrupted. Something like 90% of the money sent is swallowed up in costs and corruption. I know, a rapid fire paragraph of seeming glittering generalities. Don’t believe I’m factual? Check out Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid”. Go read the old news articles on the Symbionese Liberation Army and their food drop. Ask a local soup kitchen how many of those in line for a meal are regulars the staff suspects are not as down in the mouth as they claim. Redistributing assets to make things fair too often escalates the unfairness.
Lists seem to be a fad among bloggers. They show up well on the little 4.3″ screens of everybody’s iPhones. I am a bit mobile unfriendly on this site. I tend to write long, at least 1,000 words or so. You have to scroll down (so fustrating) to read all of one of my posts. +1 way in which this blog is a pain in the ass. Before I finish this I have a list below for you:
Things Alan Owns
Days to Earn @ $2.50/day
1 Can Bustello Coffee
Oscar Meyer Beef Franks
½ gallon Soy Milk
Melita Drip Coffee Maker
Peet’s Coffee Whole Bean Major Dickenson’s Blend
TFal Pot & Pan set
These are just a few small things. I also own a laptop (600 days), a smart phone (160 days) and live in a single family home (240 days for one month’s rent). I drive an old car that by the standards of my friends, is a hoopty. At $2.50/day it would take 14 years to earn enough money to replace it. One mechanic offered to fix everything broken for 2 years wages. I have friends paying a mortgage on $250,000.00 homes. For 80% of the world 100,000 days (274 years, 14 generations) would pass before they could pay that off.
Color Blind Privilege
That’s one aspect of this. What I feel as poverty is wealth by a large percentage of the world’s population. This happens every once in a while and makes the news. Someone from a remote corner of the world where they hunt & gather is flown to a place like New York City and they have a meltdown. Something as simple as a small corner grocery is such an abundance of food at such extraordinary prices that they cannot believe what they are seeing. For most of their lives if they don’t go hunt something today they don’t eat today. And here they are among millions of people staring at the shelves of a small grocer with enough food to feed their village for a long time. And it’s just one small store. Walmart? OMG! Walmart makes them run in tears from the store. Walmart makes their head explode.
Yet these people have lived in hunter-gatherer cultures for thousands of years. They are doing something right. Something else to consider–UN Relief and other foreign aid efforts have sent several trillion dollars to African nations over the last half-century or so. You would think that by now everybody there could be assured of their daily Hamilton and four times the amount of money they live on. Yet, over 50 years the cash has fostered incredible corruption and violence as the money is stolen by those who are able. Those for whom it was intended absorb yet another sandpaper dildo shoved up their dignity. Go read Dambiza Moyo’s, “Dead Aid” if you want to hear more about this. I met someone from Uganda who giggled that when we send cash and food they just eat it and leave us good-hearted folk with nothing to show for our well-intentioned generosity.
I hope none of what I write here is news. If you want to know why I don’t give to UNICEF or respond to those heartbreaking TV ads for various NGO’s feeding the poor it is because mercy is one more thing that scales badly. Once governments get involved and there is substantial cash in play it’s hard for the establishment to be humble and do the right thing. Too often their SumYung HotTea wants a fur coat and gets it for an equivalent price of 20 years salary for a lot of the world. Instead, I’ve advocated working small, in our own neighborhoods, seeking to foster the gifts of my neighbors. Yes, yes, this does come from Robert Lupton’s, “Toxic Charity“. I like the book.
As we sit in our local café and bemoan the miseries of the third world it is easy to take another sip of our doppio-half-caf-soy-hazelnut cappuccino (2 days wages) and accuse the rich of our first world of having too much. I have a suggestion I make frequently. Grab somebody sitting next to you in that café and ask them to hold your table. Go outside and give $20.00 (8 days wages) to somebody who looks like they need it. Each time you feel the urge to shake your fist at the evil rich, do a small act of kindness with great love. Then do another and keep doing them.
Rome was an empire for 1400 years. For the first millennium, it was an invincible force. Then a no account bastard Nazarene son of a carpenter was born in Bethlehem. At about age 30 he was crucified by the Romans at the request of the boy’s church leadership after being accused of blasphemy. Followers of this no-account boy were tormented, murdered, brutalized in the most vicious means imaginable. What could not be done by any in a thousand years was done by a few who sacrificed themselves over 4 centuries. His Way leached its way into the heart of Constantine.
Rome was sacked repeatedly until it fell for the last time around 440AD. You will hear that followers of Jesus of Nazareth were not the ones who brought down the great Empire. It was the Visigoths. Maybe so. Four centuries of speaking to the hearts of those in power, four centuries of asking them to follow the way of a ragamuffin boy from Nazareth, had its effect. The kingdom of Jesus lives in the hearts of millions of followers. Rome is a ruined city tourists visit to eat pizza and stare at fallen sports arenas. I think that carpenter’s boy won.
That’s my answer to those smoking Galious cigarettes, sipping that organic, fair trade latte and eyeing the “kill the 1%” protest sign proudly hung on the café wall above the flyer for river tours of the Douro. Christianity won against Rome by invading its heart. We won by small acts of kindness and uncommon grace.
You can be part of this revolution. No flags or riots needed. You know the drill. No, that old six-word prayer is only a small part of it. I care more about these simple things: Love God with all your heart, mind and strength. Love friends, family and enemies alike. Forgive first, beyond 70 times 7. Wash feet. If you don’t understand what I mean by washing feet, ask one of us who follow Jesus. We invaded Rome’s heart and live in it rent-free. I’ll take that as a win you can be part of for less than a day’s wages.