Heroic Misery

We exhault the ending. We don’t like the heroic misery that led to the ending. It would be awesome if we could just have the penultimate moment at the peak of victory all the time. One decapitated dragon bleeding out behind one handsome, sword wielding guy. On the guy’s other arm is a damsel no longer in distress. It’s time for the hero to return home and the dragon’s family to start plotting revenge.

Foolish Imaginings Sans Heroic Misery

We want foolish fantasies as our utopia. To be forever no older than 25, virule, surrounded by docile, willing women who fulfill our every desire, women who are Mary Magdalene in the bedroom and Mother Mary everywhere else. There will be only ecstasy, forever in the exultant moment of victory as the dragon’s head fell to the ground and his blood began searing the grassland. Never mind about the dragon. He needed killing.

We want a complete end to death and disease. No one would ever die, get sick or injured. We would all always be twenty-something invincible. All the foolish things we attempt at that age would never fail. The Earth would be Eden and free of all the signals of first world manufacturing. Our land unsullied by large scale farming that uses chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Everyone would have their forty acres and an ox. Ox? Yes. An Ox will plough a field. A mule? Not like an ox. Think I am kidding? Ask any Amish farmer whether he’d rather pull a plough with an ox or a mule. Thought so.

No hangovers, no escalating negative consequences from our success at achieving all seven deadly sins. No responsibility for our depravity and all the benefits. It is a toddler’s perfect world.

A Toddler’s Pastoral Paradise

One world government, dedicated to the pleasure of the peeeepul, fighting the rich and protecting us from the insults of the world. No one would hear anything that might be perceived as even slightly aggressive or a potential cause for a trigger. We could pee on the coloring books and eat the crayons and suffer no ill-effects. Our innovative way of expressing our opposition to the oppression perpetrated against us by those who would have us color inside the lines engenders praise.

Akim got into a 100 comment long thread with a few women. At the root of it was Akim’s assertion that pussy should be available on-demand. If a guy wants it women should provide. No, women would not have a say. Guy wants ass, guy gets ass. He built up an elaborate fictional world in which gestation had been offloaded to robots and women were sterilized at birth. Akim framed this as a wise goal of a future Socialist Party government. Free pussy would be a right. Free will for women would be at the whim of men.

Which is . . . stupid. Women shut down insanity like this since forever. Guys don’t have a growing child in their belly and all the resulting misery. Guys initiate gestation with sex. We get a taste of ecstasy and the woman gets a lifelong commitment to a child. Abortion? The memory of that unborn fetus never leaves the woman. Women care about sex because of the consequences to them when it works as intended and pregnancy results.

Teen Male Fantasy and Porn Trope

Akim hungered for his “should be” and refused to acknowledge some inconvenient facts. He sought solace in long-winded fantasies of a better world run by local, communal governing boards. It was a rather Maoist ideology mixed with fantasy about San Francisco’s Summer of Love.

The signals of hope & change? perf. Actual change? Can’t even. There is a political point to this. Trump voters want change. We want the chaos unleashed by attacking the career civil service, sacred cows like Medicaid, Obamacare, TANF and Social Security. A century of bigger federal budgets, greater corruption and increasingly, a government that exists only for itself is enough. We know that every coup d’é·tat means chaos and sometimes, civil war. The struggle is real, tbh.

 wait-a-minute

Now, I need to interrupt myself. I started this full of vim & verve sure that I had an epiphany worth 1500 words. I thought my political point would make it to the end of this piece. It won’t. Why? A word from God.

It was around 3am. I did my nightly wake, pee, flush, back to bed. And . . . God picks this moment to remind me that I still carry resentment from a single kickball game when I was eight. I’ve not been to the gym in three weeks. I have tons of good reasons why. They are all bullshit. This, a bitter root from my youth, this is what God showed me. Shit. Busted.

Epic Fail Heroic Misery

Old Wounds

So, a confession. I am averse to misery of any sort. Yeah, big woop. Not exactly news, that. I have used my heritage and position to belly up to the buffet of pleasures possible in my place and day. Asceticism? Oh the horror. Never.

One more thing to confess: I was teased just enough in grade school when trying to play kickball that I made an oath that I would *never* be caught playing sports. There is a medical reason for this. I have a hand eye coordination problem. Or . . . I did. Sometimes my brain tries to get my body to do something and it doesn’t go as intended. There were enough embarrassing fails as a kid that I’d rather dissolve into shapeless meat inseparable from an easy chair than do anything that requires hand-eye coordination and sweat.

Yes, that 5 years when I did Aiki Jujitsu did happen. The things I learned in that 5 years still help me. Deep down there is still that little boy who is embarrassed and wounded because the kids laughed when I tried to kick the ball and whiffed it. The same little boy who got pranked and ran the football to the opposition’s goal line.

It Needs Killing

So, there it is, the dragon that must be slain. I have to heal that little boy within me that swore off recess and kick-ball because of a couple minutes in my youth. I can’t say I am not an athlete. My rank in Jujitsu belies that. But, as my sixth decade approaches a life-altering choice is before me. I can spend ever increasing amounts on medications and incantations and doctors in an effort to get this glutinous body healthy or I can get myself to the gym and recover my former athletic self.

The easy chair will remain. Every day the choice is there: endure some misery for an hour or so at the gym or let the easy chair eat a bit more of my health. On this last visit to the doctor my A1C score was down a full point and I had lost some weight. I’ve not been to the gym in the last two weeks. When I was going my weight was under 230. It’s over that now. You can’t ask for a more concrete proof of whether exercise works. Work out? Weight and blood sugar scores fall. Collapse in to the easy chair? Things move the other direction and I die a little bit more.

Six miserable, one joyous

None of this is news. There are 7 major phases to an archetypical hero’s tale. The sought after exultant victory is achieved only at the end, after the hero almost dies. For six out of the seven phases there is misery of one sort or another. The story is a tragedy until the very end. You can’t accomplish the penultimate victory over the dragon without going through phases 1 through 6. Training is tortuous. If it isn’t hard you are not putting in enough effort. But . . . enough platitudes. I can spit out tropes and slogans with the best of them. The measure of whether I will win the battle with diabetes is still to be told.

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Why The Suffering?

This was the third question of the Explore God series for Metro Richmond churches. It seems I started this essay series in the middle. Onward. If this is a question that is deep for you, sorry, twice. First, sorry that it disrupts your life. It’s kind of cool that you feel it deeply. It’s also rather shitty that the available answers all suck. Second, if you hoped I’d be the genius that had the epiphany of the ages, fail. I’m not the brilliant one. I’m a cab driver. My brilliance lasts long enough to get you to where you are going and get paid. Then I’m just another smelly plebeian.

christ-on-the-crossOver 2,000 years ago another smelly plebeian born in a stable in Bethlehem was crucified by the Romans at the behest of local rabbis. He was Nazarene and nothing good comes out of Nazareth. He made outrageous claims to divinity throughout his life. His followers attributed miracles to him. Three days after his crucifixion his body went missing and certain of his followers made the absurd claim that he had risen from the dead.

The absurd lies about Jesus have continued for two millennia. Today, his followers make the claim that he took all suffering, all death from all time with him to the grave and delivered it to Hell. So . . . why didn’t the shit-show stop 2,000 years ago? Anybody?

St. John said a lot crazier things in the book of Revelations. The fight over what the hell he was saying is as old as the book. Bottom line, instead of the shit-show stopping when Jesus was crucified, it kept going. What was/is the answer? Sheer bullshit, that when Jesus comes back he’ll make that a priority. In the meantime the misery will continue whether morale improves or not.

I am a confessed Christian. Well meaning evangelists have pressed me for the desired answer to their perpetual question, “are you saved?” My consistent answer is still, “yes I am“. I’m not your usual, doe-eyed unquestioning devotee of the mythology and orthodoxy of my church. I came to Christ a deep skeptic. I was sure God existed, somewhat less sure about the claims of Jesus, and very cynical about the church.

Still, I believe the bible is true, all of it. Is it literal, neat, Pythagorean truth lending itself to a linear exegesis? Don’t be silly. Even a superficial browse of it will turn up absurdities that destroy any childish assertion that the Bible holds up as a factual explanation of anything. Some of the Bible is narrative that we have learned is history. Some of the Bible is reliably absurd when read as journalism. I don’t expect my world to be so convenient. My world is absurd. That my religion and its central tome is absurd just fits.

I’ll leave it to others to be frustrated with the ways in which the Bible is bonkers. This is where I am going with this: the claim that the shitty aspects of life would end with Christ’s death is false. Every evangelist who tells you that your misery will stop once you say a quick, 10 second prayer is a liar. Things do improve, sometimes miraculously. I am one of many for whom this has been a life-long project. There is more blessing and less shit-show in my life lately. It didn’t just fall into my life. I had to work my ass off to get to today. I got here, though.

I said I would fail you. 500 words in and I’ve not touched the question–why is there suffering? “Everything happens for a reason?” And that reason would be? Or this, “You must have sinned somehow and this is the consequence of your sinful ways. Repent.” My Mom died last summer. She was 83. Her curriculum vitae was admirable. Dementia stole her from me. Are you seriously going to close the story of her on, “everything happens for a reason” or “She’d be healthier if you weren’t so evil”? Can I smack you? No? Damn. I can’t accept that she did something or I did something to cause her to contract dementia. Dementia just happened to her. It was how the story ended for her. I’m at peace with that. Your well-intended words of comfort that her last 5 years happened for a reason just pisses me off.

That utopia, where we are all the same, frozen at our mid-twenties, free to accomplish the seven deadly sins as often as we like without consequence . . . is a fantasy for some boomers and a nightmare to me. I like this world, where my Mom went home one afternoon during a nap. No, five years of watching dementia eat her wasn’t fun. For a time, I wouldn’t go home and when I did the times in the day when she needed to be moved or fed or her sheets changed or any of numerous small acts of care performed I found a way to be incapable of helping. Still, this world, with my Mom reduced to an imbecile toward the end, is one I’d choose over a pastoral first world where I am coddled and protected from misery.

That I live in a two-story walkup on a back alley off a run-down street next door to the Devil’s Funhouse in a valley named Valle de la Muerte may be concerning to some. It’s home. I’ve got incredible neighbors. There are days when the college kid that lives downstairs will be in my kitchen bitching about my lack of housekeeping skills. Most of the time she does this while she’s got the stove simmering something tasty and she’s taken it upon herself to clean up after me. A hug and a little cash always seems to be about right.

I don’t want the world in which she wears an apron and dutifully greets me at the door with a cigar, a drink and the newspaper. I like it that she scolds me for the way I keep my house and messes up the presets on my TV. A world in which salt has lost its taste isn’t one I would live in. I’m not immune to misery. Those that know me have watched me climb out of the mess I got myself into 15 years ago. I’m a better man today now that the task has changed to thrive from survive.

See, a couple doors down from my walk-up is a dirty, lowdown bar where it’s even odds that they serve you or mug you. Your chances are better if you live nearby and have been there before. The band plays acoustic, with some banjo, steel guitar, trap drums and a blind-guy who looks like he’s a thousand years old and plays clarinet. A short walk a couple blocks is a late-night Chinese American place. It’s a place where a lot of us end up in the short months before we move to 6th & Green. It isn’t all bad though. Some of us move on to better neighborhoods with fond memories of hangovers and stories that penetrate the fog of last night.

That college kid is 6 months clean from heroine. She’s a regular at the bar. The guys tried to mug her and she emptied the place. She was fine, hot for more. The guys, though, not so much. The cops arrested a couple guys for drunk in public and made them sober up at City Jail. She got a lecture about reasonable force. It’s all hugs and smiles now.

This is the thing, living where I do. Nobody is shocked at the existence of the blues. We live on, do the needful and some of us thrive. Our faith in an absurd, martyred carpenter gets us through. For as many sad songs there are songs of praise and ridiculous things like Todd White. Jesus told us we’d always have the poor with us. By inference, I say we’ll always have the blues. The Devil’s FunHouse is as much a part of this world as heaven. Cray cray is part of His creation. He is absurd. That said, it is how we choose to live and love that matters.

I’ll end on this: there are things that give me comfort. I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis’, “The Problem of Pain”. I’m a fan of Phillip Yancey. I haven’t read his “Where is God When it Hurts?” I trust Yancey enough to recommend him without having read “Where is God When it Hurts?” Of Lewis, the thing that I repeated ceaselessly was his insistence that God can’t do the self-contradictory. He can’t at once provide perfect safety and perfect freedom. Some degree of safety will limit freedom and more freedom will reduce safety. God made a world in which free will exists. The same baseball bat that can be used for a game can also be used to kill somebody. We should not fault the bat nor the God that made a world in which both things are possible. We should look within to where we are broken and tempted to use a baseball bat to injure.

Something else, there is beauty. Even on my street the busker who sings a catalog of b-side ’90’s almost famous mix-tapes accompanying herself with a kiddie synthesizer has her moments of transcendence. There are inexplicable acts of kindness and grace. As infinite are the slights and grievances also infinite are the reconciliations and healing. The sun will come out tomorrow . . . (Yes, ‘Annie’). I said I’d fail you with the question of why there is suffering and I have. I’ve kept my promise. This is an old and oft asked question. Any answer I have will be insufficient. What is sufficient is faith in an absurd event in history when God made himself flesh and died on a cross to be resurrected three days later. Nothing else worked, nothing else is enough. God died and rose again. Hallelujah and Amen!

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WAR!

Some of you don’t need to read this. You know. Those that I hope read it are the neurotic, put the kid in the bubble, full, fierce, mama-bear, helicopter parent crowd. By now, being boomer parents, your kid should have gotten a day job and you can do the full-press, “my kid will never experience harm” schtick with your future grandkids. Count me with the fathers who believe skinned knees and fat lips are a rite of passage. A little harm to the kid at the right time can be a positive.

Conflict is part of this world. Fighting happens. Romantic dreams of a perfectly safe world come at the price of free will. Part of being a mature, well-adjusted adult is working through a healthy relationship to the miseries that befall us. With a life in this world where free-will exists it is absurd to assume we can escape into death without harm of any kind. We will find opposition. Some will fight us precisely because our childhood taught us we are entitled to our every whim and to be insulated from any potential stressor.

Warriors run toward the fight. Boxers and mixed martial artists go to the dojo to train and spar. Some of us are fight-seekers. We close the distance. We get inside the attack. We like the sweat, lactic acid in our muscles, the mental duress, the misery of battle. The rush of fighting makes us feel alive. But . . . fighting is bad, no? Someone who is a fight seeker is a problem, right? No, not all the time. For me, the boundary is intent. Why are you running toward the attack? What is your purpose in the battle? If the purpose is destruction, to cause as much damage as possible, to hurt or kill the opponent without regard for the initiating dispute, if that is the purpose, that is wrong. Seeking that sort of fight, being someone who simply seeks destruction, is someone who ought to be defeated. If you are running toward the attack, seeking the fight so that the initiating dispute can be brought to resolution in the least harmful manner possible, then go. Finish it. Last, if you are an athlete and your sport is boxing or martial arts, train hard and train well. Your battlefield is within you. The war is against your own limitations. Victory comes every time you get stronger, improve your technique, conquer yet another aspect of yourself keeping you from a deeper union with God.

I hold a purple belt in Saigyo Ryu Aiki Jujitsu. This is the highest adult rank you can get that isn’t either a teaching rank or a teacher’s apprentice rank. I trained for 5 years. I haven’t trained seriously in over 20 years. I’m way out of shape and don’t remember most of my kata. The spirit of the school, though, is still with me. The definition of victory as accomplishing the destruction of the opponent’s will to fight, remains with me. The love of training, of the sweat and tears, is still there. I am not a warrior as someone in our military is a soldier. My title of warrior comes as a student of fighting. My war is within me. My battlefield my spirit and my heart.

Anti-War. It’s a word we assume everybody knows the definition of. One who is against war. Fighting is bad, no? Yet . . . people fight. Nations fight, go to war. We know better and still, fights happen. Misery is bad, no? No one wants to be miserable. Warriors are fighters. Warriors fight, go to war. War is bad so warriors are bad. Nothing about them could be worthwhile . . . Maybe. . . not. Warriors study war so they can win. They learn their opponents and the battlefield. They push themselves physically, mentally and spiritually so that they can outlast their opponents. They train, and submit to proper authority. They have a relationship to misery and duress that sets them up for success. Athletes & dancers know this. If you are training and comfortable, you are not training hard enough.

In relationships any couple that claims they don’t fight is either delusional or liars. Couples that last figure out how to work through the conflict that arises. Misery, duress, and conflict all have their place in our lives. They all have the potential to make us better people. I still like the metaphor of fire. Fire can be harnessed to heat our homes and cook our meals. It also destroys forests and homes. Misery, duress and conflict share similar attributes. These three can be harnessed to grow us into better people. They can also harm us and thus, must be handled well. The problem isn’t the presence of duress, misery or conflict. It is how we respond to it. These can make us better people.

Victory is destroying the opponents willingness to continue the fight while preserving his or her ability to fight. This is distinct from the way wars are won, where victory is achieved by destroying the enemy’s ability to fight. There is a level beyond that, though, given by Christ in calling on us to love our enemies. This is a radical command. It countermands our instincts on conflict. When we are hurt by someone we want to fight, to hurt back, to make them feel the pain we felt, to get even. Getting even, though, can be problematic. And there is the nagging feeling that really, probably forgiving might be the better long term plan. Still, the emotion is there along with a hunger for justice.

Asking us to love our enemies just seems wrong. Yet it is the way to victory. Loving our enemies puts our heads & hearts in the right place so we can understand what self-sacrificial victory would mean in our particular instance. Then we can work through what is needed to transform the heart of our opponent so he or she no longer desires harm. Where the warrior way can help us is in how we live our lives. Proper submission to authority, preparation and training, knowing our enemy, understanding the battlefield’s effect on the fight, and being literate in strategy and history are attributes of a warrior we can all benefit from. These, along with a warriors attitude toward persevering, can be a plus instead of a minus.

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You Do It

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.

oh-noOne 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.

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