Thursday, December 31, 2009

the morning after


Yesterday I finished the final edit of my book before I send it off to a couple of poor innocents whom I've coerced into being my readers. The function of a reader is to bring fresh eyes and tell you where, exactly, the love-child you've created is a big stinking failure. 

I'm not all that worried about it - it is what it is, after all - but I am feeling a little bit of post-Olympics let-downI hear that after Olympic athletes train and train and train their entire lives for the Olympics, after it's over and they've won (or not), they end up getting severely depressed and going all nut-bar, like old whatsis-name swimmer dude.

For the past five months I've focused a lot of myself on telling my story in internetual book form. When I wasn't writing it, I was generally on some level of consciousness mulling it over. That is the longest I have ever dedicated myself to any one creative project, ever, and now that I'm done I really don't know exactly what to do with myself.

I mean, obviously I start the next one, but emotionally I am a little discombuberated and it's definitely a bit difficult to focus on anything much at all. I'm currently learning the ukulele, trying to put together some submission letters for a couple of children's books I did with a friend, and developing a screenplay while reading books on screenplay writing. I also spend a lot of time taking care of my little human toddler-monkey, and on Monday I'll be going back to work as a teacher.

I suppose I just need some new hobby, like booze or heroin, that can help me forget that I ought to be doing something with my life. I haven't felt like writing, though, and the only cure for that particular ailment is to sit down and write. So that, dear friends of the electronic world, is what I am doing herein.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

secrets and theft

A friend of mine has a secret blog. He doesn't tell anyone about it, and tries to convince the few who know of its existence that it is actually written by his identical twin brother, who is a myth. I only found it because he foolishly left a comment on here using his own blogger account, whenupon I promptly went to his blog and wrote "Gotcha, you weasel." He says it's a secret because he's just sort of thinking things out, but I think it's because he's too lazy to edit.

Normally if I like something someone says on the interwebs I'll link to it, because it is easier. But this would annoy him for sure, so instead I'll just annoy him a little bit by re-posting it here. If it seems raw, it's because he doesn't really edit. If it seems like it obliquely references me a few times ("Canada", "Effup"), it's because it does. Because I am special.

Enjoy.





I Am An Adulterer


I am not a great man. But if by telling you that I am not a great man, that makes me a great man...well...then, I guess I must be a great man.


My friend Canada threw that quote out at me.

And so humility becomes just another tactic...to prove how great I am.

But at what point is the line crossed?

I can tell you that I am a wretch, and you place your hand between my shoulder blades and look into my innocent pale blue eyes and tell me that I am not.

I can tell you that I have lied, stolen, hurt people -- deeply and on purpose, stepped on others in order to get ahead, looked down on nearly everyone around me. For this, you would applaud me for my bravery and willingness to expose my naked soul for all to see.

But my soul is not naked. I am too smart for that. I am humble because I am cunning. It is a tactic, like every other human action. Stanislavski taught me that.

But at what point can I cross that line?

How can I convince you that I suck? When can I describe my actions in such vulgar, profane detail that you might agree with me?

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There is a bit of a dilemma within the modern Church. Somewhere along the line, we adopted the term “Christian.” If you are unfamiliar with the etymology, the word means “Little Christ.” I recently read an article by a man who swore off the title. He suggested that it is arrogant and offensive for a person to call him or herself a “little Christ.” He vowed never to use the term to describe himself ever again.

I agree. I agreed with him on every single point. But then what shall we call ourselves?

I raised this question to my aunt. She is a wonderful woman and quite passionate about Jesus herself. She suggested perhaps we should start calling ourselves Christ followers. It has all the benefits of stating that we are trying to be like Christ without pridefully suggesting that we ARE like Christ.

AWESOME.

Only, I don’t think many people are actually trying to be like Christ. I’m pretty sure we’re all just looking for new and exciting ways to prove that we’re better than everybody else.

So maybe a handful of people can accurately label themselves “Christ-followers.” But I don’t really think I’m trying hard enough to be a part of that crowd. Sometimes, maybe, but most of the time...when I am trying hard to be Christ-like...I’m just doing it so that I can look down on all the people who aren’t trying as hard as I am.

So, what the hell do I call myself?!?!?!

I’m not a Christian. I’m not even a Christ follower! But I don’t believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster either! I believe the whole Jesus story, I’m just not willing to give him a bad name by suggesting that I’m anything even remotely like him.

What the hell do I call myself! I need a goddamn name!

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Once, I interviewed my friend Phil about this thoughts on Christianity. Phil is a great man, whom I deeply respect and admire. He is flawed just like the rest of us -- but he knows quite a few things that I don’t, and he does a slightly better job at pretending like he’s Jesus than I do. During this interview, one little gem stood out to me.

Now bear with me, because this is probably a tired, old metaphor...but it was new to me.

It’s like my house is heaven. Now it’s all nice and clean and beautiful and wonderful. I tell my kids they can go outside and play, but don’t play in the mud. So they’re kids. What do they do? They play in the mud. Does this mean I’ll never let them back inside my house? Of course not! But it does mean that I’m gonna hose them down, first.

He then backspaced a few times on that and decided it was more like a virus with a cure than mud and a hose...and he was right. It’s the more accurate metaphor, because really...what does it matter if your house gets dirty. BUT, if there is a deadly disease running around, it makes sense for heaven to remain quarantined.

But, I like the mud metaphor better. It’s more visceral. I’m a filmmaker...viruses aren’t primal...mud and water...those resonate.

So I imagine it like this. God has a clean house. He wants everybody to have a super sweet awesome party in there, but we’re all covered in shit...literally, shit. We hate our miserable lives because every second of every day, we are covered in shit. It’s all around us. People are throwing it, but even faster than they can throw it -- we are rolling around in it, smearing it into every pore and orifice. I imagine Jesus as the the big fat guy standing at the entrance of the house, smoking a cigar, covered in tattoos and looking like a line cook at Waffle House. He is holding a hose and is more than happy to hose off anybody who comes inside.

The Christians are the ones who are out in the shit storm telling everybody about the fat guy with the hose. Only nobody’s buying what they’re selling. And I’ll tell you exactly why. Because the Christians all pretend like they’re not covered in shit; all you have to do is look at them to know it’s a big fat lie.

I walk up to you, all three of you who read this blog...I, personally walk up to you. There is a mixture of shit covering my entire body. I’m talking dog shit, horse shit, cow shit, rabbit shit, llama shit, cat shit, human shit...everything shit. It’s in my hair, all in my hair -- lathered in like shampoo. It’s caked down my face like makeup on a prom queen. When I grin, you can see it between my teeth. It’s in my ears, under my fingernails, it’s so heavy it weighs down my clothes and causes them to stick to my body.

And I’m not talking old shit, like all crusty and dried out after a few days. I’m talking new, recent, wet, stinky shit.

So...I walk up to you. And I say, “Hey, you’re covered in shit. Wouldn’t you like to be clean, like me? And totally NOT covered in shit?”

I can’t imagine you would take my solution very seriously.

See, the problem with Christianity is that it’s just one more tactic in our never-ending quest to prove that we are better that everybody else.

Hobbes said, “I put for the general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” And he was pretty much the smartest stuffed tiger I can think of.

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Christianity is a fairy tale. It’s stupid. Only stupid people could possibly believe in it. Stupid or else naive. It is imaginary, a religion of wishing upon stars.

But if I learned anything from Pinocchio, it’s that wishing upon stars is never a bad idea.

We “Christians” spoil that illusion. If I tell you a beautiful fairy tale about a selfless and elegant man who loves you despite the fact that he knows exactly how unlovable you are...you might just be inclined to believe that He exists somewhere out there -- because you so greatly yearn to be loved, and especially by someone who knows just how unlovable you are.

But if I tell you that I am even remotely like this man, the illusion is broken. Because you smell the bullshit that I am covered in. And if this man is anything like me, he can’t possibly be as great as all the fairy tales say he is. Because I don’t love you. (I’m pretty sure that nobody really loves anyone, to be honest. Not in the way the Bible talks about. In fact, I’d be willing to bet my life on that.)

----------------------

I was reading through the Old Testament -- specifically the prophets. To be more specific, it was Amos, I think. I’m not certain. There was a verse in there where God likened the Israelites behavior to adultery. The prophets are DENSE with this terminology. I have a feeling, actually, that adultery may have been Jeremiah’s favorite word. Over and over and over, the prophets call the Judites and the Israelites “adulterers.” And yet, they never call anybody else adulterers. The Philestines are awful and wicked, but they’re not adulterers. The Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Egyptians -- the term is never used on them.

Why? Well, obviously, they never entered into a covenant with God. If we’re using the same metaphor, these people groups are merely fornicators. People who get into bed with idols and false gods, but have every right to do so...they never entered into a relationship with God. They never committed their lives to him. They never admitted His existence.

Which led me to the realization that I had found a new term for Christians. We are the adulterers. If we truly realize that praying that silly prayer in which we state that we believe in a fairy tale does not make us into some kind of sinless perfect person, then we are forced to admit that we are still sinners. We are still covered in shit. And if we believe in our silly little fairy tale, and we continue to sin...then we are adulterers.

You can argue semantics if you like. Or, you can ask ten people on the street which is worse: sleeping with 100 people before you married or having 1 affair. I think all ten would agree.

We “Christians” look down on those horrible fornicators, forgetting that we have committed a far more serious transgression.

Perhaps instead of wearing crosses, we should wear Scarlet letters. Only, the Scarlet letter would quickly become a symbol of pride. What we Christians need is a symbol of shame.

I am ashamed to call myself a Christian. And for the first time in my life, it is not because I don’t want to be associated with “those people.” This time, I’m pretty sure I’m the one bringing down the rest of the group.

So I’ll call myself an adulterer, for at least as long as it’s trendy for me to do so. I may even have a scarlet A tattooed across my chest just to remind myself what a massive effup I am.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Feel Pretty

I have some bad news: the Dove people do not think you're beautiful. They don't think you are ugly, either. In fact (psssht, don't tell anyone), they don't give a rat's flatulence for you one way or another.

Oh, sure, the little Dove "Campaign for Real Beauty" plays a sharp (weaselly) game. That video most of us have seen on youtube sure seems to be mocking the beauty industry by pointing out all the photomanipulation and such that goes into fashion and marketing, and who doesn't want to be told that "beauty" as it has been marketed to us is a myth we can just give up on?

There are a couple of problems with this - first and foremost being the ulterior motives of the Dove corporation itself. Since that whole thing started, it is possible that they've helped a lot of little girls feel better about themselves with their "self-esteem workshops" - but it's absolutely positive that they've made a lot of money."Hmmm... which soap should I buy", we wonder, as a tiny little voice in the back of our heads pipes in and says, "buy Dove! They think we're beautiful no matter what." And have they let up on their photomanipulation in any of their other ads? Have they started using real women? No, of course not.

I read a news article online where the author seemed shocked to discover that Dove had doctored the pictures of the "real" women in its "Real Beauty" campaign. This sort of shock is, I think, just posturing, because we all know that the big multinational soap corporation doesn't give a hoot at an owl convention if we like ourselves or not. In fact, they know that the best way to ensure that we'll buy their product is to convince us that we are not beautiful, and that no one will like us until we buy their product.

So why all the posturing? Why are they pretending to care about us? Why do we (at first) pretend to believe them? And why are we pretending to be shocked when the mythology falls apart?

My guess is that we're all aware that our cultural conceptions of beauty are sad, stupid, silly, ugly game. We're caught in the maze of it and we don't know how to get out, because there is one thing we absolutely must have: LOVE. In our hearts, we know it's a sham, but we are afraid that no one else knows its a sham and if we stop playing the game, we'll just end up being losers. And nobody loves a loser - we learned that in kindergarten.

The Dove people want to believe that they're not evil. We want to scapegoat the evil corporations (or all the stupid people who believed them), but the truth of the matter is that we all believed them at some point, and we could all just stop. Seriously. Quit. We don't need the makeup. We don't need the clothes or the toys or any of the other garbage. We are beautiful, just by dint of being human, and we most definitely don't need some corporation to tell us so. We can love ourselves. We can see our own beauty, without an ad campaign.

Even if we did this thing, it would be a long while before we stopped finding certain types of facial features and bodies more pleasant to look at; but I've got some more bad news: all that stuff we're buying to try to mimic those pleasantries isn't working anyways. Nobody is fooled. Not even us.

So admit it. They don't love us (those faceless corporations), and other people don't love us any more when we become their slaves. We're just going to have to figure out how to love ourselves. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the answer to this puzzle is not to be found inside the doors of a shopping mall.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

man's man, manly man, manliest man about town.

I just knew there was a reason Mark Driscoll annoyed me. I mean, one that was shared by another human being with a brain. In this case, Juanito. Please read his latest post here and then go out out and kill living things (if you're a man) or hang up popcorn strings (if you're a woman). I mean, it's Christmas, after all.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Real Celebrity

I guess I have a bit of a celebrity problem.

If you've followed my writing for a while, you know that my little problem has led me to take on jobs as an extra in film and television - where I met people like Lou Diamond Phillips, Allison Mack and Jennifer Garner - and that I tend to ogle the allure of fame with far more longing than I am proud to admit. I suppose that in a culture where a show entitled "American Idol" is accepted with nary the bat of an eye, I am not alone. This doesn't stop me from feeling shallow and pathetic, and so I cope with this feeling by making a joke of it - by over-emphasizing my attitude to the point of ludicrousness.

For example, when I flew to California to visit my brother and his family for Thanksgiving a few days ago I made a point of insisting that every luxury vehicle I saw with tinted windows contained a celebrity - whom I then proceeded to name based on the gender and racial profile of the actual driver. Fifty year old Asian woman? Ah, yes, well that would be Lucy Liu. Caucasian male with a handlebar mustache? Obviously Brad Pitt, getting in character for a new role.

This endlessly annoyed my brother, who kept insisting that Orange County (where he lives) is not actually in Los Angeles and does not have any celebrities (nuts, I know). So yesterday morning as I was driving my rental car back up to the LA airport I turned to my younger brother Jason and remarked, "wouldn't it be funny if I saw an actual celebrity at LAX and I could get them to let me take a picture with them? I could email it to Jo-Ben and just say - hey, brother: here's me with another one of those celebrities I've been seeing."

We dropped off the car, took the shuttle to the airport, and then my toddler son Mateo and I said goodbye to Jason as he went to check in at his airline and we went to ours. Tickets, baggage, shoes off, moving walkways, blah-blah-blah and then, just before we got to our gate who should I see zipping towards me going the other direction but Nick Vujicic.

I am ashamed to admit that I hardly noticed him at all, but that what caught my attention was this oddly-shaped foot he had. I had heard him call it in a video his "little chicken drumstick" and when it caught my eye I thought, "hey, there's that little chicken drumstick". Then I thought, "hey, it's that guy!"

All this took place in a few split seconds as he came around the corner in a motorized wheelchair, so just before he was right up on me I yelled, "Dude!... I saw your video online. It was great." He stopped and said hello in that sweet Aussie accent of his and I said, "yeah, man. I'm a high school art teacher and I showed it to all my classes."

At that point I felt a little awkward, so I started to turn away but he stopped me with a question: "did it encourage them?"

"Yeah", I said, "it really did. Thank you." Then as he said "great" I turned and walked away, thinking immediately that that wasn't what I had meant to say at all and wondering what it must be like to be accosted by strangers all the time.

Down at our gate, which shared a cul-de-sac with about five others, Mateo decided to run round and round in big, loopy circles as I followed behind, carrying all our bags. After a dozen rounds I looked up and who should be coming back our direction but this Nick guy. He and his friends(family?entourage?) parked themselves in some seats and had a sandwich, but after a while he disengaged and headed over to the window.

I saw a second chance, so I ambushed him. "Hey, man.", I said, "Sorry to ambush you there earlier."

"No worries, bud", he replied (I know... perfect, right?).

I asked him his name and then said, "I just didn't say before what I had really wanted to, which is that I watched your video right after my wife told me she was going to leave me".

He said something sympathetic, so I launched right into the story of how his video had touched and inspired me. As I talked about my pain I started to cry, and he gave me the sort of sympathy that made it worse. So there I was, standing in a crowded corner of the Los Angeles Airport, holding a two year-old (who for some reason was totally not squirming), a ukulele, a heavy backpack and a hand-bag of baby stuff. I was crying, thinking that all those people who had been watching my adorable son go all Ritalin were now wondering why I was walking up to the uniquely-shaped stranger and sniveling like I was the little kid with the carpet burn.

When I finished, he said, "Do you mind if I pray for you?".

Despite my qualms I will never say "no" to this question. Although growing up as a missionary kid has left me wary of gung-ho, obnoxious people who may mean well but spout off all the wrong things whenever they start to pray, I said an enthusiastic "Yes!" with absolutely no hesitation. The clip I'd seen on youtube was only about five minutes long and gave no real indication that he was a man of any sort of faith whatsoever. Nonetheless, when a man such as Nick Vujicic offers to pray for you, you just instinctively know that he is not going to hit you with a bunch of trite drivel that will make you grind your teeth and pray, yourself, for a meteor shower.

I cried. He prayed. The words were nothing different than I'd heard a hundred or a thousand times before but somehow they just seemed to stick. He prayed encouragement. He prayed wisdom for me as I struggled to raise my son. He prayed and a sense of rest and purpose seemed to hover over that moment. After his "amen" we talked a bit more. He was heading to Maryland to give a talk, then to Redding for some R&R. He was flying on my same connecting flight through Houston, so we spoke in passing a couple more times. Then he was gone.

Once again, this is not a story about how awesome I am. This is a story about how awesome I am not, but how despite all that, beautiful things just seem to happen all around me. I went to LAX hoping half-heartedly to see a celebrity, and ended up brushing up, briefly, against a great man. And even then - even after that - I still caught myself thinking, "yeah, but wouldn't it have been something to see a real celebrity?"

This morning when I told this story to one of my art classes, I pointed out that not only had I gotten from the incident a moment of great encouragement and a chance to meet a great man, but I had also been forced once again to face my own pettiness and out-of-whack priorities. "I mean, that airport was just full of wonderful, intriguing people, but all I could think about was that one of my high school youth leaders had peed in an LAX urinal next to Sean Connery - so it could happen to me, too."

Immediately, about three guys in the class said, "Whoa! Sean Connery!?! Now that is off the hook!" When I pointed out the irony of their response, they said, "yeah, but c'mon! Sean Connery!" And then they all traipsed off into their best impressions of the lishping shcottish actor.

I suppose we are all in this together - heck, this story gets most of its punch from the fact that Nick Vujicic is the sort of guy who has his own Wikipedia page and motivates a lot of people to stop crying for themselves and start living. In retrospect, Nick probably played an important role in my own motivation to stop sniveling and start taking responsibility for myself and my abilities by beginning to write the memoirs that I've been serializing on this blog as my "Anatomy of an Effup".

I told my class this morning that while I get really suspicious when people start telling me they know exactly how God is monkeying around with their business, I have to admit that this sort of fortuitous, karmatic event has me just about ready to claim that God is in the business of micro-managing. That may in fact be crazy. All I can say for certain is that I am extremely grateful for the unforeseen and undeserved opportunity to meet a man who, if not a real celebrity, is most definitely a really great man.