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Flawed Faith: Love, Idolatry and Trainspotting

 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” —Romans 8:28

I hate Valentine’s Day. I think I’ve hated it since I was a perpetually grumpy and unlucky-in-love teenager. At this point it I’ve hated it for the better part of a decade. I bring this up because today is Valentine’s Day.

What a coincidence.

I’ve been reflecting much lately on my resentment towards the holiday. As a 25-year-old man, I’m faced with my first minor existential crisis. To paraphrase Ed Wood, I’m as old today as Orson Welles was when he directed Citizen Kane. Now is as good a time as any to take stock of life and ask myself some difficult questions. One of those questions has been: why have I struggled in love for so long?

Part of my reflections of late have had to do with my own coming to terms with God’s will for my life and the fact that I’m not sure what that is yet. I wrote an extensive blog on this for Christmas reflecting on my feelings about complacency and patience. Obviously, I’m not the first millennial nerd to ask this question. It’s no secret that romantic love is difficult. Finding someone is difficult and then maintaining love with someone is also difficult. You’re never off the hook. That introductory phase though trips up a lot of people. My first instincts towards trying to meet someone go back to my freshman year of high school when I was a completely asocial individual with almost no ability to talk to others in school. Thankfully I’ve mostly overcome that affliction and grown to the point where I can comfortably talk with others.

As an adult now, I find the continued pursuit nearly a decade later has been immensely emotional draining. I’ve followed many popular avenues for meeting people such as online dating and found them to be fruitless endeavors that more often than not incentivize a non-Godly approach to relationships. I’ve tried other less conventional methods to meet new people through personals ads and through online chat groups. Sadly, those methods have largely come up short. Repeated failure in love can be a bad blow to a man’s self esteem. Speaking for myself, I spent many years doubting my own value because of it. What was my worth as a man if it couldn’t be recognized by a woman?

It all crystalized into an important life realization based on something my pastor said to me one morning as we sat down for coffee: I have a tendency to idolize women and relationships. 

Mind you, I don’t mean that in a perverse sense. I’m not a desperate man who engages in hookup culture or doesn’t have the patience to meet people in a Godly fashion. Generally speaking, the women I’ve historically pursued are highly lucrative businesswomen and academics who are all Christian. They’re in every respect the kind of respectable women that any good Christian ought to pursue. As the colloquialism goes, they’re the kind of women you can bring home to mother. That doesn’t mean that the way I’ve approached seeking a relationship has been Godly or healthy. 

The more I reflect on my emotions though, the more I start to untangle the enormous ball of nerves in my core that has deeply impeded my spiritual and emotional wellbeing. The deep emotional need to try and impress myself to the fairer sex has only served to harm my spirituality and emotional health. When the possibility that the quality of my day or week can be determined just by a single positive or negative interaction with a person I have feelings for, there’s a huge problem. When you realize that the person you care about can go days or weeks at a time without thinking about you, there’s a huge problem. When you create a vision of what that person is like in your head only to realize they’re not exactly like that in person, there’s a huge problem. At times it feels like having an emotionally abusive relationship with yourself.

It’s been going on so long at this point that I can’t begin to imagine how much emotional energy I’ve wasted on these infatuations. After nearly a decade, I suspect I’m somewhat addicted to these tendencies. These knots in my heart stand as impedances to my ability to move on, connect with the Lord and grow into the adult man who can handle a Godly relationship.

Worse than that, they’ve left me bitter with the Lord. Like I said last month in my It’s a Wonderful Life essay, why do men younger than me have wives, homes and children while I don’t? What have I done to deserve constant rejection? My heart is filled with much resentment this Valentine’s day as it has for the last several. Maybe I should feel happy for those around me who have succeeded in this area of life against all odds, and yet that’s hard.

God warns of idolatry repeatedly in the Bible. He doesn’t just mean that we must avoid casting golden calves and worshipping Pagan deities. We humans also make idols out of the things we give our time and money. We can idolize sports, artworks, and of course, people. When we do this, we draw our focus from the eternal to our petty desires.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” -Matthew 6:21-23

A Christian can only succeed in his mission to serve God when his or her focus is in the right place. We must submit ourselves to God and allow ourselves to be moved by His will. That’s difficult for most Christians, but to one whose vision is blurred by material pleasures it’s nearly impossible. Often those idols come in forms we wouldn’t expect. Even minor coping mechanisms can become idols to us. 

Coping mechanisms are dangerous to a Christian life. They’re merely methods of drowning out the buzzing nature of the universe to keep us from putting our faith where it ought to be. Usually they’re unhealthy for us in their normal usage alone, becoming progressively more dangerous as we grow more dependent on them. This is true for food, drugs, spending, entertainment or any vice that is addictive. 

Reflecting on my own addictive tendencies, I thought of a movie I recently re-watched for the first time in a while that has much to say on the nature of addiction and coping. Trainspotting isn’t a movie about love. It’s about the other thing… Lust. Granted, it’s not specifically about idolatry or physical attraction. It’s a movie about heroin addiction amongst the lower class of Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s more than just that though. It’s a movie about people’s relationships to an object that transforms their perception of reality and makes it momentarily tolerable.

The film’s thesis probably couldn’t be better summarized than by Ewen McGregor’s famed “Choose Life” speech at the beginning of the movie. It’s a long rambling of a man, who has decided to dedicate his time and attention to the one thing he’s experienced in life that makes him feel like it’s worth living. He’s not fulfilled by a banal work-a-day life. He wants to feel ALIVE. Heroin gives that to him, at a great cost. Throughout the film we see the full cycle of man’s addiction to drugs. At its worst, we a see an infant die from neglect because his mother was too dysfunctional to care for the child. We see our group of characters go through cycles where they try to break their heroin addiction for days or weeks at a time only to relapse. When our lead character finally does attempt to go straight, he spends days in bed hallucinating as his desperate need for “one more” hit drives him mad. Even when he’s technically gone clean, he’s not free of his problems. He quickly goes out and starts seeking sexual flings with women right after the first time he attempts to go straight. He trades one drug for another. 

There’s not much talk of religion in the film, being that it’s set in then-modern day Edinburgh. Religion is merely irrelevant to these people’s lives. They’re all poor, unstable people coping in the face of a world that doesn’t care about them. It’s more a reflection on the lives of how real people live in poor areas of Scotland than an endorsement of this lifestyle. The film and it’s 2017 sequel, T2, are time capsules of 1990s banality and Gen-X existential rage. They’re merely a depiction of depravity and hedonism. Religion is irrelevant to them.

Of course, merely being religious isn’t enough to take us Christians off the hook. As we see them, these are characters with real problems that extend beyond just their heroin addiction. The heroin only makes their problems worse. Their answers to extreme poverty, desperation and nihilism is to make the act of being alive enthralling and momentarily worthwhile. Aren’t they so isolated though? This is a tendency almost everybody I know tends to be guilty of. How many of us are guilty of relying on our basic vices just to get through the day?

How many cups of coffee have you had?
How many times have you drunk alcohol this week?
How many hours did you while away on Netflix or on your PlayStation this week?

These are minor vices but they accomplish the same thing. In place of wellness or good mental and physical health, we numb ourselves on a daily basis. Think of the last time you met someone who doesn’t drink coffee or alcohol, or who honestly approaches their day to day life with a sense of consistent joy and happiness. That feels so alien to most people. To be free of vice is to be truly alive. Only in Christ do we find the source of a life worth living that truly fulfills our needs.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4:13-15

So how does a Christian man who has let his heart flee into an idolatrous worship of relationships handle such a tendency? 

I don’t say any of this coming from a place of certainty or finality in my faith. I’m writing all of this as I’m processing my revelation in real time. I fall back on my vices as hard as anyone around me does. It’s only just struck me how badly they’ve impeded my walk with God.

I love coffee, wine, movies, video games and the joys of this world. I’ve dedicated years of my life to thinking about art and film more than almost anything else. Above all, I yearn for a loving relationship with a Christian woman who builds me up and challenges me intellectually and morally to be a better man. In and of themselves, these things are not sinful. God gifted humanity the joys of wine, love and art to make the world beautiful and joyful. Even so, these things need to be kept in check as much as dangerous addictions like heroin.

In the end, the object of our desire just becomes an idol we worship. Again, as I said last month, I personally struggle with having to live with a life that doesn’t come easily to me. The object necessary for escaping that life becomes an idol and you pursue it with abandon. Then you fail to obtain it so you spite the world. This is a dangerous tailspin that can wreck your emotional health.

Sometimes an addiction calls for mitigation and other times a person who is struggling needs to completely cut off the limb that’s drawing them away from God. I recently made the decision to attend an all men’s bible study instead of one with both men and women in it. The effect was palpable on my ability to focus and start reflecting on the Word with people who suffered similar problems to myself. I can’t say what kind of decision I’ll be led to in regards to addressing my idolizing and addictive tendencies. Most of my close friends are Christian women. More than anything though, I feel a greater strength in my desire to start putting God first and recognizing my shortcomings for what they are.

Reflect on what vices you rely on. More than likely, if you rely on them too much you’re harming your relationship with Christ and drawing your heart away from the mission of serving the Lord. In order to take up our crosses, we must serve him with abandon and we cannot do that with reservation.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. -Matthew 16:24

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Articles Christian Living

2 vs. 1: Overcoming The Overwhelming

For the better part of a decade, my husband and I had made it a point to not celebrate Valentine’s Day on the actual day. One, because we both feel it’s sort of a silly, gimmicky holiday to begin with, and two, we have decided to come up with our own day each year around Valentine’s to celebrate our unique love story.

For the better part of a decade, my husband and I had made it a point to not celebrate Valentine’s Day on the actual day. One, because we both feel it’s sort of a silly, gimmicky holiday to begin with, and two, we have decided to come up with our own day each year around Valentine’s to celebrate our unique love story.

This year, however, plans were made for us.

On February 14th, at 7:07am Eastern Standard Time, we welcomed our second son, Michael Antonio, into this world. God blessed us with a healthy 9lb 2oz baby boy, ten sweet little fingers and ten sweet little toes. He was the best Valentine’s Day gift (Psalm 127:3) either my husband or I could have asked for.

The first two weeks at home as a family were bliss. But sadly my husband’s paternity leave couldn’t last forever, and suddenly I found myself on my own with two under two.

The first couple of days went more or less okay, but soon enough the laundry piled up, as well as the dishes, toys and books remained scattered on the living room floor, which I honestly can’t remember vacuuming since we brought our youngest home. The incoming mail stacked up, library books went weeks and months overdue…basically all of my stay-at-home mom duties (aside from keeping the children alive) began to overpower me.

When my husband returned to work, I had tried to get back into my freelancing, along with my personal and ghostwriting projects. These were difficult enough to complete with one small child, but add a cluster feeding infant to the whirlwind shenanigans of an all-too-curious and prone to cabin fever 18-month old and sure enough the deadlines I struggled to meet before were missed completely.

In the moments I’ve had to myself that aren’t spent sweeping up cereal bar crumbs or wiping up spittle, I try to sit down and get some writing done. However, more often than not I end up staring at the screen, unable to get my fingers to type for me, as my mind is either reeling with the questions of the day (Was I an okay mom today? Are the kids okay? Etc, etc), or totally blue screening as I fall asleep with my eyes open.

To keep long story relatively short, this past month and a half I’ve found myself feeling totally overwhelmed, wondering how I’m ever going to keep up with anything ever again.

My oldest son has a baby book of Psalms that he loves and has asked me to read to him often for as long as he’s been able to ask for things. One of the passages that has always resonated with me is Psalm 6 verses 8 and 9, which says, “The Lord has heart my sobbing. The Lord has heard my cry for his favor.”

And I’m not going to lie, I’ve been sobbing, and I’ve been crying for the Lord’s favor.

In the moments I have needed help the most, members of the village I’ve been blessed with have either reached out to me proactively, or when I’ve broken down and asked for help, have moved heaven and earth to come to my aid. God was answering my prayers in these moments, whether I’ve realized it or not.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts (Psalm 139:23).” Mom brain is real, you guys, and for a good few weeks I found myself unable to think straight, which I think contributed to my writer’s block and anxiety. And it’s gotten to the point where I find myself afraid to sit down to write or to tackle different projects around the house, and I continue to let it all overwhelm me.

But on nights like these, looking at my children sleeping peacefully (albeit at different bedtimes), knowing that they’re fed, clothed, sheltered, and on a good day even mentally, physically and spiritually enriched, I’m reminded that I can do anything through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13). Maybe some nights there might be a dish or two (or ten) left in the sink, and perhaps the laundry might stay in the basket for a bit, but one thing at a time.

A friend of mine who is a seasoned Dad of two said that parenting doesn’t get easier, it just gets different. I think the same can be applied to life in general. We are always going to be tested and presented with trials and challenges, and sometimes we’ll have so much going on that it feels impossible. But it will always be toward a greater purpose, and the One who presents us with these challenges will always be there to guide us.


I am so thankful for my loving, growing family. And in the years to come, my husband and I will now have a wonderful reason to celebrate Valentine’s Day on the actual day itself.

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Articles Christian Living

A Cool Story…About Boogers

When writer’s block and wedding plans rear their ugly heads, you go to friends for inspiration. And then you shamelessly copy/paste their stories into a blog post (with full permission, of course).

I’ve known Carla since we were (un)cool homeschoolers in our early pre-teens. Our friendship solidified over a shared armpit joke and later a disturbing crawfish dissection. We live hours away from each other now, but thank goodness for Messenger where we can discuss deep matters of the heart and share the most laugh-worthy Babylon Bee articles.

She married while we were in our twenties and is now a mother of two. Her youngest – just a toddler – recently provided her with a rather unique metaphor of God’s love. (To protect his identity I will change his name to “Lucas” – definitely not to satisfy some geeky urge or anything…)

#charactersyoumain #evenwhenterriblewiththem

“So, I have been struggling lately with being an ugly human being: ugly feelings including self-pity and jealousy and laziness. I mean, vanity and gluttony could at least be kinda sexy, but those I am struggling with are just…ew. Anyway, I am in the shower the other morning asking God about these icky feelings and what to do with them. All of a sudden I remember an interaction I had with Lucas maybe a month ago:

First thing to know is Lucas has begun imagination games. Over the summer he did bring me several flowers he found special just for me, and now I am getting used to him bringing me some invisible treasure pinched in between his chubby little fingers, too. Well, the other day he walks up to me with his fingers pinched and a huge smile and hands me… a booger. A pretty good sized, green, sticky booger. Then he giggles and trots away, his body language saying ‘I had no idea what to do with that gross thing that came out of my nose–so glad I gave it to my mom to take care of!’ I have to admit–it was so random and pure that the love just washed over me towards that curly haired boy and I felt like I had leveled up in this whole ‘Mom’ thing. Also, I felt like I needed to wash my hands.

So, I felt like God was telling me that just like I really did love to take Lucas’s boogers when he gave them to me, so too does God love taking my proverbial boogers. And while He will certainly do the spiritual equivalent of suck them out or wipe them under duress, He loves it even more when I say to Him ‘Here, God. This completely gross, sticky thing just came out of me and I have no idea what to do with it.'”

I’m not a parent myself, so I marvel at this motherly joy born of receiving snot as a gift. And I marvel even more that the God of all things – in His creation of humankind – put a reflection of his character into mothers who love the innocent and trusting actions of their children.

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:13)

This Valentine’s Day you may be planning to give out nice cards, candy, chocolate, or thoughtful trinkets to loved ones. So how about you give God your boogers? It might just be the best gift of all.

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Articles Christian Living

Being Choosey in Love

Shout out to all you long-time Harvest Mooners, reaping your pixelated produce, foraging in the mountains, and selecting a spouse from your choice of personalities and pretty faces – LONG before those copycat farm games started cropping up. (See what I did there?)

Thanks, Gill.

Choice is a glorious aspect of video games, isn’t it? (Unless you’re playing Dragon Quest, in which case “But thou must”!) With Valentine’s Day behind us, some who wait for love may be wishing for available choices themselves. In the meantime, it sure is nice to pick up those games where you can woo that character you adore – the one who’s so gorgeous, who warms to you tsundere-like or gushes straightaway. The one who says all the right things – well…with some arrogant exceptions.

Once married, you just have to go through two dialogue boxes with your loved one each morning, and your partnership is gold. Now you can get on with havin’ a couple babies and buying some cows. No more choices needed, right?

Ah, but in reality, there are choices every day – many times a day, even – to work for or against your relationship. To consider what you’ll surrender, and where you’ll stand your ground. To learn, to understand, to work.

Last year around this time I wrote an article on contentment in all relationship statuses, because in the end we are God’s beloved and bride, pledged to Him in His limitless love no human relationship could match. Well…just about half a year later, I officially entered a romantic relationship of my own. You can’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.

(In case you were wondering, my beau often appears down in the comments – my devoted and outspoken fan. ;-P )

And while our Savior’s love can’t be matched by even the most ardent human effort, our earthly relationships are still a mirror of His ultimate plan. Now, what I say next comes with this caveat: I’m new to the romantic scene and know I have much to learn. But choices are ingrained in all relationships – whether with Christ or with those he places in our lives. We think of “choosiness” in terms of setting good standards, perusing our available “market”, deciding what we want in a partner and what are our “dealbreakers”. (You might want to consider arrogance in that category.)

Once you’ve gone through every point on your checklist and manage to snag someone who makes your heart flutter – guess what? They’re still imperfect. You’re still imperfect. You’ll disagree. You’ll hurt each other. You’ll see more differences than you thought were there before. What do you choose in your lowest moments? In theirs?

Our culture is rife with the idea that eros solves everything. To choose to stay in a relationship even when events turn slightly disagreeable is taboo. Have you noticed there are also those who flit from faith to faith, looking for the one that makes them feel “best”? We’re conditioned to want only the “feels” without the growth.

Now, I don’t think any rational, God-fearing single person looks to relationships to feel complete. But…I still had my preconceptions. That it would always be seamless. That every step in the process would come naturally. In truth, it still takes decision – and it takes a faith in Christ at the core.

Choosing a romance with perfect dialogue trees is a gamer’s fantasy. It’s far lovelier and God-honoring when two imperfect people come together with the intent to grow, pursue faith, and learn from each other. Once you’ve chosen your significant other, keep choosing – you may still have years of harvest to reap.

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Articles TV

“Just Friends”

It might seem surprising, based on all the obsession and emphasis in the world around us, but there are a few people out there who really don’t care about romance. Really. Not just people who are bummed out by something that didn’t work, or have self-piteously given up on a romantic relationship. Some of us are genuinely not interested.
For those of us who are sometimes called aromantic (or aro for short), Valentine’s Day is a little bit confusing. Sure, flowers and chocolate are great, but what are people going off about? What’s up with these high-stakes dates that people are scared of screwing up? Why are people so worried about having someone to share a romantic evening with? I’m free. Wanna come over and watch old TV shows in pajamas? We can have chocolate, if that’s what you’re after…
There’s a similar feeling when we’re watching a movie, and, out of the blue, two characters start kissing. Where did that come from? It’s even worse when someone says they want to be, “just friends,” like that’s something bad. What’s wrong with being friends? Is the love I have for my friends somehow less important than the love you have for a romantic partner?
So, in honor of all the great friend-love that goes unrecognized and undervalued, I’d like to call attention to some of my favorite friendships on television. Some of these you’ll guess right off the bat. Some might be more obscure or surprising.

Sean and Gus (Psych)

Pineapple

A quirky, modern take on the classic Sherlock and Watson pairing, Sean and Gus have been friends since childhood and really can’t help but stick together. Sean is the charming, neurotic, fake psychic who uses his incredible skills of observation to solve crimes the Santa Barbara Police Department can’t. Gus is his perfect balance, with a level head, an active conscience, and a nearly flawless memory. The two of them get into all kinds of hilarious situations as Sean pretends to look into the metaphysical world for answers. No matter what happens, though, they have a bond of friendship that will last a lifetime.

Samantha Carter and Janet Frasier (Stargate: SG-1)

Sam and Janet

Stargate:SG-1 has a great cast of characters, with diverse and interesting relationships and friendships. Even if there’s an off episode, there’s always someone there to crack a joke, and the friendships within the group are a constant, stabilizing force.
Samantha Carter, (who goes through a series of title changes over the course of the show) and Dr. Frasier are notable as some of the greatest female friends in science fiction. There is no rivalry or negativity between these two strong, female leads. They work together to keep the world safe from alien threats, and then hang out together over the weekends. Carter is even a sort of godmother to Frasier’s adopted, alien daughter, Cassandra. Their onscreen chemistry is compounded by the fact that the two actresses, Amanda Tapping and Teryl Rothery, are good friends in real life.

Mike and Micky (The Monkees)

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While all four Monkees are really good friends in the television show, these two are something special. Throughout the first season, and most of the second, this guitar-wielding songwriter and his drummer/lead singer pal never leave each others’ side. Mike’s more collected, shy, thoughtful personality is balanced out by Micky’s spastic, impetuous creativity. Not only are they great together on the show, but Mike Nesmith and Micky Dolenz are also lifelong friends in real life. Their vocal harmonies are still outstanding 50 years later, and they have immense respect for one another as people and artists.

And of Course, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (Star Trek)

Well Thats Show Business

Let’s not leave Leonard McCoy out of his place in what has to be one of the most iconic onscreen friendships there is. These three are truly the core of Star Trek. Many people have compared these three characters to the heart, mind, and will of one person. Despite their bickering and differences, they always pull together when it counts. These three hold each other up when one of them falters, and bail each other out when one of them gets in trouble. With the Star Trek films, we even get to see their relationship develop through death, rebirth, old age, and excursions through time to the 1980s.
If you’re like me, and aren’t so interested in all that romantic nonsense, enjoy your time hanging out with your Spock, your Mike Nesmith, your Sam Carter, or whoever it is you have your adventures with. Don’t feel pressured to find some form of “better” relationship if you don’t want one. Go on loving people just the way you do: as a great friend.
If you’re into romance, but you don’t have a romantic partner right now, remember that you are not unloved. Spend time with good, close friends, and treasure the unique type of love that you share with them.
If you’re in a romantic relationship right now, by all means enjoy it! Have a great Valentine’s Day! Just make sure you don’t forget the importance of friend-love in the special bond you have with that person.
You know what all of these friendships sort of remind me of? They remind me of an ancient friend pairing that people have been reading about for years. The Bible says of David and Jonathan’s friendship that “he loved him as he loved his own soul.” (1 Samuel 18:1)
That seems like a pretty important relationship to me.