What I Learned Since “My Faith Is Dead”

I wrote this a year ago. I’ve learned a few things since then, reminded of more, and changed a few ways as well.

I’m Not The Only One With Troubles

I got a lot of responses from this post. Some thanked me for being so honest. Others said they had felt similarly at one time or another. A small number simply encouraged me not to give up anyways. But then others actually shared their own struggles. Some quite similar to my own frustrations, others of a very different struggle.  These were things I never would have learned about otherwise. Many of these friends live time zones away. Learning that my friends suffer as well didn’t make me feel better, per se, but it helped give me a bit of perspective. Pain and disappointment are not things unique to any of us. I don’t know why sharing helps, but it does. Maybe because we’re not lying anymore.

There Are Only A Few Promises In Life

If your parents promised you Power Rangers action figures for Christmas, you’d be rightly disappointed with them when you instead got a pack of knock-off Chinese toys consisting of three Shreks, a Spider-Man, and an inexplicably orange Black Ranger. If however your parents made no such promise, then you have far less reason to be angry at them, save for the fact that you think you deserve Power Rangers (but you don’t because you’re a little brat). This is probably a very poor analogy for anything, but I enjoyed thinking of it so that’s what we’re going with. Prior to a year ago I had a lot of vague expectations about life, picked up from a variety of sources. Some of them from well-meaning books, others Midwestern friends with their seemingly perfect little married lives I simultaneously despised yet wanted for my own. I saw this sort of inevitable progression to life, that the things I desired were inevitable (“God will grant you the desires of your heart” and all) and would just sort of appear sooner rather than later. Really the only thing inevitable was my frustration with these broken “promises” boiling over into a big dramatic mess.

When you clear out the endless bombardment of platitudes and well-wishes, life looks far simpler. Benjamin Franklin was rarely more wise than when he wrote “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The Bible is, for Christians at least, more optimistic in the more long term view of things, but for here and now the kinds of things we can expect include persecution, temptation, family strife, false teachers, being misunderstood and other such things. That said, God also promises his presence throughout it all, and that he will never forsake us, and that all the troubles we go through now will be as nothing compared to joy we will soon know.

I’ve Tried New Things

Though it took me longer than most, I eventually realized that part of the reason my life was boring and disappointing was because I just sort of waited for it to happen. I’ve done some things to remedy this. I ran a half-marathon, I’ve taken a drumming class, and I’m several weeks into a poetry writing class, to name a few things. While out intrinsic worth as human beings made in the image of God cannot be diminished or enhanced by our own efforts, it’s a simple fact that our lives are better when we do things with them and take full advantage of our capacities. Expecting things to happen on their own is a good way to ensure they never will.

I’ve Developed A Strong Interest In Theology

I wish I could say that last November was what caused this, and while there was certainly more reading in my life since then, the real cause was both stranger and more mundane. To put it simply, I developed a crush on a girl of different denominational leanings from my own. What started as an idle attempt to see if there was truth to her beliefs (and thus a legitimate future for a relationship) spiraled into a whole mess of research, Googling countless questions, delving into Catholic dogma, Orthodox tradition, Reformation teachings, you name it. And questions led to more questions, questions I couldn’t even find being asked, requiring me to read entire books just to see if I could gleam what I was really looking for. And I found I enjoyed it immensely. In a sense this was a rediscovery, as I’ve always enjoyed reading both fiction and nonfiction, but instead of indulging my curiosity about orcas or VY Canis Majoris this had the added benefit of having eternal implications. It got to the point where I even decided to go back to school (something I’ve put off for nearly a decade) in hopes of learning more. Only downside is it’s a rather touchy subject and not something you can casually discuss at most dinner tables (unlike orcas) but such is life.

I’ve Become Slightly More Okay With Being Single

Still a bit of a sore subject for me but I figured I’d touch on it anyways. Along with somehow becoming a writer of some sort of effect one of the other things I felt I was being denied was marriage. And the fact is I am still single (the crush did not turn out, though like every other time I eventually discovered that it was probably for the best). Dating, or even getting to the point of dating, remains rather difficult. It could be I’m just overly picky and/or cautious. And I have tried online dating, on multiple occasions, to no avail. And yet, despite edging ever closer to “old” I’ve found that the existential dread of being “forever alone” has abated, at least a little. To the question, “would being a lifelong bachelor really be the worst possible fate?” I am starting to be able to answer “well, perhaps not.”

I don’t have a clue what the future holds as far as relationships go, and the fact that it involves a second person, possibly with their own self-indulgent blog, makes it all significantly more complicated. But I guess I’m willing to wait and find out, and occupy myself with more immediate concerns in the meantime.

The Gym Is A Waste Of Money

Yeah I’m never going to go regularly. I should just cancel the membership today.

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Love, Acceptance, and Tolerance? Not So Fast…

This one might lose me a few friends.

Since the news broke about Caitlyn Jenner’s magazine cover everyone has opinions on it. And everyone has opinions on the opinions. Even when we pretend that our opinions are actually about stuff in general, we are really talking about Caitlyn Jenner and all that controversy. This is not a bad thing, per se.

One particular stream of thought that I’ve picked up on is Christians taking a stand against hateful remarks and pledging their unwavering love for everyone no matter what. Also a good thing. A command from God, actually. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30). Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). Love your enemy (Matthew 5:44). No greater love than they who lay down their life for another (John 15:13). Love isn’t an option. Yay love.

Occasionally words like “acceptance” and “tolerance” and “not judging” slip in as well. Sometimes from Christians, sometimes from people who aren’t Christians. I’m not terribly interested in addressing non-Christians. We have very different standards and perspectives, after all.

So, brothers and sisters, let’s chat.

What is love? Kind of a dumb question on the surface, but one we really need to know the answer to if we are going to correctly obey God. Despite what songs and movies may tell us, love is not an emotion, nor even a spectrum of emotions. When your heart starts racing and you get butterflies in your stomach and you can’t stop smiling because someone amazing is right across the room, that’s not love. I’ve heard it best explained this way: love is action, specifically one that puts someone’s well-being first. Love is the action you take when your desire for someone is the very best life they can have. Love isn’t gratifying someone’s emotions, or letting them do what they want. After all, good parents love their children, and that means bed times and vegetables and discipline as much as it means play time and treats and cuddles. I think we all understand this on a certain level. After all, we know Christ loved us not just because he said so, but because he died for us, taking our punishment for our sins, giving us his righteousness, restoring our relationship with God, and giving us an eternal home with Him.

So what do we make of these other terms we often think we are supposed to do along with love? Acceptance and tolerance and non-judgement?

Are we to accept the non-Christians, those still dead in their sins? To an extent yes. Just as God accepted us as we were and did not turn us away, and just as Christians before us most likely accepted us before we were one of them, we should accept as they are. We can’t change them, after all (that’s God’s business). Are we to tolerate non-Christians? As best as we can, yes (Romans 12:18). We are bringers of peace, not strife. Obviously if someone is trying to kill you that changes things. Tolerance has its reasonable limits. Are we not to judge non-Christians? Well, hard to say. I don’t think public condemnations and screaming hellfire are terribly loving, but when it comes down to it judging is simply saying what is and what isn’t. It would be foolish, for example, to think we are unable to judge that murderous neighbor of ours from a few sentences ago, and there is no wrong in judging someone a liar when they insist on speaking untruths.

(“But Anthony,” you reply with gusto, “doesn’t Jesus say ‘judge not lest ye be judged’?” Yes he does. Keep reading to he next few verses. Jesus is simply telling us that if we judge people, we will be judged by the same measure. It’s a warning against hypocrisy.)

So inasmuch as you are continuing to act in someone’s overall best interests, you should indeed accept and tolerate and not judge someone.

What of other Christians? Are we go accept, tolerate, and not judge them? Well here is where it gets interesting. For the Bible spells out that we are to hold each other accountable, Unlike the non-Christians, the word of God has been revealed to us, and the Holy Spirit resides in us. While there is little we can do about non-Christians living their lives as they see fit, we are not at luxury to wink at sin when we see it among our brothers and sisters. We are expected to correct them (James 5:19-20). And we aren’t even supposed to associate with Christians who are flagrantly sinful within our church (1 Corinthians 5).

So what do we make of Caitlyn Jenner? According to one of those recent interviews, when he was still Bruce, he said he was a conservative. If he said he was a Christian I can’t find the reference (Google is just showing me think pieces like pieces like this one on the “Christian response” and such). For the purposes of this, it doesn’t matter so much; he certainly doesn’t attend any of our churches. Should we love Caitlyn Jenner? Absolutely. Do we tolerate and accept and not judge Caitlyn Jenner? Well, to go back to my earlier answers, “to an extent”. Caitlyn Jenner wants to be called Caitlyn now. I can go with that, sure. Sometimes people change their name, whatever. Caitlyn says he’s a woman now. No he’s not. The surgeries and implants and makeup and fashion shoot and photoshop don’t turn a man into a woman. I know it is trendy in social justice circles to say that gender and sex are totally different, but I’m going to say no that is wrong.

Am I being judgmental and intolerant of Caitlyn Jenner now? Maybe, but there is nothing loving about lying, nothing loving about calling a man a woman, nothing loving about pretending that a bunch of superficial alterations can turn a man into a woman, nothing loving about treating mental illness like it is the next great civil rights movement, nothing loving about celebrating a vain and self-absorbed advertisement campaign for yet another reality TV show.

None of us are really in a position to tell Caitlyn any of these things, though. We can’t sit him down and explain that we love him and he needs help. Whoever had that responsibility abandoned it, and he was unlovingly left to his own devices. Since none of us actually know Caitlyn or can do anything about this delusion all the people around him are feeding, our only option is to pray for him, that he might yet find the healing he actually needs.

That is always loving.

The Desires Of Your Heart

I had a lot of dreams growing up.

When I was five I wanted to be an astronaut, because I loved space and that just seemed to be the most obvious choice. By about six my love of dinosaurs won over my love of space and I decided to be a paleontologist. By around eight or nine I had developed enough of an ego to want to be a nuclear physicist: it sounded impressive and like something only a really smart person could do, you see.

I can’t recall what, if anything, I wanted to be in fifth or sixth grade, but by middle school I had decided I simply wanted to be absurdly rich. No idea how, mind you; that’s just what I wanted. As my adolescence went I delved more into vulgar power fantasies; destroying the school with psychic powers, forcing all of my “enemies” to beg for forgiveness. So on and so forth. At one point, I think around nineteen or so, my biggest “dream” was having a job that paid just enough for me to survive and play video games on.

In the nine years since I’ve become a Christian, and grown up into a largely functional adult, my hopes and dreams and desires for my life have changed substantially, both overall and within that period. I’ve found myself wanting things like a more impressive job, more financial stability, going on mission trips, going on vacations, getting married, becoming some kind of published writer, living in the woods, having kids, moving away from New York, dying, become a manly man, becoming famous for no particular reason, etcetera, etcetera. Some of these desires I still have, to one extent or another.

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that trusting and obeying God was the best way to get these things. Quickly enough I realized most of these just weren’t going to happen,but maybe if I wanted more godly things they could. So I’d pray for some significant task to be set before me that I would be empowered to handle, I’d pray that I’d become a godly husband and father someday, that I could find some better way to live my life. That I could wake up in the morning and know that I was a better person than I was the day before. That I could feel some kind of satisfaction in my life, some understanding that I was doing the correct things, and that because of this my life would turn out in some satisfactory way.

Earlier tonight I was on a walk along a short greenway near my latest apartment, and thoughts along these lines entered my head. And I came to realize something very significant: all this time, I was looking to God to fulfill all of these wants and very deeply felt desires in my life, but I was never terribly interested in God himself. I wanted what I thought I could get from God, but I didn’t want God. At the same time, I was reminded that none of the things I wanted were ever going to satisfy me. At least not for very long. Pleasant sensations, material wealth, ego gratification, even things like a self of accomplishment, a sense of belonging or purpose. I’ve had all of these at one time or another, and without exception they’e all worn out, leaving me both disappointed and hungry for more.

I’ve learned all of these things before, many of them several times. I’m not sure I’ve ever really understood them quite like this, however. For so long I thought I was in pursuit of God, yet really I was no different than middle school me, wanting to just be a billionaire. Gratification that won’t last. And it is really only now that it as struck me that the gratification doesn’t last, and so the pursuit is ultimately futile. Oh I’ve known for well over a decade what a disappointment life is, but I think it is only now that I really know why.

So with all of this now laid bare, I’m left with two options. I can live what I now fully understand to be a pointless life of pursuing things and feelings that cannot last and will only grow more and more painful every time they fail me, or I can do the one thing different. I can long what I’ve perhaps never truly longed for before. I can desire God himself. Not for what he can give me, not just to heal my hurts and tell me I am loved. I can go after God simply because he is God, love him for who he is, and live for the very purpose I was created.

I guess the first step is figuring out how.