Recap From a Season in Hell
Today I stayed home from work to accomplish the following:
1. Open a new checking account.
2. Make a visit to the water company to track down a late payment and put the account in my name.
3. Buy groceries.
4. Conduct my traditional mourning ritual for a broken relationship (i.e. - get high).
What a strange and painful journey it's been since I drafted my last thoughtful blog entry at the end of Jan. In the 8 months that have passed, the following has occurred:
- I was exiled from my children for about five months as a result of my poor judgment with my son.
- D. and her boys moved back with me.
- D. attempted suicide by eating nearly everything in the medicine chest. I initially thought it was about her finding my new stash, but she says it was about me pointing out to her the fact that if I really wanted to keep her from finding it, she never would have. This makes me think that she finally faced her utter powerlessness over me, and couldn't deal with it.
- My visitation rights with my 4 youngest were restored, and we took a trip to Niagara Falls as a family - minus my oldest son. This trip was funded by a massive year-end bonus from my job.
- D. agreed to stay home for at least the summer and try the stay-at-home mom thing with her boys. It was a mild disaster, from my perspective.
- D. also attends about 3 meetings per week in Al-Anon, as well as a weekly counseling session, as part of her course of post-suicidal therapy. Results are mixed.
- D. continues to go to church, but I stop. I am mad, and I am in no mood for sermonizing and pretense.
- D. attempts to force my 17-year old daughter to attend church with her, after I'd given her a special pass to stay with me and work on a floor tiling job. The results of the encounter are disasterous after D. tries to physically pull my daughter out of the house, forcing me to intervene and tell D. that she has crossed the line.
- I continue to get high on an average of once a month throughout. I also continue to smoke cigarettes.
- D., on advice from her therapist, proposes an in-house separation and sexual abstinence for an undetermined period while we work on "our relationship".
- Based on D's continued use of the word "relationship" instead of marriage, I point out that in order to honor God in any relationship that she could hope to have with me while we were yet unmarried (her position, not mine), she would have to leave. D. does not at this point have a job, but the stay-at-home mom experiment is now officially over.
- D. and I agree to this separation, which for me is the end of the relationship. In my mind, no contact between us is advisable once she leaves this house. It is early September. I have set a hard date of 1 December for her to be out. In the meantime, we agree that she will cook and clean and do the grocery shopping until she finds a job or leaves. I will pay for her and her children's monthly expenses. This includes a student loan, insurance and trust policies. Several of these expenses have been set up online by D. to automatically deduct from my account. She purchases the groceries on her credit card and pays that expense off from my account online as well.
- D. begins packing in earnest, having completely filled the front room of my home with packed boxes.
- D. obtains a temp position with a large, international corporation in the area. She is making more than she did when she lived in MD. This is about 4 weeks ago.
- D. and I spend about one full day every weekend arguing over the state of things. I find it very draining and unproductive, but I keep allowing myself to get sucked in. My overall assessment of the war is that she's fighting to be able to stay and dictate the terms of my rehabilitation, while I'm using every tactic I can think to speed her permanent departure.
- This past weekend, after a business trip to Philly, I went over my accounts online. D. had a "bill" for 186.05, for which I wrote a check. I also deleted all of her expenses from the budget sheet I keep. I inform D., for the second time, that I prefer that she accept re-imbursement in check form rather than continuing to access my account online. D. has begun receiving paychecks of her own. This, in addition to having informed me several weeks ago that she has enough money to move into an apartment. A deposit and first month's rent. Assuming that she realized that she would have also needed to cover living expenses, utility deposits, and ongoing daycare costs, I now know that D. has more money at her disposal than do I.
- D. takes great offense to my unwillingness to allow her continued, unfettered access to my money. She is insulted that I don't trust her not to rip me off. I do not believe that she will do that, however I feel it's best to make very concrete boundaries in accordance with the conclusions of the past six weeks. That is not enough for her, and she continues to harass me about it through Sunday evening, Sunday night with a written letter placed on my pillow, yesterday via email and in another hour plus conversation last night. Many tears are shed, many accusations flung, and my temper lost. It the end, we are still in the same, sorry place.
Much could be said to expand on any of the above summary points, but frankly, I've lost too much time living inside my head over this. It's time for positive action. I've no interest in casting blame here. The actions and choices of the individual players speak for themselves. For the first time since I married to D, I feel free. Even though my freedom cost me the comfortable respectability my previous attempts to salvage the relationship brought. In the end, I needed to confront my own desire to be rid of this woman's incessant barrage of neediness. I make no excuses. I could easily have chosen to play along. Quit smoking, go to meetings, sit in church with a stupid, vacant smile on my face. All to make her happy. But not to really deal with my own desires, and plead for the strength and willingness to conquer them.
I just decided not to continue to invest in someone who doesn't appear to be able to love ME.
My mourning ceremony is a celebration of my freedom, mingled with the sorrow of having been so wrong and having set the bar so low for myself.
of things left undone...
Here is a draft I began for this blog, dated 1/30/06. Given what's happened since -- the subject of my current draft -- I wonder if not posting the following did more harm than good.
It was so great to have you here again. To sweat with you as we try to work out what this thing going on between us really means was both invigorating and rewarding. I think that two of the things you said to me in the past 48 hours were the never nicest things I've ever heard. From anyone. The first you know about, but it bears repeating that the true admiration I heard in your voice and saw in your eyes when you complimented the new kitchen project and how much brighter the whole room was.
The other time I've kept to myself until now. It was when we went to sleep last night and you spooned up to me, gave me a nice firm squeeze, and said, "You know I really hate you... but I really love you."
Here's how I heard it:
"you know... I really don't like you sometimes, but I REALLY do love you."
Knowing how much you are struggling to make sense of the conflicts you are having between your feelings and the direction you chose to go in December, and recognizing that I keep doing things that make you doubt your feelings for me (or at least to wisdom in having them), I am suddenly seized with a pain that I don't often get. Regret. Shame? I've always had that, but it is so easily turned to anger when those you've hurt do their best to hurt you back. What you showed me in how you talked to me this weekend, was that you've begun to take a different path.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for the courage it must take you to come back here and have to listen to me talk and yet have the courage to face these conflicts all over again. And to tell me that you really do love me in spite of it all? Priceless. Can't be bought at any price. The sex was great. I mean, really great. But this one simple act of laid out, boldly naked honesty is the best gift you've ever given me.
I know that you probably don't want to talk right now. You're exhausted from the vigorous marathon that was out weekend, and rightly so. Therefore, I'm choosing this blog as the forum to declare these things. First, because it's a suitably safe distance from which you can respond. Or not. Second, I want the world (at least my little blogging world) to know the following.
You, D, are the most remarkable woman it has ever been my pleasure to know. That probably sounds strange coming from me, and probably not only to you. But I really mean it. You needed to get your confidence back, and you took some aggressive steps to put yourself in the place to do just that. I admire you for that. Keep doing the things that you are doing there to remind yourself just how much of a kickass woman you are. Me likey!
Thanks for helping me with the drywall and the decorating ideas. I think that when we are done, we will have something for which can both be proud. Even if we never get back together, it will have been worth the effort, and nothing can take that away from us.
Take your time and space, my darling. I am busy with my own healing, and that of my son. I won't push, but I will -- as always -- leave my door open to you. I'm not going anywhere.
There's really nothing more that can be said, except to sum up all that's gone before and say,
I really love you, too. My darling.
Lured From the Shadows
Nothing much to say. Or rather, too little time to say it and less inclination. However, in honor of the Unseen One's return to regular blogging, I will accept his tag and answer the following:
1. One book that changed your life: "The Closing of the American Mind" by Allan Bloom. Reading this book was the turning point in my conversion from liberalism to conservatism.
2. One book that you have read more than once: "The Foundation Trilogy" by Isaac Asimov. I got a lot more out of it the second time.
3. One book you'd want on a desert island: I'm going to agree with the Unseen One here -- The NET Bible. Everything else would lose its appeal after only a few readings.
4. One book that made you laugh: "Slapstick" by Kurt Vonnegut. I can't really remember anything about the plot, but I will never forget the classic line, "Why don't you go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut? Why don't you take a flying fuck at the moooooooon?" I was a serious Vonnegut fan in high school, but now I just think he's a cranky, old douchebag.
5. One book that made you cry: I know there have been occasions, but I've repressed them. I would guess that at least one of them was written by Graham Greene.
6. One book you wish would have been written: Any of the Harry Potter books. Then I'd be rich as fuck.
7. One book you wish had never been written: I believe in freedom of expression, so none. People who are stupid enough to be led astray by the Koran, Mein Kampf, or any other piece of shit to the point where they are inspired to commit atrocities deserve their judgement. Of course, there are a number of books I wish I'd never read. Time I'll never get back.
8. One book you are currently reading: "The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction" by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Don't ask.
9. One book you have been meaning to read: The Kama Sutra
10. Tag some others: Pass.
With the movie opening tonight, I figured I'd weigh in on the whole "controversy".
First off, I've read the book, and I enjoyed it. As a work of fiction, and a mystery/thriller, I found it to be a page turner. As a Christian, I had a few problems with it. My biggest problem is not with the 'fictional' premise that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a son, but rather with the purposeful distortions of the historical backdrop. People have been speculating things about Jesus since His Resurrection. That's nothing new. Just as people have been demonizing the Catholic Church, and Christians in general, for centuries.
However, certain statements made against the backdrop of history are presented as, and assumed by the naive, to be authentic truth. Many of them simply are not. Take the specific claims that Constantine was not a sincere believer and was baptized on his death bed against his will. There is no historical evidence to back up those 'facts'. History clearly indicates quite a bit of sincerity in constantine's belief, as evidenced in the amount of time, energy and resources he invested in protecting, promoting and establishing the Christian faith as the official religion of the Roman Empire. Surely, history does seem to indicate that Constantine also had political and pragmatic motives for his advocacy of Christianity, beginning with the Edict of Milan in 313. The faith had spread significantly into the military, and popular sentiment against imperial persecution of Christians was threatening the stability of his empire. However, Constantine did far more for the Christian Church than was necessary to alleviate these political strains.
As for his deathbed baptism, it's quite true that Constantine was baptized at the end of his life, rather than immediately after his conversion as a result of his victory at the Bridge of Milvan. Taking as my source the well-received work from 1977, "A History of Christianity" by Paul Johnson, Constantine's decision to delay his baptism until death was based on the unbiblical, yet very popular, belief of the time that baptism took away all of one's sins, but that it was not effective to remit any sins that would accrue afterwards. Many people of the time, afraid that their inability to avoid sinning after baptism would forbid their entrance into heaven, waited until the end of their lives to be baptized.
This phenomenon underlies my other major point to this post. Less than 300 hundred years after the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, serious doctrinal error and extra-biblical superstition had pervaded the life of the Christian Church. The assumption of a clerical/laity separation was already deeply entrenched, and those who were entrusted with the leadership of Christ's people were more concerned about establishing a power base of 'orthodoxy' and control over the lives and thoughts of the 'common' man. Rather than correcting misconceptions about baptism, justification, and developing the character of Christ, they systematically locked away the source of truth -- God's Word -- and focused their energies on vicious debates over the specific details of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Constantine and the prominent clerics of his time, most notably Athanasius, probably did a great disservice to the cause of Christ in this world by encumbering the Message with the concerns of power, politics and wealth. Granted, it appears from the historical record that both Constantine and Athanasius were driven by relatively commendable motives to elevate the faith and protect the message from being corrupted by false teaching, particularly those who denied the deity and eternality of Jesus. However, it's also fairly clear from history that these objectives were also tainted by fear (i.e. - lack of faith that God is perfectly capable of taking care of His business) and self-interest.
Despite all of that, and the shameful history of abuses, lies and violence that ensued from the institutional Church (Catholic and Protestant alike), God's Word is preserved, the Holy Spirit is still active in this world, and Jesus Christ is still enthroned as the Ruler and Judge of Everything.
This is why I'm not too concerned about the impact of "The DaVinci Code", book or movie. I can see why the Catholic Church is bummed, however. This work represents a real threat to their hold on millions of people's lives, at least in their fearful perception. "Why?", I wonder. Could it be that the leaders of the Catholic Church realize, much as they did when Martin Luther began to proclaim justification by faith, that their hold is based on something other than the Power of Jesus Christ? Or is it simply that the Catholic Church's reputation is more important than the truth? The infallibility claim of the papacy is certainly a big bone of contention.
And what about evangelicals in America? Why are they so bent? For a lot of the same types of reasons, I suspect. There's a bit more diversity in the Protestant world, however. Some people are calling for a boycott, while others are actually encouraging Christians to read the book and go to the movie. Of course, most of these leadership sources are also telling their flock to buy their DaVinci "De-Coders".
The biggest problem here, in my opinion, is that most people who call themselves Christian are either too lazy or too committed to things other than following Christ to take the time to do the research themselves.
"The DaVinci Code" is one of the best opportunities Christians in the English-speaking world have to engage the non-believing world in an extraordinary way. Why is "The DaVinci Code" such a phenomenon? Because people are looking for answers, and because people who really know in their hearts what the answer is are looking for an excuse not to believe. Either way, engaging people in discussion over the historical claims and mythical propositions contained in this fictional work can be a great way not only to evangelize, but to grow in the truth.
I believe many Christians are actually afraid of history because of the enormity of wrongness in the actions of Christians and the Christian Church over the years. Just like we are so afraid to acknowledge our own wrongdoing. This is one of the reasons why churches are full, yet the world is filled with hate, violence and imminent destruction.
Denial. Not a river in Africa. The worst disease a Christian can have.
Guess what? We fucked up! A lot. We were wrong! Many times.
But Jesus Christ is the answer for all of that. He defends us with His mercy and compassion. It's time we stopped spending so much time justifying the unjustifiable.
Crawling Up the Rock-Strewn Path Dragging My Armor
This is the image that best fits where I am in my life now. As I think on it, I am reminded of a scene from the 1986 Oscar-winning film The Mission where Robert DeNiro repeatedly drags his now-useless 18th-century armor up a rocky cliffside beside a majestic waterfall in the South America jungle in an act of penance.
Playing converted colonial slave hunter Rodrigo Mendoza, DeNiro's actions reflect what I now see as the all-too-human, horrified, and shame-riddled reaction to the realization of the depth of his own depravity. In Mendoza's case, the killing of his own brother in a fit of rage, a crime that was all too easy to commit due to his arrogant belief in his need to defend his "honor", was the catalyst which brought him to his knees.
As Mendoza bloodies himself on this arduous vertical ascent, starting over again and again each time he loses hold of his "baggage", the Jesuit priest Father Gabriel, played by Jeremy Irons, sits watching at the summit -- waiting for the penance to play itself out. Father Gabriel has become the spiritual mentor of Mendoza, intervening to prevent the man of violence from committing suicide in response to his fratricide. As the scene continues, another character asks Gabriel "How long must he carry that stupid thing?" "God knows", is the priest's only response.
Of course, Mendoza eventually lets go of his burden, collapses into submission, and begins his new life as a fellow servant with Gabriel in a mission to the Indian tribes in the jungle.
In evangelical Protestantism, we tend to neglect the value of this process, this mourning and self-degradation that comes so naturally in the wake of coming face-to-face with just how evil we truly are, outside of the atoning work of Christ crucified and resurrected. How that even then, we often are still not at the end of ourselves, as we try to make it right and atone for ourselves. This stunning and penetrating image of the both the necessity and ultimate futility of penance is revealing itself to me as a core reality through which I must navigate. In the Protestant church, acceptance of forgiveness and forgetfulness of how severely deficient we really are outside of Christ, all too often cheapens what redemption really is.
For me, I am still crawling along that rocky path. The rocks are all of the obstacles I continue to wrestle with on a daily basis. The fatigue. The temptations that flaunt themselves in front of my eyes no matter which way I turn. The difficulties of a life that simply won't go away just because I believe in Jesus Christ. The rocks stay. They are permanent, hard, jagged and cutting in places, smooth and slippery in others. They will draw blood and sweat and make a body sore. But they are also sure and solid, holding firm against the weight of our climbing and providing the traction to move forward.
I crawl because I continue to carry my own sack of heavy armor. My anger, resentment, lusts, and unforgiveness weigh me down and hinder my progress, causing stumbles and falls, bruises and cuts. Yet I continue to cling to them, either for fear of what will become of me should I lose them, or a prideful, stubborn insistence that I can conquer them through sheer will. Or perhaps negotiate a compromise that allows them to hang around and serve me, instead of me continuously serving them.
Consider Mendoza's sack of armor. In the quest to reach the summit above the waterfall, the weapons and protective articles are of no use whatsoever. They are extraordinarily heavy and bulky, creating substantially more opportunities for injury and delay and fail to provide defense against the perils of the journey. If the quest was to conquer, kill or defend against attack by sword and bow, then it would certainly be wise to bring them along, despite the hindrance they represent in the climb.
It's the same with my sack of armor. These things I carry are only intended to injure or protect myself from injury from similar weapons and attacks. However, if my journey is to be towards reconciliation and restoration, they are not only useless, but also injurious to me -- weighing me down as I seek to climb and dashing me against the rocks as I twist and reach for their comfort rather than maintaining my focus and balance on this cliffside sojourn.
It's so easy for others to say to me, "Just chuck it all and be done with it!", but such attitudes only serve to devalue the significance of the process and the permanence of impact, once the lesson is finally learned. Oh, that I had a Father Gabriel waiting patiently for me at the summit, surrending his own inclination to speed things up so that he could get on with his own agenda in the wise acknowledgement that only "God knows." Of course, it's the same old temptation, to long for the type of person that only Hollywood can create, instead of allowing the forging in myself of the type of person that only God in Christ can create.
What I am seeing is that it's not so important to focus on the baggage that I carry. Endless hours of therapy and attending recovery and support meetings have not produced the desired results. What's important is continue to stay on the path. Crawling, climbing, or leaping from crap to precipice like a mountain goat -- it doesn't matter. What matters is continuing to focus on getting to the summit, for sooner or later you realize that you don't get there at all until you stop clutching that heavy, hindering sack of armor and let it fall behind you into the abyss that was your former life.
May it be so!
Reaping and Sowing
Blogger's Note: This post was written on 3/8/06, at around 2 pm, but Blogger was hosed when I went to publish. Also, they used to let me change the post date, but that's gone, too. Seems like Blogger is headed in the wrong direction.
One thing I really like about God, even though I'm still pissed off at Him, is that anytime I throw down the gauntlet, He's got a little something for me to chew on. I rarely like the taste, but at least He makes it impossible for me to sit here and bitch and moan about being ignored. Which, when you think about it, is pretty cool. After all, who am I to be busting the Almighty's chops the way I do on a regular basis?
Several things have happened in the past 24 hours or so to lighten my mood, although working with the IBM outsourced, offshored crowd has me in a major snit right now. But that's another issue altogether.
First, a guy from my church's 12-step ministry calls me out of the blue on Monday night, just because he had been thinking about me and wondering where I've been. Taking it as a sign, I invited him over to catch up last night. This poor guy's really been through the wringer. He works for USAirways, whose troubles have forced him to work 3-4 days a week away from his family in Philly, or be unemployed. His wife is addicted to prescription medication and relapses more frequently and severely than I do, going so far as to steal pain meds from her mother after surgery -- and her son's meds. Then there's the son, who is fifteen and has been involved in cutting and has flipped out to the point where hospitalization has been required. Yet my friend has stuck out the program, taking the whole weight of his family's strife on his shoulders, trusting God, staying the course, and keeping it together, where I probably would have killed them all. So....
Then yesterday I get an email from V, asking me to drop off the boy's insurance card and other vital documentation because he has a couple of appointments to go to on Friday. On the way home, I called him just to make sure everything was OK, because it sorta struck me as odd that he'd be having two doctor's appts on the same day. Well, he freaked out and jumped to a conclusion that I'm actually surprised hadn't occurred to me. He's afraid she's going to get him drug-tested, a fear that I'm sure is largely fueled by the fact that he took the first opportunity he had to get high at his mother's house. I'm not so sure, though. It will be less than two weeks since he left my house, so most testing available wouldn't be able to differentiate the residuals from last weekend with those from three weekends ago.
Although I wouldn't be surprised if she is sandbagging him, and I'm guessing that the second appointment is with a counselor of some ilk. How has this contributed to my improved mood, you ask? I think it's funny how ridiculously clueless she is in dealing with this boy. What kind of message does she think she's sending when she let him out of the house the first weekend after 'rescuing' him from his unfit father? It just gives me the giggles.
Plus, it will be interesting to see what comes out of the inevitable collision that these two are heading for.
Lastly, this morning I heard a challenging message from James McDonald of the Walk In The Word radio show. He preached about the law of reaping and sowing. Two things challenged me. First, there is this whole concept of me having the ability to "respond" differently to my situation than I have. I'm not sure I totally buy it, and McDonald sometimes rubs me the wrong way with his chop busting. I still am convinced that I need something more to get me on the right path, other than my own will power. The other thing that got into my head is the whole sowing and reaping metaphor.
I've been doing quite a bit with houseplants and seedlings since the beginning of the year, and I saw the relevance of how you have to develop a longer-term perspective when dealing with plants. You put some seeds into starter pots, wait a week or two for them to sprout, then wait many more weeks for them to develop to the point where they add beauty, fragance, tranquility and cleaner air to your home. In the meantime, you have to tend them, but with the realization that trying to rush the process can end up killing the whole project.
I don't know if this is quite getting the picture painted, but it makes sense to me. If you put tender seedlings into blazing sunlight, they die. If you neglect to give them the right amount of water, soil, warmth, light, or humidity, they will suffer and die. If you try to force the issue and circumvent the natural patterns of growth, you risk ruining what you are trying to create. But if you exercise patience and pay attention to the signs they provide that tell you what they need, you will get the satisfaction of enjoying their gifts -- often for years to come.
Maybe I'm like that. It occurs to me that I can't just try and rip out all of my problems and try to 'be' something that I'm not. I can't rush the healing, or the growing season. But I also can't withdraw myself from the light, the quenching, root-strengthening water and soil I need to rid myself of the blighted infestation that has diseased my soul.
It'll do, pig, it'll do.
oh, and btw
guess who told me they've been allowed out all week and smoked weed on Sat. night?
oh well! at least he was taken to counseling. that should make up for an absolute lack of parenting.
of course, this is all my fault anyway.
So my last post was a bit of a digression from where I initially intended to go. What I've been thinking about for most of the past 24 hours is why I'm such a shitty example of living the Christian life.
What I've realized -- maybe for the first time or maybe just again, but in a different way -- is that God really pisses me off. Really.
I mean, when I look at the two major meltdowns I've had, there are several things in common. First, is the immediate preceding 'efforts' to find God's grace in overcoming the difficulties I face, whether it be addiction, anger, abandonment, whatever. My tears and prayers are fervent and heartfelt, my desperation is palpable. I sincerely believe I have come to the end of myself and utter reliance on God to save me from my own overwhelming sinfulness. Second, is a period of struggling with the 'burden' of trying to live the Christian life. I hate trying to plod through Bible study, prayer, and resisting temptation. I don't really know how to describe it, but I just become overwhelmed with depression and a sense of futility because I just don't really get a lot of joy or have a lot of desire to 'be with God'. At least as I understand it.
Next is the dropping of the other shoe. Despite my prayers and tears, I fuck up something, usually letting down someone who I really want to love and accept me. Then they kick me to the curb. Parents, wives, now children (sort of). Pastors, friends, pets. Total abandonment.
Finally comes my reaction to what I've come to expect as the inevitable, which is to basically tell God thanks for nothing and to go fuck off.
Why is it that that little extra conviction, desire, motivation, fear of the Almighty, whatever, doesn't come to me and help me not come to the point of utter collapse? Sure, I can look back on things and see where pride, selfishness, obstinance, or just plain meanness snuck in on me. I got sloppy or lazy, or just couldn't seem to find the drive to be a devout. I took a shortcut, indulged in a pleasure rather than abstaining. But really, come on! I mean, what the fuck? I get it, okay. I'm a sinner. I got nothing without you, God. But, shit! I'm getting real tired of not hearing from you when my back is up against it.
I realize that this is not 'proper form', but frankly, I don't give a shit. Why bother me with the knowledge of your reality, if my life is just going to continue to be this freakish, roller coaster of hope crashing into failure and abandonment? I think I would have preferred not to know, and let my evil consume me quickly.
Of course, there is always the hope that You will make it clear for me, give me what I need to live out my days with grace, peace, humility, and some real purpose.
So you toss in a timely phone call from a brother at Celebrate Recovery last night. Yet all I can think is, "Great! Here we go again!" I'll get a temporary boost, then find myself bogged down trying to live like Christ and failing, getting depressed, allowing new people into my life who will just end up hating me for being a fuck up and leave me alone all over again.
Is this what you call grace?
Obligatory Oscar Rant
I've basically come to the embarassing conclusion that I am a typical, spoiled, whining, stupid American. Even worse, I've succumbed to the worst kind of spiritual arrogance, that of the rich, American evangelical.
What I mean by all of that is that I'm pretty much fed up with the pathetic emptiness and cliche-ridden approach of the conservative Christian movement in this country. While I do continue to hold to many of the political and cultural philosophies current within this segment of the American Christian community, I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the degree of divergence between the impact on culture that Christ has called us to have, and what the leading and most visible American Christian institutions are actually doing.
A recent example of this is what I heard on WORD-FM yesterday afternoon from Sam Siple, one of the rotation of insipid, afternoon talk show replacements with which we are again being inflicted, now that Jerry Bowyer has taken an indefinite leave of absence for health reasons. Like so many in the Christian media, Sam had dedicated his show to assessing the impact of the Academy Awards on Sunday night, primarily pontificating on the 'victory' implied by the fact that "Brokeback Mountain" didn't win Best Picture, or any of the Best Acting, Oscars. I can't really describe how stupid and inane I find such nyeh-nyeh celebrations, other than to wonder why Christian media doesn't have anything better to do than do a happy dance over some overly symbolic and overstated victory over the gay agenda.
How about this? Of all the movies that were nominated for major Academy Awards, only "Walk The Line" broke into the Top 20 of 2005 domestic gross dollars. The feared homo horse opera came in next at #26, followed by "Crash" at #49 and "Syriana" at #58. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", on the other hand, currently sits at #3 in domestic gross for release dates in 2005, behind only "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire".
Here's a few interesting facts related to TLTW&TW:
1. It opened the same weekend as "Brokeback Mountain" (12/9), yet has nearly 4 times the box office receipts.
2. It is poised to overtake "Harry Potter" in domestic receipts, despite being released 3 weeks later.
3. Most successful movies rake in one-third to one-half of their total domestic gross on opening weekend. TLTW&TW's opening weekend represents less than a quarter of it current gross, pointing to a steady and sustainable interest that is rarely seen in the movie industry, but was also recently seen in the box office numbers for "The Passion of the Christ". Coincidence? I think not!
4. TLTW&TW currently sits at #25 for all-time, domestic, box office grosses. "The Passion of the Christ", incidentally is #10.
Speaking of the Top 25 All Time Top Grossing films, they include all 6 "Star Wars" films, all 3 "Lord of The Rings" films, and two of the four "Harry Potter" films. No film in this list carries a rating worse that PG-13, and only a handful ("The Sixth Sense", "Pirates of the Caribbean", "Forrest Gump") could be argued to have presented strong, anti-family, anti-traditional messages. Of course, I would argue that several more of them do at a much subtler level, but that's a discussion for another time.
So my point here is, "Why all the hysteria?" George Clooney basically made an ass of himself trying to portray his work, and that of his peers, as important counterweights to what they see as the evils of our culture. Yet the public is speaking loud and clear, with both their dollars and their attention to these wannabe leaders of our society. The Hollywood elite is not only 'out of touch', they're irrelevant. Ratings for last year's Oscars were down 10 percent, and there's no real reason to believe that they will do all that much better this year, despite having a new host and 'controversy'.
When you consider the spiritual messages behind "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter", and assume the overt Christian themes underlying "The Lord of the Rings", "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe", and "The Passion of the Christ", the presence of these 13 movies in the Top 25 grossers pretty much says it all. Yet why is the Christian Church so fundamentally out of step with the culture's heartbeat, tilting at the windmills of the 'gay agenda', legislated morality, and liberalism? Aligning itself with a political agenda that pays lip service to Christian morals, yet turns a blind eye to gross injustice -- both here and abroad? Why, when these box office numbers clearly indicate that our culture yearns for leadership and direction into the reality that these films give homage to?
It baffles the mind how clueless we Christians really are sometimes in our drive to be right. When, in fact, it is God who is right, who has always been right, and has done all that needs to be done to give our country -- and our world -- hope.
We act like we are in a losing fight, instead of walking into our society full of the confidence that our victory has already been won with the gifts that so many people really are craving.
This country is tired to death of blowhards like George Clooney, Alec Baldwin, and Sean Penn. But they are equally, if not more so, tired of idiotic windbags like Pat Robertson and find nothing of substance in the inane prattlings that occur within most 'Christian' media.
Wake up, people! It's time to get real.
The Ugly Truth Behind My Hiatus
So how to begin this post?
Sigh.... OK, here goes...
My son has gone back to live with his mother. The reason why would most likely depend on who you ask and how much time you have. But fortunately for V, I've again given her an easy out and a cloud of cover behind which she can maintain her denial that she is a life-sucking, self-centered, self-righteous bitch. That being said, the official reason for the move is that I got high with the boy. No, wait, the real reason is because I TOLD her. This is what I get for having a conscience.
confused? Join the club! I'm still trying to sort it out, and I was there!
OK, here's the gruesome details.
A couple of weeks after the boy moved in with me, V calls me to tell me that my next-to-youngest had told her that some of his brother's friends (that would be the boy living with me) were smoking pot when he and the boy were hanging out with them and skateboarding. Earlier in the weekend, the boy had let slip the comment (on purpose, I'm certain) that it was difficult to find any new friends in the high school that didn't smoke pot.
At the time, I was content to just keep my eyes open, as I was still adjusting to this new role as single dad of the teenaged boy whose mother was at the end of her rope. When this all first came about, I was still dealing with the divorce from D -- in my usual manner. Getting myself on the straight and narrow was a top priority.
However, my thinking took a strange turn when V called me with her concerns. I had no real insight into the high school culture in the town where I live. The community is widely stratified along racial and socio-economic lines, but people like me (i.e. - white, educated, fairly well-employed) are definitely in the minority. So I became concerned that my son was getting in over his head, and I decided to talk to him about the whole 'doing drugs' thing.
What I told him was that he should stay away from it altogether, but that if he was going to do it anyway, I wanted him to be in the safe confines of our home with me. I was very concerned about his safety and the intentions of the kids he was hanging out with, but I also opened the Pandora's box on my own powerlessness against the lure of the ganja.
Within two weeks, I was asking him to find me dime bags. As an interesting aside, the best deals in pot are among the school-aged dealers. I was getting more product for half the price, usually at the same quality, as I had been getting from my 'adult' contacts for the past decade. Anyway, I began to see a real slide in his behavior and a growing obsession on his part for getting high. It's all the evidence I need to buy into a genetic argument for addictive tendencies. Then I went to a parent-teacher conference and discovered that his grades were in the toilet, mostly from not handing in assignments and making up tests in the most recent couple of weeks. That's when I faced up to my need to do whatever I needed to do to put a stop to the whole experiment. I needed to be the adult, to set the right example, to rid our home of this insidious evil.
Unfortunately, events were already set in motion that came to a head three weeks ago, on President's Day. My son spent his first weekend visiting his mother since coming to live with me during the holidays. Prior to his leaving, he had made it clear that he really wanted to go back to his mother's house, primarily because he was missing his old friends. A big part of this seemed to also be related to him having difficulty establishing solid friendships in his new situation. I believe he made some major miscalculations in his approach to kids whose parents were not providing the kind of upper-middle class lifestyle that is so prevalent in the district where his mother lives.
To complicate matters, he appears to have taken to making up stories to impress or ingratiate himself to a class of kids he believed would provide him with some protection. He was afraid of getting ganged up on, so he tried to get in with some of the toughest, street-wise kids in the school. That meant the dealers. Not having the same kind of cut-throat mentality, he ended up earning their distrust and was accused of being the person responsible for a rash of police searches in school that week.
A couple of these kids were going to come over to house that Monday night of President's Day, or so they pretended. One of them came to the house and took my son around the corner, supposedly to get a couple of the other kids. There were a half-dozen kids waiting, and they attempted to jump him. He was punched in the face, knocked to the ground, and kicked at least once before jumping up and running away. When he got to the house, he was in a panic. I was just going to take a baseball bat outside and take care of business, but he was petrified.
Then I became concerned because, as I said, I didn't have a real good feel for what was going on in the high school. I didn't know if there were gangs or guns or the type of violence that could have seen my son hurt very badly or killed.
So I called his mother, with the full intention of letting him go home. She wasn't willing to do this, which in hindsight was probably a good thing, as it let me do some digging into the landscape of the high school. After a couple of days of making sure he wasn't vulnerable to another attack and keeping close tabs with him on what was being said and who was emerging as potential allies, I became convinced that these kids might try to jump him again, but that the possibility of real serious violence was remote. Plus, new friends emerged that I found to be credible and sincere, and who were willing to stand up with him against the kind of underhanded cowardice that the dealer crowd seemed to prefer.
At the same time, I became very concerned that my son was not really getting the message about accepting responsibility for his actions and choices, even as I was feeling very uncomfortable about my own role in the way things had unfolded for him in his new situation. His mother was concerned enough to drive 45 minutes two days in a row to take him to school, so that he would have to walk alone in the morning. She also took the opportunity to talk to the guidance counselor, who informed her that word on the street was that our son was getting involved with drugs and violating social taboos about sharing his stash. When she asked him if he was using drugs, he said no, then bragged to me later that he technically didn't lie, because he was only using ONE drug.
That's when I decided that I needed to tell her the whole truth and accept whatever consequences came. It was suddenly more important to show my son that the truth was not a matter of convenience or semantics, and that owning up to one's mistakes was a sign of manhood and integrity.
What I didn't count on was his willingness to use this as an opportunity to go back to where he wanted to be, in spite of the conditions that he would face from a woman whose capacity for denial is amazing to me. At first, he balked at her conditions (going to counseling was really the only one). He even tried to get her to admit that this was all her fault for making him come to live with me in the first place! When she declined to do so, he got stubborn and said he wasn't moving back with her.
But after a day, he realized that he had a better shot of getting what he wanted out of the situation by going back to her than staying here with me and lying in the bed we'd made.
As for V, suffice it to say that her reaction to my confession was to take him immediately, as opposed to her reluctance to take him when I wasn't sure if he was going to get shot or not. Let's just say that it's much more justifiable to her way of thinking to just conclude that I am more of a danger to my son than a gang of juvenile drug dealers.
Me? I really fucked up by not accounting for my own powerlessness over my addiction when deciding how to deal with what I perceived to be immiment involvement by my son with drugs and untrustworthy people. I started out trying to protect him and ended up using him for my own purposes. I have never been more ashamed in my entire life.
However, I think that the decision to take him back to his mother's is an even bigger mistake, and I am powerless to do anything about it. My son has now been validated in his manipulations and has been denied the benefit of working through a tough situation with real consequences. Instead, he can now go through the motions of buying into his mother's faith in the psychological cure, while he perpetuates his lack of responsibility, integrity, and accountability for his choices and their consequences.
And me? At first I was so mad that the self-righteous bitch V didn't even take the time to try and evaluate what really happened, that I was ready to just go right back to the addictions, confirmed in my belief that it doesn't matter what I do, what I try, how hard I fight -- the curse of life will always win out. But D has been very supportive -- without condoning or excusing my choices -- and has caused me to step back from the abyss of my own bitterness. The Lord also intervened by allowing me to be sick enough for the past week and a half to not want any cigarettes, weed, or coke. Now I am feeling better, and am finding a reason not to give in.
Ironically, what I am discovering is the way that I've continuously set myself up for failure by acting out of guilt or buying into other people's idiotic definition of character. By increasing the pressure on myself to be more than is reasonable to my children in order to make up for the consequences of a choice that I didn't even make, but was all too willing to take the blame for, I was guaranteeing that I would screw up in a major way at some point along the line.
So now I've determined that, although I love my children and want to be a significant part of their lives, I need to stop overcompensating for the fact that their mother is unwilling to accept her own responsibility for the situation we are all in. Sure, I smoked pot and cigarettes. Yes, I called her a cunt and a bitch. And certainly, I have anger issues that resulted in more than one piece of broken furniture in the course of the ten years that we were married. But the last time I looked, none of that was a justification for divorce by anyone calling themselves a Christian.
I believe in grace, but I also believe that grace can only take root where there is truth. V made her choice, and now she has a new husband, a new job, a new home, a new life. Yet she is ready to latch onto any reason to make me the reason why the children who have lived under her care for the past decade don't live up to her expectations.
Looking back on this whole episode, I am convinced that I should never have agreed to take my son in the first place. I wasn't in the right place to take care of his needs, although I still managed to get movement in the right direction. But more importantly, this whole situation was not my problem. It was hers. She failed to establish her authority and credibility with him. But all I saw was a chance to make up for what I had lost -- to give him all that had been denied by not having me there for him.
Overcompensation fueled by guilt.
Now I have a chance to rebuild a life with D, or to reclaim my own life. Guilt free.
I did what I did, and I make no excuses.
But I'll be damned if I'm going to let it drag me down for another ten years.
It just makes no sense.