Category Archives: Identity

Owl Post 8-2-13

Owl Post 2-17-12

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The Problem with Sexual Compatibility:

about-me-beach-calendar-options-couple-cute-couple-Favim.com-143393Last year, while working as a counselor at a Christian camp for young adults, I had the pleasure of spending a few months with hundreds of young men from around the country. If you have ever spent a large amount of time with a group of young men discussing life issues, you know I received a variety of crazy questions about sex.

For example, one of the campers asked, “If I’m supposed to wait to be married to have sex, how am I supposed to know if my wife and I are sexually compatible? Don’t I need to try out a few other girls first?” I wasn’t taken aback by his question because I knew he was just another teenage boy looking for an excuse to bend God’s guidelines. So I brushed off the question with a shallow answer so I could get back to the topic I was discussing.

Instagram, More Selfish than Facebook, Really?

IMG_0835Slate added to the wheelhouse of Facebookmakesyouselfishandlonely articles that seem to be littering the online atmosphere these days. And, while we would position our argument a little more towards the preexisting tendency to navel-gaze, the diagnosis for what social media makes us think is no less true for it.

But Slate makes the argument here that Instagram–that handsome friendzone we know and love, with those scrolling, squared filtered funshots–is actually a war app, where we battle our friends’ self-images with selfies of our own, and all the while lose ourselves more quickly than we would with Facebook. Slate, per usual, sounds a bit morose about it all, but they’ve got a point: the images of friends, coupled with the semi-valueless “Likes” we are expected to give and expected to expect, lead to a perverse self-image that is checked and rechecked with little payoff. Besides, the simple prettiness of the whole production is a bit misleading to experiences–awkward conversation, farts, inner-tensions.

The Wedding Vows | 20 Years Later:

Today my wife and I are celebrating 20 years of marriage. I could write the obligatory post or FB update on how amazing she is and how undeserving I am and how I’m glad we get to go on this journey together and I hope we get 20 more years on this journey. I believe those things and could easily say them and mean them.

I could talk about how much joy I still have when I see her or hear her voice. But we’ve both come to realize that after 10 years those things were easy to say, but after 20 there’s a whole lot of other things in our lives that won’t allow me to write something trite because 20 years of marriage isn’t easy. It’s been very hard. The fun of the first 10 years disappeared a bit in the light of other developments. We often say to each other, remember when we used to make up corny songs or give each other silly nicknames? Of course we remember, but we don’t do that nearly as much now. We still do some of that, but they have mostly disappeared in the light of other developments.

10 Ways to Save Barnes & Noble:

barnes_and_noble_450Dear Barnes & Noble,

When you announced the resignation of your C.E.O. and Nook failure, some may have called it the beginning of your end. Idea Logical’s Mike Shatzkin said you could only hope to “make the slide into oblivion more gradual.” But take note: not everyone is so pessimistic about your future. The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki argued that print books are still “an exceptionally good piece of technology—easy to read, portable, durable, and inexpensive,” and he referenced Codex Group findings that 97 percent of those who read e-books are still “wedded to print.”

So perhaps you aren’t a dying relic after all, and merely need some revamping. Over the past several days, commentators have burst forth with a cacophony of competing ideas for your revival. The following list contains some potentially promising options for you to consider –

The Freedom of Robert Galbraith:

51m4P63APoLAs we all know, expectations can be crippling. Success breeds expectations for more success and higher, sometimes unfair, scrutiny can be placed upon a person. This scrutiny can be debilitating, and after an acclaimed bestseller – well, what do you write next?

Last year, J.K. Rowling published her first book since the finale of Harry Potter, called The Casual Vacancy, under her own name. The book received mixed reviews, but almost all of the negative reviews (e.g. in The New York Times and The LA Times) used Harry Potter as the baseline – the standard – by which to evaluate the merits of The Casual Vacancy.

To escape the daunting pressures of recapturing the magic of Harry Potter, Robert Galbraith was born and a manuscript for the new book The Cuckoo’s Calling was written. Rowling sent the manuscript to several publishers under the pseudonym, and it was rejected at least once by the review staff of a publishing company who, I imagine, feels very foolish right now. But that was okay for Rowling, who knows failure is inevitable and can sometimes be a good thing. It was eventually accepted by Little, Brown and published in April.

 

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The Happiness Trap

Don: Why do we do this?

Roger: For the sex, but it’s always disappointing, for me anyway.

Mad Men has been asking this question all season, what is it that drives us and what do we do after we get everything we thought that we wanted? Can things really make us happy? Can one really be fulfilled in this life or is it just a quick succession of busy nothings? There always seems to be something better, just over the horizon, the grass is always greener, our friend’s wife is always prettier, our coworker’s car is always better and the list could go on forever.

Temporal things only bring temporal enjoyment. Don vividly and viciously explains this truth to a client when he says,

Are you? You’re happy happy with 50%? You’re on top and you don’t have enough. You’re happy because you’re successful for now. But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness. I won’t settle for 50% of anything, I want a 100%. You’re happy with your agency? You’re not happy with anything. You don’t want most of it, you want all of it. And I won’t stop until you get all of it.

We are slaves to this drive and we will do and continue to do anything to fulfill it. Just look at the world with its debt and credit, all because if we can just get that thing a the very moment we wanted it, it would complete something in us like a missing puzzle piece. And yet it doesn’t, it fails.

Glenn: Why does everything turn out crappy?

Don: What do you mean?

Glenn: I don’t know. Everything you wanna do, everything you thinks gonna make you happy just turns to crap.

Don: You’re too young to talk that way

Glenn: But it’s true.

Soloman, the richest , wisest man that ever lived said,

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
(Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 ESV)

There seems to be little hope when we look at the world. If nothing here can give me lasting happiness, joy or peace, what is the point of living? The Apostle Paul says there is hope and he reminds us of where it comes from in Galatians 5, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Jesus says to his disciples in John 15,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

When we look at this we think, “But this is hindering my fun, this is taking away my freedom”. Yet we have already seen we are slaves to our drive for happiness and that drive is insatiable. Jesus is offering us freedom from slavery and the gift of true fulfillment. He calls us to abide in his love and obey his commands; but if you look closely, his love and his commands are one in the same. For loves sake he has given us the way to navigate life that will lead to ultimate joy, fulfillment, peace and identity if I let go of myself and my desire to chase after the cheap thrills of fast-food dreams and one-night let downs. Jesus has lovingly given everything, provided everything if we would just let go of the mud pie and accept the vacation at the beach he is offering.

Avengers – The Review

Avengers-Alternative-Minimalist-Movie-Poster-063I went into the theater with trepidation. So many summer comic-book movies have let me down in the past few years. Green Lantern was a CGI mess and Captain America and Thor left me wanting more. I have not truly been surprised by a comic-book movie since the original Iron Man. Avengers had a lot to live up to, especially since it involves the aforementioned characters, plus the Hulk, who has his own string of failed films. Lastly there are two characters who are relatively unknown; they have had very minor roles shoehorned into the previous Marvel movies. So, here is the good news (that all of America already knows because they have already seen the movie): Avengers is simply amazing. I highly recommend this movie to anyone who loves a thrill ride and a movie that will make you think, if you are paying attention.

Director Joss Whedon had a very important decision to make with these characters: Who should be the center of the film? Should it be the narcissistic, billionaire, genius, philanthropist playboy? Maybe the rage-weary scientist who can’t seem to keep a lid on his temper (and you won’t like him when he is angry)? There is the aloof demigod from another world who sounds like Shakespeare in the park. Or maybe the damaged spy with a thirst for redemption and salvation from a past filled with bloody mistakes. Penultimately there is the archer, silent and strong, but he was taken hostage by evil in the first 10 minutes. So this leaves us with the virtuous man out of time, Captain America (aka Steve Rodgers). Even his name harkens back to a bygone era where the name America did not engender hate, and being captain of it would be a badge of honor and courage. As the other “heroes” bicker and literally fight one another to prove that they are the most worthy, it is Captain America that serves as the voice of moral reason and sanity. Rodgers is able to stand between the other heroes and help them see that this is not about their petty differences and personalities; like a good soldier, he helps them to see the importance of the mission and teamwork to accomplish what none of them could do on their own. Rodgers gives us a picture of what has been lost to our past – a clear moral compass, a sense of duty and honor, and doing unto others as you would have them do to you. It is this heartbeat that that enables the team truly act as one in the end.

“Kneel before me. I said… KNEEL! Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.” – Loki

This is a huge part of the movie, this idea of freedom and subjugation. Loki says that all people are looking to be ruled and of course, as any good bad guy, he believes that he is the one best suited to do that ruling. He craves the adoration and the worship of others. He craves them because of the inferiority complex that he suffers because his brother is Thor, the biceped demigod of Asgard. In the end, Loki is as much a slave as we all are, driven by a desire to be loved and validated as a person. In his quest to rule he makes himself a slave to his need for control and power. Recently Joss Whedon made a speech in accepting the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from the Harvard Humanist Society. He is an atheist and was talking about what the atheist response should be to the world. He said,

How do we codify our moral structure without the sky-bully looking down on us telling us what we’re suppose to do?…..The enemy of humanism is not faith; the enemy of humanism is hate, is fear, is ignorance, is the darker part of man that is in every humanist, every person, in the world. That is the thing we have to fight. Faith is something we have to embrace. Faith in God is believing absolutely in something with no proof whatsoever. Faith in humanity means believing absolutely in something with a huge amount of proof to the contrary. (From mbird.com)

What I am struck by is that this flies in the face of reason and plays out in the movie. Loki, who longs to be free and to rule, is driven by his fear and feelings of inadequacy. Each of the heroes is also a slave – slaves to narcissism, pride, guilt, shame, fear, anger and so many other things. In the end, the axiom is proved that we are all slaves to something. I like the way cinemagogue.com puts it,

We lose our joy in a mad scramble for identity by attaching it to something lesser, binding our hopes and dreams to a celebrity, a politician, a spouse, a fictional universe or hero, a national identity, a career, a co-dependent relationship, or vicarious achievements through our children. We “freely” soil our knees on these shifting foundations hoping these things will satisfy, give us purpose and worth. Worst, we effectively see ourselves as “god”, the center of our own life and universe, and find ourselves kneeling to an identity that is certain to let us down, shackled to our own fallibility and finitude.

Loki is right again: we crave subjugation and lose our joy, chasing a “freedom” (that is actually enslavement) and declaring it as our identity.

We are constantly waging this fight for freedom and like Wheedon says, the last thing we want is some cosmic sky-bully telling us what to do. Like Adam in the garden we want to be like God, to know it all and be our own master, captain of our own ship. Bonnie over at Mockingbird.com says,

I agree with some parts of Joss’ point. He considers the “dark part of man” to be the enemy of humanism. And every person has this dark part inside of them. I don’t disagree that there is evil inside all of us (we call it “sin” or peccator). What I am surprised (and a bit confused, to be honest) by is why he would still put his faith in humanism if the enemy of humanism is in every person, including every humanist?

Is not looking for something different even after you have seen it proved again and again a definition of insanity? The thing is, we are meant to live in freedom, freedom from living as masters of our own fate and in submission to the one who is truly Master, even over death. The apostle Paul reminds us of our place in his letter to the Colossians:

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)

It is only by understanding our place in the universe that we can truly have freedom, and this brings us back to the heart of the story, Steve Rodgers. It is his belief in good, right and wrong, and the duty of a soldier to put himself in harm’s way to protect others that give us the clearest picture of the gospel. It also flies in the face of atheism and the glorification of humanism and self. In the end, it is all the other heroes that take on the characteristics of Captain America and become willing to lay aside their desires and even their lives for the lives of others. This is clearly seen at the end of the film where Tony Stark, the most egotistical and self-centered hero in the group, is willing face to certain death to save the world.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13 ESV)

It is only in letting go and thinking of others before ourselves that we truly become free. We are not slaves to serving others, we are freely putting aside our insecurities and self to make others a priority. I can be a slave to myself or freely give to others. Which will you choose: the way of Loki or the way of Captain America and the Avengers?

Really liked this video from Cinemagogue.

Keep Calm, Carry On

This is a fascinating video about the origin of the iconic poster that has had such an impact on the 21st century. One of the questions in the video is, “Why has a slogan, from a bygone era, captured our imaginations so?”

I was thinking about this after watching the video: Why does it?  “Keep calm and carry on” reminds us to keep going. As Robert Frost says, “The best way out is always through.” This simple phrase reminds us this is not the way it will always be, don’t overreact; live life and take what comes. Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes that,

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ESV)

“Keep calm and carry on” seems, in some ways, to be a reminder of this great truth.  Makes me think of something that has often been attributed to Solomon as well, “This too shall pass.”

All of this calm thinking got me ruminating about life and how it is always changing. In all that change there is so much that happens that we just don’t understand or is tough to slog through. Many times we are left struggling and striving in a million different directions and just wanting to pull our hair out. C.S. Lewis says this in Mere Christianity about God and his plans for our life:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOf course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like?…We may be content to remain what we call “ordinary people”: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility; it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.

Here is another way of putting the two sides of the truth. On the one hand we must never imagine that our own unaided efforts can be relied on to carry us even through the next twenty-four hours as “decent” people. If He does not support us, not one of us is safe from some gross sin. On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death.

That is why we must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time. When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along—illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation—he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us…

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

Remember Paul’s words in Romans, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” So, keep calm and carry on as God continues to create you into something beautiful.