Random things relentlessly popping into my head while I tried to sleep:
The cover of the first secular album (ie, cassette tape) I ever purchased: Kansas’ Leftoverture
The acronym COB and how it somehow was tied to me showing my brother the cassette tape I’d purchased, reading the Bible about a great king prior to the David cycle/Book of Kings. (My study of Hebrew sees me reading and thinking more right-to-left…and the Hebrew “Kaf” looks like a backwards C)
The orange pen I loved to use when I was that age.
The scouting event I was at–an evening expo at a local mall, Metro North Mall, and somehow the connection with other scouting events where my shoes or boots would get muddy.
What it meant to be me at the age of 12–desiring so much to please my older brother (probably in hopes that he would come back home and spend more time with the family, but also because I thought he represented what it meant to be cool and if I emulated him I could become a cool kid and stop being bullied on the bus), but also still wanting to please my mom by remaining religious.
This was the moment when I began to first undertake the mission of putting on a mask. I sought to become someone I clearly could never be, at least not without displaying a great deal of foolishness, and it would impact me in ways that still haunt me today. The thing is, only my mom and perhaps to some degree my dad and little brother truly validated the nerdy, awkward, self who was destined to have average looks during any phase of his life. My dad didn’t seem to know what was going on, and I suppose it had something to do with his lack of involvement with us during those years, but also he didn’t want to have much to do with the religious stuff my mom was teaching us.
The kind of person I sought to validate me was a big brother-type role model, and my older brothers mostly wanted nothing to do with the family at all by then. R was completely checked out, and R showed up for Christmas and was perfunctorily nice, but didn’t take a huge amount of interest in anything I was doing. He seemed to assent more to the classic rock tapes I bought, which were really my attempts to remember all the music he’d liked when he still lived with us.
Some of my darker, more growth-stunting things I did were also direct attempts to be more like R and R as I remembered them being when they were still at home. Naturally, I wasn’t going to have any radical transformations for the better by the time I was headed off to college, and the friends I would associate with there were mostly other young men whose social and emotional maturities were stunted for some reason or another.
I tend to beat up on myself a lot for my issues and problems. Then, I swing wildly in the opposite direction and try to blame older figures in my childhood who had negative or lacking influences upon me. But really, the issue at stake here is, why do I continue to do some of the same awful things? I drink too much and lose my temper too much all the next day–primarily because of the affect booze has had on me. I assume others are mostly out to do me ill, and create these endless narratives where I am obsessed over how much better my life would be if I could just get out of Texas, or if I had simply made some better decisions way back when. I act out in other ways more tied to lust. I blame myself for Hersch’s death, and therefore Mom’s death. I blame myself for why R and R decided to leave home and never come back.
But really, the main crap that I do that is unhealthy can be directly tied back to that time period around the age of 12 when I undertook to find ways to make myself a cooler, hipper individual. And, for the most part, I’ve never been able to completely turn a corner and say: “you know what? That’s just not me. It never was me and never will be me, so why am I still doing it?”
There is, of course, no returning to some idyllic state of being. There were unsavory aspects of my personality that needed to remain in childhood–and have for the most part–that were there before I ever made fun of H or MB’s dad, or ever bought a secular music tape or smoked a cigarette or indulged my lust and adolescent fantasies. I have trouble conceiving of myself as some kind of perfect angel who was corrupted by my environment. I came into this world a flawed human being, either due to genetics or a past life, or maternal influence while I was still in the womb–whatever. The goal is not to return to being a non-existent more perfect self. The more perfect self is, and has always remained, someone in the future. However, there are clearly elements, negative ones, of myself today that I continue to perpetuate–that are artifacts from the year I was 12 and all of the subsequent snowballed crap that accrued thereafter. I am perpetuating them out of a since of comfort. A sense of feeling like it is easier to give in and not question why I am giving in than to try to aggressively and proactively put an end to them once and for all.
There is a certain kind of sense of comfort and even euphoria that comes with giving in to an old demon. The very act of submitting is a childlike thing–a misplaced act of submission where submitting myself to God as a childlike being would pay enormous dividends, but the old habits and routines die hard. As a full-grown adult, I can’t stand for the most part losing control and giving up my independence to a group or a leader. It is extremely difficult for me to submit to the requests of the school community and the Presbyterian Church. I understand that as long as I am not rich I need to work for someone, and therefore, I am willing to submit only as much of myself as I need to submit in order to draw a paycheck.
But then, there are moments throughout the day when all of that alertness and pushing outward and being an adult become overwhelming, and I want to take a break. I want to take a break utterly and completely sometimes by just letting myself go to a nap, and other times I want to let the old demons take control. I want to submit to a force or energy that I know is completely working against me because it is familiar, time-worn, and is the closest thing I have to feeling like I am 12 again and living under the care of my parents. Submitting to God doesn’t have the same effect. God is of the here and now and also of the future. God can often seem like an overly abstract force, distant or simply too vaguely powerful to be of much help. But to submit to something that takes me back to a time when I was more wholly myself (though as I stated above not perfect or anything approaching it) gives me a kind of comfort I wouldn’t otherwise have.
I would hazard a guess that almost no human being can sustain being the proactively thinking, outwardly pushing, always responsible, always adult, person all of the time. Every human takes refuge in something, be it Netflix, drugs, alcohol, or local groups where they can submit to the will of a leader who tells them what to do. It is ingrained in our deepest nature to desire to let ourselves go and submit to the will of an Other, be it God or some other power we make into being our HIgher Power. It could be partly due to the fact that as a society or culture, we simply haven’t been exquisitely trained to use our adult legs all the time. The powers that be in our contemporary society would probably reject the very notion of having adults who were 100% grown-up all the time.
There is a lot more that I would like to say about this. On one hand, it can seem rather trite and obvious, on the other, I can see a million unconscious ways in which I give up my power and control throughout the day because I think I am simply too tired, or I am too frightened to see what having that much responsibility would look like. This is something I need to meditate on a lot more.
There is a lot I need to write about. We stopped at the new headstone for my mom (and eventually my dad) that my Dad had finally purchased. I didn’t feel like spraying out a lot of emotions at the time, as we were on our way to Corpus, but I was feeling a lot of things. Somehow, in this year (2016), I managed to visit the headstones of my little brother and my mom (and my great-grandmother who is buried next to my little brother). I have to keep asking myself if I am wanting to be a pastor just to please my mom, or just to return back to some idyllic time where I was very much caught up in the church and the Bible. I think that the answer is “no”, but can I ever be too sure?
I need to start keeping a spreadsheet or table that is a basic T chart, and constantly input when I do something or think of doing something, whether it is really something of my True Nature, or something that my old, sinful and poorly formed self would do, or is urging me to do.
It can be something as terrible as losing my temper and cursing or masturbating, or something as harmless-seeming as wanting to have a beer or singing along to a classic rock song.
In all naked honesty, I should probably examine all of my life choices, be it a dietary preference or a clothing choice, in light of whether I am trying to perpetuate the old, false self who primarily lived between the ages of 12 and 30, or if I am trying to look forward and backward to the true self (for I see the true self as being on one hand a core piece of me that has been with me from the beginning, but also a future me who I am still trying to aspire to become).
Pretty much all alcohol consumption, masturbation and loss of temper can be attributed to the false self, the self who aspires to be someone he is not–primarily, a man (or woman) of this world.
But, Jazz and Classical? Are these simply reactions to the excessive exposure to classic rock, which was one of the primary loves of the false self who strove to be part of whatever the cool crowd was? Perhaps to some degree, but these have also been my mainstays during periods away from those people who encouraged the perpetuation of the false self–when I desired to listen to music at all. However, any sort of attempt to become highly knowledgeable or more deeply appreciative of music–seeking out those musicians that everyone else hadn’t heard of–that could be seen as being more in the domain of the false self.
Is the true self a Republican or a Democrat? Probably would have been a Republican up until this year, but definitely a centrist Republican, and no doubt, a centrist Democrat. Is the true self a Presbyterian? Probably in the older tradition of Presbyterianism. I don’t know how much of the current push to remove heterosexual white males from the church for the sake of encouraging new voices to feel welcome is really resonating with me, to be honest. I don’t think of myself as anti-LGBTQ, anti-feminist or anti-BLM, but I see the marginalized in our society as being primarily the poor. I don’t see Socialism as being a panacea for solving the ills of income disparity, nor do I necessarily see Jesus as being a Socialist. In my reading of what Jesus was trying to accomplish while on the earth, and what the early church was like, I see a community that was trying to be something apart from whatever the government in power was, without trying to be that power themselves. In the early Christian communities and in Jesus’ own words, we hear echoes of socialistic ideas, but I don’t think Jesus saw Christianity as being something that would necessarily embrace a tight marriage with the state–either as a Vatican power or as an advocacy group pushing to overturn laws or practices condoned by the state. In other words, the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth would be the ultimate ruling power, but until that day, Christians were supposed to set themselves apart from the State.
This, in my estimation, includes living in a way that seems more socialist, but only among fellow Christians and our neighbors whom we Egelize to via our lifestyles and our services where we preach the gospel. Should Christians be soldiers? I think that ultimately the call to serve one’s country and the call to serve Christ end up being two separate, but very noble calls. Neither one is for everyone. For most of us, ours is to do as best as we can to change ourselves at the personal and familial level to be the best Christians we can be. For those who are called to serve their country, they needn’t be condemned for perpetuating attributes of our society that are considered to be more warlike, violent and lacking in basic Christian qualities like turning the other cheek, praying for your enemy, etc. But, the spirit of service should always be paramount. Those who seek out war for profit and to participate in state-sanctioned killing should be condemned. Those who wish to avoid participating in war on principals of conscience should be exemplary in all areas of their lives–if they still tacitly condone violence, or are violent people in their family and personal lives, then their motives are not pure–they are motivated by cowardliness and laziness rather than true conscience.
The United States or the broader Western world are not the placeholders for the coming Kingdom of Christ. They happen to tolerate religious freedoms, especially Christian ones, more so than many other parts of the world, and they are more heavily populated by people who call themselves Christian, but if Jesus were to return to the Earth today, He would not say, “I am setting up my Kingdom to be essentially just like the USA.” In all likelihood, he would deeply condemn our materialism and our tendency to seek out war instead of peace as a solution to maintaining our power over other countries of the world. Our overall grade card as Christians probably nets us a lot of Fs, Ds and Cs–where many of us might think we are deserving of As and Bs.
But, back to my navel-gazing–which I freely admit I’m doing…I have so little time for self-reflection right now, that I cherish this time.
The False E probably deserves the most credit for exposing me to social injustice and income disparity. In my zeal to be someone who is seen as virtuous by the broader elements of society that I perceived to be cool, ie, Hollywood and those who embrace the rock n’ roll lifestyle, I tended to embrace liberal ways of looking at the world, since that seems to be what most of these individuals embrace as well. If someone you wish to impress tells you that it isn’t cool to be a Republican, then of course you are going to be a Democrat and align most of your ideological preferences with what Democrats say is the right way to think and be.
The True E probably wouldn’t have liked Donald Trump very much, simply because he reminds me of so many bullies who have passed through my life–even into my post-college days when I would suddenly find myself at the hands of someone who was trying to put something over on me. As for Hillary, she is much closer to the center than just about anyone else who bothered to run for President this year. Maybe even closer to being the kind of Republican I imagine Republicans once were, back in the 70s and 80s. I think that Kasich was probably the best choice for President, speaking from the point of view of the True E who never strayed from himself, but the rest of the country seemed to disagree with that.
So much for politics, though. I am not so much worried about the choice I will make on Nov 8, as I am with less obvious and more subtle life choices I continue to make based on stray little pieces of the false me coursing around inside of me.
The old E, had he somehow never been pushed aside by the False E, probably would still watch sports. I would likely have my fantasy football league, pay attention to the NFL, college football, pro basketball and baseball, but I don’t think it would be more than an hour or two each week of my time. My rejection of sports definitely came about during the period I was most intensely interested in becoming an artsy-fartsy sort of liberal boy who loved arthouse films and such.
But, the new E, the one who I seek to ultimately become, seems little interested in getting involved much in sports, either. I don’t have any guy friends anymore, and my son is still too young to care about sports. I’m sure after he’s gotten a little older, he’ll want me to watch some games with him and pay attention to sports so that he doesn’t have to tell kids his dad is a complete freak, but I don’t see myself ever becoming so interested in sports again that I really care who wins any particular game or championship.
It would be a gross mischaracterization of the dichotomy at play in my life to state that at some point, say around the age of 18, the old, more true E was completely suppressed by the false, wannabe E, and then I woke up one morning deciding to completely reject the false E. I certainly have key moments I can look back on, like the dark night in 2001 where I finally came to my senses about what was happening with L and the McE crew–but, it was only one of many awakenings. What’s more, when I was at home on breaks from college, I would tend toward becoming more like my old self, preferring to listen to Jazz over the latest, hip and cool rock music and actually spending some time with my family with a willingness to admit that I liked being around them.
I suppose my creation of a public persona around the time of adolescence is in some ways not that unusual. I watched some of my other friends do the same thing. I can even remember just a week or two going by one summer during which JK seemed to change as if almost overnight. The persona he adopted seemed less real and true to me, but it was the one he decided to employ throughout the rest of middle school and high school, and still seems to be with him to this day.
My perspective of myself though, seems to indicate a much more severe disowning of parts of me that are inherently me–I am a religious person, I am a Christian, I prefer to read books instead of go to parties, I find most chitchat and things that excite other people to be rather childish. Do I prefer poetry as much as I think I do? It is hard to say. I liked poetry when I was my old self prior to much implementation of the false self, but I also enjoyed reading fiction, especially science fiction and westerns (but this could have been due to a desire to impress R more than an actual love of westerns–hard to say). Much of my interest in more literary works of fiction came about during my first years of college, when I came to the conclusion that my first semester roommate, who knew about John Irving and Jack Kerouac–was much cooler than me, and I needed to be reading more literary fiction.
You can easily begin to see where some of this gets to be very difficult–what of me to I keep, what of me do I reject? Do I reject something just because I discovered it during a period of being intensely my false self, though I still enjoy it? But, why am I enjoying it so much? I catch myself enjoying classic rock music and rock music of the 90s, and realize that I am completely re-inserting myself into the old, false persona. I find myself rejecting picking up science fiction works because I am now in seminary, and should be only caught up in reading more serious things. Would old, true E eventually have become interested in some of the same things, albeit more slowly in a more roundabout way, or would he even have bothered seeking out any music beyond that which he heard on the radio? Surely, he would have discovered at least to some degree, a love of beer and probably would have done his fair share of dipping his toe into internet porn or some other indulgence of his lust–he was still a guy, after all. But then, maybe not. Perhaps he would have gone on to become a mostly unblemished priest.
Is being a Presbyterian minister simply a compromise, a way to become something akin to the priest I can’t ever be? If so, is it a good or bad compromise? Should I, in my desire to aggressively be and become my True Self, really have remained a non-entity of an office schmuck, much like I was in school, and pursue Catholicism as actively as I can as a layperson? Or is all of it simply reacting to try to reset the course correctly, and I am hopelessly beyond being able to reset the course?
Another way to look at it might be to attempt to tell two different narratives of myself…this is the life of the real E, at least as much as he was permitted to live his life, and this is the life of the false E. At times, the real E only comes through in stops and starts–fragments like the E text in the Documentary Hypothesis of who wrote the OT.
The real E….loved Scouts, his little brother, his mom, Church (but perhaps not the church we were attending), football (but probably never would have played it), baseball (probably never should have attempted to play it), math, computers, poetry, and was never that good at art or playing musical instruments. Maybe some day he would go on to like jazz, but mostly, he just liked the radio hits, and was happy to listen to the Christian music his mom bought him. The real E would have never made fun of his little brother and MB the way that E did, and probably would have joined MB and BA as being the first male cheerleaders…or maybe not. Maybe he would have been caught up in discovering the chemistry lab. He probably would have joined all of the nerdy clubs, like Mrs. M’s International Club, Mr. Y’s Science Club, etc. He probably would have been bullied by the kids on the bus, unless that bullying truly was karma for what he’d done to Hersch and MB. He likely would have gone out for track all of the years of HS, and lifted weights, but never would have taken up cigarettes, and would have stayed working at Subway. McD’s was way too redneck-y for this E. CP probably would have been his girlfriend, or perhaps LR, LG or JC–but, he never would have thought that he had a chance with TC–this would have been obvious after a few junior high/high school dances. He never would have driven the cars he did–an early model Honda or Toyota would have sufficed for him, if he even got a car in high school at all.
College would have probably been NWMSU–MU was part of false E’s desire to show off to people–he wanted those preppy, popular kids who loved MU’s sports teams but for whatever reason couldn’t go to MU to see just how much cooler he was. E, false or not, had no business going to such a large school. He probably would have attended NWMSU, and either fallen in love with and married CP, or ended up deciding to become a Catholic priest and finished his undergrad work at a Catholic university.
True E today, if he’d gone the marriage and family route, would have become a computer programmer, and probably would have stayed in KCMO, at least for many years, until job or family took him elsewhere. His kids would be teenagers today. If he’d gone the priest route, he’d probably be teaching at a Jesuit University somewhere, or serving as a parish priest. A quiet career out of the spotlight either way, with no intention of every being in the spotlight, given the fact that he would have seen his limitations right away and never thought of himself as becoming capable of being cool, famous, or among the best of anything.
False E, if indulged to the max, would probably be living on the streets of NYC or SF today, and would be going on his umpteenth attempt to recover from an alcohol or heroine addiction. He’d be covered in tattoos, would have played in a lot of bands, and would probably be the father of a few illegitimate children, and would be carrying around a few chronic STDs. He likely would hate Christianity, be an outspoken Atheist, and be a generally miserable person to know, though so many of a certain type of crowd would claim to adore him. You know those people who adore personalities and personas rather than people, but think that they are adoring the actual person.
Of course, neither individual ever manifested himself completely. There was always a check on one or the other from getting out of hand, and eventually I grew sick of the crowd who seemed to adore the most false characteristics about me. I became more and more okay and fine with being boring and not recognized by my peers in the workplace. I grew tired of pretending to be a lot more immature than I really was, and didn’t like being treated like a child by people I otherwise wanted to be impressed with my true capabilities.