Monday, December 31, 2012

What I Want out of 2013

1. For the words rape, fag, gay, and phrases like "kill yourself" to be taken out of the world's vocabulary. Specifically, out of gaming vocabulary.

2. Actually, how about gaming disappears?

3. For people to give up opposition to love. Gay love, straight love, interracial love—if it's love, no matter what the kind, it's undoubtedly better than hate.

4. For people to stop hating each other for having opposing political views. That's why we vote. Now shut up about it.

5. For all judgment to cease. We all do stupid things, mean things, hurtful things, and things that nobody else understands. The sooner we accept this, the better we will all get along.

6. For God to be allowed back in schools. Church and state can be separate without restricting the freedom of those who believe in God but may not be able to afford private school.

7. For teachers to be able to provide their students with an education, not just a lesson plan.

8. For "family time" to include activities that exclude any type of screen.

9. For all the Kindles to burn in a fiery, fiery funeral pyre larger than the state of Alabama.

10. For everyone to appreciate honesty as much as my best friend does.

11. For all those folks who showed up in theaters to see Les Mis to stop hiding when other pieces of art and literature are struggling to make an appearance in society.

12. Robin Williams for President.

13. For jobs to be payed according to social importance, i.e., teachers should be payed more than reality show pimps.

14. For "Man in the Mirror" to actually take effect on people, especially politically. African hunger is sad, but it's okay to start with the hunger in our own country before we pretend we're going to fix the world.

15. For real crimes to stop being turned into Lifetime movies. It just happened. No, a year is not enough of a "sensitivity period."

16. All video games to be demolished except Pacman.

17. NO MORE REMAKES OR SEQUELS. There are plenty of struggling writers in this world. Hire some of them to write better movies.

18. Better yet, hire them to fix all the profane grammatical errors in advertisements.

19. For people to stop being afraid to be human. Rejection happens, pain happens, mistakes happen, and no matter how hard you try to avoid it, you will get hurt. There does happen to be some truth in "go big or go home." If you go home, at least you tried. The effort is always better than the avoidance.

20. For more people to bring to social awareness the things that matter to their hearts. No more songs about that booty all up in da flo or the chain hangin' low or rides on disco sticks. How about some more work from Macklemore and U2 and other people who take notice and try to spread awareness. Or, you can write songs about sex that don't have to be vulgar as @#!%. Think a little more Bryan Adams, a little less 50 Cent.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Paradise Lost... and Found?

"For neither do the spirits damned lose all their virtue..." —John Milton, Paradise Lost

Perhaps it is uncouth of me to quote a piece of a poem partial to Satan. John Milton's masterpiece, Paradise Lost, describes in poetic brilliance the war, fall, and deception of Satan and his legions of thwarted angels. With this description, of course, comes the contrast of the Good Lord's grace and power amidst a "threatened" throne. Milton writes with resounding diction and philosophical inquiry, thus making Paradise Lost an absolute dream for me: an epic poem and genius work of literature that also causes me to think deeply about my faith and the state of the world.

As can be read in many of my previous posts, life's social and logical struggles have challenged me. I have recently fallen into a state of distrust, abandoned expectations, and neglected hope. In response to such notions I have acted accordingly, living in the world as if it is all that exists. Though my actions do little to glorify the God I believe in, He has been ever on my mind throughout, and every day I question what it is exactly I am trying to prove by turning from faith to the world. I made a sort of pact with myself to pursue only what I truly want and to chasten no more the honest opinions of what is necessary in my life. I dove into literature and writing, working a job I adore, creating lists of self-improving goals like re-teaching myself guitar and learning calligraphy. I am working toward the body I want and the mind I want; yet, all falls to faith. Its impact is constant: if you do have faith, its effect is impossible to mistake; if you don't have faith, you spend most of your time trying to explain why it is not there. Either way, the mind is consumed with the presence of faith.

I have not yet brought myself to return to reading my Bible consistently. I have hardly felt worthy to touch it in past times, and now I hold a slight (unjust) aversion to it. I have read only some chapters from my favorite book, Ecclesiastes, which was brought to my mind when it was quoted by dear Mr. Hemingway in the front of my new favorite novel, The Sun Also Rises. Despite my love for Ecclesiastes, the disarray of my mind has kept me from immersing myself in the Bible's call, causing me to be negligent and hesitant and doubtful. By some stroke of fate divine, I chose to next read Milton's aforementioned poem, which I had previously read excerpts from about a year ago in class. The excerpts—small though they be—were enough to dramatically arouse my interest in the poem. An epic verse about the Fall of Man from the tormented perspective of Satan himself? How could anyone not be intrigued?

Thus began my reading of Paradise Lost and the psychological journey back toward faith. Though baby steps seem awfully large in comparison to the miniscule movements I am making back toward God, it seems He is still watching me, luring me by dropping into my hands the perfect concoction of my love and bane. Logic and literature, faith and reality superimposed into beautiful words and artful arrangements on aromatic, red-worn pages have captured my attention. I am only three books into the epic, and already I have witnessed several dimensions of rebellious spirit wrought with sins of pride, greed, malice, and gluttony, as well as the gloriousness of those fallen who had such potential, and the contrast of the wounded, vengeful rebellion against the majestic benevolence of the great Creator. Some instances that have already captured me include God's discussion with his Son about the forgiveness of man, claiming men are given grace because they did not manifest evil within themselves but were seduced by the outward forces of the fallen. Also, the quote at the beginning of this post stopped my eyes immediately upon the page. "For neither do the spirits damned lose all their virtue..." This said of the masses of fallen angels who hold honor among thieves, upholding respect and perverted virtue among the monarchic structure of newly-founded Hell. This statement particularly struck me, as I have mentioned asking before of my friend how many times God would be willing to forgive me the same foul strikes. If the damned do not forfeit the entirety of their virtue, how then can I possibly be so beyond the reach of redemption? I have never doubted the power of God's forgiveness, but only the power of my own ability to turn from evil and embrace the humility necessary to return to God's favor.

If the damned have enough left within them to be considered still of virtue, even in the mires of a poetic Hell, then I on Earth still have infinite strength to return myself to a state fit of attempting worship of a greater God than ever found. I cannot be completely devoid of the virtue I may have owned before. There is a way back; though I have to find it precisely, I am now aware of its existence. I no longer doubt my ability to return to God's graces. It is simply a matter of bracing myself and doing so, and the Lord has encouraged me by placing this response directly into my hands, centuries after it was written by a simple poet.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Mad World

It's a strange, strange world when you can feel guilty for being someone's friend.

Right now, I can think of three people I "should" hate. Each of them has wronged a friend of mine in the past. I do not condone their actions, but I do not hold grudges against them, either. Two of them I don't even particularly like. I see no problem, however, with treating them like human beings. Isn't that why my friends hate them in the first place—because they didn't treat others well?

Three stories.

One. A bunch of college kids become friends. A girl and a guy in this group of friends start dating. Everyone knows this guy is a "friendly" guy. Eventually, he cheats on her. A few times.

Two. Two girls become friends. One shares her feelings about a guy that the other girl has just befriended. The first girl harbors secret feelings for years. The boy suspects, but doesn't return the ardor, and acts accordingly. A small, drunken betrayal occurs, and the first girl is heartbroken.

Three. A girl discovers her friend has been dating a guy who has allegedly cheated on her twice. The friend's friends all hate her boyfriend for this reason.

In story One, I am one of the "college kids." I was horrified for my friend when she got cheated on, and I was angry that the guy—also my friend—had done it. I wanted to be there for my girl friend, but I did not feel the need to shun the guy. I wasn't seeking him out, by any means, but I wasn't about to forget about the year of friendship we had developed. I didn't see him around for a while; he was giving my girl friend space. The girl's other friends started violently hating him immediately. I understand this situation, I really do; but is it necessary for me to end my friendship, too? Treating that guy like a leper wasn't going to help my friend's wounds heal, and treating him like a human being wasn't going to harm my friendship with her (at least, it shouldn't). Now, a year later, we run into each other, and he's surprised I'm still "cool with" him. It's still not over, though—some other friends of mine aren't fond of him and seem to lose words when I mention that he invited me to hang out. Why do I feel guilty for wanting to hang out with someone who has already been my friend for two years?

Story Two tells of a friend of mine who was hurt by someone we both know. I became friends with the guy much after the story began, but I have been here to witness the end, and the end is not pretty. Now I am caught among another group of friends who want to hate this guy with all they have (not quite as violently as the group in story One, but still). I am casual friends with this guy. I don't hate him. I think he acted like a jackass, and I'm sorry that he hurt my friend—very sorry—but I have nothing to do with the situation. Why do I feel pressured to hate him?

Story Three is about a friend of mine whose boyfriend all our friends hate. Am I the only only one who thinks IT'S THEIR OWN DAMN BUSINESS? If he did cheat and she took him back, that's her choice. She's allowed to date whomever she likes, even if he's not a great catch. I understand wanting to be there for her and wanting her to be with a man she deserves (rather, who deserves her), but I don't think it's "being a good friend" to continually talk shit about her boyfriend when you're only slightly out of hearing range. Sure, he may be a douche, and sure, maybe he did cheat on her, or whatever he is said to have done. Either way, I believe you can support a friend without supporting their decision. I think it is more loving to listen to a friend and help them out with their bad decision (read: be open-minded and willing to listen and advise) than to correct them without being willing to hear reasons. Hear reasons, not just learn them and trash-talk them. We all make dumb decisions. Making someone feel like they can't talk to you about certain parts of their lives is only going to make it worse if that decision does backfire. Why do I feel like my friends would hate me for wanting to support my friend, no matter what her choice is?

None of this is okay. None of it. The way the guys acted is not okay, but the way my friends react is not okay, either. I'm not saying I've never had a particularly insensitive reaction to someone who has hurt me or a friend, but I think I've grown a bit past that. Perhaps it's because of one of my best friends from home. She dated someone I was okay with for a while, but rumors of cheating began to arise and led to heartbreak. She has since still been somewhat involved with him, but I'm not going to stop being a good friend to her because of that. I want her to be happy, and even though I don't think that guy is going to make her happy, I'm willing to hear her reasons why she's willing to try. I would rather stay close to her and be able to help her up if she falls than to abandon her because I disagree with her choices. The pressure that I feel to hate all of the aforementioned guys is so intense, though, that I almost felt guilty for running into the friend from story One in public. I almost didn't want to be seen with him because I felt I would be judged and subsequently hated. Has anyone heard of forgiveness? Yes, heartbreak hurts. Yes, people make stupid choices over and over again. "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly" (Proverbs 26:11). We all know it. So let it go. Forgive. Forgive and let live, and support those you love, even if they're acting foolishly. YOU act foolishly; would you like it if your friends muttered hateful things about someone you cared about, or forced their friends to hate you for a mistake you made, or refused to hear about an important part of your life because they disagreed? How would YOU like it?

Don't put your friends in those situations. Don't demand hate. Let forgiveness suffice where injury stings. Forgiving may not satisfy the desire we all have for vengeance or calm our sense of self-righteousness, but it is the better way to handle wrongs. I'm not saying avoid protecting those close to you—by all means, let them know how you feel. Tell them you disagree, disapprove, etc. But don't push them away. Be honest, and let them return the favor. Open your mouth if you must, but never forget to open your ears.

Jesus saves.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Mountain Lion

A couple years ago, I had an encounter with a mountain lion. It was not a gruesome experience; I simply ran into one with a friend as we descended a hiking trail at dusk. We stared. It stared. It took a few steps toward us with a flicking tail. We threw our hands up and shouted as loud as we could. It disappeared. Despite how easy that confrontation was, it terrified me beyond belief. Thus began the dreams about the mountain lion.

At first the dreams seemed to be mental replications of the actual experience. They gradually grew to be more violent, however, with the mountain lion attacking first other people, then me, and most often succeeding. I've had dreams in which the lion attacked in houses I felt comfortable in, thus destroying their serenity. I've had dreams where I attempted to fight the lion to little avail. Very often, I would shout at the lion in my dream, only to wake myself with strange half-hollers trying to escape my sleep-paralyzed body. I would encounter the lion every few weeks. This has been happening for about two years now.

Last night, though, the dream finally changed. This time, the scenario was that I had lost everything and had to live outside in the woods with a sleeping bag and a hammock. I couldn't find anywhere safe to hang the hammock, so I discovered a tiny cave with just enough room for a person to sleep. I didn't want to be attacked while asleep, so I left the cave to find something with which to block the entrance. When I returned, the mountain lion had taken over my cave. Instead of fleeing—it hadn't seen me yet—I started growling at it, loudly. I growled and growled, and the lion crouched, tail flicking, eyes flashing, just as it did in the true encounter. Suddenly, the lion sprinted out of the cave. This time (be warned; the dream gets a bit Chuck Norris here) the lion did not win. Right as it lunged for me, I swung a fist around and punched its muzzle, then managed to swing an arm around its neck and snap it (sorry PETA). I had finally defeated the lion.

I still woke with those strange hollers in my throat. Fortunately, I don't think I woke my roommate, but this has happened before and I warned her about it, so she shouldn't be worried either way. This time, though, I woke with a sort of astonishment. So much of this dream was different. I had never been completely alone when the lion attacked before. I had never had to face the lion dead-on, eye to eye. Most importantly, the lion had always won. This time, in a face-to-face deadlock, I succeeded.

Some part of me feels this dream is significant somehow. Recurring dreams don't just drastically alter their endings that way. Yes, the setting and specifics of my mountain lion dreams have changed in the past, but the main plot was always the same: Amy vs. mountain lion. Mountain lion wins. Defeating the lion woke me with the feeling that something in my waking life has also changed. I can't imagine what it would be—I can only think of minor "victories," and even those are grasping for straws—but it feels strong. There's a sense of relief in my spine today. I feel as if defeating the lion has brought me over a nasty ravine, a wild crevice, something large that I could not have thought of crossing before, but here I am on the other side. I feel like there is another part of my life waiting for me, and I am finally able to face it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Letter to My Friends

When you think nobody is listening, you yell too loud.

This is the base of my life recently. To use a far too common metaphor, this year has been a roller coaster ride - not the fun kind. It's the kind where the people standing next to the tracks can hear the cars ripping over the steel, thrashing wind through the bars as they race by, shaking the tracks with something wild between a rattle and a bang.

I have put all of you in the place of the passersby to the roller coaster. I have selfishly flown across the steel, not caring that the wind I shoot your way is too strong and uncomfortable. I have hardly stopped to listen. Occasionally I pause, then get up for another 30-second race around the tracks. Circles, constant circles. I'm going nowhere.

I do have to say one thing: I'm still not sure what is wrong. Yes, I am struggling immensely with my faith. Yes, I have been talking about boys all the damn time. Yes, I am slightly caught up with a few minor situations. Clearly, some of my choices are not at all beneficial to myself or to those around me. That being said, I don't feel like I have gone off the deep end. I'm pushing my boundaries, but I'm taking small steps back. I'm aware of what I'm doing. Maybe that will make you all even more frustrated with me, but it's honest. I am not entirely certain of my motivations all the time, but I'm not trying to hurt anyone and I'm not on a self-destruction path. I'm sure half of what I just said will only convince you otherwise, but it is the truth of my thoughts.

No matter what I am struggling with, however, I should still be acting as a better friend. I should slow down and shut up and listen to you. I should stop constantly whimpering about everything I want and don't want and that is happening or not happening in my life. I should find ways to deal with my problems so that you guys don't have to. I should realize when I've blown enough hot air and learn to shut up and deal.

So guys, this is me apologizing to all of you. I'm sorry for being a shit friend. I'm sorry for being so selfish in the time I spend with all of you. I could say now how much I cherish my friendship with each of you, but I don't think I'm worthy to say that if I don't act like it. I'm sorry for making you listen to me over and over and over again with all the same stupid stuff. I'm sorry for grabbing too tightly onto your friendship because something inside me is askew. I should figure out my own loneliness issues without putting weight on your shoulders, and I haven't been doing that effectively. Or at all.

I know some of you are probably rather disappointed with me. I'm sorry to have disappointed you. Some of you must really be better than me, and I don't say that sarcastically. You can understand whatever it is I'm doing wrong, and I still don't feel it. I've felt trapped in Core for so long that this just feels like actual life now. It feels normal. I know the idea of Christianity is to be better than normal, but maybe I'm just not. They say the path is narrow, and maybe I just don't fit on it.

I commend all of you for being such wonderful people. If I didn't already know how amazing each of you are, the fact that you put up with me this long would prove it. Thank you for listening, for trying to help, for giving advice, for watching my back, and for not punching me in the face, though I'm sure I deserve it. Thank you for being true friends even though I'm doing something wrong enough to put you all off. Even if you're mad, disappointed, or just frustrated, thank you for everything. Know that I love you all and I am thinking every day about how to figure myself out and make myself better. You all deserve a better friend than me.