May 14th, 2010

BIG PICTURE: I did not expect this kind of darkness at all, never mind in this first week. There I go expecting again, or NOT expecting something which creates an anti-expectation; nearly as bad if not worse than proper expectation. I’m just so saddened by last night. As long as Brenda and I don’t try for anything beyond being good parents and roommates, we’re fine. As soon as we try for something more than that,  it approaches disaster. Not disaster in the Titanic or volcanic sense. More of a slow- moving, non-lethal disaster like a plague that wipes out a forest or a crop. You watch it happening, you can do certain things to try to stop it, but it’s happening on some level that is completely untouchable, and so you just do what you can to salvage what you can, and keep living with what you’ve got.

I’m just so sad and tired. I’m simply left with the growing awareness that I’m just not “that man” for her. I think over the last couple of years I’ve come to understand that she does, in fact respect me. Her approach and support for the sabbatical, her courage in being willing to entertain (once again) making the changes that God is calling us to make, trusting my spiritual leadership. These things mean the world to me and they contribute to making me love her. But I just don’t possess that other “thing”, whatever it is.

I’ve known it for 30 years. It’s the Sam Wise thing. But the last 7 years have been a journey of not just acceptance, but of embrace. I can BE Sam, and continue down that path. I can say goodbye to the old expectations of being Aragorn, and actually smile about it now. It just seems like Brenda is getting cheated. Maybe this is all a consequence of me being a liar for so long. She was sold a bill of goods over 20 years ago and she still has to live with it if she wants to stay married. Perhaps every day with me is a continued victimization for her. She might have chosen differently had she known the real me. To whatever extent that’s true, I’m sorry for the lies.

I’m sad and tired and sorry. My eyes are dry. My faith is cold. My heart is hard, my prayers are old. Morning prayer has never been so dry and empty. I look forward to nothing today except a nap: a chance to be unconscious. I think of Nick (in prison), of Jane (the newly widowed), and of the AC3 Staff working to cover my job… and I can add a healthy dose of guilt to it too.

CLASS WORK: I truly did not believe that J. Barton Payne could get drier, but he has. I can’t resist a little example:

In respect to the Mosaic doctrine of redemption, Vos rightly remarks, ‘There is not yet any reflection on that element, so easily associated with the conception, viz., that a redemption price is paid.’”

That was a short one…and Payne even took the time to dig up somebody DRIER to quote! It really is a shame, because the thrust of the study is a series of hammer blows showing the redemption of mankind through the singular work of God throughout ALL of human history. Messiah is foreshadowed and sometimes even clearly revealed in many cool ways throughout the O.T.

I began the course “Preparing and Preaching Bible Messages” this morning. It’s pretty light, a good contrast with the O.T. course. I respect the fact that the ECA has a curriculum that focuses on reaching the lost. It makes me wonder in a good way about my “call”. One of the tests is “can you imagine ever NOT preaching the Gospel?” Without getting too caught up in a discussion about HOW one preaches the Gospel, I can’t really imagine not doing it. In fact I feel an impulse to be doing it more directly more often. How will that line up with more simpler living, more social Gospel activity and embracing a more contemplative approach? Hmmm.

READ/RITE/REFLECT; MARRIED TO DISTRACTION: I forgot my cell phone at home this morning. Ironic based on two things: 1) Brenda objected to my checking it last night during our “date”, and 2) the segments I read today dealt DIRECTLY with this sort of thing. Here’s where I find my thinking. My level of distraction with e-devices is not what I would consider high. Perhaps Brenda would disagree: o.k. It doesn’t really matter I guess, because the truth is I agree with the premise of the book: the FORCE of DISTRACTION (as expressed by the use of e-devices) is getting stronger, and it’s getting stronger on all of us, including me. To focus on “how” distracted I am, is like one drowning man comparing how wet he is to another. I may be less distracted by my phone, but the way the authors describe the fragmentation of attention certainly includes Brenda and me. Again, the fact that it may not be as bad as couple “X” is of little comfort.

5 things the authors recommend:

1) Become aware of the problem. (Check)

2) Identify the sources in your environment. I’m going to pledge to turn the phone off and leave it behind at certain regular times. I think the computer has become an issue too. Not just Face Book or e-mail, but stupid videos,  games, etc. It feels like what they say in the book about “looking for distractions”. Maybe it’s not that way for anyone else in the house, but the truth is, sometimes it is that way for me. Turn them off. I think we should agree to turn off the computer at some times. The T.V. is another one. Again not a BIG one…but focusing on how BIG a particular culprit is, is like saying “oh…yeah we’re being mugged…but we don’t have much money..and he’s a midget so it’s o.k.” As far as other culprits – harder to say.

3) Rediscover Conversation. This could be hard at first, because there’s always something to pull us away from each other. I guess that’s where putting those things off limits comes in. I need to understand better what helps Brenda feel like talking. Is it just distraction-free time? Reading The Lord of the Rings together as a family seems like a step in the right direction.

4) Set Boundaries. For me, social networking must always stay off limits. Apart from something like the Northumbria Bulletin Board, which is hugely limited and slow…I don’t need the distraction of Face Book. Making sure that Brenda always has access to my e-mail accounts is important to me.

5) Learn to say “no” to good ideas, good people, good projects. This is probably where the battle will be joined. Ministry  makes it doubly difficult, or should I say doubly confusing. “Is this dinner appointment work, or social? Does that phone call constitute talking to a friend or counseling? Are we volunteering or getting paid to attend event “X”? I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress But a threat is still always lurking. Especially for Brenda it seems. To say she’s paranoid about getting too caught up with church stuff is an over-statement. But to say she’s guarded would not. Maybe that’s exactly what’s needed…I’m not sure. But I DO know that we will have to say “no” more often than we (I) currently do. The challenge will be that this requires me to face the biggest ugliest and most powerful demon in my world: approval. I’m tired of fighting him. Sometimes he even comes at me from over Brenda’s head, he taunts me, “if you don’t come and fight me, Chicken, she’ll look down on you!”

In the last months I’ve found new strength to fight him…even when he flies from Brenda’s direction. But yesterday was alarming because he got the best of me. I’m still spun around a bit. I’m not sure from what direction he came…but I recognize his smell.

Saying “no” will piss him off. He’ll come at me. But somehow, when I lay down my expectations, he loses all his hand holds on me…he can’t touch me anymore. There is still mystery there…but there is no question that if Brenda and I are to move forward, saying “no” will have to occur more often, and the time created by those “nos” will have to be protected from fragmentation.

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