Tuesday, April 24, 2007

P4E.020 Empty

Sometimes an artist/musician says things in such a way that it just resonates....

"I never learned to count my blessings
I choose instead to dwell in my disasters…
Will I always feel this way?
So empty, so estranged?

Of these cutthroat, busted, sunsets
these cold and damp, white, mornings
I have grown weary.
If through my cracked and dusty, dime-store lips
I spoke these words out loud
would no one hear me?
Will I always feel this way?
So empty, so estranged?

Well, I looked my demons in the eyes,
laid bare my chest, said "Do your best. Destroy me.
You see, I've been to hell and back so many times,
I must admit you kinda bore me."
There's a lot of things that can kill a man,
there's a lot of ways to die.
Yes and some already did and walk beside me.
There's a lot of things I don't understand.
Why so many people lie?
It's the hurt I hide that fuels the fire inside me.
Will I always feel this way?
So empty, so estranged?"

Artist: Ray LaMontagne
Song: Empty
Album: Till the Sun Turns Black

People have been asking "Why the melancholy?" It really does revolve around my remorse over having been such a poor husband to my wife and father to my 3 sons. Don't get me wrong, things are definitely on the mend between all of us. But, in my relationships, I am reaping what I sowed for about 20 years. And it makes me sad. I try not to be overwhelmed and to receive the grace that they and God extend my way. It is a lot of work to repair such things and sometimes I am overwhelmed.

This is why I write. To sort all of these things out. To sound the warning to all who will listen to an older and (now) wiser man. Because I see the old me mirrored back in so many men that I come in contact with. And I want so desperately to make a difference. But, like the old me, they turn away. "I'm OK, I'm working on it, it's a process you know? This is just the way I am. There's lots of time to deal with my relationships. They're not going anywhere. They've got problems too, you know? If they were nicer, I would be too." That old attitude that I see mirrored back to me makes me melancholy too.

I believe that the hope of post-modern man is that we would move past the detachedness, the subfusion. Away from arrogance and towards humility. Valuing understanding others more than being understood. Being less judgmental and extending more grace.

The problem is that post-modern man is really in no better position to implement these values than was modern man. I am in no better position to implement these values because of my (limited) understanding of what it means to be "modern" or "post-modern." I'm still involved in that age-old conflict between the flesh and the spirit. Will I always feel this way? So empty, so estranged?

I scream with all the intensity that Paul did in his letter to the Romans, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?"

And without denying the gut-wrenching circumstances that are cropped up in my life, without denying the feelings of inadequacy, without denying the process that I must go through to get there...I end up acknowledging the same salvation that Paul did....Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the pattern that I will strive to mold myself to. His compassion, His grace, His empathy, His understanding, His strength, His humility, His sacrifice are my goals.

God help me (and you too!).

Your ally in the pursuit of Christlikeness, Kim

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

P4E.019 Subfusion

Yesterday's awful events at Virginia Tech did nothing to relieve my melancholy of late. As horrible as those events are, they congealed for me some thoughts that had been coming together over the last couple of weeks. My struggle continues….

A recent post in LL Barkat's blog, Seedlings in Stone was entitled "Subfused." I'm going to co-opt the term and redefine it for my purposes. Let's define "sub" as a prefix indicating "under" as an attribute or indicating that an element is present in a relatively small proportion. Let's also define "fuse" as to become united or blended, as if by melting together. So, the word "subfuse" would be a verb indicating the reduced ability to unite or blend. Near synonyms would include "detach," "disconnect," "estrange" and "separate." Other forms of the word would be "subfused," "subfuser," "subfusing" and "subfusion."

The "modern" movement has been a subfusing period for man. Following World War I and right up to World War II (a period that loosely coincides with the rise of "modernity") the United States was isolationist ("isolate": another great synonym for "subfuse"!) minded. But, as an architect, I often see time periods (movements) with an architectural frame of mind. The architecture reflects the philosophy underlying the movement. In architecture, modernity was characterized by stripping "ornament" from buildings. The phrase "form follows function" was materialized by exposed structure, exposed infrastructure, straight lines transferring loads in an efficient fashion and intellectual "honesty," "integrity" and "transparency" (read lack of mystery) in how buildings worked. Modernity was the architectural culmination of reason and logic. The steel framed, sparsely furnished, glass box seems to epitomize the modern movement. The seamless glass skin, while fragile, seems impenetrable. Although glass is transparent by its nature, you are rarely able to view what is going on inside during the daylight. Only in darkness is what's going on inside revealed and then only if the inside is illuminated. This architectural movement (style) was interpreted by many as "cold," "utilitarian," "pragmatic" and "Spartan." It is telling that the modernist movement spawned a sub-movement from the 1950's to the 1970's called "Brutalism." In hindsight, some perceive the modern movement as "dehumanizing." To many (read many women) it could only have been generated by the "masculine" mind.

Returning to subfusion: Modern man is subfused. That is, we can be cold and pragmatic. The subfused man is detached and utilitarian. We can be "intellectually honest" but brutal in our reason and logic. There is little in the way of ornament in our life. It is sparsely furnished. We are fragile, yet impenetrable. Our inner self is only revealed in darkness and only if we allow it to be illuminated. Our ability to connect with others is severely reduced. We are isolated. We are subfused.

This subfusion is manifested in many ways. Some possible characteristics of the subfused man are that he:

- watches TV (does NOT keep us connected with life)
- spends time on the internet ("internet connection" is an oxymoron)
- is engrossed in sports (not participation in, but with analysis, history and statistics of)
- has a hobby that does not include much interaction with other people
- hides behind intellectual "honesty"
- does not help with everyday tasks around the house
- is consumed by some ( many times "noble") cause
- can be vehement, dogmatic, unyielding and arrogant (even violent?) in the defense of the cause
- uses reason and logic to defend his detachedness
- avoids interaction with others
- can become so detached that he does not connect his actions, words and thoughts with reality, therefore can be callous and violent in his thoughts, words and actions
- can be consumed with pornography and may fall into outright immorality
- can play violent video games and may become so disconnected that the line between games and reality blurs
- sees women as objects for sexual gratification

I am confident that Cho Seung Hui (the Virginia Tech shooter) will fit this profile, but he is only the extreme case. As modern men, we all fit the bill to some extent.

Why am I outlining all of this in a blog with the heading Preparation 4 Eternity and aimed at men's relationships with their wives and children? If you can't put the pieces together for yourself, you might be more subfused than you thought…..We'll talk about "post-modernism" next time.

Peace, Kim

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

P4E.018 I'm Dying

A friend recently challenged me. He said he sensed no struggle in me. He wants to see my struggle. I seem arrogant to him, like I have all the answers. He wants to know that I'm vulnerable. This really had an effect on me and led to a bout of soul-searching, introspection and self-examination which caused me to write down some things I was feeling a few days ago:

I'm dying. I'm 50 and the realization of my mortality is setting in. Melancholy, gray clouds hover above. I'm realizing how I truly do love some of the things of this world. My wife, my sons, beauty, music, nature, art, languages, animals, architecture. Somehow, I'm just now understanding why people write poetry. I ache. I hope and pray that the things I love in this world are just a glimmer of what the world beyond is like. That they are a shade of what that true reality is.

I focus on the heart of God. My surroundings are dissolving. I see their relative importance fade, dissolve in the light of the heart of God. There is truth. I cower and despair at the magnitude of it. Awestruck.

I'm dying and it makes me sad. People talk about "having no regrets." I have regrets. All of the unfulfilled dreams. The time wasted on trivialities. The spiritual damage and destruction that I've wrought. I wish I'd been more gentle and kind to my wife and children. Less arrogant and judgmental. I wish I'd been more compassionate and empathetic to those around me. I wish I had tried harder to understand others than to be understood. I'm scared. I question my own beliefs. Is what I "know" truth? What is "truth?"

I'm comforted knowing that God is God. Sovereign. His will be done. I feel like I'm falling into the heart of God. Being subsumed into Him. Becoming one with Him. Is this what it means to die to myself? It's exciting, but scary. I cling to what I know; to my senses, to the world. It occurs to me that what I see is not a true reflection of what is, unless I look with spiritual eyes. I know I will be better losing myself and becoming part of Him.

I feel torn apart. I long for God and to be godly. It's an inconsolable longing because I'll never be like Him. I fall. I get up. I fall. I get up....

It's been a few days since I wrote the above. I've overcome some of the melancholy expressed, but I'm still a little exhausted by it. And probably better for it. Who knows what lies ahead?

Thanks for being there...Kim

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

P4E.017 The Humble Improve

Starbucks has an ad campaign of quotes from people (some famous, some not) on their paper cups called "The Way I See It." The Way I See It #12 is by Wynton Marsalis, Jazz Musician. His quote is "The humble improve."

Humility is an elusive character quality. As soon as you think you have it, you've lost it. The more you believe you are, the less you truly are humble.

The larger issue for me is that humility is not a character quality that I value highly enough to pursue diligently. Of course, I can blame some of it on the culture. Our culture doesn't value being humble either. Anything but humble. But hey, if Starbucks can quote Wynton Marsalis about being humble, then I can't even blame it entirely on the culture. No, in the end, it's me.

Marsalis' quote rings true because one opposite of "humble" is "arrogant." If I feign that I know it all (because obviously, I don't) then I leave no room for improvement. Another opposite of "humble" is "invulnerable." If I have and wield power in such a way that I let everyone around me know that I can't be hurt, but I have every capability to hurt you and I can and I will, that is the opposite of humble. Jesus brought little children before His disciples and told the disciples to be like them. Why? I think one of the reasons was that the children truly were vulnerable and they knew it. The children knew that they held no power in the company of adults and were at their mercy.

It's difficult for me to consider others more important than myself. No place else does this manifest itself more clearly than when I drive. "My car is better than yours. What a piece of junk!" "I have more power than you do" "What, are you special?" "My destination is more important than yours." "My time is more valuable than yours." "Where did you learn to drive? Of course, I'm an excellent driver." "Get out of MY lane!" "OUTTA MY WAY, MAN!!!!" These are all thoughts that go through my mind or come out of my mouth when I'm driving.

I need some way to consistently present itself so that I can practice considering someone else better than myself. To consider their needs before my own. Someone to become vulnerable to. I need help. Hmmmm, let's see. My spiritual mentor, Ken Nair, says "Could God be so uncomplicated as to call the help we need, "help"?" You mean my wife? Really? Really. Well, my wife can help me be humble if I allow God to use her to help me that way. Most of the time I'm pretty defensive, though. And, my wife is always there and she provides a constant opportunity to consider her needs before my own. It's worth a shot to improve and become a more Christ-like man. What do you think?

Your Ally in the Pursuit of Christlikeness, Kim