Saturday, July 22, 2006

Getting Real

This post is pretty long and pretty personal. If you're not in the mood for some maudlin self-inspection, you'd probably be better off skipping it and waiting for the next fun animal post.

Otherwise, as Custer said to his troops, "Charge, lads, we've nothing to fear!" Just consider yourself forewarned.

I don't know the name of the show or the episode. All I can remember for sure is that Rita Moreno is in it as a somewhat older woman, who invites an attractive, dynamic younger man from her office over to her house for dinner. He's funny and engaging, always making people laugh, but eventually Moreno's character asks him if he's always being honest when he's like that. He admits that he isn't, that he often has random, strange thoughts that he doesn't ever give voice to, because he's afraid people will find him dreadfully dull.

Rita encourages him to come on out with some of them, to give honesty a try, advising him that he can't be a clown all the time if that isn't his true self. So the handsome young man admits "I sometimes wonder why old people eat Lime Jell-O all the time." He rattles off a whole raft of observations like that, and sure enough, he drones on so long Moreno's character eventually goes to sleep while he's talking.

He laughs quietly when he sees her slumped down on the couch, tucks her in with a blanket, and leaves.

(I think it's an episode of "The Golden Girls", although I can't imagine I'd ever willingly subject myself to that kind of torture. Perhaps I was kidnapped by Soviet spies, and subsequently had my memory scrubbed. This fragment is the only segment of the heinous torture to survive, but perhaps I endured even worse, like being forced to watch "Diffr'nt Strokes". The horror!)

In any event, this particular scene has stayed with me for many years, while other, less important trivia has long since faded away (like my middle name, driver's license number, and how to tie my shoes -- thank goodness for Velcro is all I'm saying).

I think I remember it because it resonated with me as something true from my own life. For instance, when I was in junior high school I attended a part-time "Gifted & Talented" program at another location, returning by bus to my regular school around lunchtime. The other kids would ask me where I'd been, and I didn't want to come off as arrogant or like "Smart people school, you idiot" so I'd laugh it off, make a joke, downplay what I'd been doing. After all, I literally "rode the short bus", what's not to make fun of there?

But looking back on it, I was being fundamentally dishonest. Not so much with the other children -- I didn't lie, really -- but with myself. I loved going to those GT classes. They were the only thing that kept me going all too often when regular school was so incredibly boring. And yet I denied that I even attended. I pretended that nothing special was happening, and I fear that pattern, set so early, has persisted even til now, in my fourth decade of life.

Take this blog, for instance.

I avoid anything that might smack of controversy. My politics I leave out completely, because I don't want to offend anyone. I pretend as if religion doesn't exist and that I have no thoughts on it because I don't want to roil the waters. I studiously avoid any negative words about anyone I know, for fear that they'll one day find the archives and have their feelings hurt.

It's a life in denial, really, about the things that matter most to me, much like I did back in junior high. The thoughts and dreams and feelings that I have about a major part of my life are verbotten. Even worse, I still laugh them off with a joke, or a wry comment, or a sarcastic remark ... it's bad enough that I don't engage in the dialog, but what's worse -- how dreadfully worse! -- is that I pretend they don't even matter to me!

I think one of the most powerful scenes in the New Testament is when Peter thrice denies that he knows Jesus. His Lord, literally his personal God, is about to be hauled away and crucified in an excruciating death (even the word "excruciating" has as its root the idea of crucifixion!), and Peter can't even bring himself to admit that he knows the man. It's one of the most human, and telling, and moving, moments in the entire Bible to me.

I've been thinking about it a lot (hour after hour on a tractor or hauling rocks in 100 degree weather can do that -- it's entirely possible the entire thing is just heat stroke, honestly) and I've decided I am not going to do that any more. I'm going to do my best to be honest in this space, to quit denying the things that matter most to me. This approach will likely disappoint many of the fives of you who read this blog. I hope it won't lose me any friendships, or hurt my relationship with my family, but at the end of the day I think I owe it to them, and to myself, to stop pretending like large portions of my life don't exist.

And no, this doesn't mean I'm gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

It does mean that I am going to start writing about religion, to begin with. I'm not sure about politics yet -- I don't think I know enough or am articulate enough to speak intelligently about that. And the climate these days is so vitriolic, on both sides, that I find it hard to imagine that it's possible to engage in an honest discussion, where everyone is seeking to find some kind of truth and not to score points in some arcane debate.

Instead, I'm going to start with a discussion of C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity", which my brother Johnny (one of the most genuinely religious people I know) purchased for me. I've thought a lot about religion and faith over the last five years or so, and I've started to come to some kind of peace about my feelings there. The first time I started on the book, I had a lot of strong reactions and it prompted a lot of desire to write, so I think it's a good place for me to start.

I don't have a timeline in mind or anything, but at least once a week I'll be reading a chapter and posting my reaction to it. Feel free to skip those posts if you like; I'll still be writing about all of the stuff I write about now -- animals, country life, weird tech stuff that happens at work -- but there's going to be a new element now.

I'll just try to keep the "Lime Jell-O" musings to a minimum, and hopefully no one will fall asleep :-)


Hope said...

I can't wait :)

David M said...

I look forward to the new installments. And to the thought-provoking discussions that are sure to follow. And to the new insights into my friend Jeff. :-)

the lair of the Evil DM said...

well I been waitin for the Nekkid girl posts. It's lookin like It'll be a while.
*looks at watch*

Jeff M (blog watcher #9)

Denise said...

I’ve never thought self-inspection as maudlin, Jeff, and this posting is not that – it’s very real and personal. You’ve been coming closer and closer to this point in some of your previous postings, and it appears you’ve decided to finally look underneath the bed at all those things that hide in the dark.

I think people like you who are smart, talented and sensitive downplay your achievements. We were taught that bragging is rude, but where is that line between bragging and being honest? Sometimes I think if we admit what we love to the world, we fear it will be taken away or we lose what’s safely tucked away in the deep place where we keep hope. Worse, we are vulnerable, and that’s a very scary place to be.

If anyone is disappointed by your postings, then shame on them. I’ve never been disappointed in honesty. Surprised, yes, taken aback, yes, but not disappointed. As you post more and more honest reflections, you will cause those who read your words to look inside themselves as well as come to understand you better. You mentioned the part about Peter in the Bible – that passage is extremely powerful, but go beyond that betrayal. For Catholics, Jesus made Peter the leader of his church – the man who betrayed him. What this says to me is there is always forgiveness, salvation and a second chance. What a powerful choice Jesus made when he asked Peter to lead his flock. It should give all of us hope that it’s never too late. Of all the apostles, Peter reflects the best and weakest parts of humanity, and those failings and successes make him the patron saint for those of us who struggle in life to do the right thing.

I went to dinner with three dear friends this week. One finally admitted to the other two why she divorced her husband, their friend. There were many tears but, more importantly, there was understanding and there was openness. One young widow admitted she’s so furious with God for taking her husband she can’t pray because life is so unfair. You know what – we agreed with her – it is unfair. Maybe women are just luckier that we can open up, but there’s always that fear of judgment. My friend who finally talked about her marriage dissolving said she just kept looking at me because I knew the whole truth, and she knows I do not judge her at all. She said it gave her the strength to keep going. For three years, she hasn’t said a word to these friends, because she feared their disapproval. What she found instead was acceptance and a relief that she had finally come back into their lives. She found acceptance through honesty, and it surprised the heck out of her. I think you’ll find that those of us who read your blog are not judgmental either. We love you, Jeff.

But those of us who read your blog do so because we adore the way you write, the way you think, your quick wit, your giving and tender heart and the lovely way your brain works! I’m glad you’re inviting us along your journey. Keep writing; we’ll keep reading and learning and doing some introspective work on our own souls. By the way, your middle name, I believe, is Michael.

Jeff Hebert said...

well I been waitin for the Nekkid girl posts. It's lookin like It'll be a while. *looks at watch*

That's what YOUR blog's for, Evil DM! And where the heck is our next Mystara post?!

*looks at calendar since the watch's time increments are too small to apply *

the lair of the Evil DM said...

You wish is my command. just posted.

John said...

Open, honest and deeply personal revelations frighten me. I fear change.

TexasAnnie said...

This is my very favorite post so far on your blog. Yes, that's right. I like it even better than the animal posts, and we all know I love animals more than anything in life except Jeff. Finding your own voice and speaking up about what is important to you is one of the heathiest things a person can do. Sadly, it's harder and harder to do that in America these days, and it is sad that those of us who feel we are in a minority position on religion or politics feel we will be thrown out of relationships for daring to have a different opinion. If one more conservative tells me I am not patriotic because I have had the gall since the beginning of the Iraq mess to question whether it was the right thing for our country to do tell me I am unpatriotic for questioning the goverment's actions, I might go postal. I grieve over the loss of life there, over our military loss of life and over the Iraqi loss of life. I want our troops to be given every military advantage and I want the gov't to stop screwing with their benefits when they get home -- so yes indeedy sir bob I do support our troops wherever they are in the world. I support them so completely that I despise seeing them deployed without a plan to bring them home safely and quickly. Mostly I want peace, love and understanding between nations. But somehow this sentiment gets me branded as a liberal baby eater. okay, Annie, take a deep breath. I guess I need more of Jeff's calm reasoning in matters such as these. Maybe it's time for him to take over the ranting and the raving and I will learn to withhold some of my very opininated opinions.....knowing Jeff, he will succeed with grace and wisdom in speaking from his heart while I will continue to be openly enraged about the current state of affairs in this country and continue to piss off people who are near and dear to me......

The Cow Whisperer said...

Searching through the last month or so worth of blogs, I can see that I missed a lot.

As your resident "MethoBaptyrianist," I am confused. You call yourself an atheist/agnostic. While I confess I'm not sure what agnostic really means, it seems to me that the definition of atheist means that God is not important to you. Yet in your post, religion is the first subject that is mentioned as important enough to write about, study, and comment on.

No matter what you say about Christ or Christians, you and I will always be friends. I just hope that you won't base your opinions of Christ on the actions of imperfect Christians. Who among us mere mortals (Baptist, Methodist, etc.) can really comprehend a Holy God? Moses was warned not to look at God or he would die. None of us imperfect folks down here come close to measuring up, and matter how many times a person makes the trip to the Christian bookstore, NOT ONE of us will begin to understand God without seeking Him. We can debate all we want, but that fact remains.

It seems America has adopted an image of God that is more or less neutered. "A loving God wouldn't...." By making decisions for God on what He, in His infinite wisdom, does or doesn't do - that is what I call "Cosmic Arragance." I mean after all, I am the center of the universe, so I get to decide what God looks like, how He thinks, what He should or shouldn't do....right? Um, no.

I think lots of folks fall victim to the following:
1) Christian says something I'm not comfortable with...
2) I discover that said Christian has areas of his/her life that are "less than Christian."
3) So...I "impeach the witness" and continue with my assumption that God doesn't exist/allows sin to exist without consequence/has no right to have wrath/will let me into Heaven just because I'm a good person in my own eyes, etc.

Pretty shallow, considering eternity is on the line. Christians will always be easy to pick apart. If I base my religion on what man teaches me, I will be subject to manipulation. If I earnestly seek God via prayer, faith, and scripture, I will be touched.

I'm glad you are reading Mere Christianity. I suppose you know that C.S. Lewis was an atheist. His autobiography is titled "Surprised by Joy." Perhaps at the end of your journey, you will be surprised with joy. I can tell you that even in the throes of grief surrounding my father's suicide, God has brought me joy that is real. And proven His existance. Ask me about it sometime.