Unsightly Graffiti

Thoughts by Paul M. Delaney

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Crisis of Faith Part III: Utter Uselessness

My crisis of faith has many ingredients. It has screws that hold it together. I write of utter uselessness. I write of the utter uselessness of believers when dealing with real, actual problems. The type of problems that cause pain you can feel deep within the core of your being. The kind of problems that make you cry and make you want to simply die.

I’ve got to get personal here. I must recount a chapter of my own history. I will mention no names.

All my life I’ve struggled with the affliction that Winston Churchill called ‘the black dog.’ Depression. No doubt it can weigh me down at times and can make life hellish. I lost a college career over it and I’ve lost money over it and God knows you cannot afford to lose money in America. The response of my fellow evangelical believers to my struggle had much to do with my disillusionment. To think anyone could suffer from such despair was difficult if not utterly impossible to appreciate. It confused them. It scared them. I believe it reminded them of their own humanity. Stephanie Drury, who maintains a blog called Stuff Christian Culture Likes says that Christian culture has a very difficult time with things like death, desire or despair. It’s part of the messiness that is humanity and it would seem a lot of Christians would be content to forget that we are human and that with that comes lots of messiness. Things become about experiencing the joy of the Lord or trying very hard to convince yourself that you’re experiencing the joy of the Lord.

At one point in my life I found myself a terribly depressed, lonely and angry college student. I found myself in the midst of one of the most awful episodes of depression I’d ever had. I had withdrawn from all my classes and the only thing that kept me busy was a part-time job at an Applebees. I was involved in church. A friend of mine had told his small group leader about my situation and I got a call from this small group leader. We talked and he seemed to have the answer to my problem. The Lord told him that I was depressed due to my overindulgence in pornography and masturbation. I look back on that and it was one of the stupidest things I had ever heard in my entire life. It was a simple answer. That’s all it was. That’s all he had. It was a simple, stupid answer. Pornography. Masturbation. Throw in something about deciding to be happy. It was the Christian answer. This is pure opinion. Maybe this is just garbage from my corrupted heretic soul. I don’t think you give people in the midst of such pain Christian answers. No. You wade through the mud with that person. You walk through the dark wood with them. You hold their god damn hand. You listen. You really listen. You don’t just listen for pauses and silences where you can shove in sound Christian doctrine. Why does doing all that seem to come so damn easy to the unsaved? They are fallen. John Calvin says that the spiritual condition of natural man is one of total depravity. Why is the last person you want with you when things get hairy and sweaty and possibly bloody a Christian? Maybe that is God in them. Maybe God is even in those who do not believe. Maybe the unsaved are not really unsaved. Maybe they don’t need saving at all. Maybe it’s the saving that makes the believer useless. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my heretical, earthy nature.

I have a friend. She’s a sweet girl and I’ve had a somewhat flirtatious relationship with her in the past. She got pregnant and became a single mom and I didn’t judge her harshly like many who go to church regularly did. Eventually this friend got deeply involved in Mars Hill Church and went so far as to become a member and get baptized there. I found myself in the midst of another mental health crisis and I ended up having to go through partial psychiatric hospitalization. One of my fellow patients was a beautiful girl who had had a rough two years and had been through many serious suicide attempts. This girl in the program appreciated my compassionate, non-judgmental way of listening and I made a point of taking the time to say goodbye to her when I was released from the program. Two weeks later the girl I met in the program committed suicide. That tore me up inside. I could see the hope in that girl’s eyes even in the midst of her sadness and for whatever reason that part of her did not win out. That was the real tragedy of it for me. I told my friend about this one night and she gave me a simple Christian answer. She killed herself because she didn’t love Jesus. It was that simple. People who love Jesus don’t kill themselves. I disputed this and she asked me if this girl loved Jesus. I don’t know. I do know however that it is unlikely since she was a Jew. I did not disclose she was a Jew since I was not about to leave this beautiful girl’s memory vulnerable to the vandalism of someone’s declaration that she was surely burning and suffering in Hell. Correlation does not equal causation but I doubt my friend would’ve said this back when she was a nominally Lutheran girl who laughed at my jokes.

Maybe I am completely wrong but in my experience, don’t ever call a Christian when the going gets to be more than a bit rough.

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Crisis of Faith, Part II: There Is A Jesus For That

I recall a series of advertisements for the Apple iPhone a few years ago. The damn things were ubiquitous. They were even harder for me to escape since I worked in the wireless industry at the time. The ads were about how there was an application or ‘app’ for nearly everything to be found in Apple’s App Store. Need directions? There’s an app for that. Need vegan recipes? There’s an app for that. I consider the divine and it seems to me there is a god or a Jesus for every single person. This gives me pause. This keeps me up at night. This fuels my doubt.

Once again it all comes back to Jesus Christ. I see two Jesus Christs out there. There are probably more and I’m probably looking at this in a very America-centric sort of way but my perspective is necessarily limited and I acknowledge this. I see a Jesus that is very much like Dr. James Dobson or Mark Driscoll or John Piper or John Hagee. He sees the Bible as a literal guidebook for life on earth. He’s concerned with issues like abortion, gay marriage, personal responsibility, which political party to support, gender roles and he takes absolutist positions on these issues. He’s all about personal morality. Things are black and white. The other Jesus is all about economic justice, emancipation of women and homosexuals, racial justice, being against war. He isn’t absolutist. He isn’t a literalist. He’s very much concerned with acting in this world and isn’t overly focused on the life of the world to come. I know which one I prefer these days. I prefer a Jesus that is concerned with justice in this world and isn’t so concerned with issues of personal morality and theological orthodoxy. That may be my preference. That doesn’t make it true. It would make many people pity me but I must say I do not know who Jesus is. How could I? This was a man who existed in a culture that is alien to our own. How could I know him in a way that isn’t clouded or muddied by the peculiarities of the culture that I exist in? Maybe that’s why he’s great. Maybe that’s why he’s God. He can speak to us through time. He can transcend culture. Maybe that’s what I tell myself. Maybe that’s just a shallow intellectual justification for belief. Maybe I am truly an atheist and just don’t have the guts to admit it.

What do I make of the fact that there seems to be a God or Jesus for every single person? I suppose I can say that God is so big that he cannot be pigeonholed by ideology or theological orthodoxy. There are so many different kinds of people that God must necessarily manifest himself in a nearly infinite number of ways. This is what the hopeful mystic in me says. The part time atheist says that people simply are making it up. It comes down to the fact that man never truly worshiped anything but himself. It’s simply man creating God in his or her own image. It is man appealing to the ultimate authority for validation of himself and his opinions. I straddle the border between these spiritual regions. I sneak across the border several times a day with forged papers. Maybe the fact that I don’t just stay on one side is cowardice. Maybe it’s wisdom. I suspect at this point in my 30 years with little idea of how many years I have left that I prefer it that way. I suppose that wonder has it’s own splendor and beauty. I don’t want to get too certain about it because then I become what I deplore. Once again I have no answers. Don’t come to me for answers. I doubt that’s why you’ve come. I cannot bear witness to my faith. I can only bear witness to my doubts, to my questions.

Mark Driscoll’s Useless Inauguration Day Tweet

Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know. -Pastor Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington

This was posted to Twitter by Seattle’s resident clerical controversialist-in-chief Pastor Mark Driscoll. I am probably being generous calling him that as I consider the man to be a troll playing parson and a ghoul who uses God as a blunt instrument. I am not a fan of his and I judge him and his ministry harshly. I do not support it and I don’t buy the “It’s all about Jesus” line that is used as some sort of mantra by him and his sycophantic supporters to drown out dissent. I should also mention I am not a fan of the Obama administration. I did not vote for him and I did not vote for his opponent either. Now that that is out of the way let me address the tweet (Hate that term) in question.

Obviously Mr. Driscoll is not privy to the President’s innermost thoughts. This is a truism I shall not discuss in any depth. The issue I have is what occurred in the time that it took to compose and post this tweet. How many children died of starvation? How many infants were born into poverty with just barely a fighting chance of getting out? How many people lost their homes to foreclosure? How many workers committed suicide to escape endless hours assembling the iPads owned by so many in his congregation? I don’t know how many but I do know Mars Hill tends to be quite OCD about numbers. Attendance numbers. Number of baptisms. Number of members. What about the lamentable numbers? I know that in the time that it took to compose and post that tweet all those lamentable numbers probably went up by a bit. That tweet did nothing to address those injustices. It did nothing to inspire people to act to bring those lamentable numbers down by a bit. This tweet did nothing to inspire his congregants to alleviate suffering in any practical, earthly way. This tweet in my estimation was god damn useless.

What is Pastor Mark’s malfunction? I’m in a crisis of faith. I am straddling the fence between belief and agnosticism so many would say I am not qualified to speak on matters of theology. I suppose I could counter that I’m not sure who the hell is. Mr. Driscoll’s theology is defective and useless in the real world. He is madly in love with the idea that an avenging Christ will return one day when he has had enough injustice. Maybe that will happen but for now that’s little more than deus ex machina. That can only inspire complacency. Avenging, scary tattoeed thug Jesus will fix everything some day. It’s that mindset that leads to this useless, sad and pathetic sectarianism. It leads to worrying about whether Presidents are on speaking terms with mysterious ghosts in the sky while real suffering goes on. It’s a god damn shame.

Crisis of Faith, Part I: The Narcissism of Faith

 I am a god damn narcissist. We are all narcissists. I detest this. Everything I do is evidence that it isn’t a bum wrap. The fact that I changed my religious views on Facebook to ‘Crisis of Faith’ and thought people would give a damn says I am a god damn narcissist. The fact that I write of my thoughts and put them on the Internet for someone to stumble upon by accident while they look for their favorite flavor of hardcore pornography says I am a god damn narcissist. This scrawling on the bathroom wall of the internet is about my crisis of faith. I am in a submission grappling match with the divine and have been for at least three years. I am not sure of gods or devils or angels or an afterlife or an objective purpose or meaning to our mystery laden lives. I am not sure I care. Some days I believe. Some days I do not. Sometimes that changes several times throughout the course of a day. My perspective on the divine is limited in the sense that it is exclusively Christian. It’s difficult if not impossible for me to address things from any other perspective. This essay addresses one facet of my crisis of faith. This is what I see as the narcissism of faith.

The popular Christian blogger Jon Acuff once wrote a post addressing his “haters.” He castigated his critics for dragging him back to average when he was afraid of being awesome. He said he was actually starting to believe he was created for more than average. He was created for more than average? The eternal God of the universe specifically created him to be extraordinary? The fundamentalist Christian is fond of accusing the atheist of arrogance for the elevation of human reason and the products of human reason like the scientific method. It would seem to me many atheists are quite humble in believing that the vast, ancient universe we inhabit isn’t here simply as a playground for human beings. It is so many Christians who believe an all powerful God intends for them greatness. You might say to me that God intends for his children to prosper and it says so in the Word of God. This assumes the Bible is the word of God and that the exegesis of this divine document is sound. That’s another matter entirely. It is my contention that the belief God intends any man or woman for greatness is arrogant as all hell and is the height of narcissism. Human beings are narcissistic enough. Why baptize that narcissism? Why take that narcissism and shoot it full of divine steroids? I also must wonder if a belief that God intends a human being for greatness is healthy.

I observe. I watch. I analyze. It’s what I do. I see people who believe God has a plan to make them a successful entrepreneur or an evangelist or an artist. I suppose that such a belief could be useful in achieving such a goal since maybe it can become a positive self fulfilling prophecy. The idea that a human life needs to be extraordinary places quite a bit of pressure on a person. What if you fall quite a bit short of the goal you believe God intends for you to achieve? What if you are persistent in trying to break into the recording industry despite a lack of talent because of a belief that God intends for you to be a recording artist and win a truckload of Grammy awards? What I observe most with this belief is a lot of angst. People constantly spend their time wondering if the plan they believe God has for them is really the plan. Did they hear God correctly? Did they correctly understand the significance of every event in their life? Every single event in their life, even the ones that seemed meaningless represented road signs that were supposed to lead them to their destiny and they constantly wonder if they made a wrong turn. That is a helluva lot of pressure. It’s not just the pressure. The tragedy is the tremendous self absorption such a belief entails. A person spends so much time navel gazing. Too much time spent within yourself can only make you miserable. While you’re navel gazing maybe your friends are lonely or in pain. They might need you. Strangers might need you. You can quote scripture. You can give me dubious exegesis clouded by a culture that is completely different than the one found in the pages of scripture. Do that all you want. I’ll point to Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. Murray as Phil Connors is a self absorbed asshole concerned with career advancement among other things. He ends up repeating the same day over and over again and cannot escape. He cannot commit suicide to end it. He’s stuck. The only thing that breaks him out of it is that he reaches outside of himself. The moments of kindness and compassion and friendship that you share with your fellow human beings are infinitely more satisfying than trying to discover exactly what it is an Almighty God intends you to do. Why mystify it all? Why not just accept that if there is a God that he, she or it might not have a specific plan for you? Maybe God wants you to find your own way and love your way through the darkness and basically not be a total and complete asshole toward your fellow man. Why not just forget about it? Forget about what you don’t know about the ultimate purpose of your life. I don’t know if there is a God. I don’t know if God has a plan for me. What I do know is that I’m on a planet with billions of people. I’m going to encounter some of these people. I know that I don’t want anyone to be worse off for having known me. This is all I can truly say with any amount of confidence.

 

This “Employee Engagement” thing

 

Employee engagement. You better be engaged. If you’re not engaged you better get engaged. You had better feel this gig deep in your heart and your bones and your sinews.

That’s what this beaten down man heard over and over in six years at a major wireless provider. What the hell is it? According to Forbes magazine employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This means the job is more than a paycheck. This means the employee isn’t just there to climb the corporate ladder so he or she can drive people to suicide some day instead of being driven there. Every multinational corporation is obsessed with this concept. The logic is this leads to increased profits and increased returns for shareholders. There are other reasons for the obsession but those just have to be the main ones. Companies ain’t in business to provide satisfying emotional experiences. The top officers in your company may be in some sort of seminar with a speaker with more caffeine in their veins than blood and who quotes the great Vince Lombardis of industry like they were the words of holy prophets. This may be happening right now and trust me dear reader you will hear about it. They will try to get you engaged. They will try to twist your brain and your insides into sweet pretzels so that the goals of the organization are yours and the mission of the company is buried deep in your heart. Touching, ain’t it? Maybe the Jerry Sandusky kind of touching.

I could be completely wrong but for the most part this insidiousness fails. The numbers on this nonsense would seem to back this scumbag of a writer up. I’m not a numbers man however. Why? Why is this nonsense? Well… why in the hell should any of us have an emotional investment in our company’s goals? Why should any of us be in it for anything more than a pay check? I can only speak as a lowly, dirty cubicle prole. I was no engineer or project manager or computer programmer. This is a great country but it can be tough to get by in. Many of us are doing what we have to do. Not all of us can be project managers or computer programmers. We don’t need to be assaulted with propaganda about why you need more than our bodies 8 hours a day or 10 hours a day. Its positively insulting. Does it occur to them how much they are really asking? Does it occur to them the cost to us of carving out a space for the company’s goals in our emotional lives? What it means for sons and daughters and husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends? I suspect this has not been factored into this amoral mathematics.

Its bad enough many of us find ourselves in wage slavery. Work is an unfortunate and lamentable reality. It does harm. There needs to be a focus on harm reduction. Yes, I just used a term associated with needle exchanges for heroin. 8 to 10 hours of our day is enough. Hands off our emotional lives.

I Quit my Job

I woke up this morning wanting to do IT. I did IT about an hour ago. I hear Norah Jones playing faintly. I best drown that out with some Ramones. I want to bask and frolic in what remains of my youth. The youth drained by IT. The youth that is still on its soulless,foul breath while it devours us all without remorse.

I did IT? Am I writing openly of kinky, loud sex with a killer clown? The kind that not even Prince would sing about? No. I quit my job. Yes, I am making myself unemployed in the midst of The Great Recession or as some call it The Great Economic Recovery. Sensible people told me,”Delaney, you are playing Russian Roulette with a semiautomatic pistol.” Yeah. It stands to reason I just built the gallows, ascended the steps and put the rope around my own neck. I suppose its sound logic. Its sound and sad logic. We are told we better work or we end up homeless, with bad credit or possibly dead when we get a visit from the cancer fairy when we’ve got no health insurance. That’s brilliant. That’s the shining city on a hill. That’s a thousand points of light. The American Dream is nearly all of us getting held hostage by a private company for wages and benefits. I have to tell you that I see a better world. Its a world where 8 hours of our time isn’t traded for an amount of a dying currency. 8 hours is quite a bit. It would horrify to me add it all up and determine the percentage of an average life that is spent doing God knows what.

I nod my head as I write this and realize I won’t live to see that world.

I worked for a large wireless provider. I came in wanting to be a company man. I wanted to get promoted, maybe find myself a woman to marry and buy a house. I got myself promoted. I worked hard. I didn’t get my woman. I got me a condo and a mortgage though. You wonder why anyone does that. You wonder why you sign on the dotted line and sign tons more than cash away. That Hallmark Channel TV series life never happened. I question whether I ever truly wanted it. I wonder how many of my desires are truly mine. How many of my dreams are actually my own and weren’t planted there by some wannabe Don Draper on the other coast. I stared at computer screens. I filled out forms. I listened to my co-workers bitch and bitch and bitch. I heard them admit they prayed to get laid off. Internal company surveys indicated low employee morale and a rate of employee disengagement far greater than 50%. The suits were out of touch. Hell, they didn’t give a flying fuck. Why in the hell should they? The company was rolling in bread. Their bonuses were big enough to buy Hell and Heaven and all the souls contained there. We got rah-rah sessions. We got video presentations about record iPhone sales and record profits. What? Were we expected to brag to our friends and family about that? What did it matter to us? We bled. We gave up our time. We shortened our lives. We got ulcers for those profits. There we were the work force drowning and our millionaire masters just laughed, sipped some cognac and had another blow job.

I suspect this lamentable state of affairs is the same all over America just with different names and different faces. They tell me be a climber man. They tell me be Jobs or Zuckerberg. I ain’t no Jobs or Zuckerberg. I don’t admire that sort of ambition. I don’t want to be a conqueror to one day do the same that was done to me. Yeah. They tell us to admire the conquerors. They try rallying us with quotes by generals and robber barons. Forget that boys and girls. Your people are greater.

Ask yourselves American worker. What is it you really do every day? What would happen if you stopped? Do you think the McCompany that gets to own your ass for 8 hours a day would collapse? I suspect many of our jobs are pointless. They do not add to the businesses we work for at all. I suspect this is most true of work that takes place in a cubicle farm. Some of the enterprises we work in are gargantuan. It would not surprise me if there are entire departments in companies that have been forgotten. We find ourselves adrift in a corporate expanse. We forget who we are. We forget each other. We forget time. The Reaper sneaks up on us.

What do I do? I dream of a different and better world. I dream but I live here. Its likely I’ll find myself another hell hole that’s a bit more tolerable. Maybe I find a way to do something I enjoy and get some green for it to keep bad credit at bay. The warnings echo in my ears. The warnings that I’ve done something very unwise. I shrug them away. Bad credit and homelessness know where to find me.