Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's Not You . . . It's Me

Of course, we are all familiar with the proverbial break-up line, that the characters of Seinfeld seemed to per-fect. The line is a cover, and in some ways reflect a compassion for the girlfriend or boyfriend, whom you frankly don't like anymore. An of course it is THEM. If it wasn't them, then you would still like them and want to date them.

It has been many moons, but I do remember trying to break up with a girlfriend and it took me about six months. Why? Because I felt so sorry for her. She certainly didn't want to break up with me. I said in many different ways, "It's me . . . not you." But she knew it was her.

But, speaking now of Christian character and behavior, this same thought is key. Knowing that our hearts are deeply flawed and deceitful, we must always be asking (in the face of some kind of conflict) "is it me or is it them?" Of course it's both and the only real question is how much of it is you and how much of it is me? No one does anything out of 100% pure motives.

I've been thinking about this question for several reason, but two came to the surface in the past couple of days.

The first reason is that I watched the movie There Will Be Blood last night. It was a wonderfully acted movie (especially by Daniel Day-Lewis, who won an Oscar for his role). I honestly can't say that I fully understand the plot and even reading reviews weren't helpful. It appears that the author of the original novel by Upton Sinclair (called Oil) was not clear on several factors.

To make a long story short, the main character, Daniel Plainview, was a driven oil man, who let nothing stand in his way to succeed. I don't know why, but he carried with him an inward rage. The movie doesn't tell us why. But he only sees other people, even his own son, as a means to the end of his success in business.

Daniel, in the end, reaches his dreams of enormous wealth (and it was during the depression when no one else had money). But Daniel was so chronically angry, that his anger eventually dove him to alcoholism, madness, murder . . . and ruin.

It makes me think of my own life. I know that I am an a chronically angry person and I've tried to over come it, with God's help, but I must always be aware of that tendency. I could write a whole book on the reasons that I carry anger but the real answers may be a alluding as in Sinclair's Novel.

Part of it may have been my genetics, I don't know. There wasn't a lot of anger in my relatives.

But it didn't help with the fact that from the time I was about two years old, I was tortured (and I don't use that term in a flippant way) by my much older, and mentally disturbed brother. Gary was extremely jealous of this new little brother that came into his world. There was also a huge bully on our street named Les. The two of them joined together to beat me up, force me to eat dirt, worms and cow poop. I was tied up for hours with duct tape over my mouth while they threw darts into my flesh or shot me with pellet guns. Once I was lured to the roof of our house, then after I was there (and I was about 4 years old at the time) they took down the ladder and left me for several terrifying hours . . . until I jumped off, hurting my leg.

Dad was distant ad never got involved in "child-rearing." Of course this was not that uncommon in the 50s. Why my mother didn't intervene is complicated. In summary, she was a victim herself from an abusive father. I think he left her with such a horribly low self-esteem that it spilled over to her attitude toward her children. I honestly can't remember if I told mom what was happening to me, but surely she saw Gary constantly hurting me, destroying my toys etc. But I think that, in her eyes, all her children deserved injustices because she was taught that she deserved them . . . if that makes sense.

I don't know why Gary and Les had nothing better to do in life but to beat the crap out of me on a daily basis. The emotional abuse was the worst part, but I won't get into the details of that here.

This abuse continued until I was about 7 or 8. How it ended at that time was that first my brother got drafted and shipped off to Vietnam. I had such hatred for him that I felt a huge relief and hoped that he would never come home again. I've tried, with God's help, to love and forgive him now as I should . . . but after 40 years our relationship is still strained.

Les was about 6-7 years older than me and huge (very tall and heavy even for his age). But the only way I got him to stop hurting me was to stab him. I'm serious. I know that it sounds terrible but I was so scared that he would abuse me again.

One day I happened to be cutting a rope in our back yard with my mother's butcher knife when he approached me. I usually had to stay hidden in my bedroom to avoid him, because any time he caught me outside, he would grab me, and carry me off to his torture chamber.

That day, he approached me and I held up the knife and warned him to leave me alone. He started laughing an went to grab me, and I stabbed him in the top of his head as he reached for me.

I know that this sounds like I should have been locked up. Les, did have to go to the hospital where he had about 8-9 stitches. No one asked me why I did it, they just thought I was screwed up in the head. These days I'm sure the police would have gotten involved. It became some what of a family joke. I regret doing it, but at the same time, I think I had very little choice. I was 8 and Les was about 14 and twice my size. He treated to kill me if I told on him. I did tell his mother once. She didn't do anything about it as he quickly denied it. Then he made life hell for me for telling on him. So I saw no way out.

I'm not telling this as a sob story, as we have all had unfortunate (and unfair) things happen to us. I'm also not telling it as an excuse. But, I must be aware of my own emotional baggage . . . that I have lingering tendency toward anger, especially when I feel that someone is being disrespectful towards me. So, if I'm having a conflict . . . I must always ask . . . "is it them or is it me?" As we are all products of the Fall of Adam, this humility must always be our friend to keep us honest. The most destructive attitude, which some personality types tend favor, is always assuming it is THEM.

The second reason I'm thinking about this is that I know that I am often critical, especially when it comes of matters of the church. This weekend, there were many exceptions to my criticism and I know that in my broken nature, I often fail to see the good.

The first thing was that church had a wonderful baby shower for one of the daughters of a church member. She is not married, but the church has supported her with open arms and with love.

Secondly, I am leading a Sunday school class about the historical influences of philosophy on both the Church and secular, western culture. The key part of the class is the Francis Schaeffer classic film series, How Shall We Then Live. The positive things I have to say, is that each week, the attendance of the class has increased. There seems to be a real hunger for our church people to understand these things. Also, I know it has been hard for him, but our pastor has relinquished the class period (he usually leads the adult class). In the first week or two, it looked like he would attempt to cause a coup and take over the class . . . but now he is only asking questions (or giving additional information) like anyone else.

So there are good things to report.

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