Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Alien

Insomnia runs in my family. My mother, who is 89, still suffers terribly from it. I think it is associated with the anxiety that we all seem to be carriers of as well.

After sleeping like a baby for a month, I've awaken about 3 AM several times this week. I seem to always wake up in the middle of a cold-anxious-sweat. Sometimes the underlying trigger is clear and sometimes it is obtuse. It was clear early this morning.

Last night I had my first "movie night" were we view and discuss provocative movies. Last night was Revolutionary Road. It was a success. Six people, all from my church, came and we had a lively discussion for a good hour.

As I tossed out questions and listened intently to the answers, in my eyes at least, I saw a quick pattern developing. It was my perspective vs the rest of the group. By the time the night was over, it was clear to me (which is the usual case) that I was on a different page and I look very nonspiritual compared to everyone else.

Then, I awaken in the middle of the night having that haunting, lonely feeling like I was in my bivouac on the far side of the moon . . . cut off from the rest of humanity. I didn't just feel like I was on a different page, but residing in a different universe. But I know that emotions and fears call always be skewed . . . seriously so . . . in the middle of the night. I always put myself in the "John Nash" mode (the schizophrenic from A Beautiful Mind) of asking, "Are you (my perspective) real?"

I eventually fell back to sleep. I ran it by Denise this morning (who only made the very end of the discussion because she was in the ER with my son, who broke his foot just as the movie night was starting). She didn't see any issue. But she also didn't catch the two men from church, a few months ago, saying that there is no way you can be a true Christian and believe in an old universe, right after I said I did.

I do feel better but I will lay out the difference in our perspectives and why I feel so alone.

First, a brief synopsis of the movie. It is the 1950s. Frank and April get married and move to suburban America where Frank has to take the commuter train into NYC each day to work a meaningless job (his perspective). He falls into the typical businessman routine including sexual liaisons with one of his secretaries. He and April though, are seeming to be the idealize American family, raising two kids (while serious issues are developing between them). Then they both have an excitement about leaving the rat race, moving to Paris for a personal adventure. That dream is crushed when Franks gets a promotion and April gets pregnant. April is emotionally devastated when the dream fails.

Here is how my perspective and those of the group last night were so different.

The 1950s. The author of the book, Richard Yates, said himself about Revolutionary Road;

I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the 1950s. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs — a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price.

So, my perspective is that the movie rings true to what I know of the 50s and I agree with Yates. I was born in the middle of that decade. But from what I know, I see the materialistic, plastic society within my own family and town. I grew up in the Bible belt but within that belt, everyone aspired to; have personal wealth and appear to have harmony on the surface. Yet, I know many illegitimate children sired by these good Baptist businessmen during the 50s, such as my own uncle. I also remember suicides, closet alcoholics and other dark secrets.

Everyone else in the group agreed with the notion that the media falsely portrays the 50s in a negative light. The pastor mentioned that the peak of church attendance was 1951. No one else in the group admitted any dark family secrets from the fifties as I did. They all said that their families were in harmony and loving and no one had any closet secrets.

But Francis Schaeffer calls the fifties the age of "affluence and personal peace." What he meant by "personal peace" is keeping the facade of harmony and avoiding conflict (on the surface) at all cost.

So, was only MY family and my family's acquaintances messed up during the 50s? It so seems.

Work. The whole group (with me the sole exception) had the perspective that employment is a calling from God. That if you have the right Christian perspective, then work is a great joy. Everyone who spoke to this question admitted that they have this joy about work. One man said that before he was a Christian, that he hated work but now he loves it. He added that retirement is not a Biblical concept and that we should love work until the end.

My perspective (which I didn't share last night for lack of time, and wanting to give others the time to talk) is that work is part of the curse of Adam's fall. We toil. We sweat and most of the time it isn't fun. Not to say that your attitude doesn't count. I mean, there are days I hate the thoughts of going to work. But I do try and keep as positive perspective as I can. There are parts I honestly enjoy.

But in all honestly, if I won 10 million dollars, I would quit work tomorrow. I do see my work as part of my ministry and my part of brining redemption to a broken world but that doesn't blunt the fact that it totally drains the life out of me and I despise it at times. At least three times a week I have to pull over on the highway during my commute home because I am so mentally exhausted that I can't drive safely. The honest truth is that I go to work because I have to go to work because I have to earn money to pay for food, the mortgage and college tuition for my kids.

I did share that my son's (Tyler-22) group says that they never want to fall into the rat race of work that they saw their parents in. That they would rather be dirt poor. A comment was made that if that is true then Tyler must not have seen the Biblical perspective towards work during his growing up (meaning my example I guess).
I was the only one who seems to feel any burden to work.

Dreams and Aspirations. April and Frank had the dream of moving to Paris. Frank, later changed his mind. But this took the life out of April. I personally sided with April on this issue. I really think that Frank sold out to the buck and they would have been much happier if they had followed their dreams.

The consensus of the group is that dreams are a farce. That God wants us to be content exactly where we are in life. That if we look to dreams to bring us happiness, rather than Christ, that we will never find happiness.

But I have a very different view. I see us made in the image of God and part of that image is to be dreamers and explorers. Being content exactly where we are is not a fruit of the spirit in my book.

I love where I live but it came as the result of a dream. All the good in my life came as the result of a dream bearing fruit. I still have dreams. I dream of being a writer, of living on the coast of Italy, of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, of learning to sail, of floating down the Amazon and I could on and on. But when I spoke of those dreams, my view was really frowned upon.

About six years ago we were sitting around the dinner table with our kids. Tyler (16 at the time) had just read a book about a man sailing around the world. He asked me, "Dad, why don't we sail around the world?"

I answered, "I would love to."

Tyler, "Are you serious?"

Me, "I'm dead serous. I would quit my job, sell our house, buy a big sail boat and take off."

Tyler, "Then us do it!."

Me, "Ask you mom."

Denise then rolled her eyes and gave about 10 decent, smart, practical reasons why it would be impossible. They included, my daughter having to quit the volleyball team, the loss of my income and the retirement money, taking the kids out of public school thus reducing their chances for college, that I (Mike) don't know how to sail and that there would be no place to plant a garden. I am confident that everyone in the group last night would agree with her totally. Probably everyone on the face of the earth but me. But I envision myself on my death bed in my 80s. I seriously doubt if I will be thinking, "Boy am I glad we didn't sell the house and sail around the world back in 2004." No, if anything, I think I will feel the regret of not doing so.

So, while everyone in the group last night says that dreams and aspirations are signs of discontentment, not one person lives in the town where they were born. You can't move without being carried on the back of some dream, no matter how simple it is.

So, I'm left today thinking where did I go wrong. Am I an alien in this entire world? But I do hear voices that seem to share my perspective at times. Yates saw the same fifties that I did. There must be Christians who believe in dreams. I know there are humans who believe in dreams.

I have to go but I hope to be back to proof read this. Sorry for any typos as I had to type fast, eat a muffin with one hand and sip coffee with the other.


Anonymous said...

This is referred to as "Growing Up Martian." You're the alien, seeing all these weird "human" creatures from the outside. It's something that happens to me all the time. All. The. Time.

I am just old enough to remember the tail end of the 1950s (the First 1960s). I am still unable to understand why so many Christians look back to the 1950s as some Godly Golden Age. (Not even the real 1950s, but a theme-park mythic 1950s According to Ozzie, Harriet, and Donna Reed.)

And I understand why the 1950s were the way they were. After twenty years of Great Depression and World War, with the country at a peak of postwar prosperity as the only intact First World power, the pull to kick back, decompress, and enjoy that prosperity was just overwhelming. It's Miller Time.

As for Work, "God Wants You To Work Work Work Until You Die" sounds like a dogma beloved by Pointy-Haired Bosses.

My father was a workaholic, whose only dreams were the next paycheck, two weeks' vacation in the summer, and "Getting Out of The Rat Race" via retirement. Funny thing about workaholics. They long for retirement, and then find the forced inactivity kills them. My father only lasted a few years; as soon as he ran out of Work Work Work, his health went into a death spiral.

Headless Unicorn Guy

P.S. I often ask my writing partner "Did we go batshit crazy, or did everybody else?"

He usually answers with a quote from one of the Desert Fathers:

"There will come a time when men will go mad. And they will lay hands on the sane among them, saying 'You are not like us! You must be mad!'"

heidi said...

You are not alone in the world! My husband goes to work to take care of us (I used to work as well before we had kids and while the kids were little got two master's degrees). I'll probably get a part-time job or in my dreams, which I'm working on, become a writer or something maybe that I haven't dreamed of yet. We think it's important for at least one of us to send the kids off to school and be there when they get home.

Anyway, sorry to wander off... there are days my husband does NOT want to go to work. Now that I think about it, there are many days. But, he trods on and tries not to kill his micromanaging old single woman without a life boss. (I am totally behind him looking for a new job which he does religiously haha!)

We both know the skeletons in our family closet, I was a victim of one of them. And, maybe one day our kids will have a baby out of wedlock or do something else. We don't care in the sense that we'll always love them. But I know the pressure you're talking about. My parents put on a "we're a perfect family" front while abusing their kids. Ironically, they'd judge every other family they knew who had done some awful thing. ack! Our own family life is happily cohesive.

I hope you find some kindred spirits where you are, or things work out to where you get to move to an area saturated with a higher percentage of kindred spirits. :) It's cool that you and your wife seem to balance each other out. I think it's ideal as long as she doesn't always squelch your dreams and you don't hurt her with your dreams. Dream on, man!

(btw, i'm a post-evangelical and don't go to church for now, but my husband does. I don't think we'll always be that way but for now it works.)

peaceofchange said...

I believe in having a dream. It gets you past Ecclesiastes...:)JK

Yesterday I had a unique experience. I was in the salon waiting for one of my children to have their hair cut. I sat out in the waiting area where a couple of other ladies and I started to chit-chat. Lady A says to Lady B, "My son is in film so...." I just heard "film" and wondered what he did in film. So, I asked what he did in film. She replied, "He was the producer for (two very popular movies)" I immediately gasped and with a "WOW" we started what ended up being a great conversation. My other kids couldn't resist and gathered round while she gave me an inspirational talk on having faith in your children and who they are and what God has created them to be. Have Faith in what you have instilled in them...To the kids she told them to believe in their dream, to find the passion to pursue it and never give up. It was a wonderful moment. If I were back in the church days I would believe it was a GOD MOMENT. Deep down...I still do. Because as I watched her face...the emotion, the excitement, the belief...she was happy and she believed what she was saying..."Life is an adventure" she told us. I remember thinking as I watched her speak to us, that I used to feel that way.

Now, after being in ministry and having such horrible experiences, I feel that half of me has died and the other half is still weeping for what was lost.

I want the dream back. The happiness, the soul. He promised to "restore my soul". I hope He meant on this side of heaven. If I get it back...I won't let church or christians steal from me that joy ever again.I hope that you won't either.

MJ said...

HUG, I really like that quote. I will have to save it somewhere. It is so true. If you don't drink the Cool Aid (sorry, I know I've used that term too much lately) then you are a nutcase.

Anna A said...

Greetings, my fellow aliens.

Are we all from the same place or different, and just ended up here?

I, too, have/had a dreams.

I've almost experienced the loss of a critical part of me, but found it just in time. Even wrote a poem about it.

For me, my work is a part of me, and my love for chemistry is what I almost lost. (I am making a distinction between my job and chemistry. Some jobs were soul suckers)

MJ said...

I don't think you've shared that poem with us . . . yet. But looking forward to it.

Jeff said...

I have heard a sermon in which the minister said he had your perspective on work being post-Fall, but then realized Adam was given tasks pre-fall, like naming the animals, and such. Perhaps a Fall would include removing some of the joy of it.

MJ said...

Thanks Heidi. I guess I want permission to hate work on some days and glad I'm not alone.

I think there is a very good chance that by the fall of this year, my wife and I will be attending different churches and I hope it works out as well as your situation.

MJ said...


Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books because, as I've said before, Solomon in that text is the Biblical equivalent of Holden Caulfield. Sometimes, when I take everything to its logical conclusions, it appears to be all in vain. I've never put it in those terms before but dreams do add the spice to such a bland soup of experiences.

MJ said...

Maybe Jeff that's why work is such a mixture. Some fulfillment, satisfaction, creativity and yet total disdain.

Anonymous said...

It almost seems like the people you are reaching out to here are not quite ready to see or hear the things that you are seeing and hearing. Perhaps their lives could not survive the experience? In a non-dualistic world, this is probably an okay thing, isn't it? Perhaps these people will see faith differently, down the track, when they can bear to face that level of brokenness? The thing I sometimes wonder though, is whether there isn't a sense that you are breaking your spirit against theirs? If I were to speak these words aloud, I would say them as gently as possible. I sense you feel, despite what you believe, that in some mysterious way they are the people you must convince in order for what you believe to feel both true and acceptable. Regards, L

Johan said...

Just to affirm: I think dreams are important!
Our desires matter. Our imagination matters. The story of our lives matters.
What would our lives be like without hopes or aspirations? What would it be like when it was all practical, pragmatic and functional? (I think it would be something like the collective of the Borg -resistance is futile- but if I remember my Star Trek Voyager lore correctly even the Borg had a secret place they could retreat from the collective to live out their real desires (Unimatrix zero. Yes, I am a geek).) I would not want to live in such a world. I would not want to live in a heaven that has no connection to who I am as a human being, that has no dimension of intimacy, beauty or adventure.


PRS & ALS said...

I think what Anonymous said about breaking your spirit as you talk with certain people is so true. Also, the idea that they aren't ready to hear what you have to say. That's perhaps why they react so vehemently and defensively. Find those kindred spirits to be with you on your journey. It's a hard enough journey without having others drag us down.

Anna A said...

Here's the poem. (I wrote it back in 1994)
Second Love

I knew love
Innocent love, pure love.
Then, the relationship took work;
The innocent joy was lost,
Lost to the discovery
Chemistry was more than I knew.
Still there was love
Wiser, deeper
Chemistry's fun.

The years passed,
Chemistry provided fun,
A way of looking at life,
The occasional friend.

A gradual change.
Work was different
My title "Chemist"
My work, who knows?
I don't know when I lost the fun.

A need to break shackles
A need to escape
A need met.
A shock
Chemistry's still fun
I haven't changed,
Nor has my science.

The problem, a slow deadening
Caused by inattention
Caused by things
Lord, This scares me
For I love you
I know your love takes work.
I have fun with you,
Fun in your world.
I know my love has
Grown, deepened from the first,
I know your way of life,
I cherish the precious friends
Your love has brought.

I fear that inattention,
That things
Might deaden my heart to you;
Might blind me so slowly
I'd never know.
It happened to my second love,

Lord, keep me safe.
Keep me watchful.
Thank you for returning
My second love to me.

MJ said...


That's really nice. It must be real blessing (and I don't like that work much more than "amazing" but it is the only one I can think of) to love the thing you do every day so much. I'm glad that you have found a passion in it again.

MJ said...


That's really nice. It must be real blessing (and I don't like that work much more than "amazing" but it is the only one I can think of) to love the thing you do every day so much. I'm glad that you have found a passion in it again.

MJ said...


That's really nice. It must be real blessing (and I don't like that work much more than "amazing" but it is the only one I can think of) to love the thing you do every day so much. I'm glad that you have found a passion in it again.