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What Would People Think?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thoughts While Sick, Day 2

So I'm still sick. Yesterday I attempted to go into work and got a half day in before I realized I'd made a terrible, mucus-ridden mistake. Today, after the worst night of half-sleep imaginable, I decided going to work wasn't worth the effort. Let's hear it for sick leave! Hope I'm not still sick tomorrow, since I will be traveling.

On with the random collection of thoughts.....

1. The Air Out There

Normally, Atlanta is a great place to live. Lots to do, a variety of cultures, a vibrant series of festivals, several excellent parks, and so forth. But the air quality during the summer in this car-addicted city leaves something to be desired. Especially when smoke from the South Georgia wildfires travels 250 miles to cover the city. Needless to say, this doesn't help when you're sick. And poor Christy, who has used up all her sick leave, is having to walk in this stuff in downtown Atlanta. Breathing is getting to be a real pain.

2. Relient K Concert

On Friday, before the sickness struck, I went to see Relient K in concert. Relient K is a Christian pop-punk group that stands a step above both the usual pop-punk crowd and the usual Christian music. Their lyrics are often witty and/or spiritually insightful. Their music - at least, their music 2 albums ago - is interesting and moderately experimental (for their genre). Thus, I've included a lot of their stuff on my mix CDs. Their latest album is a real disappointment, though. It seems, after finding success with the MTV generation (by which I mean "teenagers") they've decided to tone down the wit, spiritual insight, and experimentation for an album heavy on bland love songs. There are a few highlights, which will inevitably make it into a mix CD of mine....but not much.

So, when I went to the concert, I wasn't surprised to find myself surrounded by teenagers. It's weird, being 26 years old and feeling like a geezer. To the people in my office, I'm the kid. To the people in the concert, I was probably the creepy old guy. It didn't help that Christy had to bow out of attending with me because - in case you haven't guessed - she was sick.

Still, overall, I liked the show. Lead singer Matt Thiessen exudes enthusiasm and, well, niceness. When the opening act was performing, he ran out with a bullhorn to join the song and encourage the audience to cheer for the band. I liked that. I also liked that he showed that all-important willingness to make an absolute fool of himself (i.e. by introducing one song with a ballerina twirl). My favorite moment of the night came when they covered Weezer's "Surf Wax America" off the blue album. In introducing the song, Thiessen admitted they had picked an odd cover since nobody at their shows knew the song. After all, Weezer's blue album came out in 1994 and, as Thiessen told the teenage crowd, "I realize that many of you probably came out after 1994."

In the end, of course, I enjoyed the show by being Ben - full-on air guitar and singing badly at the top of my lungs. By the time they closed with "Which to Bury - Us or the Hatchet" (then the 3 song encore ending with, of course, "Be My Escape") I felt totally connected with the audience of people 10 years younger than me. (Incidentally, this night wasn't particular great for the venue's bar sales. Wrong audience, dude. A bunch of Christian kids under 21, some with chaperones. The bartenders looked kind of bored.)

3. My Character Flaw (well, one of my character flaws)

From concert reviews to introspection, here we go! Some time as I was standing there feeling like an outsider it occurred to me - I was feeling insecure because a bunch of teenagers I've never met and will probably never meet again might think poorly of me. Is my crippling need to be liked really THAT bad?

Apparently it is. In the aftermath of the theological debate on my blog, I called up Zhubin out of the blue to ask if he thought less of me now. Zhubin assured me that he did not, but nevertheless it must have been a bizarre phone call for him. After all, he and I have spoken maybe 2 or 3 times in the 4 years since we graduated Vanderbilt. (Not counting comments on each other's blogs.) Even at Vanderbilt, we were more friendly acquaintances than best buddies. So why should I be so concerned about his opinion of me that I call him while he's having dinner with his family for the sole reason of asking his opinion of me? But I'm sad to say that my biggest fear in writing those 2 blog posts was not that I would fail to represent my faith well, but that I would say something that would make people not like me.

A related manifestation of this problem - after I had satisfied myself that Zhubin didn't hate me, merely disagreed with me, I came across this comment on Zhubin's blog by an anonymous commenter with a chip on his/her shoulder. And I again spiraled into depression that this person thought so little of me. That's right, I was driven to depression by the low opinion of someone I had never met and never will meet who fails to even identify himself/herself.

I'm not sure how this crippling desire to be liked by everybody began - perhaps when I was at the bottom of the social ladder in middle school. But I find myself constantly worrying about what people think of me. This isn't a good trait to have. It's not a good trait as a lawyer - if I get too concerned about what opposing counsel thinks of me, I open myself up to manipulation by someone who doesn't have my (or my client's) best interests at heart. It's not a good trait as a Christian - as has been amply demonstrated, sometimes openly saying what I believe will piss people off....and I should not try to hide my faith to make it or me socially acceptable. Overall, it's a desire that's impossible to fulfill. It's impossible to have everybody like me. Some people are just diametrically opposed and that's that. If I try to make people on both "sides" like me, I'll just end up twisting myself into contortions and losing my integrity.

Not that it's a bad thing to be liked or to behave in a such a manner that most people who know me like me. As a lawyer, it's helpful to my clients if I am well-respected in the legal community. As a Christian, my witness comes off a lot more authentically if I'm not a loudmouth asshole (see Falwell, Jerry...next section of this post). And - hopefully - if I am a man of integrity people will like me for it. But I can't let other people's opinions control me. Right now, that's exactly what I do.

4. On Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell's death created in me a mix of emotions. I've been called out in the past for celebrating the death of people I don't like (actually of someone far worse than Falwell), and I like to think I've matured enough not to do that anymore. But let's be clear - I didn't like him.

Jerry Falwell was a man for whom I had no respect. In fact, I considered him a blot on the name of Christianity. One reason is that I think he's done more than almost anybody else to smother the social/political conscience of a generation of evangelicals. Falwell - along with folks like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed - funneled evangelical political energy into only 2 areas: abortion and opposition to gay rights (and perhaps the occasional Ten Commandments monument or "War on Christmas"). Meanwhile, the following issues were completely ignored: poverty, justice for the oppressed, peace, environmental stewardship. These are all issues which Scripture teaches us to be concerned about. But ignoring them allowed Falwell and his ilk to form an alliance with the business interests in the Republican party.

Whenever anybody challenged Falwell and his allies about this alliance or suggested that Christians should expand their concerns beyond his core issues, he accused the questioner of being anti-Christian. This is what I truly detested about Falwell - his bullying willingness to personally attack anybody who disagreed with him....to question their motives and, if they were Christians, to question their very Christianity. He accused the Reverend Jim Wallis of being "as much an evangelical as an oak tree" because Wallis said poverty, torture, peace, and the environment are issues Christians should care about. He called the growing concern - even among Christians - about global warming "Satan's attempt to redirect the church's primary focus" from evangelism to environmentalism - as if he hadn't done plenty of "redirecting" for his own benefit. (By the way, if any of my Christian readers think it's a zero-sum game - that Christians must be either about evangelism or social issues - I suggest you read this quote from New Testament scholar N.T. Wright.)

I'm glad to say that Falwell's influence on evangelicals has been fading. A new generation of evangelicals has recognized - and taken principled stands - on issues like torture and global warming. Groups like International Justice Mission are literally rescuing people from slavery. Even the Southern Baptist Convention is endorsing universal health care for children.

But for all our differences, Jerry Falwell and I shared one fundamental similarity: we both believed Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to earth in human form, died for our sins, and rose again. This is no small thing. My first thought is to recoil at the thought of considering Jerry Falwell my Christian brother, but Scripture won't let me: "If anyone says 'I love God' yet hates his brother, he is a liar." 1 John 4:20. The Bible speaks of Christians as being of "one body" and makes it quite clear that one part of that body cannot spite another without the entire body suffering.

So, as much as I despise their tactics....as much as I will vehemently oppose their politics....I cannot hate Jerry Falwell or others like him. In fact I am called to love them. I have no idea how to do that. All I know is that I share the same deep spiritual bond with the Falwells of the world as I do with Christians that I like.

So, rest in peace, Jerry. We'll find out soon enough who was right in our areas of disagreement. Or, indeed, if any of the things we Christians fought so passionately about really mattered.


Aaaaaaaand that's it for "Thoughts While Sick." Hopefully, I'll be better tomorrow. I wrote this post - in between sleeping and staring at the television - over a 5 hour period. While I'm glad to get all my thoughts down, part of me hopes I won't have this much free time again. At least, not for the same reason.


  • Number 3 intrigues me, seeing as how I've always seen you as the poster child for the guy who doesn't give a flying fuck what anyone else thinks. I mean, you play "full-on air guitar" and sing "badly at the top of [your] lungs" at concerts. If it does make you feel insecure, it certainly doesn't show. To an extent, we all care what people think about us, and I think our primary concern is not that they like us necessarily, just that they not judge us unfairly. I will say that I guess we are more concerned about the opinions of strangers than friends because we know friends will stick by us -- that's the definition of a friend. (I admit the whole phone call thing is a little weird - no offense.)

    As for Falwell, my unwillingness to accept him as a "man of God", though a former Bible Study leader of mine insisted I should, had a definite impact on my own approach to Christianity. I think it would be interesting to know how many people the intolerance of the religious right has actually driven away from the faith.

    By Blogger Mike, at 5/22/2007 6:36 PM  

  • Oh, for goodness sake, Ben, snap out of it already. What difference does it make, who I am? I am every person who stands next to you in line at a store. I am the guy at the next table, who listens to your conversations. I am any of the countless number of people that God puts in your path, every day. God put me here, in your path. Who, exactly, must I be, to matter? I don't know you. I don't have to know you. I am simply the tool. Take your complaints up with the craftsman.

    For the record, I believe in you. I believe that you and I will have an eternity to hash these matters out. So I actually have no problem with you, or with much of what you say and believe.

    But you should be depressed. It should depress you that Zhubin is going to Hell. And you should be ashamed, that you actually called him and sought reassurance from him. Jesus was crucified for your sin, and to save YOU from Hell. And your response? You're not even willing to offend Zhubin, to spare him from the trip. What are you willing to sacrifice, to see Zhubin saved? Make no mistake, you are not driving Zhubin away, by expressing directly to him, all that he hates about Christ, and Christianity.

    God does not call us to be anonymous spam bloggers. Nor does he call us to be bad air guitar players. He calls us to be radicals, who are unafraid to be all the things that Zhubin despises, if it keeps Zhubin from going to Hell.

    Zhubin wants Christians to just shut up. All of his reasons are sound. His arguments have the ring of truth. If you have no passion for his soul, his salvation, the he is absolutely right--you are offering him just a steaming plate of Xenu, and you, and I, and all of the other Christians who mumble apologies about how mean God is for actually sending people to Hell are only hastening him along.

    Cure your depression. Tomorrow, when you look at a stranger next to you, ask yourself, "Is this Mr. Chip Anonymous? Or is this another Zhubin?" Ask yourself why God put you next to that person, at that moment. Look at them, and say, "Hey, God wants you to know that he loves you, and wants a personal relationship with you." And then just let God do the talking.

    In short, be everything that Zhubin objects to, in all of its obnoxious glory, because THAT is what Christ is, that Xenu isn't--God incarnate. If you let him do the work, you'll be fine.

    And if you do anything less than that, you really should be ashamed, and depressed. Quit trying to please people about God. God will do that, himself. God, through the Holy Spirit, will fill in the gaps much better than you can.

    Don't be satisfied with being Zhubin's enabler, on his trip to Hell. Be a part of his divine intervention.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/23/2007 12:30 AM  

  • Actually, Chip Anonymous (I like that name), I agree with you.

    I SHOULDN'T be concerned about what people think of me. Well, that's not quite right. To put it more accurately, if I am to truly love my neighbor, I shouldn't value his/her approval over telling him/her the truth.

    I don't think that calls for using the direct approach you describe in all situations....but sometimes it does. And I've often been too much the coward to even consider trying. By valuing my neighbors' opinion over their souls, I have let them down. For that, I owe them - and God - an apology.

    [Btw, I disagree with you that I tried to sugarcoat hell. Based on my reading of Scripture, hell is seperation from God.]

    For now....I need to get back to work. I probably shouldn't even be checking my blog from work.

    - Ben (typing from work)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/23/2007 9:46 AM  

  • Hey Ben,

    It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there, first by starting dialogue about your faith, second by trying to defend it, and third, by admitting a character flaw and writing about your introspection for all your friends to see.

    I struggle with the same issue - wanting everyone to like me - and consequently I usually don't get as far as you've gotten on these latest discussions in your blog. I'll pray for both of us, that God will give us more courage when it comes to saying things that we believe to be true but other people don't want to hear.

    Your honesty is very encouraging to me, which is one of the many reasons I follow your blog on the regular.

    By Blogger Erin, at 5/23/2007 9:58 AM  

  • Don't be satisfied with being Zhubin's enabler, on his trip to Hell. Be a part of his divine intervention.

    Please, don't.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 5/24/2007 11:01 AM  

  • Oh come on in Zhubin. The [holy] water's fine! ;-)

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 5/24/2007 11:16 AM  

  • It's irnoic that whoever called Ben out for lack of boldness did so anonymously.

    By Blogger Kenny, at 5/30/2007 12:01 PM  

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