Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Past Four Years: An Explanation and Response

Welcome back Internet. Sit tight, things are about to get real. As always, thank you for reading.

Just over a week ago, I posted a review of the past four years as an undergraduate at Harding University. You can read it here. For a small time blogger, that post generated a surprising and overwhelming amount of traffic and response. While, judging from the written responses I received, it appears the majority of those accurately gleaned from that piece what I had intended to convey, I fear many may have misinterpreted and misunderstood much of my language.

Normally, I don’t feel the need to explain myself, but there’s always exceptions to the rule. To begin, let me note that throughout the entire discourse I attempted to walk the line between being too harsh (citing more specific complaints and such) and being too vague, thereby minimizing the seriousness of these systemic deficiencies.

First: Were the past four years at Harding University unbearably miserable? No, that’s an unfair extenuation of what I wrote. Thanks to several key friendships, with both fellow students and faculty, I was able to carve out a niche in which I found acceptance and enjoyment.

However, even then, I continually found myself running into the brokenness of that campus, which inspired much of what I wrote. Yes, I found a place—a people—through which I experienced fulfillment and formed lasting memories, but that never made up for all the institutionalized hatred and intolerance.

Second: I explicitly criticized the student body and faculty at Harding University; does this characterization apply to the majority of them? While I have no way of honestly answering that, the fair answer is probably not. It’s likely that this is in line with the classic example of the worst of a group tend to yell the loudest and leave the most lasting impression.

However, I’ve never found this to stand as a legitimate excuse or absolution of fault for the quiet. Let us assume the students, faculty, and administrators I mentioned are within the minority. If this is the case, then the less radical, less intolerant, more loving bystanders commit a different, yet equally egregious error: they’re not doing anything. There is no excuse for inaction and silence in the face of injustice. Moreover, why the majority would allow the minority to dominate the public’s impression of them is beyond me.

This translates to a wider stage: on a national, maybe even global, level, the connotation of “Christians” has been marred and trampled by the actions and words of a shrinking number of radicals (the WBC being the classic example) and traditionalist conservatives that exemplify the definitions of stubborn and disconnected. Are the majority of Christians actually that intolerant, hateful, and close-minded? No, probably not. But, for all we know, they might as well be if the majority of Christian individuals sit by and allow such extreme individuals destroy their reputation.

If the minority want to yell and preach a message contrary to the truth of the majority, it’s in the majority’s best interest, it’s their responsibility, to yell louder. Let those around you know, through active words and bold actions, that you’re not like them, and the God you worship isn’t the one they misconstrue. It’s the majority’s prerogative to overcome the minority in such circumstances, which, just in numbers, should be a relatively easy task if attempted.

Okay, so let’s accept the premise that there are serious problems within the structure and population at Harding University, how do you fix it?

With most real problems, the solution to this complicated and entrenched dilemma requires more than changing the text in the student handbook; altering the rules may reduce some of the tension, but that will never address the underlying dysfunction.

The first step is understanding that this problem is not unique to the campus of Harding University or even that of only Christian universities. I grew up in the Church of Christ denomination; hundreds of miles north of the Mason-Dixon, I spent my entire life pre-undergrad within the CoC. The issues I had with Harding University were only intensified by the culture and mindset of the surrounding area in Arkansas. These same issues are almost equally applicable to that church of my youth. These observations are not isolated to one geographic region, one denomination, or one population. The problems I encountered at Harding are systemic dysfunctions within much of conservative Christianity. In order to address hatred, intolerance, and elitism at an institution like Harding, one must be willing to face the source of the of bitter water.

As I mentioned, in order to address such comprehensive problems, the solution must be more than superficial—the solution requires a total overhaul, which is neither easy or painless, but real change never was and never will be.

The solution, as I see it, requires a complete re-alignment of our understanding, our perspective. Too many Christians have fallen into the centuries-old (and beyond) flaw of focusing on the details, while completely missing the entire foundation. It is time we realized that these peripheral discussions simply don’t matter, in comparison to the cornerstone.

Consumption of alcohol doesn’t matter.

Attending church every possible chance doesn’t matter.

Men vs. Women roles and responsibilities don’t matter.

Worship styles don’t matter.

Who one chooses to marry doesn’t matter.

These fixations, and so many more, have typified Christianity. These, and so many more, have divided Christians. These, and so many more, have marginalized the rest of the society. These, and so many more, became the flagship for Christians. Now tell me where you find that in that Bible.

Let me be clear, I’m not discussing right vs wrong, nor am I engaging in some discussion on “sin.” Too many Christians have completely forgotten the foundation of Christianity and instead fixate on the details. (Watch out, I’m about to throw some Bible at you.)

John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Romans 8:37-39, Galatians 2:20, 1 John 3:1.

Love.

For those of you familiar with my writing, and as evidenced within the previous post on this topic, you’re familiar with (and likely sick of) this theme. But, for me, this is the beginning and the end of everything I believe. The verses I listed are common, some even cliché, but these are never the heart of discussions. Christians don’t have in-depth discussions on God’s love and how that should translate into Christian action. Christians like to reference these verses, but then move onto why [insert controversial religion issue] is wrong, as if these were the reason for the entire New Testament. I might be mistaken, but the entire second half of the Bible is built upon the theme of love and redemption. Yet, Christians have become extremely talented at the rejection and marginalization of fringes of society; the same people whom Jesus guy spent all his time with.

It is time that Christians understood the entire foundation of their faith, love, and began to let this one word typify their actions and their name or watch as successive generations continue to walk away. The natural sequential question is how?

There is an awful, but popular, motif within much of conservative Christianity: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Unfortunately, when presented with fundamental concepts of such simplicity, it’s only natural for human beings to assume a need for further explanation. I imagine this was the origination of this unnecessary obsession with minor details while overlooking the foundation.

What? Love. How? Love. Why? Because Love.

It’s so simple it sounds silly, like one of those bumper-stickers. But, that’s the point. The entire foundation of Christian doctrine is that simple, and any attempt to clarify it further only dilutes the original message. So no, those things, and so many more, don’t matter in comparison.

And so we arrive back to the question: how do you fix it? Love. This means a complete reversal of everything we’ve been taught. This means a willingness to lay aside those hindering ancient traditions that are some comfortable. This means discarding any separation of “us and them” in favor of “we.” This means an ability to have disagreements, and discussions framed in respect. This means finding the value in every human being and looking past their exteriors.

The most common critique to this assertion is the question of “real-life” practicality. Is it practical? No, but that’s not the point. The solution to such overwhelming societal systemic issues could never be practical; if there was a practical, easy fix it would have happened already. I’ve never found this critique to stand as a justification for not trying. The only things that are impossible are those that are never attempted.

Will it ever be perfect; will Harding University ever be able to completely rise above the dysfunction? No, but that doesn’t excuse stagnation and inaction. It’s about time Christians at Harding, in America, and across the world, took responsibility for their reputation and rose to the true call found in that Bible.

Until then, I’m going to keep walking my path. Some might call me a Christian; most could say I don’t belong, and, for now, I’m okay with that. I know who I am, who I want to be, and how I want to approach the world around me; I don’t need a label for that. That’s what I learned over the past four years at Harding University.

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Realness

[Note: In light of the recent traffic, I thought I should explain the reason I limit comments to people with a registered WP account, which is that anything less than that level of restriction results in an annoying number of spam comments advertising and posting misleading links. If you’re reluctant to sign up for an account just to comment, but have input, utilize Twitter (link above), Facebook, or email to contact me with your thoughts. Thanks for reading everyone.]

I’m planning on writing an explanation/response to the post that engendered such attention, but it will take time to construct.

This still amazes me every time I look at it.

Blog Stats

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73 views yesterday, surpassing the previous record of 40 something dating back to the first month of my blog. This month has sent a new record for the number of views in a month, which was also the first month of my blog. All those months in the middle, especially the past six, are more a result of my negligence to this project of mine. Thank you to everyone of you that takes the time to read these.

Simply put, it’s time to rededicate myself to this journal, and with new ferocity. Let’s begin:

For those of you who don’t know me—and many of you who do and may not have noticed—there is one characteristic I appreciate more than almost any others, a description that can apply to people, music, writing, art, and life.

Realness.

As defined in the Free Online Dictionary: 2. Genuine and authentic; not artificial or spurious; 4. Free of pretense, falsehood, or affectation.

The concept of realness is surrounded by a number of philosophical questions and assumptions, which I am not going to even attempt to dissect here. For me, realness is the combination of the above two definitions. Realness is the raw, naked, sometimes unattractive representation of an idea. Realness the under-side to an object, where all the dust collects. Realness is the unrestrained, genuine, vulnerable personality under the socially acceptable and expected masks we wear.

Realness is an all around unpleasant topic to discuss. Realness encompasses the topics I was taught to hide my eyes from and play the game of “you can’t see me.” Realness is where I feel most alive, the place with the most life to give—the place where I experience the most pain.

In my life, my relationships, my speech, my writing, I try to embody realness—realness which is often less than comfortable for others, and often including me.

We all, to differing extents, maintain some air of masquerade, lest the dark, hidden pieces of us be found in the daylight. However, I establish and maintain the best relationships with those stripped free of much of our social pretense; people who have no delusions of themselves and their strengths and weaknesses. I listen to music that describes, addresses the world we live in as it is, not as how we pretend it to be. I write stories that usually end in bittersweet tragedy, because that’s the most natural course of life; not sunshine and rainbows, nor doom and gloom.

In my current search for understanding, faith, and love, I don’t have time for personal pretense. I know what I believe, what I don’t, and what I have yet to discover. I am chasing dreams miles from my reach, and anything but brutal honesty and raw effort will not suffice in reaching these goals.

I am the person I am, and I will be the person I will be tomorrow. Outside of that, there is nothing more than the constant struggle for to maximize the growth (or minimize the atrophy) I experience.

However, I am not condoning every inch of this idea of realness. Realness is neither all right or all wrong, but it is all alive and all true. Not capital T truth, but true in the reality of its existence among us. Life, really living, is finding the strength and wisdom to swim upstream against the flood of realness, grabbing the shards that promote growth and well-being of us, those around us, and the world beyond, all while avoiding the dark rocks that threaten to drown the unwary traveler.

Realness is the treacherous daily rock climb to a distant summit, trying to find the sure foothold, while avoiding those that will break away and drop us to the distant floor below. Unfortunately, I fear too many of us look up at that mountain and walk away in fear; fear of the climb, the vulnerability and the potentially unpleasant truths we will find along the way.

We can live outside of the realness, never wading into that dark, dangerous water, but then we will never experience the heartbeat of life, the universe and everyone and everything around us; moreover, we will never truly know ourselves. And that may suit some people just fine. To each their own, but I cannot stand in a land of fake smiles and meaningless gestures. I want to know life in its fullness. I have made and will make mistakes, but always learning along the way.

“I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the texture around it… I always want to see the third dimension of something… I want to come alive with the object.”  – Andrew Wyeth

“I’ve been dreaming of things yet to come
Living, learning, watching, burning,
Eyes on the sun.”

(There is one instance of explicit language, just as a forewarning.)

Lyrics (because the lyrics in the video description are inaccurate): http://www.metrolyrics.com/bright-lights-lyrics-30-seconds-to-mars.html

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My Four Years at Harding University

[Update: This post resulted in a record-breaking number of visits to my blog in one day. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this. I am mulling over the idea of writing a response to this blog post to further explain a few points given the amount of interest and response I’ve received so far. Any and all feedback is appreciated.]

I apologize for the delay in posting this. Following graduation two Saturday’s ago, I found myself semi-living out of my car, crashing on random couches until I was able to return home. Time to get back on track. Strap yourselves in; go get something to drink; this will be a long one.

For those of you who know me, you probably have some idea of what this post would contain. After all the less-than-subtle comments and blatant frustrations, it is only naturally what direction this discourse would head. And while your assumptions are probably right, they are not completely correct.

I have an extreme amount of suppressed stress, discouragement, and outrage largely resulting from the four years I have spent here at Harding University. However, even with that, it is hard to live anywhere for four years and not find some level of attachment. I have a lot of anger, but even with that, I am still walking around with a level of depersonalized detachment that follows such a radical change in one’s life.

I learned a number of important truths while a student at Harding University, but none of the ideas they had hoped to instill in me. Harding University and many of the students and faculty became the catalyst for a transformation that was already in progress prior to my enrollment. I graduated that private, Christian university with significantly less faith in Christianity than when I entered. My belief in the very ideas that institution hopes to promote, was eroded away, leaving me in a state of rebuilding: even to the point of replacing the foundation on my fallen house.

Why? The blatant hatred, intolerance, elitism, and hypocrisy espoused by the individuals I found myself surrounded by every day. I specifically remember laying in bed my first semester, thinking if this, if these people, represent what being a Christian means, I want no part. That brief realization set upon me an entire new phase in my thinking and understanding.

Let me be clear, I am not attempting to compare myself versus the majority of the Harding student body; I am not asserting that I am better, have some higher understanding, or am in any way above those which I found extreme disagreement with. Rather, I am pointing out observable inconsistencies and asserting that I have a radically different perspective than those aforementioned, which (even though certain details might be better or worse) is neither better or worse, but different. This is an account on how my interaction with this style of thinking has forever changed mine.

I entered my freshman year with some form of understanding and faith that was forcibly dismantled by the end of my freshman year. For this I hated that university; for this I will thank that university.

Talking about religion, faith, spirituality in anything more than broad strokes isn’t typically a popular topic for discussion and reading, but much of my experience at Harding University centered around this.

Thanks to the disillusionment I experienced, I now know that any spiritual understanding, any faith in God, or belief in some form of Christianity will now be the product of personal searching, discovery, and rationalization. I know that anything I believe in now will me mine and constructed upon a more solid foundation than that which was handed down to me by my family and hometown church. The path I now walk is a much more difficult one, but one from which I will eventually find the greatest satisfaction. For that, I thank many people in the Searcy, Arkansas area for adding to the increasing cynicism I fell into over the past four years. While many people did not embody these negative attributes I encountered, a seeming majority did, and there came my struggle.

Harding University operates on an archaic understanding of society that is largely incompatible with anything out of itself. Alcoholic consumption of any kind generally evokes suspension or expulsion from the university, which constantly reminded me of a 1920’s understanding of alcohol.

Being of any orientation other than heterosexual (or if even perceived as anything but heterosexual, regardless of truth) not only warranted extreme social discrimination from your fellow “Christian” peers, but was addressed with less-than appropriate counseling and intervention.

Engaging in any form of sexual conduct was also ground for suspension and expulsion, which only added to the shame and embarrassment of those involved, which almost always more negatively effected the female involved.

Students are required to attend chapel Monday through Friday, with often amusing attempts to divorce the “worship” half of chapel from the not-worship part in order that women could be on stage, speaking at the podium.

And I wont even begin to delve into the comments I encountered and overheard during the most recent presidential election and throughout the year following.

Now, the most common retort to these observations is: “You knew what you signed up for” or “then just leave if you don’t life it.” While these are ludicrous attempts to dismiss the justifiable outrage of an unfortunately small minority of students at Harding University, I’m not interested in discussing these. Rather, my frustration feeds from the direct hypocrisy of a university that claims to be based on Christianity, but apparently never read the memo on love, which happens to be a major (if not the most important) foundation for the entire religion and its teachings.

That, in of itself, was the root of my entire frustration and outrage over the four years at Harding University. I have never encountered such an unloving population of people, which would be unfortunate of any group of people, but for this to be applicable to a people who claim to follow a God that is literally defined as “God is love” (1 John, 4:8), is simply unbearable.

My four years at Harding University were filled with almost constant frustration and indignation at the words, actions and attitudes of those I found myself forced to interact with on a daily basis. However, not everything about those four years were negative.

By the end of my sophomore year, I found myself in a new major of study that has and will forever change my life. After a brief attempt at majoring in History, I switched to Social Work and almost instantly knew this was where I belonged. Within the small, but excellent Social Work Department at Harding University, I found a group of faculty and students dedicated to promoting the well-being of marginalized people and populations. The social work mission requires a level of compassion and style of understanding that cuts through and circumvents much of the prejudice found around the rest of campus.

Within the faculty and students of my social work classes, I found a group of individuals that understood many of my frustrations and were equally dedicated to helping any and all in need. This here, with the addition of several core friends, provided the main source of strength and I battled through my time at this university.

Two weeks after graduation, I find myself losing the anger I once felt, and in its place a calm understanding that all things happen for some form of a reason; every struggle is an opportunity for growth. While there are many things I wish had been different, I can only take what has been and ensure that I am a better person for these experiences.

So here I stand, a graduate of Harding University. Despite the frustration, despite the anger, I am thankful for my four years; I am thankful for the relationships I formed and for the lessons I learned. These lessons were not the ones found in Harding mission statements and chapel talks, but rather my own studies that will forever shape my path and direct my feet.

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Ethics Part Three: My Response To The Prior

I’m starting a series of posts on ethics. This series will feature several parts, with an ultimate conclusion featuring a comprehensive response to my four years of undergraduate school at a private, conservative university.
 
Your participation and responses are encouraged. It’s not as enjoyable if I’m only talking to the wind.

The following is my response to the previous post. Some might call it a cop-out. Call it what you will, this is what I have come to understand to the best of my ability over the past several years of wandering.

Over the past few years, I came to understand that much of life is much more gray than the black and white facade I had believed. I watched as one pillar after another fell to dust, revealing the cruel truth hidden behind a lie.

“I ate civilization. It poisoned me; I was defiled. And then,” he added in a lower tone, “I ate my own wickedness.” -Excerpt from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I had been sold an idea, and I have spent the last several years divorcing myself from that bad investment and my own mistakes that followed.

I ran into the questions I posted (and numerous more) and found I had no answers. I held all the right questions, without any of the answers. In the span of a few years, I fell from a platform of certainty to the precarious rock climb of the great unknown. For all the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual distress, I found a deep truth when I fell. All the things I thought I knew stopped being true except one: love.

To say I have been cynical over the past few years would be a hilarious understatement. Cynical is something that middle age men become when they wake up and realize they were wrong all along. I lost every single shred of my world construct. Cynical? No, I was broken. But through all that, I noticed one thing never changed: love.

Separate much of my up-bringing from its Christian roots, and it loses meaning in the sunlight outside the church building. Except one basic, almost too-simple, truth: love.

Even in a world without religion, without any God, love still holds a fundamental position in social functions. Without anything else, people can be united by that simple four letter word this world has so grossly confused.

Murder is wrong, lying is wrong, stealing is wrong are just lifeless statements. We don’t need these flawed “absolutes.” I fear people spend too much time arguing over the peripheral details and miss the idea underlying these social and moral rules. 

I spend a lot of my time talking about love, but the love I speak of isn’t the stomach butterflies, the personal attachment, and emotional rush. That’s not the kind of love I found.

Peal aside the stereotypes, the prejudice, the bias, and stand a group of people next to one another. Despite what we’ve been taught, we’re all the same. You and I have traveled different paths, but we both are struggling through the same human experience in pursuit of fulfillment. We’re nothing more than slight variations of the same organic organization, environmental background, and psychological experiences.

Now, this isn’t a popular concept, but the moment we realize this any justification for prejudice, discrimination, and social injustices suddenly disappear. We are all human beings apart of a global community that is becoming increasingly connected. The natural reaction following this perspective is an appreciation for other individuals, and the blooming of an inherent duty to carry one another.

I believe this moral duty to one another, regardless of the details, is a basic characteristic of every human being, but in a culture of individualism and consumerism, we’ve buried this under layers of lies and misunderstandings.

“We’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy’s name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.” –Fight Club

Let’s turn the conversation from abstracts to concrete answers.

I have built my life around a relative understanding because love cannot be defined in discrete lines.

Yes, murder, lying, and stealing are all wrong: these view the victim as a person to be abused for personal gain. An individual devoted to the well-being of others would avoid violating them in these ways. Are there exceptions? Sure, but the litmus-test is unselfish, unconditional love.

How this unfolds outside the theoretical construct is something I’m still contemplating, but given the nebular nature of this worldview, I anticipate it isn’t something that can be implemented in a defined way. Rather, this is a code of conduct that must be assumed on an individual basis, adaptable to each person’s set of circumstances. However, just because something appears insurmountable is far from a valid excuse for not trying.

So I have rejected this archaic, rigid view on morality. Instead, I’ve chosen a more vague, but ultimately more effective approach. I may not be correct; I know there are holes in my thoughts; I will likely evolve behind this thinking years from now, but this is me and this is the best understanding I possess. In the end, I’m striving for perfection. I’ll never reach it, but that doesn’t lessen the drive.

Aim for an impossible goal and you’ll never reach it, but you’ll be better for it at the closing curtain.

“One man scorned and covered with scars still strove with his last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable stars; and the world will be better for this.”   -Cervantes

This weekend will feature the closing conclusions to this discussion as I provide a discourse of the past four years.

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