My Search for Meaning:

September 3, 2012

Pete’s Personal Philosophy Paper

Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment; including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.   -Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Ever since I began to think for myself, I’ve been searching for some kind of meaning in life. Coming from a modest but comfortable background, I was never spoiled by material things, but I never really knew what true poverty was either. Life was often mundane, so I found myself escaping through imagination and comics and later through horror and suspense novels. My parents had taken me to church when I was a child, but as soon as I was allowed to, I stopped attending, rejecting what I considered to be a dead religion. I never stopped believing in God, even in one who was good, but I felt that each person must find their own way to Him. In high school, I rebelled against most forms of authority and became involved in drugs. I was heavily influenced by music and poetry, and I continued to search for meaning through these new outlets. Jim Morrison, of the Doors, led me to William Blake and Fredrick Nietzsche and I eventually found Fyodor Dostoevsky. I began to see life as absurd and meaningless; however, I felt that it was our responsibility to give it some kind of meaning; I felt we all had a piece of God in us that called us to find our place in the world. Thus, I began to look for mine.

Around this time a very good friend of mine stopped getting stoned with me. He said that it was all about meeting Jesus. I laughed about it at first, but we continued to be friends and I saw that he really was different; he had acquired some inner peace that I couldn’t relate to. We had many deep talks and debates, and I began to read the Bible again to search for answers. It wasn’t too long before I no longer had the need to self-medicate. I found my own inner peace with Jesus. I discovered that Christianity is dead when it is seen as a religion, but that when you discover the Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with you, it opens up an entire life of possibility, of adventure, of love, and of meaning. My relationship with Jesus is what determines how I view human nature.

I believe that everyone is conceived in a state of conflict. We are all made in the image of God: We have a desire for purpose; we want to be good; we want to love and to be loved. Yet, we all also possess a sin nature that we are conceived with: We are all selfish; we are all about pleasure, even at the expense of others; we deny responsibility and pass the blame along to someone else. These two aspects of human nature, what the Bible calls the spirit and the flesh, are constantly at war with each other. Which one wins out on a daily basis is determined by individual choice. At any given moment in life, we respond to our environment either through that God-like part of man, or we respond in selfishness and self-preservation.

Our choices are the result of both nature and nurture. I believe we are born with the personality tools and talents to fulfill a genuine need the world has. We have purpose, we even have some kind of destiny, but we also have the free will to deny our purpose. When we seek to fulfill that purpose, when we put the world’s, or others’, needs before our own, we are responding in the spirit. When we choose to only serve our own means, we are responding in the flesh. Even though we are born with this purpose, our environment is usually what teaches us what to do with it. Many people are born into hostile situations in which survival becomes their highest priority; others are born into healthy families that live and teach selflessness and purpose. So, we are born with gifts and talents and leanings toward certain beliefs, but our environment shapes how we decide to use what we are “given.” Environment doesn’t, however, have to determine who we are. We still can choose to be good (or bad). One of my favorite lines is from a children’s movie called The Iron Giant. A large robot falls from the sky, but has lost its memory. It is, at first, benign, and it befriends a boy. However, the robot was designed for warfare, and when it is attacked, instinct kicks in, and the robot begins to destroy everything in its path. The boy is able to get its attention and at a very emotional moment he states plainly: “You don’t have to be a gun. You can choose who you want to be.” The robot begins to fight his natural instinct of war, and ends up sacrificing himself to save the community (1999). In the same way, we have the responsibility to follow the spirit (selfless nature) rather than the flesh (selfish nature) no matter what environment we are shaped by. There are multiple examples of persons who have overcome adversity to become heroes and others born into all the comfort and support one could ever need who live at the expense of others. The choice to “do the right thing” is a daily struggle for all people.

Metaphorically speaking, we are all three people in one. There is our selfish and base nature that seeks only pleasure. There is the godlike selfless part of us that seeks to fulfill our purpose through serving others. And there is the person existing in the here and now caught between the two. Every time we make a choice out of selfishness, we move closer to our base instincts, yet pleasure is only momentary and can never be fully satisfied; therefore, if we seek to fulfill life through pleasure we will never find peace. Every time we make a selfless choice, we move closer to the spirit and fulfillment; true fulfillment is found in giving and having a purpose that meets the needs of others. However, no one can be good all the time, and often the attempt to be a good person can lead some to feel guilty when they make mistakes, or some will justify their bad choices and become judgmental of others; either way, they are in a state of dissatisfaction. It is impossible for a human to exist in a constant state of fulfillment. The closest we can get is a simple satisfaction while we all experience the highs and lows of existence. The key to consistent satisfaction is accepting that we have the potential to sometimes go to the highest level of goodness, yet we are also faced with the truth, that under the right (maybe wrong is a better word) circumstances we are no better than the worst of criminals. We need to always strive to be our best, but always be aware of our weaknesses so we can avoid them. We need to live in the moment, and decide for the here and now what choice we will make. The more we practice making good choices, the easier they become and we find a greater sense of fulfillment. The more we practice making bad choices, the easier they become, and we find ourselves never filled, never satisfied.

It is my personal belief that there is only one way to find true peace between the flesh and the spirit, and that is through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Believing in the power of his self-sacrifice for humanity enables us to live under grace, so when we do choose to be selfish and serve the flesh, we can be easily forgiven, and quickly move back into living for our purpose in life. Believing in the power of Christ’s self-raising from the dead gives one the advantage of receiving the Holy Spirit of God which empowers the human spirit to deny flesh and make the right choices. A nonbeliever can live righteously and practice good choices and find some times of fulfillment on earth, but as stated earlier, none of us can be fully good. Only God can be good. Without Jesus, we can’t reach our full potential in this life, and we won’t make it to everlasting peace in the next life.

I can’t pinpoint one psychological theory that supports my view of human nature on its own, but there are a variety of characteristics from a few that can easily be integrated together to form a solid base for me to work from. Of the theories I’ve studied, Adlerian Theory was the first one that really appealed to me as something truthful. I fully agree that the conscious is far more important than what is going on in the unconscious. I believe that exploring the unconscious can be a useful tool, even a doorway, into understanding what a person’s issues may be, but it is in a present state of consciousness that we live and deal with our issues, and that should be where we find practical solutions to cope and find healing.  I also agree that what we do with what we are born with is central to getting better. We do not have to be defined by our past. Additionally, I believe that all behavior is goal oriented, but we may not be fully aware of what our goals are, or the best way to achieve those goals. I think Adler’s theory of our need for significance and social connection is probably his most important contribution. I believe the two are dependent on each other. When we master a skill that is needed in society we feel valued and important. That leads to self-confidence, and others respect us for our abilities and for who we are, so we develop a social network we belong to which gives us a sense of meaning.

The search for meaning has been such a large part of my personal journey, there is no way I can ignore Existential Therapy. Much of my favorite literature was written by existentialists, but most of the literature focuses on the absurdity of life and states that life is essentially meaningless. It was very refreshing to find that Victor Frankl used the same ideas in his work to help people find meaning. I love his statement: “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked…by life” (1963). This puts the responsibility on us to find our meaning, to find our purpose. We can look into the past to see what brought us to this point, and we can consider where we want to be in the future, but ultimately it is the right here and right now that we are exist in, and we need to be the ones who put meaning into this very moment: Carpe Diem.

Showing someone they need to find meaning in life is relatively simple. Most people already consciously year for meaning. Finding out how one individually fits into the great scheme of things can be a bit more complicated. Because so many of us live in a state of selfishness, there are many of us walking around damaged and unable to take risks. How can people find their place or purpose in life and additionally find the confidence to take the risks needed to achieve mastery and social connection? The answer may be found in combining Rogerian and Reality Therapy. The need for genuineness and empathy is essential for any real relationship; since all people have a need to become socially connected, we must find someone who is an example of a genuine, caring and understanding person. He must be a safe and trustworthy person. This is the most difficult in life, isn’t it? I have personally found these relationships in the church through Jesus. It is important to realize, that no human is perfect and able to be fully trusted, but we must learn to both accept grace and forgiveness and offer grace and forgiveness in our relationships with others. It is only through a relationship with Jesus (the only man who was and is perfect) and following his teachings that I have been able to do so.

It isn’t until an individual learns to trust, that he will be able to truly find meaning. This is when the techniques of Reality Therapy come into play. Each individual needs to focus on current behaviors and learn to see the consequences of those behaviors. This most often occurs through open and honest relationships with those we can trust. The next step is for the individual to understand that his behavior is chosen, and therefore, he can choose to behave in a way that will more effectively reach his goals of finding meaning. It must be emphasized that we can control our thoughts, and our thoughts lead to our actions and feelings. I believe the most important part of Reality Therapy, however, is making a plan. Once we see a need for change, we can be at our most vulnerable, and that is the time we need someone to help us step up to make the changes. However, it must be a plan that the individual takes ownership of. If others are over involved, the individual is not really taking responsibility for his life. Once he finds small successes in a few areas he will begin to develop a new pattern of thinking, and begin to make good choices on his own that build purpose and contribution to the world.

Although I often fail at my attempts to make good choices, I try to live my life by the values I have been taught by Christ through his Word and through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Once I gave my life to Jesus, I set forth on a path of self-discovery through the renewal of my thinking. As I began to deny my desires to put myself before others, and I sought to love my neighbor as I love myself (Matthew 22:39), I was able to see how the gifts and talents I possessed could fill needs in our world. Once I stepped out and took risks to help others, I began to develop stronger relationships and now have many concentric circles of friends and family that I can trust in and rely on when the randomness and seeming meaninglessness of life can drag me down. I am always striving to do my best, but it has been a long arduous journey and many of my choices have not always been positive. When I do fall into selfishness, I rely on God’s mercy, and I get up and continue on my way. Life is a refining process. The Bible states that “we move from glory to glory, and little by little the veil is removed from our faces” (2 Corinthians 3:18). In other words, when we make the choice to live righteously, by God’s grace we are able to become better people and gain more understanding of our purpose in life through our ever-increasing knowledge of our Father and Creator.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”   -Jesus Christ (The Gospel of John 3:16-21)

Peter L Richardson
10/16/2007

References:

Brothers, Warner. (1999). The Iron Giant. Burbank: Time Warner Company.
Christ, Jesus. (~30). The Gospels of Matthew and John. Judea: The Holy Bible.
Frankl, Victor. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Washington Square Press.
Paul, The Apostle. (~55). The Second Epistle of Corinthians. Some Roman Jail: The Holy Bible.
Solomon, King. (~930 BC). Ecclesiastes. Israel. The Holy Bible.

“Religion can be the enemy of God. It’s often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there once was conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”  -Bono

Americans like big things, and we like them to come easy and convenient. 7-Eleven’s Super Big Gulp just keeps getting bigger and bigger! Pretty soon, they’ll come in keg-size. At the same time, we want all of our news wrapped up in 3 minute sound-bites; just enough to keep us informed, but not enough to force us to think. We want our sitcoms and dramas polished up in a half hour to an hour, just enough to tug the heart, but not enough to move us to change. And if it’s not on the internet, why read anything at all? If I can’t hold it in the palm of my hand; it simply isn’t worth my time. Why work for anything when it’s all handed to me? This culture of apathy and entitlement is the result of a corrupt form of the American Dream, and just as Americans have grown increasingly fat and lazy in caring for our minds and bodies, we have allowed this corruption to seep into our spiritual lives as well. While a few superstars with large followings existed in American Christianity the last half of the 20th Century, the new millennium brought on the advent of the mega-church. Churches with 1,000+ members have popped up all over the country while their leaders boast of the number of souls that are saved and contribute tithes to the ministry, but just as the super-mega-Big Gulp is full of empty calories and has no nutritional value, most of these churches produce little in the way of true converts because they are focused on numbers and membership rather than on crafting real discipleship for their members. In fact, many modern American churches preach little of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in effort to “tickle men’s ears” and become “more seeker friendly.” What does this say of the God we worship if we have to sugarcoat who he is just to get people interested?  Jesus himself said that we would be outcasts in the world, and we would have a cross to bear. How many hypocrites exist in the church because they haven’t really met Jesus yet? How many sincere people have fallen from their “faith” because they were promised a party, and when hard times hit, they had no guidance in how to use their faith to walk through? Jesus doesn’t promise us freedom from trials in this world; in fact, he openly tells us that in this world we will have trouble, but he adds, “cheer up! I have defeated the world” (John 16:33, CEV).

Make no mistake: If you align yourself with Christ; your faith will be challenged. From the beginning of this age God Almighty has had an enemy, a rebel angel, whose only real way of hurting Him is to hurt the ones He loves, mankind. Since Satan can’t fight God and win, he has set out to spread his seeds of lies, corruption and rebellion among us. Satan knew that God’s righteous justice would force him to condemn us in our sinful state. Just as he separated himself from God, his desire is to tempt every human being to rebel against God and so be separated with him in Hell. The Apostle Paul tells us, “We are not fighting humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world” (Ephesians 6:12, CEV). We humans, however, do have a choice on whose side we will fight. Stepping out of the battle is not an option. If you choose not to fight, you will get run down and flattened by Satan. The worst part is, you probably won’t even recognize it, he is such a fine manipulator and perverter of the truth, that he can make many people think they are on the side of good when they are actually being selfish. Yet, little by little, the selfish nature increases, and eventually these people end up empty and unfulfilled. The Apostle James states, “We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead” (James 1-14-15, CEV). It seems like a losing battle, and if we stand alone, it is. Think of a tug of war. I once volunteered at a camp that had competitions between the different groups of kids. One was the tug of war. Each group would line up on the rope and struggle to pull it to their side. What if all the teen counselors competed against the campers? They might last a little while, but it won’t be long before they would be dragged away to their enemy’s side. It is like this with Satan’s temptations and our effort to pull away in our own strength. He knows our weaknesses and he plays against them.

So what’s the point? If it’s this hard to follow God, then why bother? Because he has promised and provided a way out, and that way is Jesus. We are born into sin, and that sin requires that God punish us in his righteous justice; however, Jesus took our punishment on the cross, and after dying for us, resurrected himself and gave us access to eternal life. Jesus says, “A thief comes only to rob, kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in its fullest” (John 10:10, CEV). However, Jesus did not promise to just pull us from our troubles. What he has done, is promise to walk alongside us in them. Think of the tug of war again. We are like a young child camper, Satan is like a rebellious bratty teenager; we are getting the tarp beat out of us, until Jesus, a world class body builder, shows up and grabs the rope with us. It is a paradox in that he doesn’t take us out of the fight, but he handles the fight for us. Without him, we are lost. With him, we can do anything he allows us and calls us to do. But he expects us to fight, first defensively, and when we have learned skill in battle with the enemy, he sends us on the offensive. Why doesn’t Jesus just take us out of our troubles? Because, we would never learn to grow otherwise; we would spend the rest of eternity ignorant and trapped in our sinful mindset. We would be virtually useless for advancing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth and bringing others into a saving knowledge of Christ. Think about a child whose mother always gets him out of trouble; he never pays the consequences of his negative actions. What kind of adult will this young man become? A lazy drain on society at best, a criminal at worst, unless he comes to his senses when the bruises of life begin to beat him down. This is the mentality of American society, and the essence of our apathy and entitlement. We have had too many generations that have fed off the prosperity of the hard working Americans of the past, but not having experienced the opportunity to work for their own achievement, they become dependant on hand outs. The Apostle Paul teaches us, “We also gave you the rule that if you don’t work, you don’t eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, CEV), but Jesus also encourages us, “This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light” (Matthew 11:30, CEV). The work that Lord requires of us is simple. He expects us to begin a relationship with him, and to walk with him on a journey that will challenge us and develop our characters into strong and faithful servants and soldiers in the heavenly realms, so we can eventually go out into our call of adventure he has planned for us since the beginning of time. But we must make the choice to take that journey. We cannot save ourselves, our salvation is in faith in Christ alone, and our strength for the journey only comes from believing and trusting him. We must trust him in order to be able to follow him into battle. A Christianity that is only two hours a week just won’t cut it, but there are some practical things we can do to put our faith into action.  

The first thing you need to do is to pray. You cannot have a relationship with someone unless there is active communication between the two of you. God always hears us and answers us in his time; however, hearing him often takes time and practice. How do we learn to do what he wants? How do we learn to recognize his character and voice when he speaks to us in the quiet of our souls? Read the Bible. The Bible is called God’s Word; it is his message to humans to teach us how to live in peace and joy because he loves us. However, understanding some parts of the Bible can be very difficult for new believers. What do we do when we don’t understand it, or when we are having a hard time following it? Find a mentor. This is where true discipleship comes in. Every Christian needs someone stronger in the faith, or at least equal to them, someone to lean on when struggles hit them as they surely will. You need someone who can answer your questions, you need someone to hold you accountable when you are struggling with sin, you need someone to help you with practical things like moving, you need friends to hang out with that will build you up and encourage you instead of dragging you down. How can you find these people? You need to find a healthy church to fellowship in. Unfortunately, there are many churches that have watered down the gospel at best, and corrupted it into something false at worst, but you must find fellowship. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. You will eventually get shot down. You must trust that God is good and he will bring you to a good fellowship at some point on your journey. You job is simply to keep walking it out with him. Christianity is a religion based on relationship, first to God, then to our brothers and sisters in the faith, and finally to the lost: those to whom we are called to be witnesses of the love and peace that our God offers to those willing to submit and take up their crosses in the training grounds of life.  

 Peter L Richardson

“These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do; One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you…”
                         -Nancy Sinatra

In 50 years women will rule the world. I first noticed this disturbing trend while teaching one of my honors classes. As I looked around during a debate all I could really see was soft skin, big bright eyes, and hair flowing from all angles of the room. Each side took their stance and began their arguments with poise and grace; the pitch of their voices rose higher and higher as the debate raged on. Pastels and perfume crowded my senses. The sugar and spice estrogen in the room was so thick, my head started to spin. 

“Where are all the boys?” I wondered. I had completely lost track of the debate. I didn’t know which side was winning; I didn’t care. All I could think about was why wasn’t I hearing nary an adam’s apple among all this talking? Of course there were a few males bedecked about the room; but none of them seemed to have an interest, much less an opinion, about whatever human issue was the focus on this unit’s debate. Were they silent because there was so few of them? And why were there so few males in an honors class anyway? Upon closer inspection, I found that not only were there less males in my honors classes, but the majority of the females outperformed every one of them. In each class the top student was a female every time, and she was usually ahead of the males by a significant number of points. I raised my concerns in the faculty lunch room and found the trend was happening in all subject areas!

We have generations of history that proves men are intellectually superior to women, so this can’t be an issue of man lacking the ability to rise to the occasion. I had to discover what the cause of this mental impotence could be. I interviewed several of my male students and the conclusive evidence is as simple as it is disturbing. They were just lazy: “But Mr. Richardson, I don’t feel like doing that much work!”  “But why should I worry about it? My mommy does everything for me anyway!” “But I don’t have time to do any work! I have to play Madden and World of Warcraft!” These young men were adamant that their time was somehow used wisely and they shrugged me off as some old curmudgeon who was outdated and antiquated. Women who are dissatisfied with their male bosses taking credit for their ideas, and their male coworkers making more money for less work need not be frustrated much longer. They need only wait for this generation of VPs and CEOs to retire or die.  There will be few males, if any, competent enough to take their places.

Who is to blame in this disturbing trend of male incompetence? Obviously not men! The feminists have taken the feminine out of female, and as a result men are left emasculated. What started as liberation has become full blown revolution! It started subtle, but women have slowly been taking over for decades now. It began with an infiltration of the universities. While most men were out doing physical labor and fighting in wars, women slowly began to over-populate the institutions that shape the next generation of world leaders. I remember an incident in the 90s on the campus of University of Delaware when I ignorantly committed a heinous crime against women. I was exiting a dormitory and I held the door open for the person behind me. She grabbed it out of my hands and snapped, “What? You think I’m too weak to push open a door?!” She muttered expletives as she walked away. I was dumbfounded. I was frozen in speech and in step. Women have crossed the line of gaining equality with men to becoming exactly the same as men in everyway. Think of Angelina Jolie. The truth is, girls that kick ass are sexy. Guys line up in droves to see this female action hero of the new millennium, but gentlemen, what are you going to do when your woman is able to kick your fat couch-potato-ass? Are you ready to be the mansel in distress? Are you ready to be dominated and tied to all four corners of the bed? Perhaps I’m overreacting: Only men watch those movies anyway, you’re probably thinking, chick still just dig chick flicks! Not so anymore. Take a break from the Xbox 360, and flip through the cable listings. Look at the Lifetime Channel: “Television for women, by women.” The sappy chick flicks are steadily being replaced by Resident Evil and similar movies with a heroine that is as hard and bad ass as any man ever was. Take a look at the content of the popular series, Sex in the City. If you could stop paying attention to Kim Katrell’s boobs for a minute you will see that these chicks are just men without penises. They live out every male’s fantasy as they move from lover to lover without consequence. No more girls crying at the bedside, they are the one’s sneaking out in the middle of the night these days. No more worries about inconvenient babies in the age of easy access abortion! But what if she wants a baby? Consider Jennifer Aniston’s new movie, The Switch.  What’s the point of getting a man involved in the first place? Kids don’t really need a dad anyway. They just sit around, drink beer, watch sports, play video games, and search online porn (What? It’s not cheating, if there’s no physical contact, right?). Gentlemen, how did we get to this point? It is not an easy pill to swallow, but I may have the answer.

Consider this: Single Moms and Sugar-Ma-Mas. Gentlemen, while you thought you have been riding the gravy train, the fact of the matter is that women have gotten used to living without your help. Single Moms have had to learn to cope and survive without any help from “dad.” They have found out they can have successful careers, and even though daycare is raising their children, it’s better than dealing with some inconsistent bum who doesn’t show any of them any affection anyway, or worse, spends his time abusing the ones he supposedly loves. But some guys still know how to “treat” their women. They got game where it counts and they make their women feel like natural women for at least 10 minutes at time. They take pride in all the Sugar-Ma-Mas they acquire. More and more these men are becoming dependant on their Sugar-Ma-Mas. These young boys spend all day smoking weed and playing Call of Duty instead of discovering their own call and stepping up to their own duties. They think they live the thug life, but they wouldn’t survive without the naïve and generous resources of their multiple female partners. The truth is, men, you simply aren’t needed anymore. What is the result of this disturbing trend? If nothing is done to turn the tide, I predict that within one to two generations the male species will be reduced to slaves and pets whose only real value will be for grunt labor, physical pleasure, and sperm donation to keep the earth populated.  

But gentlemen, before you punch a hole in the wall, or lose yourself in a stupor of alcohol, or begin to passively aggressively ignore your partner, fear not! I have a solution! I have spent much time observing the situation and there is only one course of action that can be taken. Women have spent the last half century learning to how to fill the manly roles you abandoned, but they still have one fatal weakness. They still are not immune to emotion. Men, the secret is simple. Talk to them. Ask them how they feel, and really listen to the answer. Women will let you into their deepest darkest secrets if they sense they can trust you. But to listen, you must be present. Tell your homies you gotta go. Get off the streets, stop dealing drugs and get a real job. Show your woman you can be relied on. Turn off you Xbox and do your homework. Begin to work your way back into the universities. Learn the pride and self-respect of accomplishment. Learn the art of Chivalry again; regain your strength and manhood. Use it to protect her and not to abuse her; open up the door for her and pull out her chair. She secretly loves it, but fears giving you that kind of power. Show her you can be trusted with power by being man enough to share that power in equality: Be vulnerable with her. Show her you will love, honor and respect her for who she is and not just use her for what she can give. Take back the children you spawned and be a father to them. Teach them to be responsible adults. Teach your sons how to respect themselves and how to respect women. Teach them how to love a woman and not just use her for a cheap orgasm. Teach your daughters how to love and respect their future men. It is a simple task: just be a man that your daughter can love and respect. Show her how she should expect to be treated by her man through the way you treat her mother.

Gentlemen, with these simple steps we can turn back the tide and restore balance to the universe. Only you can accomplish this deed! Only you can make the difference! Only you can make the change! The only way is to be there for your children so you can influence them the right way. The only thing that should stand between you and your child is death. Think about it. A day where every child has a father and a mother who loves him and teaches him how to give instead of take. Every child living in security knowing that both parents who conceived her have her back and will encourage her to reach her fullest potential. It is possible, but only if today’s men step up.  

“It seems to me that it is men more than women who today have to become knights and honorable. If enough honorable men stand up, that’ll be a quiet revolution. That’ll produce stable families and stable children who will take over the world.”  -Peter Kreeft, http://www.worldmag.com/articles/16886

Peter L Richardson
8/16/10

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”  The Gospel of John 6:51-56

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospel of John 1:1

A while back my son woke up earlier than usual and he caught me reading my Bible in the early hours of the morning.

“Dad, I know the Bible is important, but why do you read it everyday?” he asked. “I mean, seriously, you should have a pretty good idea of what’s in it by now!”

I was glad he asked, but he took me off guard and I found myself giving him a knee jerk answer that was more religious doctrine than truth, “Well, son,” I began, “the Bible itself teaches us to. In the Old Testament, God says that ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The Bible is God’s Word, so we literally need it to survive spiritually, just like our physical bodies need food on a regular basis to survive.”

“But why everyday?”  He replied, “Don’t you learn enough from church every week?”

“It’s like this,” I said, “church is more like a weekend feast or party. We can go more than a day without food, but we are weaker without it. It is the same thing with what God teaches in his Word. If we only fill up once a week, we lose strength throughout the week. We need a daily reminder of the right way to live, and the more you read, the better you’ll be able to understand Sunday sermons, or witness to friends who are seeking or challenging your faith, and even to judge false teachings. When Jesus told us to pray for ‘daily bread,’ I think he meant more than just food.”

“Oh,” he pondered for a moment, “Well, speaking of food, I’m pretty hungry, can I get some pancakes?”

And that was the end of that conversation. I’m not saying I told him anything wrong, but I stopped short of the genuine reason why I read my Bible everyday, and why it’s the first thing I do after I get out of bed. 

Many people see the Bible only as a book of rules to live by, full of stories about people who are just examples of what we should or shouldn’t live like. They consider the Bible to be a blueprint of how you are supposed to live your life: If you just follow these rules then you should get good results and end up generally happy. I agree to an extent, but if you stop there, it really doesn’t matter what religion you follow. If your goal with Christianity is simply to live a good life and follow the rules the best you can, then you really don’t know what the Bible teaches, and your faith is stagnant, dead and useless.

Consider this. Think about a historical figure you admire and respect for whatever reason. He could be a fierce warrior, she could be a gallant queen, or maybe a simple person of good character who was in the right place at the right time and changed the course of history. Many of these people have written their thoughts down and published them; many witnesses of their time have written their testimony of when they met so and so. The more we admire a person, the more we seek to read about them and want to get to know them. The Bible, at its simplest level, is a document about a Triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is His proof of existence. It is His thoughts about philosophy, psychology, government, love, and life in general. It tells the story of how he interacted with the world in the 6,000 or so years of history it covers. In it, this God claims to be Creator, and he tells us how he expects us to act and teaches us things about faith and forgiveness. How is this book proof he exists? How do you know Julius Caesar existed? Or Plato? Or Homer? The further we go back the less reliable the witness, right? But let’s take this analogy a bit further. Let’s say one day an ancient library is uncovered, and someone finds letters from your favorite historical figure. Amazingly, these letters are addressed to you! How could this person know about you before you were born? This is what the Bible is in addition to a Rule Book, or a collection of stories and poems; it is a letter from the God of the Universe to you. It is a letter He has written to all of his children. He wants you to know who you are and what your heritage is. He wants you to discover what the meaning of life is and what your individual purpose in all of it is. You may ask, aren’t these letters still just rules to live by? What makes them so personal?

Consider this. Think about a woman who loses her husband in war. What do you think her greatest treasure will be? It will be his love letters to her, the things he left behind that reminds her of the bond and connection they once shared, and even still share. Jesus gives us the metaphor that he is the groom and the church is his bride. It is a classic love story of the knight in shining armor riding on a white horse to save the damsel in distress from the evil dragon, except in this case the dragon thought he killed the knight. But our Savior is not just a great man who died for his beliefs or a cause that was greater than him. No, our Savior’s death was the cause he came to fulfill, because he was the only one worthy to take it on, and the only one who could defeat the very death he allowed himself to endure. Our Savior has risen from the grave and is alive and well and longing for the day he can be reconnected with the bride he loves so deeply. When you open your heart to it, the Bible is a collection of love letters God has written to humanity, to his children. When you study the words of God, it is like studying the desires and thoughts and words of your lover. A man in love will do anything to please his woman; he knows what kind of flowers she likes, he knows the way she takes her coffee, he knows her pet peeves and seeks to avoid them. It just the same with God. He already knows us with an intimacy to the core; he longs for us to know him. The more we read his Word, the more we learn of him. Just like a woman falls deeper in love with a man who proves to know her, and seeks to please her, when we actually follow God’s word and trust him and seek to live righteously, it brings us to a deeper intimacy with him. But this is still not the deepest level the Bible offers us. Letters are good, but without experiencing the man behind the letters, you can’t really get to know him. You can’t have true intimacy with a book. There is more God’s Word has to offer.

Consider this. The Bible is more like instant messaging than letters from a distance. The Bible is the Living Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” This means that we can interact with scripture: we can question it, seek deeper understanding, and ask for greater wisdom. How is this possible? You cannot talk to a book. But this very book teaches us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Gospels teach that Jesus Christ is the very Word of God that spoke creation into existence, that raised Lazarus from the dead, and raised himself up, and yes, that inspired the prophets, priests, poets and apostles that physically wrote down the books of the Bible. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).

When you read the Bible, you are actually interacting with a Person. It is a two-way conversation. The words you read are coming straight from the Lord; they are his thoughts, desires and hopes he longs to share with you. And your response is instantly known by him. If you scoff at him, he will draw back, not in fear, but out of respect for your individuality and free choice to do so. You will not be privy to deeper revelation. If you seek to follow his advice, he will strengthen your spirit and resolve; if you seek more revelation he will quietly speak to you. When you sit with the Word of God open, and read the words on the page, you are literally sitting with God. It is a relationship as much as the one you have with your wife, your kids, and your best friend. You can speak to God just the same. Consider when you spend time with others; does everything you say have to be a request? Don’t you tell your wife things about yourself that no one else knows, simply to share your heart with her? Don’t you ever sit quietly with your kids, or better yet, play with them, and there need not be words, just the sharing of experience? Don’t you ever just joke around with your best friend, just for the fun of it? God longs for you to share yourself with him and for you to let him inside of you. Sometimes reading the Word will result in more wisdom and maybe even inspire a teaching or word for someone else. Sometimes we will get comfort in tragedy; a word of encouragement can literally feel like a hug from God. Sometimes he will give us direction for a certain circumstance or situation. Sometimes, and more often than not, it’s just a simple conversation that can be full of joy and laughter; it is about spending time with each other and getting to know one another. As Creator, He knows all humans beings inside and out, but he does not force us to know him; he gives us free will. The depth of intimacy between you and God Almighty depends on your desire to know him. He calls us to seek for him. He created us to long for truth, and only he can provide that truth, because he is the Truth. The revelation of the great mystery of the ages is simple: God loves you and wants you to love him back. Now the response to that should radically change your life, but the Truth itself is simple to grasp. That is why many men and women who consider themselves wise by the world’s standards never find him, they can’t accept a Truth so plain, and likewise, why many more simple men and women have discovered the profound mystery of life, and sleep in peace at night.

This why Christianity has been called: “a relationship, not a religion.” Instead of just following a group of rules and doctrines that have been passed down over the centuries, a true Christian has a genuine interactive relationship with his God. The Bible is a key part of that relationship. It is through the Bible that we learn the language and character of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).This takes time, but just as with any other relationship, the more time you spend with a person, the more intimately you know his/her mannerisms, patterns of speech, type of character, etc. Having knowledge of the Bible will guard you from being deceived by other voices disguising themselves as God (or some form of wisdom), including your own.

This begs the question, “What about those people who don’t have access to a Bible?” Obviously, they will lack wisdom and intimate knowledge of their Creator, but they can still have a relationship with God. The Word frequently says that creation declares the glory of God, and the Apostle Paul makes the argument in Romans that the combination of nature’s splendor and the moral law of right and wrong that is written in everyman’s heart (in other words, his conscience), reveals the existence of God, and they should seek to know him through him that revelation. It is a mystery we cannot understand in our current fallen state (at least the understanding has not been revealed to me), but God says “If you seek for me, you will find me” (Deuteronomy 4:29 & Jeremiah 29:13), and Jesus later says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Throughout the ages, men have longed to know truth; what they are really seeking is Jesus. I believe Truth-Seekers who are not yet Christians are closer to God than many in the church who claim to know him. The Bible says, ergo God says, “If you seek for me you will find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” For the seeker who is honest and genuine, God will make the path to the Truth, to Jesus, clear in some way.

Additionally the question must be asked, “What about the thousands of people who claim the mark of Christ but don’t really seek to know him?” Their Bibles and Christian paraphernalia are on display for all to see, but a close inspection reveals a thick layer of dust. Those who just consider the Bible to be a book of rules and guidelines and nothing more can fall on either side of the narrow path. Either the rule of law becomes so strong for them they loose all compassion for others, or they, in their lack of knowledge of God’s character for want of relationship, pick and choose what rules and doctrines aught and aught not to be followed. They refuse to admit sin and repent of it; therefore, they try to manipulate the Word to fit their human perception, rather than let the Word renew their mind and bring them closer to the divine. As the Apostle Paul says, “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom…but they lack any value…” (Colossians 2:22-23). These men and women who come to church week after week and honor God with their lips but not their hearts are in for a shock at the end of this age. Unless they change course, they are destined to hear from our Lord, “Get away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). To put it in human terms, it is like the parent who makes no effort to know his child and suddenly is shocked when she ends up pregnant or in jail; it is the husband and wife who sleep side by side night after night, but never locked together in love, and one is shocked when the other suddenly leaves or is caught cheating. With no communion, there can be no intimacy. With no intimacy, there can be no real relationship. With no relationship, there is no salvation. 

So the simple answer I wish I gave my son is this: “I read the Bible everyday because I want to start my day spending time with my Creator and Savior; I love being taught by my Heavenly Father, and I long for personal intimacy with the Lover of my Soul. It is not a task; it is a joy and an honor. I am pleased to be with him, and it is time well spent.”

Peter L Richardson
8/11/10
*This one’s dedicated to Angie, a fellow lover of God’s Word.

For skeptics and doubters that the Bible has any validity at all, both historical and spiritual, check out the 8/15/10 teaching, “How can the Bible be trusted,” from Pastor Dan Betters of Stone’s Throw Church:

http://ax.itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/stones-throw-church-audio/id379274171

http://www.stonesthrowchurch.com

-this essay is based on my notes from a teaching I gave on 8/10/06 for a weekend parenting conference some friends were running for my church. I was asked to give the “single dad perspective.” I felt inadequate then, and I still do today.

Me and my son, drawn by him many years ago...

Me and my son, drawn by him many years ago...

“Fathers will teach the next generation,
     or they will lose the next generation.
Fathers will speak to the next generation
     about the many providences of God
     in protecting and preserving them,
     or the next generation will be without hope.
Fathers will cultivate gratitude,
     or they will produce a generation of ingrates.
Fathers will walk beside their sons,
     teaching them to honor their fathers,
     or there will be no America left to defend.”
          -Douglas W. Phillips

There are those times when our Heavenly Father breaks through with such clarity that we cannot deny he has spoken to us. Such was one of those times for me shortly before my ex-wife and I were divorced. I will not go into my list of grievances I had against her, but I was bringing them before the Lord in an effort to make sense of the mess my marriage had become. Because he is a gracious God and because I was feeling anything but gracious at the time, I felt like he was directing me in a path I did not want to follow. In anger and frustration and with my finger pointed at the sky, I blurted out loud: “But God, she has made herself my enemy!!!” For a split second I felt a smug justification to walk whatever path I wanted, until the Lord retorted with: “And what are you supposed to do with your enemies?” This moment was the greatest revelation God could have given me for the walk I was soon to begin. I cannot for a minute pretend I followed this principle with her at all times, I am a man of flesh and bone as well as the spirit, and in this spirit-flesh war, I am not proud of the ground I’ve given up to the flesh. However, having this moment to lean on gave me the strength to respond in love at times when it really counted. There are moments in my over ten-year-history of divorce that I wanted to go in with guns and lawyers blazing, but the Lord bit my tongue and the Spirit turned my cheek in the right direction.

Divorce is ugly (it is one of the few things that God says he hates), and it usually never results in a happy ending. However, when at least one of the parties submits him or herself to God as much he or she is able in the midst of the wreckage, God can and will turn what is meant for evil into good. I can confidently say that despite all the dumb-ass mistakes that I and my ex have made over the course of our volatile relationship; God has brought us to the place that could be the best possible situation for our kids who are stuck living in the middle of a severed family.  I would like to share a few lessons the Lord has taught me over the years. I, by no means, can be considered an expert; so far, I have only a 50% success rate with my boys (I have a great relationship with one, while the other wants nothing to do with me), but if experience has anything to do with wisdom, these words might be worth your time if you find yourself in a similar situation or know someone who is. Please take them with a grain of salt.

You and your spouse split up for a reason, right? So it should be no surprise when the two of you end up having vastly different parenting styles. When this happens you need to again (and again, and again) respond in love while you learn to respect your children’s “extended” family.  The hard truth is that dads almost always get the short end of the stick when it comes to divorce, but you need to man up and make the best of the situation for your kids. One reason why it is so hard for divorced dads who want to be good parents is because there are so many “boys” laying their seed everywhere and not taking responsibility, partly because they never had a proper father figure of their own. If you are not the custodial parent you need to make your place of dwelling a home as much as possible. Even if you are stuck in a one bedroom apartment, you need to make a space that “belongs” to your children. They need something that they can claim as their own to feel confident that your place is home for them as well. When they are there, you need to spend time with them and do it on their level. It is very difficult to bond with your kids when you’re only around part-time, but it is not impossible. Plato famously said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation.” If you want to create opportunities for you children to trust you and talk to you, you need to play with them.  I once knew a father who put his kids up in the guest room at his house, they always had to unpack their clothes and toys from their mom’s place, and then he wondered why they would never respect him or want to come over.

When the kids are young, I think it is best to set down a specific schedule of the times you and your ex will be responsible for them. It avoids confusion and can prevent those moments when your kid is the only one who didn’t get a ride home from practice. I think my ex and I avoided a lot of conflict with the understanding that if it was my weekend, then I would be the one to make sure the kid got to his game, recital, friend’s birthday party or whatever. As the kids get older, I think it’s important to give them more freedom in choosing how much time they want to spend at each of their parents houses. This is an emotionally tough call, but it goes with the hard decision that every good parent has to make to offer their kids more and more freedom in order to let them grow up into responsible adults. If your child prefers your ex’s place to yours, you should respect that, but you should also ask them what you could do to make your place more accommodating. If you can’t (because of limited money), or you won’t (because of values), explain to them why. While they might not respect it in the moment, this is an opportunity to teach them to be financially responsible, or more importantly to make good moral choices.

Since you and your ex will likely have different sets of values, you are going to have to learn to be flexible with morality, but at the same time, you need to know what areas you are not willing to compromise in and draw a clear line of expectation for your children. In a healthy marriage, a couple will discuss the hard decisions and reason together in order to discover if one is being too strict or the other too easy. They can then come back to the child with a united decision. In a divorce you only get hearsay about what the other parent is doing, and it’s not always easy to hear. If you feel your child is in serious danger, you should confront the other parent; however, you need to accept that even in the white-picket-fence scenario, your kids will eventually walk out that gate and get all that temptation for corruption in one form or another. The best thing for any parent to do is to prepare their children for making the right choice when faced with sin rather than just try to keep them hidden from it. If you have rules that are stricter than your ex’s, you should be prepared to openly discuss why and explain your reasons for your “not in my house” policy. “Because I said so,” just doesn’t cut it. What is the point if you only tell them “no”? Your children need to be armed with the knowledge of why something is harmful to them, or why you feel they are not yet ready for something.

No matter what your ex (or her new spouse) does, or how she behaves, or what she says about you, you cannot disrespect her in front of your kids. This includes complaining about her with other people. You will need to find strong shoulders to lean on and strong ears to bitch at; you need to vent, but never do it in front of your kids. The Bible commands everyone to “honor your father and your mother.” If you dishonor your ex in front of your kids and in essence ask them to take sides, you are planting seeds in their minds that could eventually grow into sin. If you have any anger or jealousy towards your ex, do your best not to show it to your kids; take your grief to the Lord.

One major mistake that I see single dads and moms make, especially as their kids grow older (perhaps out of guilt, perhaps out of a desire to be hip so they can get a younger, newer model for the role of spouse), is to try and be more of a friend to their kids than a parent. You can and should have a friendly relationship with your kids, but you are the parent, and you need to fill that role first. Frankly, even though it’s hard to find time, you need to go out and find your own friends. If you try to fill your emotional needs with your kids, you will lose perspective and not be able to make good judgments while you are trying to guide and discipline them. Of course, you always want your kids to like you, but if you are more concerned with them liking you than teaching them to make good decisions, you are only causing them harm, and you ultimately will lose their respect. The fact of the matter is you can’t make your child like you, or even love you, but you can demand that they show you respect, and if you do that, they will likely show other adults respect and become more successful in life in general.

On the other hand, you always must discipline in love and not in anger. This is something I had trouble with when my kids were younger, especially with my oldest son, and I’m sure this is one reason why he is resistant to have a relationship with me now. It has been a process, but first I learned to admit it when I overreacted, and at this point I have really learned to control my anger when I feel it coming. Disciplining in love is not as hard as it seems, but it can become complicated. It is simply stepping back and considering why you are upset and controlling your emotions before you respond. If your child has clearly violated your trust or done something that deserves a consequence, you need to consider what punishment will result in the strongest benefit for your child (not necessarily what punishment fits the crime).  What will teach him to make the right choice next time? The hard truth is this will be different for every kid and often different for each situation. With practice and time, responding in a calm and loving manner becomes not so hard; the complicated part is coming up with the best way to handle the crime! You will make mistakes and you will make them often. The important thing is to try to learn from your mistakes, and the most important thing is to admit you made one.

Whether or not you realize yourself that you blew it, or if God or a friend calls you out, or even if your kids call you out, when you are wrong: admit it! Some fathers have a hard time admitting when they are wrong out of a fear of losing authority, but the result is just the opposite. If you can’t admit when you make a mistake, everyone under your authority will eventually loose respect for you and stop paying attention to anything you say. When you admit your mistakes to your kids, you are validating their feelings of betrayal and respecting them as individual persons. This gives them the opportunity to forgive you and develop a stronger character. Your actions will also model humility, and when they make their mistakes, whether it’s out of just acting foolish or out of blatant rebellion, they will be more likely to admit they were wrong when confronted by you, and likewise, when they are confronted in their future relationships.

The last and most important thing is to model your relationship with God right in front of them. Pray, worship, and evangelize in front of them and with them. Especially, prayer. The Bible commands us to pray continually. My ex and I were just nineteen when we eloped. I remember having a conversation with a single friend while we were in our early twenties, and he was marveling at the impossibility of that command. I laughed and told him to just wait until he had kids; he would find that he could fulfill the command more out of need and desperation than obedience! The fact is we can’t control what happens to our kids; we can’t make them believe what we believe, and we can only protect them so much and hope to teach and influence them to make good choices and walk in the best path that God has laid out for them. All the earth belongs to the Lord, even your kids. The most powerful thing we can do for them is to cover them in prayer. Learning to practice spiritual warfare is required of good parenting. When they are young we need to pray with them, and point out to them when God answers their prayers. You need to pray with them for blessing over your ex, even when she just did something really wrong to you right in front of them. They will learn to bless those who persecute them.

Learn to model your parenting after God. He is our Heavenly Father, first as our Creator, second as we become born again in the Spirit and that mysterious relationship is restored. How often do we screw up before God and then cry out for mercy just one more time? Think about how He responds to you the next time you want to smack your kid upside the head for doing the same dumb thing over and over again. This is hard for some guys. We often see God through the flawed relationship we’ve had with our earthly fathers. We think God will respond to us with judgment and criticism because that is what our dads did. Ironically, this revelation is what often prompted me to get myself right with God and kept me on my knees. I know if my kids need anything at all from me, it is the legacy of Jesus. I don’t want them to blame God for my mistakes.

If you are still working on your relationship with your Heavenly Father, look into scripture that references God as a parent (for instance, the prodigal son parable). If you are having trouble having faith that the scripture is for you, watch fathers in your congregation that have had success with respect and love from their children. The Apostle Paul tells his readers to follow his example as he follows Christ’s example. Pick men in the church that you respect and ask them to mentor you, or at least to be a sounding board when you need wisdom in a situation. There are three particular men in my church who I was lucky enough to watch and learn from. I saw God and grace all over their relationship with their kids, and I wanted it with mine. First, I just kind of observed and watched how they did things. Eventually, I had questions for them about why they did what they did. Now I call two of them my best friends, and I still go to the other one, who is old enough to be my father, for advice when I need it.

If you are freshly divorced, you are probably angry at the world and don’t want to spend quality time with anyone, but you can’t do it alone. There are some single parents who, out of guilt and/or a desire to hide from adult relationships, sacrifice every ounce of their personal time for their kids. You need a healthy support system. You need spiritual guidance, and you need practical advice and practical help. You need someone who will go out and have a couple of beers with you and let you whine all night, but also stop you from having any more than just a couple of beers. You need positive and wise friends and you need God. Without both, you can’t be a healthy parent.

Peter L Richardson
6/19/2010

“After the war…”

Now that chaos has died down,
     we’ve called truce,
     drawn up our peace-treaties,
     and learned to negotiate like neighbors.
I think about the casualties of war,
     the survivors and innocent victims
     caught in the destruction.
It is they who are most deeply affected
     as the borders and boundaries
     change in their lives like the seasons.
How can they hold identity?
What heritage do they have to cling to?
To whom will they pledge their allegiance?
     But they do have choice.

I have fought long and hard and deep
     for this land.
To provide a place for them,
     a safe haven,
     a home.
The land won—a wilderness:
     A scorched scar on the earth.
But I have bled my fingers to the bone,
     broken my body like bread,
Filling the land and removing the stone,
Planting seed and building new home.

After the smoke is cleared,
After the infrastructure is finally
     coming together,
I receive the first fruits of prosperity
     for this new nation…
Fruit to provide for my people
     for the offspring…

Now that that is all done,
     what have I won?
The work so long and so hard,
     I wonder,
          do they trust me?
And what have I won,
     without their trust?

Peter L Richardson
5/29/2004

This Be The Verse
     -by Philip Larkin

They f*@k you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f*@ked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin titles his poem with a declaration, with an epiphany that is almost a command: “This Be The Verse”! Straight away he seems to be declaring to us; “I’ve got it! This is it! This is the poem of poems: The meaning of life!” For what is the use of poetry, if it is not to discover life, the search of who we are and what it all means to be here, to be in existence. According to the Romantic Poets, poetry is the essence of life, it is what binds the universe together; poetry is the center. All things revolve around poetry and seen through her eyes there is a greater revelation in understanding our existence. It has been common knowledge since at least Shakespeare’s time that poetry is eternal, transcending all time, and Larkin’s use of classical English in the title takes us back to the Renaissance Period. It is as if Larkin is crying out to us to take this poem serious, that we are about to be let in on a secret that rivals even the revelations handed down by the classical poets of old! So what is this declaration of life?

“They f*@k you up, your mum and dad.” What? Is that it?! That I have issues because of my parents? Well that is nothing new, that’s not a deep revelation. Perhaps he hasn’t made his point yet. “They may not mean to but they do. / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra just for you.”

What is this first stanza saying? Our parents bring us into existence, and all they seem to be capable of doing is screwing us up. Even if they try to give us a good life, try to teach us to live good and be happy, they can’t. They can only pass down the faults they have and even add some extra ones to those. So not only do you inherit your parents’ bad qualities, the fact that they are screwed up will affect you in such a way that you have new bad qualities become a part of you. There is no escaping it. But here’s the good news, if you want to call it that; it’s not your fault! All those bad things you do, every mistake you’ve ever made, every complaint anyone has ever made about you, don’t fret, now you can just pass the blame back onto your parents. Think of the implications, if your problems exist because your parents f*@ked you up, then really you are not responsible for anything. If you are not responsible for your actions, then why bother; just do what you want, regardless of the consequences. It’s not your fault you’re the way you are, so why should you have any personal responsibility to change yourself?

Wait. What about this second stanza. Maybe there are more answers there: “But they were f*@ked up in their turn / By fools in old style hats and coats, / Who half the time were soppy-stern / And half at one another’s throats.” So… then, it’s not our parents’ fault. So whose is it? Oh, their parents! But wait, if our grandparents f*@ked up our parents who f*@ked us up, because they were f*@ked up in their turn, then it stands to reason, that our grandparents got f*@ked up by their parents and so on and so forth. So then, what Larkin is saying is that we are all a bunch of drunks who are always fighting amongst ourselves. And that each generation just hands down their depravity to the next with each new generation receiving a few more evils added on. There is no one good, no, not even one. What a downward spiral! I had no idea my life was so bad. There must be some way out of this!

According to Larkin, sadly, no. “Man hands on misery to man. / It deepens like a coastal shelf.” We are trapped. There is no way out. We are in prison, confined by our very existence. The world around us is a prison, we are held captive by our very thoughts, because of our inability to break free from them, they control us, not the other way around. Passed down from generation to generation our faults, our curses deepen like a coastal shelf, and no matter how beautiful we may think our reality is, it is only death grown onto death. We are slaves to it, death is in our veins, and our minds are trapped in depravity. What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?

Larkin’s advice? “Get out as early as you can, / And don’t have any kids yourself.” Cease all existence. Oh, that’s nice, how pleasant. Since we are all slaves to these faults, to a depraved existence, then it’s true, we should all die. Just give up, because there is no way out. No hope of anything because we are all looking to f*@k every one because we are all f*@ked up ourselves. What Be The Verse? What is the meaning of life that this poem has to offer us? Nothing. This is the meaning of life, Larkin declares, that there is none, we just exist in pain and misery heading in no direction at all.

Larkin attempts to deconstruct the myth of the family in this poem. He rejects the idea that a father and a mother have anything positive to offer their children. He in essence destroys the nuclear family and ultimately deconstructs society and the status of humanity altogether.  But by doing so he creates his own myth of nihilism and apathy. The ideology of a family is supposed to be a safe place for human beings to grow up and mature in. Mum and Dad have some kids, love them, and try to teach them to how to get along in the world. In essence, how to be good subjects. Unfortunately, Mum and Dad themselves are not always good subjects, so we have someone like Larkin come along and try to dispel the myth of good parenting.

Yet in his attempt to break away from this ideological state apparatus*, as Althusser would call it, Larkin only creates his own. A new reality (a new myth), where good subjects know better then to bring a child into such an evil world. Since they will not likely, themselves, cease to exist at this point these good subjects allow themselves to become freed from the responsibility of growing and maturing into better people. Why? Because it’s not their fault they are f*@ked up, it’s their parents’ fault. Hence they immediately re-enter the ideological state apparatus they tried to break free from and become once again, bad subjects.

The idea that “it’s not my fault” is just as much a myth as that every family produces perfect subjects is. Perhaps we can’t break free from our world, the idea of reality that has been handed to us, but the truth remains that we have the freedom to make choices that shape the reality around us, for good or for worse. We have the responsibility to make choices that will not only benefit us, but those around us. We especially have the responsibility to make choices that will benefit our children.

Larkin’s title may also present us with a double meaning. It could also represent unrefined, vernacular speech indicating the speaker of the poem is ignorant and doesn’t know any better. For centuries poetry was held in high regard and even came to represent the meaning of life. Likewise, the nuclear family had been understood to be what binds society together, the center of our structure of reality. High poetic language could become mistaken for ignorant speech in the title. The high call of the family, Larkin may be saying in the body of the poem, is unattainable because of the ignorance of “your mum and dad.” But rather then take responsibility to be healed from the issues caused by his parents, Larkin makes the mistake of trying to remove himself from something that is too much a part of him. Instead of looking for solutions to change the problem he’s exposed, Larkin chooses to remain in misery, when he could have chosen to hand down joy to man. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace…” Romans 8:5-6.

Peter L Richardson
11/5/2002

*Ideological state apparatuses

Because Louis Althusser held that our desires, choices, intentions, preferences, judgements and so forth are the consequences of social practices, he believed it necessary to conceive of how society makes the individual in its own image. Within capitalist societies, the human individual is generally regarded as a subject endowed with the property of being a self-conscious ‘responsible’ agent. For Althusser, however, a person’s capacity for perceiving himself in this way is not innately given. Rather, it is acquired within the structure of established social practices, which impose on individuals the role (forme) of a subject. Social practices both determine the characteristics of the individual and give him an idea of the range of properties he can have, and of the limits of each individual. Althusser argues that many of our roles and activities are given to us by social practice: for example, the production of steelworkers is a part of economic practice, while the production of lawyers is part of politico-legal practice. However, other characteristics of individuals, such as their beliefs about the good life or their metaphysical reflections on the nature of the self, do not easily fit into these categories. In Althusser’s view, our values, desires and preferences are inculcated in us by ideological practice, the sphere which has the defining property of constituting individuals as subjects. Ideological practice consists of an assortment of institutions called Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs), which include the family, the media, religious organizations and, most importantly, the education system, as well as the received ideas they propagate. There is, however, no single ISA that produces in us the belief that we are self-conscious agents. Instead, we derive this belief in the course of learning what it is to be a daughter, a schoolchild, black, a steelworker, a councilor, and so forth.

from:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Althusser

Job’s redemption and restoration

PLR 1999

Naked Came I... So Will I Return

“I knew of you then only by report, but now I see you with my own eyes. Therefore I yield, repenting in dust and ashes.” The Book of Job 42:5-6

Is it possible to love someone you don’t know? When I was in high school, I tried to play the tough guy, but the truth is I was extremely shy when it came to the opposite sex. I remember being switched into a new study hall, and there was this girl I had not seen before. She was amazing. Soft skin with a deep natural tan, long black wavy hair, she was stylish and sexy; she seemed very sophisticated. I was in love. This was in the days when a study hall was expected to actually be a study hall, and the teacher was very strict, so I had no way of casually getting to know her. If I wanted a chance with this beauty, I would have to actually approach her before or after class in the hallway. It took me months to finally step up and make my move. When I did, I was in for a quite a shock. In my first conversation with her, out of her mouth came the most foul, ignorant and rude words I had ever heard come from a woman. She was petty; she was racist; she was crude, and she did nothing but complain. I wasted months of my life pining after a girl who turned out to be someone who turned my stomach. I thought I was in love, but I only loved the idea I had created in my mind. True love requires intimacy, and true intimacy requires genuine communication. Both parties in the relationship need to be open and vulnerable, and both need to be willing to share and to listen. Too many people live life among those they call family and friends, but they don’t really know each other. They never allow themselves to know and to be known; therefore, there really isn’t any relationship. I believe this was the situation between Job and the Lord. The text makes it clear that Job really was the most righteous person on earth. He did everything he was supposed to do in the eyes of God, but he didn’t really know God. He lacked a strong relationship with the God that he served so faithfully, so at the end of the day, he was just God’s best servant. God wants more from us; he does not want peons constantly bowed down before him saying, “Yes, Master. Coming, Master! What is thy bidding, my Master?” He created us to have relationship with us, and he did not want Job’s dedication to go to waste. When Satan bet the Lord that Job would curse him if he lost everything, I think it was a legitimate gamble for both of them. At stake was whether or not God was worthy to be worshiped for who he is and not for just handing out rewards and punishment. Satan was aware that Job was God’s best servant, and God was well aware of Job’s pride and trust issues and his lack of relationship. Job really could have gone either way, but God saw his opportunity to make his best servant one of his best friends. After God’s long barrage of questions putting Job in his place, Job responds with genuine humility and repentance, and we can see by the way the Lord treats him in the epilogue that Job has received a greater reward than the riches everyone celebrates. In fact, I believe that Job had to pass one more test of friendship before he was able to get those riches restored back to him.

The first thing Job does in his reply to the Lord is acknowledge his lack of understanding. He states, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose is beyond you. You ask: Who is this obscuring counsel yet lacking knowledge? But I have spoken of things which I have not understood, things too wonderful for me to know” The Book of Job 42:2-3. Job’s reply shows he understood God’s point loud and clear, he is saying to the Lord, “Yep. I’ve got nothing on you. You are the creator, you are my sustainer, my protector, and you have never let me down before. Even though I did not understand what was going on, I should have trusted you had a purpose for it all.” The second part of Job’s reply reveals that Job learns what his biggest problem was, “Listen, and let me speak. You said: I shall put questions to you, and you must answer. I knew of you then only by report, but now I see you with my own eyes. Therefore I yield, repenting in dust and ashes” The Book of Job 42:4-6. Job acknowledges that he lacked a relationship with the Lord. He is saying, “Before, I could only speak about what I heard about you, but now that I know you, I understand who you are and what you are about, and I’m so sorry for every foolish boast that came out of my mouth!” Job learned first hand the reason we are to be obedient to God; it is not for receiving blessing or fearing punishment, it is about serving him out of our love for him. Job did everything right, but he did not really have the right motives. Therefore, in his love for Job, God allowed him to suffer so Job could realize the need he had for a relationship with God. When you think about it, this lack of relationship is the root of Job’s other issues. Had Job had a strong relationship with God, he would have trusted in God’s motives from the beginning. Had Job trusted God more, he would not have begun to rely on his own good works and wisdom more than God’s grace and mercy, which led to his pride. What God does next shows that he now views Job as a friend, and he honors Job by giving him the responsibility of someone who has a maturity and wisdom that can be trusted.

Job’s reply to the Lord is the last of the poetry written in The Book of Job; however, the action is far from over in the Epilogue written in prose. The Lord now turns to Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. He states: “My anger is aroused against you…unlike my servant Job, you have not spoken as you aught about me. Now…go to my servant Job and offer a whole-offering [sacrifice] for yourselves and he will intercede for you. I shall surely show him favour by not being harsh with you because you have not spoken as you aught about me, as he has done” The Book of Job 42:7-8. Can you imagine being in their shoes at this point? God himself manifests before them, and after dealing with Job, he turns to them and essentially says, “And you! I’m really pissed at you! You think I’m only about judgment and punishment? You think Job deserved all the pain and suffering he’s been through? Instead of helping and encouraging him through these trials, you only made it worse! Do you really want to see my punishment? You better make your sacrifices and go get your buddy Job to pray for you, because the only way I’m going spare you is if he intercedes and prays on your behalf!” This is the evidence that Job has moved from only being a servant to being a friend of God. All through the text, Job longed for someone who could speak to God on his behalf, he wanted a mediator between him and the Lord. God honors Job by giving him that position with his friends. He becomes the very defender he longed to have: Someone who could talk to God freely without fear of death. God is about to come down hard on Job’s friends for slandering his character and he simply puts the matter in Job’s hands, “Job, I know these guys are your boys, and since you and I are buds now, if you want me to spare them just say the word; otherwise, get out of the way…” Do you see the trust God has for Job? How he puts his end of the relationship into practice right away? Job has a choice to make. He could pray for his friends or step aside and let them get a taste of what he’s experienced. In order for Job to genuinely stand before God and intercede on their behalf, he needs to forgive them. Could you forgive them if you were in Job‘s place? After the harsh treatment they gave Job, do they deserve his forgiveness? But that is the beauty of forgiveness, we never deserve it.

This is Job’s final test. I think it is amazing that God says that Job spoke rightly about him. This shows us the amount of freedom he gives us to express our thoughts and emotions to him. If you are angry at God, go ahead and let it out. If you are doubting anything, even his very existence, go ahead and question him. He is man enough for the challenge, and just like Job, he will lovingly put you in your place if you humbly submit to the truth. The difference between Job and his friends was that they thought they could speak for God; they judged Job, and they considered that judgment to be God’s. How many of us do this very same thing today? We see others in trouble and we write them off and assume they must of have deserved it. Praise God we rarely get what we really deserve. Where Job got it right was that he acknowledged his lack of knowledge and understanding. He didn’t always express himself with the respect and honor that the Lord of the Universe deserves, and God dealt with that, but when Job became distressed, he sought out God and asked for his help. He didn’t get the answer he expected from God, but through God’s answer he discovered greater revelation about himself and about God, revelation which resulted in a new and deeper relationship with God. This could be the end of the story. God could punish Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar for their slander of Job and of God himself. Then we could all feel a sense of superiority over them, as they get what they deserve, and smugly think we would never treat a friend of ours in need like that, and we could close the book and move on with life. But God is not finished teaching Job and, therefore, teaching us. This paragraph ends with, “and the Lord showed favour to Job when he had interceded for his friends.” Look at the wording of the sentence; “when” is past tense. God did not show Job favor until after he prayed for his friends. The very next paragraph begins with “The Lord restored Job’s fortunes, and gave him twice the possessions he had before” The Book of Job 42:9-10. I am confident that Job has at this point found relief from his physical sufferings, but I believe that Job had to pass this final test to receive a full restoration from the Lord. Job and his friends got pretty nasty with each other, and it turns out that Job was right. Before he could genuinely intercede for them, he needed to forgive them. In other words, Job needed to forgive his friends to get his restoration. I don’t think God really had a strong desire to smack down Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. God is proving that he is all about relationship. Job could have held a quiet grudge against them for the rest of his life, but when God puts him on the spot like that, he forces Job to deal with his emotions and find the forgiveness in his heart that God generously hands out to us. God was teaching Job and his friends that while doing good does lead to blessing (of course there are many forms of blessing besides monetary gain), sin does not always bring judgment. Often an act of mercy and forgiveness will bring more positive change than punishment. That does not mean there won’t be consequences, but God wants to show Job, his friends, and us that just as he forgives us, he expects us to do the same for others. Job’s forgiveness of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar is the first step needed for their friendship to be restored.

The Lord brings the lesson of relationship home for us in this ancient book in the way he restores Job’s fortunes. He just finished declaring how powerful he is and how nothing is beyond his means; God could have just said the word and dropped riches into Job’s lap, but he chose to restore Job a different way, and it is the same way he has continued to prefer to use throughout the ages up until today. After the author states that the Lord gave twice as much as Job had before, he continues with “All Job’s brothers and sisters and his acquaintance of former days came and feasted with him in his home. They consoled and comforted him for all the misfortune which the Lord had inflicted on him, and each of them gave him a sheep and a gold ring” The Book of Job 42:11. God used people to restore Job’s fortunes. This teaches us a few lessons. First of all, God is not only concerned with us having a good relationship with him, but he wants us to have a good relationship with our fellow man. Many people will pray to God for miracles, but they end up rejecting his help, because it comes in the form of other human beings. God often does answer prayer through miraculous means, but more often he chooses to work through other people. He wants us to be willing to deal with the messiness of learning to trust and depend on each other in addition to trusting him. Secondly, if God uses people to bestow his blessings, the question must be raised, “How does he want to use me?” How many people have gone without because God called you to bless them, but you were too busy to hear, or too selfish to respond? We often question God’s existence, or at least his righteousness when evil seems to prevail on the earth, but before we question God, maybe we should look at what we should be doing. Are we doing anything to stand against evil? Are we contributing to the evil in some small selfish way? God wants to use you to bring his good purpose to the world. Are you listening for his call? Lastly, look at what Job’s friends and family gave him. They each gave him one sheep and one gold ring. Before this experience, Job was considered to be “the greatest man in all the east,” and the text states that the Lord “gave him twice the possessions he had before.” Think about that. My guess is that the majority of the sheep and rings came from his acquaintances. Who were his acquaintances? They were all the people that Job had helped earlier in his life. In his effort to serve God righteously, Job was generous with his wealth; now that Job’s time of trial had ended and he was in need, these people stepped up and gave back, and Job ended up with twice the fortune he had before. The Bible states elsewhere that “everyone reaps what he sows” Galatians 6:7. Job sowed a lot seed into his fellow man, and he was able to reap the harvest of return. He must have helped a lot of people! This again supports God’s principle of relationship. When we are generous with others, whether it be money or time, they will be generous with us. Maybe not everybody, but the majority of humankind will come through for those who have shown them kindness in their time of need. So we see that God does not only want us to have a strong relationship with him, but he also teaches us to take care of each other and learn to get along.

This getting along does not mean that we should incorporate a truth-is-relative-philosophy and we should just live and let live. On the contrary, God calls us to be righteous and to follow his example out of love for him. We know his standards through the Word of God, and we must seek to live up to them and encourage and even admonish our fellow man to do the same. However, when we fail to live up to the standards, we go to our merciful God through the path Jesus has created for us, and we seek forgiveness in true humility, and he will not fail to give it out. Likewise, when our brothers and sisters sin against God or against us, we need to be willing to confront them in love and then we continue to love them and forgive them despite their response. Forgiveness does not always require that we must continue to spend time those who hurt us, but it does mean that we need to let go of the desire for revenge and the desire to be paid back in some form. That is why getting along is so difficult for us. We are all selfish. Since Adam and Eve chose their way instead of God’s, the desire to be “god” has carried through all our genes and we just want to do what’s best for “me” despite the consequences. We hurt each other, but God wants us to forgive each other. He wants us to continually seek to live our best and to treat others the same way we want to be treated (Luke 6:31). This is the crux of all of God’s teachings in his Word: “Love God. Love others” (Matthew 22:36-40).

There are many themes and many lessons that you can take from The Book of Job, but in my opinion the fact that relationship is more important that righteousness is the strongest lesson. Job had what the church today calls a works-mentality. He depended more on his works, his own personal righteousness, than on God’s grace. However, the Bible states that “all our righteous deeds were like a filthy rag” Isaiah 46:6, and later the Apostle Paul states “for all alike have sinned, and are deprived of the divine glory; and all are justified by God’s free grace alone, through his act of liberation in the person of Christ Jesus” Romans 3:23-24. You can see this truth in the life of Abraham. If Job is a historical figure, he would have been Abraham‘s contemporary. As we read about Abraham, we find he was far from perfect, but he put his faith in God, and sought to obey and please God because of the relationship he had with his Creator. The Apostle James says of him, “Here was the fulfillment of the words of scripture: ‘Abraham put his faith in God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness,’ and he was called ‘God’s friend’” James 2:23 (see also: 2 Chronicles 20:7, and Isaiah 41:8). Like Abraham, our righteousness can only come through faith. Before his experience, Job was not that different from the Pharisee’s of Jesus’ time. They followed God’s written law in the Torah to the letter. They were as perfect as human beings could be, and they longed for their Messiah to come and end the suffering of their people; however, when the Messiah arrived in the person of Jesus, they did not recognize him because they were more concerned about following rules than they were about having a relationship with their God. When he showed up in the person of Jesus, they couldn’t even recognize him.

In our age, Jesus is our mediator who allows us to freely speak with God. After discussing how Jesus is both our high priest and our sacrifice, the author of Hebrews states, “Let us therefore boldly approach the throne of grace, in order that we may receive mercy and find grace to give us timely help” Hebrews 4:16. Before the time of Jesus, very few humans were recorded as holding the honor of being friends with God, but Jesus came to restore God’s relationship with all of humanity. Because of Jesus, we all can be God’s friends. According to the Apostle John, during the Last Supper (before Jesus was crucified) Jesus was giving his instructions to his disciples and explaining what they were up against in the days ahead. He was instructing them to love each other and to love God despite the coming pain and confusion they were about to experience. During this speech he tells them, “There is no greater love than this, that a someone should lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is about. I have called you friends, because I have disclosed to you everything that I heard from my father” The Gospel of John 15:13-15. This was after he told them that they were all about to deny that they even knew him, but he would be waiting for them with open arms when they were ready to come back. God desires us to live righteously; he wants us to follow the rules he’s established (which were established for our good and protection), but he is much more interested in having a relationship with us. The desire to be good should not come from a fear of punishment or from the expectation of reward; we should want to be good in a desire to please God; we should be good because it makes him happy. The ultimate reward for us is simply to know, and to be known by, our Father in heaven.

 

This is the final conclusion… Job was the most righteous man on all the earth, but he was only God’s best servant. God initiates the conversation with Satan, the Adversary, which led to Satan’s challenge. God must have known what the result of that conversation would be, and Job loses everything including his health. His three friends show up to comfort him, but they only provoke him into deeper despair claiming Job must have sinned horribly to get all that misfortune; however, through his speeches defending his innocence, a lack of trust and a bit of self-righteousness is revealed, or what we consider a “works” mentality. By the end Job states that before he only “heard about” God, but now he “knows” God. We learn that God wanted more for Job than just servant-hood. That teaches us that it is more important to God that we seek out a relationship with him, than just try to serve him through good works. Our righteousness comes from faith in God, our good deeds should come from a desire to please him out of love rather than from a fear of getting struck by lightning.

  • All scripture references are from The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha.

Peter L Richardson
2010