Disengaging the Matrix

July 21, 2007


Xi Summit made suggestion in a comment to my post below that I quit trying to analyze my marriage, my relationship with the church, my work life and generally adopt some of the Zen principles XH talked about in a comment to FTN in response to this post.  I’m actually running both ahead and behind him in some respects.  It’s not a bad suggestion, except this is the stuff that I usually blog about.  I suppose I could start a bunch of memes and pass those around and I might just do that at some point.


My noodling about my discontentment does serve a purpose, tho.  God is driving me towards questions and answers even amongst my attempts at finding diversion.


I went to our public library the other day to drop off some books and DVDs I had checked out for my boys.  I decided I would look for some movies for me to watch, which certainly beats even the prices at Blockbuster, which would have been my next stop.  Our library has a growing DVD collection both those are forever picked over by late afternoon.  However their VHS collection is quite expansive and mature.  So I got Up  The Down Staircase which is a lovely teacher movie from the late 60’s and another movie I had never seen before called The Matrix.  That one was also a good movie which has some interesting parallels to the institutional church system which wasn’t lost on David Frederickson in the first installment of his documentary, The Dropouts.  I got one more movie which looked interest called The King’s Guard which was a low budget swashbuckling dud that resembles The Princess Bride except with a lousy script and some stilted acting.  Your kids might like it, though.  Eric Roberts and Ron Perlman make decent villains, and Ashley Jones makes a lovely princess, but that’s about it.


While in the library the thought occurred to me that I should check out a book.  Radical thought, huh?  Imagine; checking out a book from the library!  But I had absolutely no idea what I was in the mood to read.  Definitely not a relationship book.  Maybe something nonfiction by C.S. Lewis.  There’s still a lot of his books I haven’t read.  So I looked in the electronic searcher and found the section where his books might be.  But I did not end up checking out a book by C.S. Lewis.


I was perusing the stacks and I just had that feeling that I should be looking for something more.  I should look for something more along the lines of where I am in my thinking as far as my relationship with the institutional church.  Which is a perfectly odd feeling because I knew that our library had slim enough pickings with Lewis.  How does one go about finding a book dealing with being a Christian and not going to church?  I knew of no titles or authors off the top of my head and this is not a large library. 


So I just browsed, and was getting a bit frustrated. 


Ever had a book just sort of leap out at you?  Perhaps the book jacket stands out, or the title just grabs you or you may have heard something about the author or perhaps you saw something about it on Oprah.  None of those things happened here.


I just reached down to the very bottom shelf and picked up the least descript book on the shelf.  Not too big.  Not too small.  No book jacket, just a plain dark cover with a copyright of 1967 by someone named Charles Davis entitled A Question of Conscience.  And within I found exactly what I was looking for.   Some answers by a real genuine theologian with some real genuine clout.  Still, this is still an unlikely source for answers for me.  Or maybe not.


Charles Davis was a lifelong Catholic who entered the priesthood at a very young age.  He rose up in notoriety and was considered by many to be the greatest and most influential Catholic theologian of his day in Great Britain.  He was teaching at a college there and was editor of a prominent Catholic publication at the time.  Then in December of 1966 he announced he was leaving the church and intended to get married, which he did within a couple of months.  He is not the first priest to leave and get married and most casual observers would not fault him for that.  Hardly worthy fodder for a book.  What caused the real firestorm was his stated reason for leaving.  In part:


For me, Christian commitment is inseparable from the concern for truth and concern for people.  I do not find either of these represented by the official Church.  There is concern for authority at the expense of truth, and I am constantly saddened by instances of  the damage done to persons by workings of an impersonal and unfree system.  Further, I do not think that the claim the Church makes as an institution rests upon any adequate Biblical  and historical basis.  The Church in its existing forms seem to me to be a pseudo-political structure from the past.  It is now breaking up, and some other form of Christian presence in the world is under formation.


There’s more to it, but perhaps you can see why I got a bit excited over it while sitting on the floor in the library.  I wonder when the last time this book was checked out?


Davis was perfectly articulating some things running through my head.  Here was a guy who was unplugging himself from the institutional religious matrix 40 years ago.  But not just any Christian institution but the Mother of them all.  It’s understandable why many Catholics got their blood up about this because he was striking at the very heart of something very personal and meaningful to many people around the world.  And so his book is an explanation of where he was coming from, at that time.  And remember, this is the sixties, when all institutions were being questioned. 


I have barely started this book, and it is not light reading.  It’s actually more challenging than C.S. Lewis.  Davis is writing as a former Catholic theologian and his main audience is presumably Catholic, although he was of no particular denomination at the time of his writing, less than a year out.  Plus there is a 40 year gap between then and now, back when I was only 3 or 4 years old.  But it’s still a good read for me, and one of the reasons I like to blog is to read real accounts written by real people of their lives.  So Davis gives a good backstory on an event that still might have implications for today.  I did google up the original article write up from 1966 from Time Magazine as well as a more recent interview and his thoughts on the selection of the new Pope. 


He makes the case that I think I should make (again) that it is not a dislike of any particular people or group of people.  It is the institution and the hierarchal structure that becomes such a stumbling block.  His assertion about authority coming at the expense of truth particularly resonates in light of some of the past discussions we have had around these parts. 




Home Alone

July 19, 2007

I’m being massively indulgent.  I SO know what Marie means by having the house totally empty except for MEEE!


Arwyn and the boys went to visit her mother in Florida for the rest of the week so it is me, me, me and all mine!  I finished cutting the grass this morning in the hot Georgia heat and not we are getting serious thunder storms.  What am I doing with my freedom?  Massively indulging as much as possible.  I’m finishing off this quart of brew I bought this morning and decided I would do some intense blogging the likes of which I haven’t done in awhile, leaving comments and such.  At least until the lightning got intense.  I’ll be back at it as soon as thing blows over.  I’m massively enjoying the rain, tho.  We have not had anything measurable for a few months.  Barely enough too keep the grass growing, which means this down pour will have me back at it in a week or so.  Hopefully stuff will grow and the deer will find forage somewhere else besides my garden!


With Arwyn gone, so is all the pressure and bother of the relationship drama.  That’s as much why I feel lighter as the beer.  I’m just relaxed, not buzzed.  Maybe I’ll do that Friday night.  Arwyn’s presence brings with it a certain intensity and heaviness that descends and clings and presses down.   Oddly enough, she has voiced a similar feeling about me.  She feels like I am always judging her and trying to change her.  And in a way, I suppose I am.  She threw that out on Black Sunday, and I’m not sure how to respond to that.  I simply said I felt the same way.  I feel I am forever judged and found wanting.  I think this is how anyone in an unhappy relationship feels. 


How do you exist in an unhappy relationship without looking at the things that are making you unhappy?  I suppose one could argue that I simply look at the positives.  I could do that, but then aren’t I then denying all the other crap that is so prevalent? 

I’m thankful that Arwyn is not a shrill harpy, and that she is an otherwise kind person.  She is on a spiritual journey not unlike my own but we are going in radically different directions.  I’m opting out of religious churchianity and she is opting to get deeper and deeper into it.  She wants to pull me back into a system that God is delivering me out of.  There’s an impasse here that I don’t know how to bridge.


Several folks have commented that getting out might be the way to go.  2Am, facing similar circumstances, has all but decided on that course of action.  And I certainly can’t argue that he has not put up a valiant effort.  He’s done the separate and joint counseling, which I haven’t done.  He’s made some decent strides in improving himself, but his wife is not moving but continues to harp at him about stuff that happened years ago and he’s since resolved.


But I think we need the break up one myth right off the bat: when there are kids involved there is no such thing as a “quick, clean break.”  Even without kids, disentangling can be messy.  Artful Dodger has been working on his divorce for almost 2 years.  Our friends Donald and Gina have been working on their divorce for about 3 years.  Arwyn’s dad’s divorce is on its 3rd year (with no kids involved but considerable assets).  See a trend?  I suppose it could be easier, but this is not the norm.


So what do I do?


At this point, I’m taking my cues from God.  A body can do that if they are developing that kind of relationship with Him.  That property down south does not look to be going anywhere.  The party who was interested in buying has not shown much interest in actually paying for it.  God could have closed that door a long time ago.  I have often wished He would have!  But I can’t live down there simply because my job is up here.  But I can spend more time down there working on the place if need be.  I can begin a move if so guided.  Stuff is happening in my work life that is pointing towards a move.  But I’m seeing how it plays out.  The finances are straightening out better and better as long as something doesn’t come along to muck it up.  Anything can happen.  Something will.


I would like for Arwyn to show up and attend the marriage.  I’d do counseling if I had any confidence at all it would work or if she would even go.   But at this point she’s not indicated any willingness to do anything.  Especially talking about it. 





Black Sunday

July 16, 2007

I just had a bit of a discussion with Arwyn.  It was a light enough discussion to start with, but it suddenly turned into something a lot more heavy.  VERY heavy.  To really and truly grasp it, you’ll need to catch up on the entry below this one.  Because this conversation with Arwyn fit neatly into the conversation I just had with you all.

Last Sunday, I taught Sunday school and the topic was more or less the Relationship-based Christianity.  One of the objects of my pointy jibes was the whole concept of appointing greeters to be stationed at various points in order to make people feel welcome.  The point is, that when you invite people to your house, do you have a designated greeter who stands by the door, away from the rest of the party, in order to greet people?  No, of course not unless you are wealthy enough to have a butler or someone hired for the purpose.  But not a family member!  The idea of greeters is something very institutional that has really and truly become an issue in CGM churches designed to bring in maximum numbers of seekers.

On Wednesday, I got the church newsletter/flyer, and there was an entire page devoted towards the greeter ministry.  It seemed to be a response to what I had taught the previous Sunday.  So I considered submitting a written response to our local council on ministries.  So I got the newsletter and my Bible and my PDA and began working on it.

Arwyn came in the bedroom and asked what I was doing.  My usual answer is “Writing.” and I leave it at that.  But this time, decided to tell her, just in the interest of having a conversation.  As it turns out, she did give me some good perspective on the institutional mindset, which was helpful.  People do seem to need to be told what to do and how to do it sometimes, and the greeting program gives people that sort of structure.  It meets a need.  Granted, it’s a need created by the institution but a need nonetheless.

However this discussion morphed into something else along the way.  Somehow I began pointing out that her church, Saddleback East ( or Willow Creek South, if you prefer) has many of these same difficulties as the Methodist church and seems to be intent of making a program out of everything!  She goes there 3-4 times a week and yet wants to go yet another time for a small group meeting.  She pointed out that it wasn’t the meeting she wanted, it was the relationships.

Which is where I spring the conversation back to my last post.  I asked her if she expected God to honor attempts at relationship outside of our household when we struggled so much within our own family.  “Don’t you think we should work on our relationship?”  I asked.  The next three words were a bombshell.

“I don’t know.”

Don’t know?  Don’t know?

“You don’t know if you want to work on our relationship?”

“No.  I don’t know where to go with it.  I’m not sure if I want to.”

At least she’s honest.

Still, this did sort of floor me because somewhere in the back of my mind I was hoping that she might come ’round to wanting to show up and work on our marriage.  Now she’s flat out saying that she is not sure she even wants to make an attempt.  And this is perfectly consistent with her actions for the past several years.  She basically has not lifted a finger to help in various efforts that I’ve made to improve our status.  She is simply not that into me.  And she might be on her way further out.  The conversation ended abruptly as the kids were fussing about something and she was about to break down in tears. 

The thing is that this really does impact everything.  Or to be more realistic, there is very little about day-to-day life that this does not impact.  For instance, the small TV that I owned before we got married and had in our bedroom went on the blink.  Arwyn stated that she wanted some say in replacing it.  However, now I’m thinking that I need to think about a post-Arwyn life and what sort of TV I might fancy, if any.

And then there is this boat-anchor of property we have in S. Georgia.  The renter who was not paying rent has been evicted.  I’ve been working on selling the place.  However now, perhaps I’m thinking that I might need it as a place to stay for myself. 

People deal with major stresses in different ways, and Arwyn’s is to clean and organize which she commenced to doing while I tried to write this post.  We had a small conversation about the property and she seemed to think keeping it wouldn’t be that bad of an idea.  But neither would getting rid of it.  She is not interested in living there so it would be just me if it happened that way.

Basically, we are at a point where we are sort of on the same wavelength.  In her own mind I think she is thinking about a post-Digger life.  She’s thinking about going back to school and/or getting a full-time job.    While I think she handles a lot on her own, it’s difficult for me to imagine her being able to handle both boys by herself. 

It’s all sort of depressing.  Arwyn gave up on the marriage years ago and has never even tried to check back in. 






Relationship-based Christianity

July 14, 2007

My poor, poor readers. I always wonder if one of the reasons why my blog will never go viral is because of how often I give them a case of mental whiplash. From my ode to the sexually willing Cosmo Girl, to plumbing deeper into the nature of Christian faith.


Do try to keep up, won’t you?


Arwyn has officially thrown in the towel. She’s tired of it. She’s had it. She’s going to give up and move on as this relationship just isn’t working out. No, not with me (although that’s not far off, I believe) but her attempt at starting a small group.


The Church Growth Movement (CGM) involves several set plans and models. One is “running the bases” which is a series of 4 classes that train and equip leaders in the church. Arwyn has been faithful in running the bases, at least to this point. Here are a few examples of other churches using this model:

A Baptist Church (And you’ll see they have 5 classes, the 5th being sort of a bonus course)

One of the basic classes that you can buy for $100

A Presbyterian church using the formula

And I knew if I looked hard enough, I would find a Catholic church using this.




Too bad she won’t go past 1st base with ME! Hahahaha!


Her and another guy went through the class and set out to start a small group for parents of children with disabilities. The small or cell group is a core feature of the CGM church as they recognize that a community can not thrive without close, intimate relationships. The problem is that you simply can not force a real relationship like that. Sometimes it might work, but it did not in this case. One reason is that a group of parents of kids with special needs are inherently needy themselves. You basically have a bottomless pit of neediness, and most have such similar needs, there’s no one who would join the group who would or could meet everyone’s needs. There’s so much need for support amongst everyone, there’s not a lot to go around. And everyone is rather tired from the struggle!


Also, this thing was thrown together without really consulting God at all. No one consulted God about this group beforehand, but just went ahead with it and then later asked Him to bless what was already done. This is a weakness inherent in the whole institutional and organizational system. Programs, policies and plans dictate what people ought to do, not the Holy Spirit. And then they wonder why they are forever having to engage in spiritual warfare. They think they have to fight for something God never really endorsed in the first place.


But the main and truly real reason this enterprise was doomed for failure is because no one in this group had any idea how to have a really true intimate relationship. Period. That includes me, definitely. The first place we learn to have genuine relationship is within our families.


Anyone NOT from a dysfunctional family, raise your hands. Okay, you people with your hands up just get the hell out of here because you’re all a bunch of liars! Your parents probably taught you that, too!


No amount of therapy is going to cure ones own dysfunction or that of another person or the dysfunction between two dysfunctional people. Adjustment, social and emotional, is sort of a relative thing. I’ve met people who seemed well put together. But once that facade falls, they are really screwed up. Arwyn was one of those folks. Therapy and recovery aren’t bad places to be. My father-in-law met both his ex-wife and his new girlfriend while in an AA group! I’ve been through both and learned from them.


Until Arwyn decides to show up to this marriage, she’s going to have a rough time of making this or any of her relationships really work. And the same goes for me. I think one prime difference between her and I, is that I’ve picked up many more tools to make relationships work if I want to use them.


The institutional church is a very poor place to learn about truly functional relationships. You can learn about relationships driven by guilt, driven by peer pressure, driven by obligation, by legalism, duty, greed, competition and habit. Compassion, friendship and loyalty occasionally make and appearance but love ends up on the bottom of the list. It just doesn’t happen too often in the modern institutional religious church. We are admonished all the time to do things out of love, but that only goes to highlight the dysfunction. How do you enforce a rule that say you MUST love your neighbor…or else?


Again, it is attempting to force relationship through rules, obligation and regulation. Even in a dysfunctional state, I can see that this is no way to run a community.


Relationship and faith walk hand-in-hand with each other, which is something Jesus understood and kept trying to teach over and over. Genuine relationship can not exist apart from faith and trust. Without some measure of faith and trust that the person is presenting themselves honestly, there can be no intimacy. Only a dysfunctional fool would entrust their heart to someone who was untrustworthy. But it happens all the time, doesn’t it? All of us have done it and gotten burned. We’ve also burned others if we’re honest about it.


I started this post a week ago and am not sure why I didn’t post it other than it seemed unfinished. But there was one interesting development worth mentioning. I ordered a DVD and book from Family Room Media. You can download the video for free, but I was thinking I would use it for my next Sunday school lesson. You can also read a good section of David Fredrickson’s book online, too. I may do a review of it later.


When it came in the mail, I was working out at the time. So I let Arwyn look at it. She proceeded to open it up and read it. And read it some more. And read some more until she had read half way through. She devoured the thing. When I eventually got to it a few days later, I managed to read it in one extended sitting staying up until 2:30 a.m.. It really is that good of a story. But she’s in a searching mode, herself. She’s also in a bit of a denial mode, too, but we all are to some degree.


The author of the book does express a thought that profoundly applies here. Mainly, that until we get a decent relationship with God, we’re pretty much doomed to not being able to get other relationships right. The institutional church tries, and I believe the people in the system are sincere in their desire to know Father better. However the system itself keeps people back and keeps them in a works-based and legalistic mindset. Coming into a more relationship-based mindset means cleaning out some of the stuff that’s been getting in the way. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to have His way.






Younger Girls

July 6, 2007

Xi Summit has been chronicling his history with Queenie and it has actually been an interesting read.  Not just for content but for the style of his writing, which always contains a fair amount of restraint.  I imagine him blushing with embarrassment when writing about accidentally touching his then-girlfriend’s breast.  But this girl became his one and only and he’s been playing it straight and narrow all the way since.  He’s a better man than me.


One prime source of embarrassment for him was Queenie being 4 years younger, which was sort of a big deal when she was 13. I do get that.  But like I said, he’s a better man than me.


My first steady girlfriend might have followed a similar trajectory if things stayed on course.  Suzie was 15 when we first went out.  I was twenty *cough* one!  And we dated off and on for the next 4 years.   We did kiss and make out.  I did touch a bare breast of hers…once.  We could have done more but it was a mismatch.  So this was the biggest age difference for me, right?




Um.  No.


I was 26 when I met Ellen.  By this time I had quite a bit more experience with some women my own age.  I went back to college for a year after working a year or two, and that is where I met Ellen through some roommates.  What I did NOT know, was that she was only 16.  How in the hell does a girl get into college at 16?  I don’t know, but I did show her some of the famous artwork prints on my bedroom wall which led to some awkward fucking.  She was cool with it, but I did feel guilty about that later on.  And that was a one time deal. 


So there you have it.  My run-in with the younger girls that could have landed me in jail.




Um.  Well.  There’s one more.


Fast forward several months.  I’m a camp counselor for little kids as a summer job.  And there is this CIT (Counselor In Training) who could not have been more than 17.  Melanie was what you might a call a free spirit.  One night she took ME somewhere to show me some professional B&W photos she had done of herself.  Nekkid photos.  The guy who took them could have been arrested for child porn.  But they were…um…tasteful other than the fact she was at least a bit under age.  I was a bit more reluctant with her, but she’s the one who slipped into my bed late at night.     We didn’t get to any full-blown intercourse, but there was semi-naked making out aplenty over a few weeks, including one memorable session in a covered wagon.  That still ranks as the most exotic locale, even though we stopped short of going all the way.  JUST short.  But naked making out is still pretty good.  And still would land me in jail today. 


I’m not exactly proud of any of this, but at the same time this was almost 20 years ago and I have been through too much to have a lot of regrets.  I really liked all those girls and they all really liked me at least at that point in time.  In all cases we parted as friends, with no regrets as far as I know.  Thanks for the memories.


I do think it is worth mentioning (again) that I waited to have sex until I was 25.  Did I wait too long or not long enough?  I don’t know, but I was immature and a late bloomer in that regard.  Melanie was ages beyond me in sexual experience or so it seemed.  Suzie and I were equally clueless, and Ellen was sort of looking to gain experience.  I was in a very rebellious phase when I met Ellen and Melanie, and went through a sizable string of women during a 3 year stretch.  I’m okay with having those experiences, especially considering the desolate place I’m in now.  I at least have those fond memories to look back on.


I would eventually begin dating older women, which is where I would get my real sexual education.  The younger girls did have a sweetness about them that I remember fondly, but the encounters were always a bit awkward.  But they loved kissing and being touched.


One thing Xi noted and I’ll concur with, is that the younger girls never really did give a lot of thought touching me.  They let me use their bodies as amusement parks and I was all too happy to do it.  But now it occurs that they were always looking for me to be the aggressor and they were relatively passive.  Even Melanie who was a little seductress, basically showed up with few or no clothes on and let me do whatever without a lot of reciprocity.  


The idea of a woman taking some initiative and exploring her man’s body seems to be a relatively recent concept or one that age and experience teaches.  Figuring out what gets a guy off, or what makes him tick physically is the domain of today’s Cosmo girls.  I don’t think most older married women even give it a thought.  Perhaps they think they don’t need to explore.  Or they are not as inquisitive and curious as most guys.  Or they do not care how to make sex better for their man.  In fact, there is a cluster of us guys who seem to be married to women who seem more vested in making it worse!





Bold Suggestion

July 3, 2007

Bold Suggestion

I decided to make my treatment of The Secret into its own entry. I need to keep my own story moving a bit, because things have a tendency to get stale if I don’t. Not just in the blog, but in real life. Writing about it (or not having anything to write) lets me know how stale things are and how much movement or lack thereof exists. And there just hasn’t been much.

I’m feeling a bit squirrelly lately. I want to play. I can tell when I’m getting that itch because I start looking for more stories, articles and news. I read more of the listserve and generally look for items dealing with my favorite kink on a more regular basis. Tom and Cagedone are majorly hitting my buttons. But playing alone has a limited attraction. I’m not quite there.

I did manage to make a suggestion to Arwyn about the ENQ.

2amsomewhere was wondering about her 12 step group. It’s actually the CGM/Rick Warren version called Celebrate Recovery. While the focus is more Christian, it is still based on the 12 steps and traditions of AA. It is broad-based, so several bottom line issues are addressed simultaneously. In Arwyn’s case, I think she is focusing more on the issues from her alcoholic dad and perhaps codependency issues. In any case, Arwyn claims to be close to her “step sisters” and has said they do get pretty personal. These groups are segregated by gender so that helps minimize the sort of 13th stepping behaviors engaged in by Arwyn’s dad.

I’m not against any of this, except that I don’t see any movement at all as far as improvement in our marriage. So the other night I suggested that she might take the ENQ to her step meeting and perhaps these step sisters can help her understand it enough to fill the thing out after the meeting. She actually thought it might be useful and said she would consider it. I’m still in the midst of trying to move things along, one way or another but not terribly optimistic. Without more pressure, she’s not going to do much on her own. And no one else is going to apply that pressure except for me.

As I quit smoking, eat better, exercise more and generally improve my health my libido is going to increase. That is simply what happens to men as they become healthy. They get horny! A good bit of my smoking was driven by trying to decrease my libido. But I’m no longer going in that direction. If Arwyn wants to sit around and wait to die, that’s her business. But I’m not doing it any more.