The Year I Got Old

I turned 40 last year. To be honest, the whole experience was far less traumatic than I thought it would be. No black balloons, no aches and pains, no feeling that my life was ending. I ate Chinese food and went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The whole experience was nothing like I had pictured in my mind.

I felt like a relatively young 40. I was still in good health. I wasn’t on any major medications of any kind. I was physically active. I had a pretty decent idea of what was popular in the culture, so I was able to fit in fairly well with younger people. The only tip-off might have been the white hairs in my beard, but I thought those actually looked kind of cool, so I didn’t mind so much.

keep-calm-you-re-getting-old-4Something changed this year, though. There was something about passing 40 that seemed nearly more dreadful than reaching it. That wasn’t all, though. While I stayed physically active and maintained a good weight, my body was occasionally hinting that it might need more care than I was giving it. I found out I had some bone spurs in my lower back, which meant returning to the chiropractor on a regular basis. I would still occasionally feel pain in my quads, which I injured playing softball a few years ago. I would get shin splints if I tried jogging. I wasn’t falling apart by any means, but chinks in the armor were beginning to show.

I also noticed I was having to explain my references to the younger people I work with more often. On the flipside, they were mentioning more things I had never heard of. In my estimation, this kind of thing shouldn’t be happening quite yet. More and more of my stories were beginning with the words “Back when…”, and most of the people I was talking to weren’t even old enough to have a “back when.” As hard as I tried to stay on top of what was new musically, I found myself turning more and more to my iPod, which is largely filled with songs from the 1990s. I would see “celebrities” on television and wonder who the heck they were.

Most of all, though, I began to notice a lack of enthusiasm for certain things. Granted, part of this could have been caused by my depression and attempting to regulate my medication for it, but I felt a certain tiredness setting in. For the first time I can remember, I looked out the window this spring and didn’t want to go out and mow the yard. That chore is usually like a fortress of solitude for me. As much as I enjoyed getting my bicycle out and riding it again, I nearly had to drag myself out the door to do it. I found myself having to be more and more diligent to keep myself from sliding into the cold, gray area of just not caring that much about anything.

That is a part of getting older, though, isn’t it? You have to work a little harder to maintain things. You have to adapt to your surroundings a bit more. You have to adjust for limitations. You have to become comfortable with the fact that you don’t know the name of every member of every new band or have never watched the most popular video on YouTube. You have to realize that sometimes not caring can actually be a good thing. Yes, you get old, but you somehow learn to do it gracefully.

So I will mark this down as the year I got old. Somehow, though, that doesn’t sound so scary to me now. It happens to everyone sooner or later. And that may not be such a bad thing after all.


The Sad Internet

Call it my pessimistic nature, but I’ve grown a little wary of distributing advice here after the last couple of blog posts. Maybe that’s because I don’t want to seem like I think I’m an expert on recovering from depression, because I am far from it. Maybe that’s because I feel as if the first day of the new year today actually took me even further away from where I want to eventually be mentally. Or maybe that’s because I’ve just run out of good ideas to write about this week.

Whatever the cause, this post will not attempt to address my own personal journey with depression, but will instead focus on something which is universal to everyone – failure. More specifically, I want to examine epic failures, how they are often played for laughs, how they must affect the person or persons who are failing, and how some people can bounce back from them while others never will.

sadinternetThe inspiration for all this comes from an article I read this morning on Yahoo! Tech titled “The Sad Internet: 2014 in Review,” written by Rob Walker. In the article, Walker describes “The Sad Internet” as “a place full of unwatched videos, unliked photographs, unheard music, tweets that no one cared about, and crowdfunding projects that nobody backed.” He goes on to describe several websites which define the spirit of this somewhat morose side of the internet today.

For example, the website Forgotify randomly presents songs featured on Spotify that have never received any listens whatsoever. Petit Tube is a French website which features YouTube videos that have never been viewed by you or anyone else, for that matter. Perhaps the saddest of all the sites mentioned in the article is Kickended, a site which features Kickstarter projects that failed to attract even a single backer.

Walker’s article sort of plays all this for laughs, and it is difficult to deny there is something funny about the idea of forgotifysomething being terrible enough it is unable to attract any attention whatsoever. Then again, maybe it’s not so difficult to deny the supposed humor of the situation. I checked out Forgotify this afternoon, and while 99 percent of the song selections that popped up featured cover art so dismal I was afraid to listen to the actual songs themselves, I felt a tinge of sympathy for these musicians and singers. As atrocious as their offerings may have been, I’m sure none of them believed while they were making their projects that they would be ignored by everyone.

This is a sad internet, indeed. Hopeful entrepreneurs who can’t get a dime to fund their projects; merry jokesters who can’t even garner a single viewing of their best video offerings; and people who are cruel enough to set up entire websites dedicated to pointing out the failures of others. The Sad Internet, though, is really just a reflection of the sometimes sad state of life. People who give it their best shots fail every day, and every day there are other people waiting to rub their noses in their failures. It may as well be called “The Real Life Internet.”

This principle of real life, however, is what makes me not quite as sad for these victims of The Sad Internet as I might have been. Because a large majority of those people who fail in life every day somehow manage to dust themselves off and get right back on the horse again. And even though some of them never produce anything much better than their last failure, I have a certain admiration for their fighting spirit. I tend to let my failures cling to me, causing me to be afraid to try again. At least these “sad” people took their shots.

Of course, the psychology of The Sad Internet could be endlessly explored. For instance, while the internet has been touted as a place to connect people and bring the world closer together, it very often causes feelings of isolation, inadequacy, and bitterness. All of that is a discussion best left for another time, however. I’m going to look for some hidden gems on Forgotify. You never know what prize someone else might have passed over.

Doing It For Ourselves

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

It’s so easy to pick on the Osteens. From the Texas-inspired drawl that creeps into their speech from time to time to the weird plastic-y shine on their faces to the way they fumble over questions about Jesus being the only way to heaven, Joel and Victoria Osteen are practically sitting ducks for anyone with a beef against prosperity gospel teachings and the fall of biblical doctrine in the United States. And, quite frankly, most of the time they deserve what they get, in my opinion.

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, Victoria Osteen has been drawing a larger-than-usual amount of fire this week for remarks she recently made to the congregation of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Just to let what was said speak for itself, here is a transcript of her exhortation:

“I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God – I mean, that’s one way to look at it – we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy. That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?” 

Oh, my gosh, they just make it too easy sometimes, don’t they? (And I say they because Pastor Joel is standing right beside his wife, smiling the entire time, while she’s saying this.)

Everyone from Albert Mohler to the pastor at the church down the street have been teeing off on this one all week. I did actually come across a few apologists attempting to clarify what Victoria said, but c’mon. There’s no theologically sound argument for this kind of logic. Yes, God does bring us joy in the morning and peace that passes all understanding, but He never promises happiness. All of our joy is to be found in Him, a fact that’s stated over and over again in the Bible.

There’s no way I would attempt to try to defend such remarks, but I’ve been wondering if maybe all the furor isn’t so much over what the Smiling Preacher’s wife said so much as that she may have inadvertently unveiled a sort of ugly truth about the church today.

We don’t go there to worship God. We go there to feel happy.

I used the pronoun we there because I’m not going to pretend I haven’t done this myself. “Gotta recharge the batteries. Let’s go to church!” I mean, I’m going to go sing songs and listen to a sermon, but what I really want is to feel better. Judging from the fact that Lakewood is the largest Protestant church in the United States, it would seem plenty of other people want to feel better, too.

Is it wrong for people to want to feel happy? Well, I don’t know. I think the Bible draws a pretty clear line between joy and happiness. Joy operates irrelevant of our circumstances; happiness is an emotion that hinges nearly entirely on our circumstances. I would wager, though, that there are an awful lot of people out there besides the Osteens who show up Sunday morning looking for happiness than those who show up seeking joy. I believe that’s why so many staunch theologians are up in arms over Victoria’s remarks. They know she’s wrong, but they also know that she’s peddling what more and more Christians are looking for.

This could wrap around into the “Did the Osteens create us or did we create the Osteens?” debate, but I really don’t care to get into that right now. What I think these recent remarks should do is cause each one of us to look at ourselves and ask a very hard question: Do I play at worshiping God to make myself feel better or do I offer Him authentic and real worship simply because of who He is? This could be an example of God using all things for good. If not, well, at least there’ll be a bunch of happy people running around, right?


Not Getting It

I feel bad for Richard Martinez. I really do. Anyone who loses a child in as senseless an act of violence as Martinez lost his son, richard martinezChristopher, is wholly deserving of our sympathy. Christopher Martinez was only 20 years old, a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He was one of seven killed in Santa Barbara this past Friday evening by Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old fellow student at the university.

I also feel bad for Richard Martinez for a different reason, though. In an emotionally charged speech this past Saturday, Richard placed blame for the incident squarely on “craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA.” He went on to use words like “insanity” and “madness” to describe his frustration with current gun laws in the United States. His rage was palpable, and his words spread over the internet almost instantly.

I’m sad for Richard Martinez because he totally missed the point.

I’ve been trying ever since I first read about this tragic story on Friday to muster up some sort of sympathy for Rodger. He obviously had some sort of mental issues going on, but since I’m not a therapist I couldn’t tell you what they were exactly. All the news reports I’ve read described him as very shy, a withdrawn soul who had extreme difficulty in social situations. I read in one article that his parents suspected he might have had Asperger’s Syndrome, which proves how out of touch the media can be with mental illness, since Asperger’s was removed from DSM-5 last year.

As hard as I’ve tried, though, I’m still having difficulty finding much of anything about this man who killed seven people before stampyeventually taking his own life as well to feel for. There’s an old episode of The Simpsons I think of sometimes where Bart wins an elephant he names “Stampy” in a local radio station contest. The episode ends with Stampy being taken to a wildlife reserve, where he begins ramming his head into the other elephants, prompting the reserve manager to tell Bart, “Animals are a lot like people, Mr. Simpson: Some of them act badly because they’ve had a hard life or have been mistreated. But, like people, some of them are just jerks.” And as much as I try to understand this man, everything I read about him just makes me dislike him even more.

Best I can tell, Rodger’s “manifesto” he had written and the videos he posted on YouTube prior to going on his rampage essentially boiled down to two overall points: He didn’t like his roommates, and he couldn’t get laid. Maybe I’m over-simplifying, but the majority of his rambling manifesto I read screamed “victim mentality” at every turn. He wasn’t a cool kid in school; he had never seen an adult woman naked; video games ruined his social life; no one helped him get used to his new high school; and on and on and on…

All of which brings me back to Richard Martinez. Yes, a gun was used to kill his son, but it was a legally purchased gun. Considering some of the other issues at play here, gun control is almost on the periphery. Rodger’s parents divorced, which he described as a traumatic event in his life. His sexual education came not from a parent, but from pornographic movies. He drank alcohol irresponsibly. He tapped into the new culture of narcissism that allows anyone and everyone to call attention to themselves on the internet. He had an unhealthy obsession with having a relationship with a woman and was a bitter, frustrated young man.

elliot_rodger_t479The gun was just the vehicle here. Rodger’s road had been paved for years by an existence marked by self-centeredness, lack of attention and love, and no moral compass to set him straight. It would be blasphemy for the media today to mention that maybe, just maybe the lack of God in a killer’s life might have been beneficial. Of course, that’s no guarantee; Christians do crazy stuff all the time. Shouldn’t we at least consider, however, pointing those with issues like Rodger’s in the direction of a God who promises to never leave nor forsake him?

I had one steady girlfriend my entire time in high school. I was skinny, had a mop of curly hair I didn’t know what to do with, and never became the athlete I wanted to be. I remember being so lonely and miserable in my early 20s that I contemplated walking away from God altogether. He was punishing me, my victim mentality told me. He didn’t like me. For reasons I still can’t explain, though, I stuck with Him. I’ll have been married 16 years this July.

Maybe I feel bad for Elliot Rodger after all. In many ways, he was just like me. I never killed anyone, though. Richard Martinez is right to be angry. I just wish he would be angry about the things that mattered.