Tag Archives: God

Loving Assholes

I’m a confirmed idiot.  After all, one time at a friend’s house I went to the bathroom and accidentally urinated entirely in my friend’s trash can (By the way, I was completely sober).

However, I am also awesome in this specific way:  I value assholes.

Assholes, of course, can just be jerks who just enjoy hurting other people or don’t care when they do.  These people are obnoxious.  Nobody likes them, and for that reason, most of us are scared shitless at the idea of being thought of as one.

But I enjoy people who are willing to risk being mistaken for a jerk.  I appreciate those willing to potentially hurt the other person for that person’s sake.  They are willing to risk the relationship.  They are willing to make you cry if it makes you better.  I call them loving assholes.

Alicia took this picture when we were in Sri Lanka last summer.  It is very related to this post (it is not related to this pose).

Alicia took this picture when we were in Sri Lanka last summer. We think it looks cool.  It is also very related to this post (it is not related to this post).

Loving assholes are quite possibly the most important type of close friend to have in your life.  They are valuable precisely because they care more about you than about being in your life.  They call you out when you are being mean to your wife.  They let you know your fly is down.  They insist that you apologize to your kids when you have done something wrong.  They stop you from buying that last round of shots.  If your inner-circle consists of yes-men or yes-women, you risk becoming abusive; nobody is above it.  We can all fall into habits of being, for example, short-tempered, verbally abusive, or generally unkind towards the people we love.  If nobody in your life is a loving asshole, than nobody will call you out.

I am a loving asshole.  Consider this example:  it was two months before my friends wedding and I was his best man.  I became increasingly concerned about my friend’s marriage.  After a few cautions, I reached the point that I could not in all honesty support their marriage and I stepped down as best-man.  I risked my entire relationship with my friend in an attempt to help him.

Artists easily shoot themselves in the foot by not seeking out honest feedback.   In college, a buddy of mine wrote and directed a six hour play and had his friends perform it.  I saw it, the first 1.5 hours was pretty good, but on the whole it was awful.  It tied up his friends lives for a big chunk of their senior year, and nobody had the heart to tell him what they thought.

To the extent that I am a good writer today is the same extent to which I have managed to cultivate honest feedback.  I reccomend this loving-asshole-cultivation technique in particular: marry one of them.  I can count on Alicia to give me an honest and frank appraisal on, for instance, this post.  I see it now, “It was good.  You probably said ‘asshole’ too often.  You probably could have come off as slightly less self-congratulatory.  I thought it was hilarious when you peed in Jim’s trash can.”

Of course, if artists do not cultivate an inner-circle of loving assholes, all they risk is being a bad artist.  If you or I do not have any loving-assholes as friends, you risk being a bad person.

Of course, I am not alone in being a loving asshole.  There are millions of us, and we are asshole-ish to different degrees and in different varieties.  However, I doubt that truly loving assholes are much more than 5% of the population (total guess).

One loving asshole that comes to mind was Jesus.  Throughout the gospels, Jesus constantly ‘sticks it’ to the pharisees and others.  One example is Matthew 15: 1-7a.

Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”  Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.” (NIV)

The Pharisees prided themselves on being extra-devoted to the Law.  This would have really pissed them off.  In fact, we know it did.  Two verses later the disciples warned Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?”  Jesus replies, “Leave them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.”

Of course, Jesus can get away with that sort of innapropriate behavior because he is all-knowing and what not.  You and I should emulate Jesus in the other, Philippians Christ hymn sort of way; by being really really humble.  But being really humble means being willing to forsake your clean image as a good person and occasionally that might mean making someone sad.

Fortunately, the world is hungry for honest feedback.  Instead of feeling sad, we often feel invigorated and closer than ever when we confront someone out of love.  I was inspired to write this post because I have recently started some life-coaching sessions with an individual who simply wants to learn how to get better at making conversation.  She is eager for some frank appraisal and discussion.  It’s inspiring to see.

And it makes me want to ask my reader’s, who do you need to be a loving-asshole for today?

4 quick tips on being a loving asshole:

  • Only be a loving asshole, generally, with people you know well. You can’t speak into someone’s life if you do not know what you are talking bout.  
  • Take responsibility for your very good friends.  Know when it is likely that nobody will speak certain truths into someone’s life unless you do.  
  • When you confront as a loving asshole, you do so for the other person’s sake.  Any defensiveness on your part when they push back (and they likely will), and you are just an asshole.
  • Loving assholes are only loving assholes occasionally.  Usually, they are just loving.  Don’t go overboard.

This post is #2 in my “I’m a Confirmed Idiot” series. You see, sometimes I have thoughts worth sharing, but I don’t share them because they are in various ways self-congratulatory.  If subtexts had vocal chords they might scream, “See!  Aren’t I great?”  Don’t get me wrong.  That’s a wonderful message which the world needs to hear.  It is just problematic when it is so obviously preached by me.  So sometimes I avoid ideas and messages worth sharing, things I believe in, that may help people, in the pursuit of looking like a nice guy.  So, in the “I’m a Confirmed Idiot” series, I am requiring myself to, before getting into obviously self-congratulatory prose, start with a formulation in which I confess an entirely true and unrelated personal epic fail.   This frees me to make my points with righteous passion, holding nothing back, for, as it says in Leviticus 27:35, “If you are humble for a moment, feast on the joy that comes from being full of yourself the rest of the time.”  Look it up; it’s in the Bible.  

Incidentally, this is also #2 in my series “Old Jer Ideas” and remarkably similar to my first post.  

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Loved in Hell

Can loved ones be in hell?  I think everyone who believes in hell would say, “Of course.”  But this poses some logical problems for me.

In Veggie Tales’ Jonah, the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything define compassion for us: “Compassion is when you see that someone needs help, and you want to help them.”  It could also be said that you “let someone else’s trouble trouble you.”  But how do the troubles of those in hell not trouble those in heaven who, I assume, tend to be loving, compassionate people?  Is heaven possible in a world with a populated hell?

In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis wants to say it is.  It is possible to love those in hell, which in his grand metaphor is a greytown filled with those determined to hate the world and themselves, and not to be made miserable by that love, even if they are our dearest loved ones.  Lewis wants to say that if there is a hell then the Veggie Tales view of compassionate love does not work, because then hell would hold heaven hostage.

My trouble is that the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything have a good definition.  My understanding of love seems to necessitate letting others hijack your emotions.  As Mr. Holton, my 9th grade English teacher, said about having kids, “It’s like letting your heart walk around outside your body.”  That makes sense to me.  That is how my marriage feels, or having good friends, or having a god you love, or a dog you cherish, or loving anything at all ever.  A true lover cannot care about the self-inflicted emotional distress of those they love without that distress in some way translating into distress for themselves.  Distress is distress even if deserved.

Because love connects us, in a world of hate, all suffering is local.  It’s quarantined.  In a world of love, pain rides veins of sympathy, slowly spreading throughout the world to make us all miserable.  Maybe God made the world that way purposefully.  If we all loved each other, joy and misery would be universal.  That also means that those veins of sympathy would intertwine heaven and hell.

So, is compassion not good, or does it somehow become not good after Judgement Day?  Does compassion need to somehow accommodate corollaries (for example, another’s troubles only bothers you when they are not self-inflicted or deserved)?  How can it?  Will we not have real compassion or love for people in hell?  Or, will hell be empty?  I have no answers.

Maybe God cuts people off from his love because he loves others and must be allowed to be happy for their sake, otherwise the pain of the former will spread.  Maybe hell could mean being completely forgotten.  I cannot have compassion on someone if I do not remember they exist.  But while God can make me forget, can he forget?  I doubt it.  Even if he is the only one who remembers that there are people in hell, wouldn’t his love of people who are getting tortured torture him?  Is heaven good for us and miserable for God?

I think the magnitude of suffering dictates in part how bad we feel for even self-inflicted pain.  Lewis’ “greytown” seems less awful than fiery torment.  Even if fiery torment is self-inflicted, if we love them in any meaningful sense, we will feel bad, right?  Aren’t we called to love our enemies?  Is it a big step from that to love the damned?

But maybe my definition of love is incomplete.  Maybe more central to love is caring about someone else’s wellbeing more than your own.  In doing this, you throw yourself wide to the afflictions of compassion, but misery is avoided, because this sort of love is impossible without something else: a radical humility. You cannot care about someone else more than yourself if you care for yourself an infinite amount.  Have you ever been loved by someone who is not humble?  You haven’t.  It’s impossible.  Humility makes love possible, and part of humility is not taking on cares and woes that are not yours.  You are not responsible for everything if you do not think of yourself as having power over everything.  “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Somehow, maybe, by giving up on yourself, you can care about others, but that care does not pollute your happiness, because you have given up on yourself.  As Tyler Durten says in Fight Club, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”  As Victor Frankyl notes in Man’s Search for Meaning, you have to give yourself up and devote yourself to some larger purpose to be happy.  As Jesus says in Matthew, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

A radical humility is more central to our faith than anything else (my favorite passage is the Christ Hymn in Philippians).  Maybe radical humility is what saves hell from destroying heaven.  But at times it feels like alot of bullshit.  Christ’s call to die to self is an obnoxiously internal command.  I wish I could just do some hail Mary’s, observe Friday fasts, make a pilgrimage, and do stuff that makes me feel Christian and good.  I long for legalism.  But Christianity is an immensely internal experience.  Humility, love, faith, God…I cannot measure it, see it, record it, or describe it.  I hardly understand it.

So of course it would feel like bullshit, and of course it might be.  It just makes me crazy.

These are ramblings.  Please take them as such.  


Unjust Justice

At a news interview tonight, a reporter told me that police are charging Wes with public drunkenness, reckless endangerment, and something else I don’t remember.  The reporter asked me to respond and I want to share:

I think almost dying and getting badly injured is disincentive enough to provide behavioral change.  Assuming that he is not totally heartless, I am sure he also feels extremely embarrassed and ashamed to have endangered others.  I think our sense of justice in America can sometimes miss the mark.  My mother crashed her car last year, no other vehicles involved, in which her car was totaled, and she was almost killed.  She got a ticket and had to pay a considerable fine.  This sort of event or way of thinking is not uncommon.  It’s not the policeman’s fault.  It’s our way of thinking as a society that is to blame.  That is what I want to change.

The reporter also asked me:  Would you have done what you did if you knew that he was drunk?

My answer: Absolutely.  I make mistakes all the time.  Do you?  When I have fallen, physically and metaphorically, people have been there to help me up.  I had all the same problems with selfishness, greed, lust, pride, and bad-decision making before this event, and I still have them.  When I make my next mistake, when you do, we hope someone is there to pick us up.

I was sad to see in some of the comments on the youtube video that people were viciously ridiculing Wes for what has been said he did.  I try to stay away from biblical allusions, as I am rarely confident of God’s meaning, but it seems so appropriate here.  In John 8, Jesus was asked what to do about a criminal (there’s more to this story but irrelevant to the present purpose).  The law said that the criminal should be stoned.  Jesus said, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.”   Of course we need laws and punishment, but maybe sometimes punishment is more unjust than no punishment.

Even if we did find someone who did not make mistakes, I imagine that person would also be wise enough to understand the beauty and importance of each individual.  When we make mistakes, we do not become suddenly worthless.  We are beautiful, maturing, and imperfect individuals.  Again, please do not judge a person based on one time events.  That also applies to me.  I am not defined by one act of heroism either.

Besides, what active and adventuresome person has not ridden MARTA and wondered if they were capable of clearing those tracks?  I certainly have.

2 housekeeping notes:

  1. I made a “Subway Incident” page (link above) as a receptacle for all links and things related to what happened on Sunday and the aftermath.  I’ll be posting about it less often, the worthy posts might wind up there, and I’ll try to keep that page current with the interviews and stuff that I am doing on-air and not.
  2. Alicia has decided that if several hundred people are going to be looking at my blog regularly or irregularly, it should be a bit more presentable.  She reads my stuff and edits at her leisure.  So, if you read something riddled with errors and idiocy, it means it is unadulterated Jer.