Tag Archives: sin

And There Was War in Heaven

final-war

Do not let your hearts be troubled Trust god and also trust in me for my yoke is So I say to you BLEEDING ask and it shall be THE given to you Seek and you will DEAD find Knock and the RAPE door will be opened for you GIRL This is my body Do this in MARDUK remembrance of me This is my INQUISITION blood Do this in remembrance HE’S NOT HERE of me. Therefore I tell you INVERTED whatever you ask for in prayer Believe that CROSS you have received it IT’S PETER and it will be yours NO IT’S BEELZEBUB Seek first his kingdom and his RAPE righteousness and all THE these things will be BLEEDING given to you as well DEAD Whoever drinks the GIRL water that I give F**KED them will never WITH thirst I am the way A the truth and the KNIFE life No one comes to MARDUK the father INQUISITION except through me YOU WORTHLESS Love the lord your god PATHETIC LITTLE with all your heart F*CK and with all your soul and with all your mind YOU’RE MINE Hail mary – – – –  – –  —

 

~t


Not-So-Holy Family

Wikimedia Commons

In the Catholic tradition, today is the Solemnity of the Holy Family. This morning at Mass, the homily really struck me; the Spirit called me higher in my own life: fatherhood, marriage, my responsibility as the head of the family, and so on.

During the homily and after, not once did I try and justify myself. Normally I would only pick and choose what to apply to my own situation, in my mind knowing that my wife is a non-believer and that’s why my kids are not being raised in the Catholic faith.

On the contrary.

Amen, I was saying to myself, listening to the points that were being driven home by the priest. I’m gonna start getting my kids involved in my parish. I’m gonna live out my faith to the very best of my ability so my wife will see the Holy Spirit in me.

All these are good things, right?

Well, before I even walked through the door after getting home from Mass, my wife blurted, “You need to fix the refrigerator ASAP. It’s not cooling properly. Call your brother.”

I always go to my younger brother for any handyman-related problem. A firefighter/paramedic, he has that manly “gift” that somehow bypassed me.

Before I called him, I took a drink of bottled water from the fridge. It seemed cold enough. Then I opened the freezer and took out one of those plastic bricks that substitutes for ice in our cooler when we go on picnics. “It looks like it’s working.”

That set my wife off the deep end.

So there I was in a yelling match with her while the kids were in the very next room playing. You’re really putting today’s homily into practice, I kept thinking to myself.

Without playing the blame game, let’s just say that I could have prevented the huge argument.

A heart check from God? Probably. It really sucks, though. What sucks most is that I haven’t seemed to learn anything from our 12+ years together.

Like the rock band Extreme lamented in the 90s: “Am I ever gonna change?”

~t

 


How to Increase Willpower in Our Struggle Against Sin and Addiction

Photo: Getty

 

Like other Catholics and Christians, I find it difficult to resist sin on occasion. Even after a great morning of prayer or right after Mass, it’s not too uncommon for me to lose my temper in traffic when, for instance, someone cuts me off. Like St. Paul discusses in Holy Scripture, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” (Romans 7:21)

The traffic anecdote may sound mild, but my anger tends to stick with me and ruin my day. I would say my biggest daily struggle, however, is with sexual impurity and pornography. I have made great strides and even stay on the wagon for weeks at a time, but, like St. Paul says, evil is always right there with me.

When I was at a retreat this past spring, I had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (i.e. confession) from a kind but stern priest. We were facing each other in folding metal chairs, and I’ll never forget his advice before I received absolution:

“You need a battle plan.”

Being a bonehead as usual, I failed to ask what kind of battle plan, or, better yet, what a battle plan was. In my “research,” I found some very good sites like this one. However, I felt that I was lacking something.

About a year ago, my regular confessor told me, after I had told him about my recent sins of masturbation and viewing pornography, “You… um… just need to… (sigh) try harder.”

I need to try harder?! I thought afterwards. Isn’t that the Holy Spirit’s job? To help me out when I need it?

I didn’t understand that I needed to put forth some effort. Lots of it. 2 Peter 1:5 talks about making every effort to add virtues to our lives. Also, St. James writes in chapter 4, verse 7 of his epistle: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Then, recently, I came across a blog post by Eric Barker entitled “7 Ways You Can Easily Increase Your Willpower.” I devoured the article and started putting into practice things that I had learned.

It’s a bit lengthy, but the article is well worth your time. If you are having trouble with addictions such as (but not limited to) impurity and pornography, I would encourage you to give it a read.

By the way, I’m not implying that God is not powerful enough for us to overcome addictions. On the contrary, God wants us to make every effort to “avoid whatever leads [us] to sin.” (from the Act of Contrition)

Here it the article:

 


 

 

In general, people have an overly positive vision of themselves and their abilities.

But what’s the one thing surveys show that most people have a problem with?

Self-control.

And who is most likely to give in to temptation?

Ironically, it’s the people who think they have the most willpower.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Research shows that people who think they have the most willpower are actually the most likely to lose control when tempted. For example, smokers who are the most optimistic about their ability to resist temptation are the most likely to relapse four months later, and overoptimistic dieters are the least likely to lose weight.

So how can we really increase willpower? What does science have to say?

I’ve posted a lot about the subject — from research to interviewing the foremost expert on the subject. Let’s round it all up and make it useful.

Here are 7 ways you can increase your own willpower and live a better life: 

 

1) “Keystone” Habits Are A Magic Bullet

Everyone wants a magic bullet. One pill that fixes everything. The closest thing in the area of willpower is what are called “keystone habits.”

The primary one is exercise. What’s so special about running or lifting weights? It doesn’t just give you more discipline at the gym…

It also makes you eat better. And helps you use your credit card less. And makes you more productive at work. And more patient with loved ones.

Exercise leads people to create other, often unrelated, good habits:

When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly… “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

Going to the gym is too much for you? Try food journaling. Just write down everything you eat, every day. It’s another powerful keystone habit.

So if you’re going to do anything, keystone habits get the best bang for your buck. What else should you do every day?

 

2) Do Important Things Early

Leading self-control researcher Roy Baumeister, has found that willpower is limited.

It’s highest early in the day but as we make more decisions, it empties like a gas tank.

This leads to a simple answer: do the most important things first. As the day goes on it will only get harder to face big challenges.

When do most self control failures happen?

At night. Roy explains:

The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.

So your willpower is limited. What else can this tell us about the best way to use it? 

 

3) Improve Willpower By Not Using Willpower

Productivity guru Tim Ferriss says willpower is overrated. We have a limited amount of it, so relying on it is a bad idea.

Research shows we don’t use much willpower when something is a habit, when our behaviors are automatic.

How do you build good habits? Here’s a fantastic interview with Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit:

Building new habits is too hard, you say? Then try this:

Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.

Hide the cookies and put your running shoes next to the bed.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

People who think they have a lot of willpower expose themselves to more temptation — and eventually cave. So don’t rely on willpower.

Now comes the part where I contradict myself… 

 

4) Use Willpower To Build Willpower

I know, I know… I just told you not to use willpower, now I’m telling you to use willpower. What gives?

Baumeister compares willpower to a muscle. When you use it too much, it gets tired and gives out.

But by exercising it, over time it gets stronger. So you don’t want to rely on willpower for everything. You want to rely on habits.

But you want to make sure to tap into willpower a bit every day, always pushing yourself a bit to grow that muscle over time.

How simple can your daily self-control exercise be? Merely working on your posture can produce willpower benefits.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

Unexpectedly, the best results came from the group working on posture. That tiresome old advice—”Sit up straight!”—was more useful than anyone had imagined. By overriding their habit of slouching, the students strengthened their willpower and did better at tasks that had nothing to do with posture.

Simple is good, right? Want to know other crazy simple things that can help? Want to improve willpower in your sleep?

 

5) Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep

Yes, improving willpower is as easy as eating and getting enough sleep.

When I asked Roy Baumeister the easiest way to quickly boost self-control he simply replied, “Just eat something.

Want to wake up full of willpower? It’s as easy as getting more sleep at night.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

We shouldn’t need to be told something so obvious, but cranky toddlers aren’t the only ones who resist much needed naps. Adults routinely shortchange themselves on sleep, and the result is less self-control.

Eating and sleeping not easy enough for you? Here’s something even easier.

 

6) Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower

Ever been so lazy you put things off that you actually enjoy? This can actually boost self-control.

You don’t even have to say no to every temptation to gain discipline. Just postponing them can help too.

Research shows telling yourself “Not now, but later” is far more powerful than “No, you can’t have that.”

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

…people who had told themselves “Not now, but later” were less troubled with visions of chocolate cake than the other two groups… Those in the postponement condition actually ate significantly less than those in the self-denial condition…

Anything other than just giving in helps strengthen your willpower muscle.

Delay, distraction, or even caving in a defined way can help increase discipline.

Okay, now’s the time for the bad news… 

 

7) You’re Going To Screw Up… But That’s Okay

You’re going to give in to temptation. That’s not defeatist; it’s reality. But what matters is what you do after.

Feeling the urge to beat yourself up over your lack of willpower? Don’t do it. No Mea Culpas are necessary.

Blaming yourself reduces self-control. Showing self-compassion increases it.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion— being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure— is associated with more motivation and better self-control.

People who cut themselves slack go on to keep trying — and end up succeeding.

So how does all of this fit together? 

 

Sum Up

Give the 7 a try:

  1. “Keystone Habits” Are A Magic Bullet
  2. Do Important Things Early
  3. Improve Willpower By Not Using Willpower
  4. Use Willpower To Build Willpower
  5. Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep
  6. Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower
  7. You’re Going To Screw Up… And That’s Okay

I’m sure to some people this sounds hard and lonely. But it doesn’t have to be a solitary thing.

Relationships improve willpower: the best way to accomplish any change is by having a supportive group of friends around you.

And the reverse is true as well: willpower improves relationships:

…the more total self-control, the better the relationship fared. Multiple benefits were found for having mutually high self-control, including relationship satisfaction, forgiveness, secure attachment, accommodation, healthy and committed styles of loving, smooth daily interactions, absence of conflict, and absence of feeling rejected.

Willpower is one of the first steps in improving any area of life — and it’s good to know that self-control isn’t selfish.

 

 Source

 

~t

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Laughter is the Best Medicine

alien-hands-far-side

I recently read this article about a type of OCD called scrupulosity. It’s basically the fear of sin or punishment from God. The article is definitely worth the read.

Of course, I’m not saying that it’s suddenly okay to throw caution to the wind and start sinning. Far from it. However, the article got me thinking about how uptight I may be; I tend to be a living example of the ironic process theory: If someone tells you not to think of a pink elephant, you are automatically going to (like you did just now).

While I continue to deal with habitual sin, I’m learning to make an effort to enjoy life and trust God as I go. For instance, my two young sons and I have been playing soccer in the backyard after dinner each night, and it’s so much fun! I have also come across some comics and memes on the Internet that make me smile.

Laughter and fun times are a welcome reprieve from the daily spiritual battles that we face.

Nuns at Six Flags

Last night, my sons and I were trying to steal the ball from each other in our scrimmage. As we battled against each other, my kids were giggling like crazy. Afterwards, my oldest, who is quite serious and emotional, suddenly asked me, “Daddy, why is laughing good for us?”

Taken aback, I replied, “Well, because it makes us feel good. Plus, we forget our problems while we’re laughing.” It was one of those moments where I inadvertently taught myself something.

So, in the spirit of all this, I have posted some comics and things that I’ve run across in the past few weeks. They are entertaining to me, but, after all, my sense of humor is a bit twisted. 😉

 

 

25-motivational-posters-part-II-exercise

 

If you’re a fan of this series, I apologize!

 

 

Since I’m an English teacher, I particularly like this one:

 

 

This one isn’t a comic, but it has really spoken to me during the past week. My dear sister in Christ, Jet, recently posted it on her blog:

 

 

Have a great week, and remember to laugh periodically.

 

~t

 


How Can I Be A Saint, Part 2: Email from a Friend

Wikimedia Commons

 

It’s always encouraging to know that someone cares.

Since I started this blog, I have become spiritually close to a fellow Catholic who lives overseas. Although “Julia” and I have never met in person, her heart for Christ is so pure and holy that she recently took some time to respond in specific detail to my previous post.

I am honored to share her email with you, dear reader. Whatever sin you’re struggling with at the moment, I pray that God will grant you the faith, grace, and strength necessary to overcome it.

 


 

 

Hi [Topaz], my dearest brother in Christ,

 

I read your new blog post. It was very timely since I’ve been wondering how you were doing and how your Holy Week was. Just a few things I had in mind as I read your concerns:

 

1. Dealing with Sin

Have you thought of emailing Matt Fradd? Or has it ever crossed your mind? I highly suggest emailing him your concerns, struggles and questions, because I am pretty confident he can give some practical advice or insights about the issue [of sexual impurity].

Actually I am suggesting this because I already did it. I emailed him about a question that’s been bugging me for years, and it was related to pornography. And praise God, he replied speedily. I’m really hoping he can help you in whatever way he can and with God’s grace.

 

2. Spiritual Director

I just learned that we as Catholics are in dire need of confessors or spiritual directors who will patiently help us with our struggles. How often do you go to confession? I try to go once a month. It would also be a great help if you could find an accountability partner. Pray and ask God for that person (a male friend or a brother from K of C) who can also guide you in fighting the battle.

But if not, I hope this helps: Try to contact Opus Dei and ask if they have a center near your place. In my own experience, I felt God’s guidance through them. Since I’ve been attending their monthly recollection, I feel that God is there leading my life.

 

3. Continue to Seek God

You ask in your blog “where are they?”, so now I am eagerly telling you to continue seeking… and to never lose hope. Please don’t think that the demons are binding you. We both know that they have nothing else to do but to keep us away from God. So please CONTINUE SEARCHING… and try not to give in to these temptations. Please don’t lose hope.

 

4. Spiritual Reading

Have you heard of this? If not, then let me give you an idea how to go about it. I’ve also learned this from doing the Norms of Piety booklet. It says that allotting 15-20 minutes of spiritual reading daily is a great help to enrich and inspire you spiritually.

You might want to start off with St. Augustine’s books in which he also admitted that he struggled a lot with sins of the flesh. I also just started this habit and I’m currently reading St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. Even doing this, I must admit, is also a struggle. I believe the devil doesn’t want us to practice this because we are uplifted and encouraged to persevere in sanctifying our lives.

 

5. And, finally, Daily Mass

I’ll probably be struggling with this practice forever… but i know that I should not give up. Here in the Philippines, weekday Masses don’t last an hour since sometimes there’s no choir. So, if I go to noon Mass in our Cathedral, it usually only runs 30mins or so. I hope you can find time to go to Mass even on weekdays — especially if your schedule permits. The reason why I really want to practice this is because the Mass is our great source of grace. We do want that, don’t we? And it’s also one way of showing our love for God, giving praise to Him and listening to Him through the Liturgy of the Word. Right?

 
But if you think it’s really hard or impossible (for now) for you to attend daily Mass, then you can always find a way to make if more convenient for you. Like maybe one day a week excluding Sunday… I guess you just have to put a little more extra effort into fighting this battle. And the tricky part is how not to give up the fight and how to sustain yourself in not giving up. I think it all depends on that. We should also realize that we can never perfect all these things on our own. And we probably will not, but it’s still not an excuse not to try. Because, along the way, I’m pretty sure something wonderful is waiting, and something beautiful will happen. Let’s never cease to believe and have faith.

 

Your Sister in Christ,

[Julia]

~t


New Feature: Sunday Musings

credit: yen

This is a new section entitled Sunday Musings. It consists of thoughts, observations, and experiences that I have during or immediately after Sunday Mass.

It is a semi-regular feature; I will update it on Sundays as I feel inspired to do so.

 

1. When Babies Cry

During the homily this morning, a baby started screaming. Not uncommon during Mass. However, parents are usually quick to exit the sanctuary so as not to disturb others.

This is for other parishioners, though: Don’t gawk at the screaming babies. Because, most importantly, you are letting your attention drift from the homily to the crying baby. And then, you and your spouse discuss for a moment longer how annoying the situation is. By that time, you have missed out on the important message of the homily.

So, the next time a child goes ballistic, just stay focused on worship; the parents will remove the child soon enough. If not, then the ushers will step in.

 

2. Lose the Banjo During Mass!

Do I really need to elaborate?

I know this is Texas, but come on. It’s distracting and ruins the sacred hymns.

 

3. Come to Church with a Pure Heart

By this I mean one that is free of sin. When I am knee-deep in lust and pornography, I can’t quite connect to the Mass (duh).

This morning, I had chills as I approached the altar to receive the Eucharist. Being vigilant toward sin and keeping it out of our lives makes a huge difference in our perspective on all that is holy.

So, make every effort to avoid sin. You will experience the difference.

 

4. Accompany Your Kid to the Restroom

An announcement is made every weekend before Mass, reminding parents to accompany their children to the restrooms. And every week, I see four, five, and six year olds alone in there.

This morning, I was, ahem, occupied in a stall with the public restroom all to myself. I heard the men’s door open very slowly. A boy, about five years old, had just come in by himself. No sign of any parents.

Parents: I could have been a pedophile (which I’m not) waiting to pounce on your son.

Obey the announcements!

 

A Bit Off-Topic

 

5. A Great Time for Breaking & Entering

If you want to try B & E and get away with it, chances are you’ll succeed on Sunday mornings in my sleepy little town.

After Mass, the security alarm for a medical office across the street began piercing the calm Sunday morning air. Man, was it loud. Lots of gawkers. After about five minutes, I decided to call 911.

According to the dispatcher, no one had called it in yet. She said it would be 15 minutes before a police car would arrive.

I went back into church, and when I came out about 20 minutes later, the police car pulled up.

~t


Why Christians Need Flannery O’Connor

A snapshot of Flannery O’Connor beside her self-portrait

I recently came across this opinion piece on CNN’s website. The title caught my eye since I’m interested in all things Christianity and, being an English teacher, I can’t help but admire and love the works of O’Connor — not to mention the fact that she was Catholic.

Before reading anything in the Belief section of the website, I always scan the credentials of the writer to see from which angle the topic is being viewed. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked to find that this piece was written by a leader associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why would the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission be praising an odd, peacock-obsessed Catholic writer?

There was only one way to find out.

I do hope you take the time to read the following article. It is a sobering critique on American evangelical Christianity and how so much of it is feel-good, seeker-friendly entertainment to justify our sense of entitlement, all the while avoiding that dreaded “s” word: sin.

The following is the original column by Russell D. Moore in its entirety:

 

On my Christmas list of gifts to buy my evangelical friends, there’s a little book of prayers.

This is less predictable than it may seem, since the prayers aren’t from a celebrity evangelical preacher, but from a morbid, quirky Catholic who spent her short life with pet peacocks and wooden-leg-stealing Bible salesman stories.

But I think Flannery O’Connor’s newly published “Prayer Journal” is exactly what Christians need, maybe especially at Christmas.

The book, recently discovered in the writer’s papers in Georgia and now published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reproduces the handwritten notebook prayers scribbled down by O’Connor during her years as a student at the University of Iowa.

The prayers are jarring because they are so personal and raw, clearly not written to “edify the saints” in a published manuscript. They are, well, just prayers.

Part of the rawness and authenticity of the prayers come with the way O’Connor refuses to sentimentalize her personal relationship with Jesus (thought it’s clear she has one). She is here constantly aware of her own fallenness and of the seeming silence of the God to whom she pours out these little notes.

O’Connor notes that her attention is “fugitive” in prayer. She confesses that hell seems more “feasible” in her mind than heaven because, “I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God.”

She is constantly second-guessing whether her prayers for success as a writer are egocentric, or a genuine striving to use the gifts God has given her.

Moreover, O’Connor is constantly aware that she is a sinner, and she can’t get around that. Perhaps the most widely publicized sentence in the book is her confession that she “proved myself a glutton, for Scotch oatmeal cookies and erotic thought. There’s nothing left to say of me.”

Even when she’s confessing sin, she seems aware of her sinfulness in doing that. She says of sin, “You can never finish eating it nor ever digest it. It has to be vomited,” but, she immediately concludes, “perhaps that is too literary a statement; this mustn’t get insincere.”

O’Connor’s prayers are hardly “inspirational,” in the sense that many American Christians want: a model of the “victorious Christian life” where “prayer changes things” and we’ve got “joy, joy, joy, down in our hearts, to stay.” That’s why we need them.

American evangelicalism, my own tradition, rightly emphasizes the biblical truth that the gospel is good news, that our sins are forgiven in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We rightly emphasize that the believer now has a personal connection to God, accessible in prayer through the priesthood of Jesus himself.

But sometimes we forget how hard that is in this time between the times.

Some of our worship services are so clean and antiseptic, led by grinning preachers and praise bands, talking about how happy Jesus makes us, that we forget that the Spirit prompts us to “groan” at our sin and the suffering all around us (Romans 8:22-23). This is especially true at Christmas, with so many evangelicals forgoing the dark longing of Advent to go straight to the tinsel-decked rejoicing of Christmas.

Some Christians, then, can wonder if something’s wrong with them when they feel as though God seems distant, or when, despite all the smiles at church, they still feel guilty for the way their hearts don’t seem to match up with their hymns.

But the good news isn’t that we are all put together. The good news is that though we’re wrecked and fallen and freakish, Jesus loves us anyway and has made peace for us with God and with each other. That’s not something we always feel. We see it by faith.

O’Connor, elsewhere in her letters, writes of what it means to agonize over one’s sin, to wonder “if your confessions have been adequate and if you are compounding sin on sin.” She concludes that this agony “drives some folks nuts and some folks to the Baptists,” while noting, “I feel sure that it will drive me nuts and not to the Baptists.”

Those of us who were “driven to the Baptists” can benefit from a book of prayers that remind us that the Christian life is exactly what Jesus promised it would be – the carrying of a cross.

We can be reminded in prayers such as these to remind ourselves that between now and resurrection we will never be, in ourselves, anything other than sinners. That’s why we need a Christ.

It’s only when we grapple with the darkness of a fallen cosmos, only when we’re honest about the fact that all our efforts look more like Herod’s throne than Bethlehem’s stable, that we can sing “Joy to the World.” Flannery O’Connor wasn’t an evangelical Protestant, but we need her.

We need her, especially perhaps, as we pray for peace on earth, goodwill to men, for Christmas in a Christ-haunted world.

 

(Source: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/12/15/why-christians-need-flannery-oconnor/)

~t


Me(n)tal Health: Christianity, Depression, and Metal Music

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Before I finished my intensive outpatient program at the psychiatric hospital, I had to fill out a worksheet that was sort of a plan of action: list three individuals whom I would contact if suicidal ideation came back, list ten coping mechanisms for me to implement when I have problems, and list all things that would act as triggers for me.

Some triggers that I listed included people (the lady who I used to be infatuated with), places (the bar where I had carried out my plan), and things (music).

“Music?” the counselor had asked, perusing my worksheet.

“Yes. Certain kinds.”

“Such as…?” He lowered his glasses a bit and peered at me from the top of them, eyebrows raised.

“Just some types of metal.” I didn’t want him to know exactly. I needed my music. It was a coping mechanism!

“Scott. Spill it.” The counselor was a former drill sergeant in the army, so the next step probably would have involved shouting.

“Okay. Black metal.” There it was, out in the open. People unfamiliar with this subgenre usually assume it involves the musicians’ skin color.

The counselor continued staring at me. Explain! his eyes were saying.

“It’s, uh, dark, gloomy, and anti-Christian.” I averted my eyes from his.

“Scott, you are Catholic. Why would you listen to that?”

I wanted to tell him that black metal lyrics were usually written in Norwegian or Swedish, so I couldn’t understand them anyway. I wanted to tell him that I connected with the raspy vocals, insane drum beats and eerie walls of guitar noise. I wanted to tell him that the inverted crosses and pentagrams were purely for shock value. But I didn’t.

After I was released from the outpatient program, I quickly lost all desire to listen to black metal. Is it truly satanic? Is it anti-Christian? Is it steeped in pre-Christian Scandinavian paganism? Yes, yes, and yes.

Am I being judgmental like the fundamentalists who burn virtually all kinds of records in bonfires? No.

Sounds like it to me.

Well, then here would be my (hypothetical) response: In any search engine, enter the term ‘black metal,’ then look at the satanic imagery, scan some of the lyrics, and read about the beliefs, practices, and/or criminal acts of a lot of these bands.

It’s not judgmental if it’s fact.

Anyway, last night I received a brief text from a friend with whom I have had zero contact with for the past year. He’s extremely intelligent, has a high-paying job in the IT industry, and is a loving husband and father of two.

Besides the latter point, we also have had one other thing in common: We both loved extreme metal including black and death — and other sub-subgenres that I’d rather not get into.

Hey, Scott. How are you doing?

It was good to hear from him, so I happily replied.

Then another text from him: Do you want to meet me at the Slayer* show next month?

Uh-oh. One of my all-time favorite metal bands (up until 12 months ago) was touring again?! Then I tried reasoning with myself: Slayer has been around forever. The members are all fathers, and the band has become so commercialized. They sell Christmas ornaments with the band logo on them, for cryin’ out loud!

Looking back, I can’t believe that I had considered it. Commercial or not, stage theatrics or not, stepping into the world of Slayer, even for just a few hours, would take me back to that dark, miserable place inside my head.

Not to mention the fact that the band still uses satanic imagery:

Credit: slayer.net

I politely declined, and we mentioned that it would be good to meet up again at some point. I felt a bit guilty, though.

There are two reasons why I stopped listening to certain types of metal:

1. It damages my relationship with God.

Being a Christian means dying to self and living for Christ. He has a special plan for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11). In order for God’s will to be done in our lives, we have to give ourselves over to Him.

Black metal — and other types of extreme metal — has turned me off because it goes against everything that God desires for me.

I don’t want to befriend someone who is constantly talking bad about my wife. When a person begins to know the joy and riches of the Lord’s grace, worldly desires pale in comparison.

2. It damages me.

In my very first computer class back in college, one of the first things we learned was GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). I used to be so confused as to believe that the darker the music, the more it would make me stronger. That was a lie straight from the depths of hell. The music and the live shows were feeding my negative thinking, and I didn’t even realize it.

The forces of evil are powerful indeed. Don’t open yourself up to its influence. Personally, I don’t want to be antisocial and depressed anymore. Believe it or not, some people actually do want to be miserable; I know because I used to hang out with them.

In closing, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Bible passages:

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus… (Hebrews 12: 1-2)

~t

* Slayer is considered a thrash metal band.


Clawing Your Way Out of Hell

Blackshear-T-Forgiven-AP-Signed

Credit: Thomas Blackshear

It has been a tough week. Trying to regain my faith, I listened to a talk given by a Catholic speaker named Matthew Kelly entitled “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself.”

One thing that really struck me was when Matthew spoke about how predictable human nature is. To illustrate his point, Matthew encouraged everyone in the audience to buy a journal and take it to Mass every Sunday. Before Mass, write at the top of the page: What is God Going to Say to Me This Morning?

Listen to the music. Hear the Scriptures being read. Open your heart to the prayers. Meditate on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In some way, God will speak to you. When He does, write it down.

Then Matthew drove his point home: We will bring the journal to Mass the following week, write in it, decide that we don’t want anyone to read our private thoughts, and hide it in an old drawer. Days, months, and years go by. One day we happen to find the journal in the old drawer, rip out the two pages of notes that are no longer important to us, and then use the journal for something else.

In other words, without changing our habits, we will end up stuck in the same sinful life, never to break free.

The inspirational men and women of history had great habits. That’s what separates them from the rest of us.

I have found myself trapped in this disheartening cycle recently. On my way to work this morning, I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to God in spontaneous prayer. Instead, I prayed the Our Father and the Hail Mary (one example of how recited prayers are effective — They are good to fall back on when we just can’t bring ourselves to talk to God).

Listening to the motivational talk on the CD helped. An image ran through my mind afterward: the wonderful painting called Forgiven by Thomas Blackshear (see top of post). I used to see this painting in all the Christian bookstores that I once strolled through. I remember thinking once, Wow. How religious is that! before turning away to look through the bargain bin.

The image of that painting, Jesus holding up an exhausted, hurting young man who is clutching a spike and mallet, burned itself into my mind. That man is me. I’m tired. I’m knee-deep in sin. I’m emotionally drained. It all made perfect sense. It’s funny how we don’t realize the obvious until we are broken-down and ready to give up.

When we find ourselves at the bottom of a muddy pit of despair, there are only but two choices to make: resign ourselves to our “fate” or begin the arduous process of climbing out, inch by agonizing inch. Staying the same may be comfortable, but if we really want a fulfilling life and to get close to God again, we must make every effort. As the saying goes, If you want to see a rainbow, you have to persevere through a storm.

A friend of mine shared a very powerful verse with me recently from Proverbs: Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again. (Pr 24:16)

There is a movie called Any Given Sunday starring Al Pacino as the head coach of a once-great professional (American) football team that is struggling with low morale and internal dissension. In the locker room right before a playoff game, the coach pours out his heart in one of my favorite inspirational speeches in a movie.

The transcript of the pre-game pep talk is below:

I don’t know what to say really.

Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives

all comes down to today.

 

Now, either we heal as a team,

or we’re gonna crumble.

 

Inch by inch, play by play, ’til we’re finished.

 

We’re in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me.

 

And, we can stay here and get the **** kicked out of us,

Or we can fight our way back into the light.

 

We can climb out of hell. One inch at a time.

 

Now, I can’t do it for you. I’m too old.

 

I look around. I see these young faces and I think:

I made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make.

 

I ****** away all my money, believe it or not.

I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me.

And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.

 

You know, when you get old in life, things get taken from you.

That’s part of life.

But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.

 

You find out life is this game of inches. So is football.

Because in either game, life or football,

the margin for error is so small.

 

I mean, one half step too late or too early,

and you don’t quite make it.

One half second too slow, too fast,

you don’t quite catch it.

 

The inches we need are everywhere around us.

They’re in every break of the game.

Every minute, every second.

 

On this team, we fight for that inch.

On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch.

We claw with our fingernails for that inch!

 

Because we know, when we add up all those inches,

that’s gonna make the ******* difference between winning and losing!

 

Between living and dying!

 

I’ll tell you this: In any fight,

it’s the guy who’s willing to die

who’s gonna win that inch.

 

And I know, if I’m gonna have any life anymore,

it’s because I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch

because that’s what living is!

The six inches in front of your face.

 

Now, I can’t make you do it.

You gotta look at the guy next to you.

Look into his eyes!

 

Now, I think you’re gonna see a guy who will go that inch with you.

You’re gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team

because he knows when it comes down to it,

you’re gonna do the same for him.

 

That’s a team, gentlemen.

 

And, either we heal – now – as a team,

or we will die as individuals.

 

That’s football, guys.

That’s all it is.

 

Now, what are you gonna do?

Here is the video clip of the speech (Warning: Some strong language):

~t


How I Ruined My Family’s Sunday Afternoon

I couldn’t see a thing. All I knew was that the room was about 8′ x 5′ (2.4 m x 1.5 m). I sat there with my legs folded under me with my eyes closed. My mind wasn’t working; only the heaviness of guilt and regret was with me in the darkness. This was my punishment. I had it coming. How I wish I could take back everything I did. I didn’t want to leave this pitch-black cell, though.

After being frozen in place for what seemed like hours, I curled up on the floor, using an old musty cloth as a pillow. I didn’t want to stretch out; it would have been too much of a luxury, plus my feet would have been near the door. I never expected to drift off to sleep, but it had been an emotionally draining experience.

It all happened in a flash. One moment, I was checking my email on my phone, and the next minute, the fight broke out with no warning. They were going at it with everything they had. It’s a prison fight, I thought with horror. How could it be happening? What caused it? And right under my nose? How dare they!

After the bigger one got the smaller one down and began hammering his back with right-left combinations, I snapped.

It was one thing I lived in fear of, even as a dedicated, faithful Christian. The beast inside me reared its ugly head once again and took over. I got in each boy’s face and screamed at each one. “What are you doing?! You will not fight while I’m here! You,” I said, looking at my seven-year-old. “Don’t you realize that he is only five? Why were you beating on him like that? Huh?!”

“Scott, stop. You’re getting carried away.” Ayako, my wife, tried to calmly intervene.

“Don’t interrupt! I’m in the middle of disciplining them!”

“But, you’re yelling–”

“Didn’t you see it?! It was like a prison fight!” Now I was yelling at my wife.

I don’t remember what happened next. I was in such a crazy state of mind.

I used to punish myself by striking myself in the temple, cheek, and forehead. I was doing it again. Wasn’t all that crap behind me?

I had one of those profound moments during Mass earlier in the morning when my soul cried out to God. I was in up to my neck in a certain type of sin, and I couldn’t worship the Lord like I usually did.

That’s what sin does. It makes you think that once is enough. Instead, the cycle begins. Like a drug addict trying to go straight. One little snort or injection and everything will be okay. Just one fix.

But that’s not how sin works. The devil knows that one little slip and he’s got you. The feeding of the addiction happens all over again. The cycle is torture. Even St. Paul struggled with sin: Even though his mind said no, his flesh said yes. I always seem to forget about the rest of that verse.

His answer is to turn to Christ.

God told me in the middle of Mass that I kept falling because I was legalistically trying to avoid sin. What I didn’t realize was that I was using my own power. God reminded me that I must avoid sin out of love for Him and not because of myself.

When God speaks to me, I don’t mean that He speaks audibly inside my head like I’m a schitzo. It’s more of telepathy for lack of a better term. His Spirit connects with my spirit on a deep, primal level. I don’t even have to think of a reply; my soul responds automatically.

So there I was, my heart and soul transformed and touched by the hand of God. After Mass, as everyone cleared out, I knelt down in the pew and continued praising God and thanking him profusely for His gift of faith and forgiveness through Christ. Normally I get distracted and not pray after Mass, but I was deep in communion with the Holy Spirit yesterday, and nothing could divert my attention. How wonderful it was!

So how did I go from that mountain-top experience with God to being curled up in the fetal position in this dark, cramped room? It felt like my brain was swishing around in my skull; the dull pain was making me sick to my stomach. You deserve it, Scott. Serves you right for treating your two little buddies so horribly.

My oldest son is very sensitive and gets his feelings hurt easily. He is excelling in second-grade reading and math. I am so proud of him. My youngest son is in kindergarten, and all last week he and one other student had the privilege of sitting at a special table in his classroom reserved for exceptional students. The little rascal didn’t even tell my wife or me, but that’s how he is. Very humble.

The three of us love playing soccer in the backyard after dinner. Both boys are playing in a fall soccer league now, and my youngest is the star player on his team. He gets the majority of his team’s goals each game. My two little buddies are the pride and joy of my life.

Seeing them both break down into tears as I screamed at them hit me like a sack of bricks afterward. When my rage was in full force, though, I wanted them to cry; I wanted to see their remorse and for them to fully understand how fighting would not be allowed.

I try very hard to be the best father that I can be. I love my sons more than I love myself. If they’re still hungry when we eat at home or at a restaurant, I am quick to share my food or dessert with them. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have shared with my wife. My food was mine!

I sometimes get angry with my sons for little things. Yesterday morning we had a fun day at the park. My kids love riding their bikes through a nature trail, stopping periodically to explore a creek or a wooded area that looks interesting. Yesterday, I took the photo at the top of this post It was in a wide-open field at the park. As I was trying to figure which angle of the log to photograph, my oldest son sneaked up behind me and yelled boo. He was laughing, having fun because he scared Dada. I responded by yelling at him not to scare me like that. He went away dejected.

My right shoulder and back were killing me from spending so much time on the floor in the small, dark closet. I turned over, tossed away the old cloth that was my pillow and roughed it some more. The more I was uncomfortable and in pain, the more I could atone for my behavior. In shorts and a t-shirt, the floor was feeling cold, but I was determined to keep lying there; hopefully I would catch a cold and suffer for several more days.

God, I whispered, help me. Help me in this situation. I created such a mess. Then I thought about how every action of mine, either positive or negative, affects my whole family. Just like when I was young. My father’s mood affected all of us and ruined so many happy moments. It tore me apart to see myself acting like my father who I still cannot forgive for leaving me nothing but rancid memories of my childhood.

I drifted in and out of consciousness in the darkness. Brief dreams floated through my mind. Suddenly I heard a female voice. It was soft and gentle. Perhaps it was an angel.

Scott. Scott. SCOTT.

Huh? I mumbled. Was I dreaming?

Get up. The voice sounded authoritative now.

No. I want to stay here.

Get up! The angel was yelling now. Don’t make me angry!

I was awake now, but I didn’t move. Stop yelling first.

Your sons are waiting for you to read to them!

It wasn’t an angel after all. It was Ayako, my wife. She is a tough little thing, so I knew it would be in my best interest to get up and go into the living room.

Before opening my bedroom door, I collected myself and prayed. God, you gotta help me. I let out a deep breath and opened the door.

My boys were on the sofa with their little books, waiting for me to read to them. “Dada! Come sit with us!”

They had forgiven me and were actually happy to see me. We read several books together, and then we played their favorite card game, Uno. My wife even came in from the kitchen and joined us for two games.

Later, after dinner, my sons and I went out back as usual and played soccer. A little while later, my wife came out for the very first time, and we played an aggressive but fun two-on-two match.

God had worked another miracle. Everything was back to normal, but I was still depressed and suffering from guilt.

I’m sure my family won’t forget what happened yesterday afternoon, but it was evident that they had forgiven me.

I don’t expect them to forget, though. How I wish they would.

Someday when my sons think back to their childhood, I don’t want my screw-ups to outweigh the fun times that we had.

I am still burdened by extreme guilt right now as I finish typing this. I had to take two Xanax tablets a little while ago to relieve the pain and agony inside of me. The pills didn’t quite do the trick.

I want to lock myself in a room somewhere because I am agitated despite the 2 mg of Xanax. I can’t do that, though. All I can do is rely on God, but I’m having a hard time surrendering right now.

~t

(photo by Topaz)