Men

There are two things about my Christian blog/twitter reading that I’d like to change. I do try to tackle these periodically but generally end up back where I started.

  • Almost all the bloggers I read are from the US, none are Brits.
  • All the bloggers I read regularly (actually only three) are women.

The first is not a big deal. It might be nice to hear some voices from closer to home but otoh those voices will bring a lot of local cultural and political baggage that I am not interested in.

The second point is perhaps more interesting, especially given some of the issues I am dealing with on this blog. So why don’t I read more — any — male Christian bloggers?

Many of the male Christian bloggers I’ve come across seem much too keen (for my taste) to lay down the law, as if their role model is Paul rather than Jesus. Women bloggers are much more like, “Here I am, a Christian”. In the women’s blogs the law (I mean the Good News) speaks through a person’s life; in the men’s blogs the law is stated as such, with examples (sometimes from the blogger’s own life).

This might only go for American men (US masculinity seems very narrow); it might only be the tiny sample I’ve come across.

Perhaps I just prefer women’s voices.

Perhaps there is nothing to be explained: I’ve been blogging in this persona for 4 1/2 years and I’ve only found three blogs I like enough to read regularly. Perhaps I just have very high standards.

Anyway, I am going to make a conscious effort to step outside of my comfort zone of these three blogs and seek out (a) British voices and (b) men’s voices.

How, I don’t know. Perhaps run twitter searches for “Philippians” and see what turns up.

All recommendations and suggestions welcome.

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A life of two halves

I am 51. My birthday is mixed up with Christmas and New Year so I have always taken the season personally.

In my early 40s I started to think I was middle-aged. Turning 50 and 51 I start to think I am getting old, moving into end times. These are the ready-made cultural scripts we are given.

Then I remembered that my mother-in-law is in her 90s and is physically and mentally healthy and independent. People are living longer, and more healthily and actively than ever before, and that progress is continuing. I could easily live to be over 100. The composer Elliott Carter was active at the forefont of his field right until his death in 2012 at the age of 103. No need to turn in at 50 or 60 or 70.

If I live to be 100 I am only just into the second half (if I count only my adult life, I’m still in the first half).

Half-time is a good time to be born again, and to relaunch myself. I can think of my adult life so far as a kind of second childhood or gestation. I look forward to 50 years of new life.

Born Again

“Born Again” is my theme for this year.

It feels a bit presumptuous to call myself “born again”, not least because I am still “in the closet”. It feels presumptuous to call myself “saved” or anything like that — although I know Jesus is there for me, and I am trying sincerely to be guided by His star at all times.

Having said that, “born again” is how I feel, and how I want to live from now on.

I have been concentrating hard on battling my demons.

I have not shopped for lingerie or dressed up since August 2016. I think I am out of the clutches of that demon — although I am not confident that I have escaped for the right reasons (see Resisting temptation for the wrong reasons. Does it matter?).

I was masturbating and using pornography up until late December last year, so those demons are very much still active (see Handling episodes of failure). I am determined, however, that they will not contaminate this new year.

I don’t really like the “addiction” narrative about pornography, but I remembered that I did used to smoke cigarettes (early 80s to late 90s). That was certainly an addiciton, and I certainly quit. So I now see using pornography and masturbating as habits like smoking was a habit. Like most people who quit, I “quit” smoking several times, but one last time I really quit. Well, (hopefully) I have now really quit masturbating and really quit using pornography.

I have also realised belatedly that by using pornography, I was training myself to look at women in a certain way, and that I couldn’t really defeat that demon while I was still using pornography.

So, there is no room for complacency, but I feel these demons are on the defensive. Now I want to turn to new demons, or new challenges, challenges to do with my work and, especially, to do with my wife.

I feel born again and I want to act born again. I want to draw on and use the new-found strength that knowing Jesus is giving me. Knowing Jesus is by me is a pleasure, and I want to rejoice in that pleasure and bring that light to the world around me.

What does that mean exactly? I don’t quite know. Solving problems at work, loving my wife — practically as well as adoringly.

We’ll see how it pans out, but the phrase “born again” will remind me of this ambition.

Handling episodes of failure

Any real-world system will fail occasionally. A robust (resilient, sustainable, etc.) system must not only avoid failure as much as possible; the system must also handle whatever failures do happen. This post is about handling those failures.

A failure might be more than a single event. There might be a losing of one’s balance, then a period of being out of balance, then balance being restored. By an “episode” of failure, I mean this whole process, with three phases:

  • falling in the hole
  • being in the hole
  • climbing out of the hole

The whole episode might be over in minutes, perhaps it might be hours, or even days, or longer, …

n.b.: examples in this post will be from temper loss or cigarettes (I used to smoke, from early 80s to late 90s). The actual failures I am dealing with are to do with using pornography.

Falling in

At the time the fall might be too sudden to notice until after it’s happened. Looking back, the fall can be seen as a drawn out slide. The first thing then is to learn to recognise what is happening as it happens.

I should recognise what is happening. I shouldn’t kid myself on that something else is going on. If I am gradually losing my temper, I should recognise that and acknowledge it. I shouldn’t allow myself to make up some story to explain away what I’m doing.

I should try to identify what has pushed me on to this slope. It might be tiredness or boredom or enfored tedium at work; it might be a verbal battering from my wife; the ensuing feeling of a lack of agency; it might be something more idiosyncratic or even random.

Once I have recognised that I am on the slippery slope, I should fight back. There is no need to lose my balance completely over every nudge. Throw in diversions: go and eat an apple; physically remove myself from the situation: go into another room, go for a walk; find and do a small well defined task: wash the dishes, reply to an email. The smartphone or tablet is an easy portal into sin – oil for the slippery slope — make sure it is parked on the other side of the room. Always resist.

I can resist, I can fight back, and I might be able to claw my way out without falling all the way in.

However, sometimes, at some point, there will come a time when it is better to concede defeat rather than to battle on. Two examples from giving up smoking:

  • desperate for a fag I am raging about in a foul mood and can think of little else but whether or not I should have a cigarette. This is helping nobody. I should have a smoke, clear my head and improve my mood. The thing here will be to have a consciously “remedial” smoke, recognise that as “completion” (see below), and to climb back out of the hole asap.
  • nights out on the town were always the hardest for giving-up smokers. One thing I (and some others) did, was to have a cigarette late afternoon before going out. This would stop cravings, and strengthen will-power during the night out. A stitch in time saves nine.

All through the resistance I should draw strength from having Jesus by my side, turn to scripture and Christian, encouraging texts, be open to the Spirit moving within me to lift me out.

However, once I have conceded defeat and realised/decided that I am falling in the hole, I should not leave Jesus behind. I would fall in and be away from “all that” and not want to go back. I should grab hold of Him and drag Him in with me.

This idea has only just occurred to me and I don’t quite know what it means. I should remember that my sins are forgiven — not at some time afterwards, but forgiven already. Even while I sin I am forgiven already and being forgiven. I should remember that, not as a licence to sin, but as a way of infecting or contaminating the sin, and my urge to sin, with God’s grace. Practically, that might put me off the sinning, or it might lift me out of it sooner rather than later.

Dragging Jesus down into my own little hell sounds desperate, yucky and upsetting for me, and even evil, but there it is. It’s an idea.

Being in

Once in the hole I wallow there, indulging and nurturing my bad mood (replace with sinful behaviour of choice). I have turned away and separated myself from Jesus and I don’t want to turn back.

Why do I do that? I feel as if turning back would be a defeat. Really it would be a victory.

Once I have fallen in the hole I should recognise — admit explicitly to myself — what has happened. I should recognise it as a defeat. If I didn’t manage to drag Jesus down with me I should call on Him now — either to lift me out or to just be with me in this little hell.

I should not fear judgement, and I should not judge myself.

I should not dig myself deeper into the hole. As soon as I realise I am in there I should start climbing out.

Climbing out

An episode can have a false finish — I think I am out but I quickly fall back in — so climbing out means *really* climbing out.

I sometimes think: something caused me to fall in the hole; some “issue” must be “resolved” before I can climb out properly. But often, e.g. if I am nursing a bad temper, something quite random and irrelevant will lift my mood away; sometimes I can lift myself out by reasoning or by dwelling on something else. Perhaps thinking I have to stay in the hole until I can “resolve” something is a trickery to keep me in there.

I *can* just decide to climb out. I *can* decide to stay out.

One easy opportunity to climb out is at the end of the day. Unfortunately, for me, these episodes can last several days. That means at some point in the morning, I decide to continue my sinful behaviour.

I should overcome my reluctance to turn to Jesus while I am in the hole. I think my desire to stay in the hole is some kind of generalised resentment. If I can convince myself that, even in the middle of it all, Jesus can be there for me — he didn’t cast a stone either, after all the others had gone — it will be easier to pray in the evening, and hand everything over to God, and in the morning to take pleasure in being out of the hole.

Once I am out of the hole, I should recognise the end of the episode — I should assert it, draw a line under it. At the first opportunity I should reflect on the episode as a complete thing: with a beginning, a middle and an end. I should pray in explicit detail for forgiveness (C. S. Lewis makes that point in Mere Christianity), and give thanks that I am out.

Resisting temptation for the wrong reasons. Does it matter?

Let’s say someone has a craving for chocolate. They are beset by temptations in shops and cafes. They do well to resist these temptations. However, the reason they are resisting temptation is because they want to be skinny like the models in the fashion magazines. The person cuts down on unhealthy food — good — but this very success allows their deeper motivations to remain unexamined.

I am like this with lingerie.

I threw out all my dressing up things at the end of August last year (see Total Purge) and since then have not dressed up or bought any new lingerie. I have felt the temptation, more than once (e.g., Passed a test), but I have successfully resisted — but, perhaps, at least partly, for the wrong reason.

My “wrong reason” is that I don’t like the new crowd, and I don’t want to be associated with them.

I first ventured online as a crossdresser in the mid-2000s. There were various sub-cultures of crossdressers, transvestites, sissies, transgender fetishists, transexuals, etc., and I soon found my place among them.

The “new crowd” is a new subculture that has emerged in the last five years or so. I’ll call them trans activists or TAs. They seem explicitly (though superficially, imho) political, and I think they are belligerent and ugly. I disapprove of them politically, psychologically, philosophically, morally, aesthetically. I find them repulsive.

I think my judgement of these people is correct, especially when judged as a social movement. I have been working on curbing my resentment.

At least part, and perhaps all, of the reason I haven’t gone shopping is that I don’t want other customers, or shop assistants to think I am a TA.

So, I haven’t bought any more knickers, and I can’t see myself shopping while I feel like this — good. The TAs are doing me a favour by being so repulsive. I am using them to get what I want (freedom from this fetish/habit).

On the other hand, … I know I would still like to dress up occasionally. I know if I hadn’t thrown them all out I would have slipped into panties and bra a few times this year. Just recently en route to/from Dad’s I felt a pang of nostalgia walking past Accessorize, gazing longingly at their display of special Christmas knickers.

Perhaps having the reason “I don’t want people to think I’m a TA” is allowing my deeper motivations to remain unexamined. Perhaps that doesn’t matter, and the deeper motivations will fade away. Perhaps those motivations are not so deep after all.

Does it matter that I am resisting temptation for the wrong reasons?

I don’t know any modern carols


I love this one, which was on a CD I bought last year.

Do you know any nice contemporary carols?

Mission

I’ve just spent a few days in the frozen wastes of the north with my father. He is getting on (in his 70s) and I stay with him every couple of months. I had this idea after his wife (my mother) died in 2013. I want to make sure he’s well, keep him company, make sure he knows I’m available if he needs help, be ready if/when anything crops up. At first he was not keen, but it seems to have grown on him.

We can be a bit of a scratchy family (I have a sister too), but nothing outside a standard deviation from the mean. However, generally, after a couple of days in his company, I have had enough.

Visits have been getting better gradually this year, but this latest visit went especially well.

What went well?

We had a couple of trips out scheduled, so I suggested I could stay an extra day. In the end he pulled out of one of the trips, but I did stay the extra day. I managed to stay the extra day without losing my temper with him or secretly pulling my hair out.

I was disappointed early on. The failed trip out. Also, I had wanted to discuss some admin/finance matters with him, but because my work has been very hectic recently I hadn’t prepared fully, so I had to drop that as well. So I felt I had nothing “to do” while I was there. A wasted trip.

Perhaps that made me feel I had plenty of time. We did very little, and just had a peaceful time together. We watched old TV comedies on DVD, played with his dog, chatted a little. I got up and went to bed early, and provided food at mealtimes (just supermarket ready meals, but quite nice ones), did a bit of cleaning.

Towards the end of my visit, Dad had more colour in his cheeks, was more cheerful, less fretful, and explicitly grateful for my company.

Why did it go well?

I think the early failures were a blessing in disguise. I didn’t have goals I wanted to achieve — which were actually distractions from the better work I could be doing.

The extra day was an extra day of food and regular sleep. It was also an extra day for me (and him) to see the benefits of my actions.

I think I attended to him very closely. Not because I was concentrating, and not entirely because I felt there was time. I was calmer, less directing or interfering. Looking back, my interventions were kind of pre-emptive: e.g. I got the food ready before we were hungry and put it out at just the right time.

With my secular hat on I would say: things have been improving over the last year, and on this visit they crossed a threshold so I noticed; I had the time to see the positive effect I was having and that gave me a boost too.

I also had the luxury of praying every morning when I woke up, and every night at bedtime. I had Mere Christianity with me (which I seem to be re-reading perpetually). I was reading scripture every day. I was writing in my diary every day. So, I was looking after myself in that sense.

I was never distracted or tempted (apart from at a train station on the way up, but that’s another story for another day).

Conclusions & next steps

I crossed another threshold during that visit. I am starting to see the benefit of accepting Jesus, and of spending so much time in His arms. On the way back home I went to a church and prayed thanks to God for His presence and the gift of the visit: on Dad and on me.

This long year — since my Total Purge last August — I have been concentrating on fighting my demons and overcoming bad habits. I’m sure those struggles will continue.

During Advent I am practicising the other side: giving thanks, adoration of God, rejoicing in and enjoying my new-found life. I hope to focus on these things here on the blog more next year.

John 3:19,20

“… that I might be saved through Him”


God did not send Jesus to condemn me. God has put Jesus inside me. His Son. He has filled me with the Spirit. He did not fill me with the Spirit as a condemning voice, to put me down.

God loves me and fills me with His love. The Lord yearns for me to be His — and now I yearn and push to be His too. 

Thank you Lord for your love and your strength. 

John 3:16


I believe. My path to salvation is to really believe: to realise my belief.

#advent

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