How to Be a Jerk to a Person of Faith

“Grow up and end your magical thinking.” – Someone, some post every two weeks on my Facebook feed.

Disagreement is in the digital DNA and fiber optic bones of the internet. I’m fairly certain the original, Graham-Bellian creation myth of the internet’s inception involved Al Gore sending his friend Mr. Lee Jones a simple text message: “Tommy–come over here–I want to tell you all the ways you’re wrong.”

I mean, forget shouting fire in a movie theater. You want to really see people go nuts? Type “gun control” on Facebook.

You know all this because you are currently reading this on the internet and have ventured beyond the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic boards. You’re open to being challenged. Maybe you’re the kind of person who, when you hold up your phone or dare to crack open your laptop, you pretty much expect to be hit with a point of view that’s different from your own. Diametrically opposed, even. And you’re okay with that.

Mostly.

Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, people aren’t expressing opinions so much as just being bigots, prejudicial, myopic, close-minded, or just downright jerks. When is an opinion not an opinion? When they’re being a jerk about it. When their opinion comes with a heaping helping of insult big enough to overwhelm whatever savory flavors their otherwise (I’m sure) cogent musings had to offer, the jerks no longer get to have their thoughts taken seriously. They’ve rendered them stupid.

Or you have. Or I have. It’s not like “jerk” is some subspecies. They are us.

I opened this blog with a quote that’s become all-too-familiar to me: Grow up and end your magical thinking. Roughly translated, it means: Stop believing in God you big baby who can’t handle the real world.

What is wrong with this? Well, my problem isn’t that someone doesn’t believe in God or thinks I shouldn’t. I may disagree with both of those positions, but I respect another’s right to feel, believe, and think differently than I do. In fact, having people with points of view different from my own is something I value (which is why I’m seeing so much of this in my Facebook feed in the first place–I cultivate diversity in my friendships, both IRL and online) You don’t believe in God? Okay, cool. That is completely irrelevant to me as to whether or not we can be friends or have association. What is important to me is this:

Are you a jerk?

Where “Grow up and end your magical thinking” goes wrong for me is that in its expression of an understandable, legitimate opinion (however much I disagree, denying the existence of God is a point of view that is not incomprehensible to me) it wades into the murky waters of insult by way of condescension and casual dismissiveness.

Grow up” suggests a certain amount of childishness; a clinging to apron strips because of an insecurity about the world and one’s place in it that can only be mollified by the idea of an all-powerful bearded dude who sits on a cloud made of tissues he uses to wipe away ignorant tears. “Grow up” equates God with an imaginary friend, and the believer with the toddler who bops around the living room talking to Clarence, the combo lion-poodle who knows how to rock a tea party. How is “Grow up” anything other than insulting? And why in the world would anyone of faith listen to someone for whom that is their baseline approach? Who could even get a fair shake in a conversation with a person who insists on infantilizing them for the great crime of thinking the universe is a little bigger than what they can see right in front of them?

“Magical thinking” suggests a wrongheadedness in one’s thought processes and perspective on the world. It is a cry in favor of science, obviously, but it also denigrates a worldview that essentially boils down to: current science doesn’t have an answer for everything.* Religion is an argument against arrogance. Reducing religion to “magical thinking” is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of faith, just like “grow up” is a misunderstanding of its function. Most of the religious people I know don’t actually believe in the existence of magic. To equate someone’s sincere, reasoned beliefs with fantasy is… say it with me now… jerky. It is being a jerk.** And if you are being a jerk then I know–I know automatically–that you are the one speaking from a place of insecurity about the world and your place in it.

A confident person doesn’t feel the need to be a jerk. A confident person does not mock the thoughts and beliefs of others because a confident person is not easily threatened. Being a jerk is, always, a reactionary position; a defensive posture. A jerk wants you to know he thinks you’re stupid, and, if he can, make you feel stupid. You can’t destabilize a confident person because a confident person does not entertain the bad math that says they can only be sure if others are not. They are willing to embrace or at least hear out opposing views and learn from them because they understand the value of such views inspiring and challenging them. An insecure person is a destabilized person before they even get to you. They have already been threatened by someone or some idea or thought or action and then you come along with your opinions and your faith and your whatever and you bring it all back, all the bad they’re trying to hide. It comes back, right to the fore.

Basically: people aren’t mean for no reason. That’s simplistic, but it’s true. The jerk hits back because they’ve already been hit. They need to say, for example, “Grow up and end your magical thinking” because in some way it will make them feel better and whole again. They think it will, anyway.

I think I know a better way.

*Science may not have an answer for everything, but even as a person of faith I do believe that the answer to everything is science. There’s not really any such thing as magic. There is only the principles and the order of the universe, some of which we’ve discovered. God is a person who understands those principles and orders to a greater degree than we are currently capable, and He does his best to help us operate within them for the best result. That’s what we call religion.

**None of which is to say the reverse cannot be–and just as often is–true. People of faith can be jerks, too. They can look down on those who don’t share their faith and it’s just as bad. It’s just not the angle this particular blog is coming from.

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Day 39 – Losing a Friend and Impatience with the Rest

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Monday – October 6, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 12.30.10 AMI finally figured out I lost one of my very good friends after he unfriended me on Facebook. I pleaded with him to tell me what I had done or how I had offended him, just so I could apologize. I can’t imagine what I’ve done–I’ve thought and thought and thought about it and I can’t come up with anything–but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that I’ve done something. He is silent. He will not return my calls or my emails. One day he was my friend, now he is not. And I don’t know why.

Today, he sent me a brief, factual email on a particular point having nothing to do with our friendship. There were no details, no explanations. I have lost a friend. And I don’t know why.

Additionally:

One of Erin’s opportunities, the one that looked the most promising, may have in fact been a scam. She can only get a voice mail when she calls the place, no matter the time of day. They’ve vanished. She did some research only to find that the circumstances surrounding her interview mirror some hiring scams other “businesses” have pulled. It’s a discouraging thing to be jerked around like that. We really had a lot of hope for this one. And we still don’t know how her San Francisco audition went.

All of this is probably why I felt so raw today, and I should have known better than to try to engage with people.

I got uncharacteristically tired of people’s advice and was probably more impatient on Facebook than I should have been. This is stupid because we all know Facebook is laced with an addictive chemical that spurs aggression (they’ve tested monkeys on this) and I know by sharing my garbage in this blog that I’m inviting people to give advice on how to clean it up–and usually I’m way cool with that–but today I just had my fill of all of it.

All that said, I still ill-advisedly offer the following by way of your enlightenment as to just what the heck I’m talking about:

The Facebook conversation had a lot to do with how I interact with God. People were imploring me to temper my expectations of answers to prayer. They told me to not necessarily anticipate an answer, that when it comes down to it I may just have to make a decision about where to work and where to live. Jobs come and go anyway, so it may not even be that important. They were speaking from their own experiences and I respect that, but I just can’t pray like that.

I can’t pray thinking the answer may or may not come. I know that’s sometimes the case–sometimes God’s silence is what we need, but to actively engage with that possibility WHILE praying and trying to utilize my faith, no, I can’t do that. I believe God is compelled by faith. I believe–and have seen–that when faith is sufficient he cannot hold back from revealing Himself.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not willing to submit to silence. I’m willing to submit to whatever I need to in order to endure properly this trial of unemployment, but I also know my past experiences in seeking answer to prayer. I know how God communicates with me, and I will put my faith towards a definitive answer. I can’t muster up faith for anything else.

There’s a story in the Book of Mormon of a young prophet, Nephi, whose brothers bound him with cords (his brothers were jerks). Nephi prayed to God that he could “burst” the cords and assert proper control of the situation, but instead God made the cords loose and they fell off instead. That was fine. It got the job done, but it’s clear Nephi had the faith to break the cords. The Lord simply went a different, less demonstrative way.

If God needs to do the same to me, I will submit, but meanwhile I wanna burst me some cords.

After a day like today, I wanna burst a whole bunch of cords.

Day 9 – Sometimes It Feels Good to Hurt

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

September 6, 2014

My appetite came back this morning at around 10am when I was confronted with catering at a birthday party for a 3-year-old. Not only was it quite the lavish affair with lots of handmade party favors and a bounce house with a water slide attached to it, but they had quite the spread of Mexican food. I couldn’t not eat.

salt-lake-mormon-temple-featuredThe big happening today was that I finished up my resume and started applying for jobs. Only took forever. I found one really promising job that would put me in Salt Lake working for my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Utah isn’t necessarily my first choice for a place to live (too many dang Mormons), but I’ve got family there and, for some reason, I find my previous, California-bred hesitancies falling away. It actually sounds kind of exciting to me to deep dive into that oh-so-familiar culture now. We don’t want to move, but we accept that we may have to and–seriously, for a reason I cannot fathom or explain–I can see Utah. I can see those mountains and that ocean of decaffeinated soda and days off on July 24th and… it doesn’t look half bad.

Not that I’m placing all my bets on that one. I don’t want to miss a trick, so all interested parties, please feel free to peruse said completed resume:

Brock Resume

Erin sent out resumes like crazy today, both hers and mine.  She’s applying for a lot of account executive jobs, to do the Roger Sterling thing. She’d be amazing at it. She’s so good with people and can make a sale sound like a natural part of a conversation. She had no idea she had this skill until we worked a math convention in New Orleans earlier this year, and to her surprise she loved it. She loves sales. It’s incredibly strange.

* * *

I think sharing is important. It’s why I write this blog and why I post on Facebook. I think by sharing–the good and the bad–we strengthen each other and learn from each other’s experiences. This is a good thing. But it has to be both to really work–the bad and the good.

I struggled today to share something positive. This was maybe the worst day for Erin and me, emotionally and mentally, since this whole unemployment thing started. I wanted to share something positive almost as a counteragent. Positive is the way I prefer to be and I have a real disdain for cynicism, but I had almost nothing for it today.

I know we’re blessed, even on hard days like this. It’s not even that I suddenly don’t think things will be better, it’s just that the more our new lives take shape the more overwhelming it all begins to feel. Are we going to find jobs in time? Are we going to stay in Fresno? Will we be forced to move?

The present is a stressful thing. I sometimes feel like I’m a stranger in my own house. Even though I know legally we’re allowed to be here and we’re all paid up on our mortgage, I’m not totally sure where the next payment is coming from. If our lender knew our precarious position, how would they (the admittedly cold, unfeeling, Terminator-like banking machine) feel about that? Might they say we don’t deserve to live in this house? That’s how I feel sometimes, like we’re squatters or something.

* * *

After dinner, Erin I took a long walk around the neighborhood with our two dogs. It was night out and a little breezy. I think the last time it felt this good outdoors in this dry, dry, dry, 1000x dry and warm climate was May. Erin was mad at me for not wearing shoes, fearing I’d walk on glass or something else sharp and not shiny in the dark. Sure enough, my feet got cut up, though not by glass. Walking barefoot on asphalt over the course of an hour will just do that.

I didn’t care. I loved the firm sensation of the balls of my feet pivoting on the flat, sandpaper street; of the wet grass in my toes when we walked close enough to a park to detour; and of my heel slapping down on a small puddle of water produced by sprinklers that probably shouldn’t have been on during this severe drought we’re having. I even loved it when I felt my soles go raw and, maybe, a little bloody. I loved the distracting, confirming sensation of it.

I find I’m living for those times–moments, really–when something rises up to make me forget we’re not entirely employed. Even if it’s kind of odd and masochistic, there’s a strange satisfaction to it.

Day 2 – 20 Blessings from the First 24 Hours of Unemployment

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

August 30, 2014

settlersThe Facebook messages didn’t stop during the overnight. A lot of people seemed to think that playing Settlers of Catan would somehow alleviate the stress and tragedy of this week’s double job loss, as though a simple game among friends could have the power to stave off emotional darkness and too easy cynicism.

Smart, smart people. I love tabletop gaming and so does my wife, so we were all in on that.

I decided to do an accounting today. I think the secret to happiness is gratitude–the mere act of being grateful requires positive reflection so being grateful for everything is the one guaranteed way to be happy–so I wanted to be sure and think back over the previous 24 hours and consider the ways in which we’d been blessed. Here’s the list I came up with:

1. Warm cookies.

2. Many lovely private messages of support.

3. Erin’s father, Dale, a world class runner, ditched his race in SoCal to come up to be with us.

4. Offer of free massages.

5. Offer of legal help.

6. Sound unemployment advice from people who definitely KNOW what they’re talking about. I’m excited to take advantage of the mortgage insurance on our FHA loan. Apparently, we can get the next six months paid for.

7. Free babysitting so we could go out with my brother and his wife while they’re in town (they’re kind about the negative impact our troubles are having on their vacation, but I feel terrible they have to put up with our feelings when they should be relaxing).

8. Free ice cream, courtesy of my brother and his wife.

9. Offer of cold, hard cash.

10. Leads on potential freelance jobs.

11. Warm hugs. (My girls watch ‘Frozen’ nonstop. All hugs are warm.)

12. Praises we don’t deserve. Seriously, you’d think my wife and I were Gods who could call down fire from the mountain for all the confidence and faith people have in us to pull out of this.

13. Prayers on our behalf.

14. Service in the Church Vineyard. Erin and Elora, our oldest, went to pick grapes in the early AM. The grapes are turned into raisins and then used for relief efforts. For Erin, rendering that service was exactly what she needed. It felt good and took the focus off our troubles for a while.

15. Free horseback riding for our daughter with special needs, Cami. We go out to the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch every Saturday morning and it’s always free. Never been more grateful for than than today.

16. Offer to pay for Violet’s preschool. Violet is our youngest. She started preschool for the first time this week. If there was anything Erin was most stressed about, it was having to tell Violet she wouldn’t be able to go back as we cut back on expenses. A kind relative stepped forward and didn’t give us a choice–Violet’s preschool WILL be paid for.

17. A meal we didn’t have to cook or buy.

18. Peace.

19. Love.

20. Hope.

* * *

I’ve been struggling all day between peace and panicking. There are moments when it hits me that soon I won’t know how to pay for things and I just want to run away. We went over  to my Mom’s today and she asked me how I was doing and I snapped at her that I felt “terrible because I lost my job,” as if she didn’t know. I had to apologize to her later. Thankfully, that’s not my disposition most of the time.

Most of the time, I feel good. I feel relieved to be separated from a job that was increasingly an ill fit and I feel grateful to be moving on to something new. Hopefully, that ‘new’ is not homelessness.

We got one last blessing today, very late at night. I got a text from a friend to check the porch, and this is what I found:

10639598_10204345935466042_4884622230946331177_n

An unemployment survival kit from friends who know how much soft foam violence we’d like to exact on our situation.

Day 1 – Double Unemployment

This oft-neglected blog now has something it’s never had before–my undivided attention. Congratulations, blog, I’m unemployed. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful. 

Friday – August 29, 2014

CharlieBrownFootballI got laid off today and it was awesome. I don’t mean “awesome” in the overused, exulting sense, but in the “Aw, #$%@!” sense. I guess I sort of saw it coming because I woke up sick to my stomach every morning this week for no discernible reason. I wasn’t ill, I hadn’t eaten anything problematic the nights before. I just felt vomity anxiety. Didn’t think it was leading to getting laid off, but there you go. Basically, I was Charlie Brown. I should have maybe guessed Lucy would take the football away, but I sure didn’t expect her to up and run off with it.

I walked out of the boss’ office feeling numb and panicky and kind of dead. I was the undead, really. I was still animated, but I’d died and passed on to this next life called “unemployment;” a purgatory where I’d now get to sit and stew until moving on to the next next life: either the pit of hell call homelessness or the heavenly gift that would be new employment in a dream job I could not yet imagine. (There was no middle ground in that moment.) My morning nausea returned immediately, and I now cursed the coworker who’d unexpectedly bought me lunch at the cafeteria just a couple hours earlier.

Oh man, he didn’t know did he? Was that my last meal before execution? I’d have asked for lobster.

After gathering my things, I headed downstairs to fill out a bit of paperwork. The HR rep was a jewel and about as distraught as I was. I thanked her for being kind to me, and to Erin the day before.

Oh, yeah.

My wife got fired too, just 24 hours before I did. We worked at the same place and, at the time of her firing, I was of course comforted by the fact that at least I still had my job. She was too.

This is probably why she thought I was joking when she came home from our oldest daughter’s cross country race to find me pacing frantically in the hallway and claiming like a jerk that I’d joined her terrible, terrible club. Sorry, sweetheart, my jokes can trend towards the morbid (“Your dad is cooler than my dad? Oh yeah? Well, my dad is deader than your dad.”), but not this time.

The unemployment rate in the US currently sits at 6.2%. We are the 6.2%.

Facebook was equally shocked. Granted, Facebook is shocked a lot, particularly when the date matches up with the exact day Marty McFly arrived in the future for the hundredth time, but in this case their shock was justified. I wrote in a status update:

“Apparently, I’ve got the wrong last name. Yesterday, Erin got laid off. Today, it was my turn. (Yes, we did work for the same place.)

Feeling oddly peaceful. Little angry, sure, but peaceful. Have NO clue what’s next.

I think I’ll focus on feeling up to eating again for now.”

So I did, and Erin and I took our girls out to dinner to spend money we might need later to keep our lights on. But, crab cakes. And clam chowder. Erin and I split a meal. They say God helps those who help themselves, so I figure splitting a restaurant meal between us instead of buying two whole ones is kind of like meeting God halfway. Right? Probably not, but there are far greater sacrifices ahead, I’m sure. Greater blessings as well.

I find nothing useful about cynicism. It is the disease that kills sincerity by disguising pessimism as truth. I also hate cliches because they siphon intelligence out of expression. And yet, for maybe the first time in my life, as the cliches about closing doors and opening doors came in from Facebook with some heaping side helpings of love and well wishes, I believed every single one of those stupid cliches. They comforted me. They seemed dipped in truth. They reeked of it. Something better has to be coming our way after a hit like this.

Right?

After contemplating those soon-to-be-open doors for a little while, it occurred to me that I could lose my house and be happy. I know that’s an odd leap, but when people tell you about how they know things will be better off in the long run and you believe it, you’re pretty much okay with whatever has to happen to get there. Great blessings require great sacrifice. I have to be okay with that. I have to be okay with whatever needs to be inflicted so the blessings can come. And I say that in recognition of the fact that the affliction and the blessing are often one and the same.

So, take my house. If that’s what’s needed, then take it. I’ve got my wife and my girls and my cat. (I’d like to keep the cat. The dogs are negotiable.) And cookies. Friends brought us warm cookies this first night.

No one ever brought me warm cookies when I had a job.

* * *

This post was

freshly_pressed

Things My Daughter Elora Says, No. 4567

IMG_0264

These days, Elora doesn’t like having her picture taken.

Back before blogs were cool, I used to have a fairly popular one on MySpace. (Well, as popular as a blog on MySpace could be in 2005.) One of the regular, more popular features was transcriptions of conversations I had with my then 3-year-old daughter, Elora. She was world class precocious back then. So much so that I created a supervillain based on her for my online comic.  I regret that I ever stopped writing our conversations down, but today I have a new one I just have to share.

Elora is ten now. She doesn’t have her own Facebook account, but sometimes she co-opts her mom’s and uses it to tell me about her day while I’m at work. Here’s what happened:

Elora: Hey daddy, guess what?
Me: Hi Elora. What? Tell me.
Elora: I just beat mommy in a bet! Breakfeast in bed for me!
Me: Haha! What did you bet her?
Elora: She thought that a bearcat was not a real animal. So we bet and googled. AND I DEFEATED HER! FIGHT THE POWER!
Me: HAHAHAHA. Good for you, Elora.
Elora: I know, right! I was rubbing it in her face. Ahh good times.
Me: Haha. Elora, you crack me up.
Elora: And i cannot wait for tomorrow.
Me: Is that when you get the breakfast?
Elora: Yeah. Mommy just said i cheated!
Me: How did you cheat?
Elora: How can I cheat at that? I did not cheat! It was a google! I cannot cheat!
Me: Sounds pretty legitimate to me.
Elora: What does legitimate mean?
Me: Good and right.
Elora: Mommy said you were acknowledging my cheating! I am happy and not happy she said I am too easy. (pouty face)
Me: Haha. No, I was agreeing with you.
Elora: I know. Mommy lied to me. Upset.
Me: Tell her she owes you TWO breakfasts in bed now.
Elora: (devil face) I will….. she said no. Oh well, she is making it. I will tell her three put ups.
Me: Put ups?
Elora: Yeah, it takes three good things to erase one bad thing. Three complemints. g2t, Violet [her younger sister] wants to go outside.
Me: g2t? Please don’t use acronyms with me, Elora. Or at all. But I really loved talking with you. Go have fun.

At 2, Violet is just starting to talk now as well. I think I may need to start paying close attention again.