Category: Personal

The Icon of Marriage

The Icon of Marriage

I went to an Orthodox wedding yesterday to celebrate the sacramental marital union of my friend Nathan and his wife Rebecca. Contrary to many Western style weddings, the primary focus of an Orthodox wedding is not on the bride, but on Christ. The bride is not amplified over the groom, but rather the two are liturgically treated in such a way that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two. This is clearly intentional, as this represents the two “becoming one.”1C.f. Gen 2:24, Mark 10:8

As with any sacrament, the effectiveness of uncreated grace is contingent upon our cooperation (synergy) with God. Just like a baptism without a real death (dying daily21 Cor 15:31) to self cannot save, or a Eucharist without the work of true penitent preparation, so too does the grace within the sacrament of marriage fall by the wayside if we cease our pursuit of Christ, and allow ourselves to be cut off from the lifeblood of the true Vine.3c.f. John 15:5 If we lose sight of Christ in our marriages, then they will inevitably descend to the place of the dead. Sacramental grace fills our being so long as we remain ‘plugged-in’ to Christ, and when we run dry, we need only repent and reconnect ourselves (through confession) to be filled once again. Therefore, we must remain vigilant in marriage, always making sure to keep our lamps lit with the oil of Christ.4c.f. Matt 25:3-4

Marriage is not merely a union of two people, it is a union of three people: Christ, husband, and wife. The married couple is a triangular trinity, having Christ at the top of the triangle. When the husband pursues Christ and His commandment to sacrificially “love his wife as Christ loves the Church,” and when the wife pursues Christ and His commandment to respectfully submit to her husband (not “all things” down to what brand of soda she is allowed to drink, but all that which encourages the ascent of her spiritual life unto salvation), both travel up each side of the triangle, growing closer to both Christ and each other.

As I looked and saw the bride and the groom being crowned, and as I heard the passages of Genesis read,  I heard in my spirit, “Look.” As I looked up and to the left wall, I saw the massive icon of the resurrection.

However, being at a wedding changed the context through which I would have normally looked. All of a sudden, the icon expressed not Christ rescuing Adam and Eve from physical death through His resurrection, but rather Christ lifting husband and wife out of their broken marriage, and uniting them one to another through Himself. I perceived the triangular lines of the image, and how heaven truly reached down as far as the east is from the west in order to lift up our marriages and restore them once again to newness of life in Him.

Whenever our marriages seem to falter because one or both parties have ceased in their pursuit of Christ, may we never forget how Christ is able to resurrect all of that which is dead, including marriage.

Song of Solomon, Images, and Graphic Nudity in Modern Film

Song of Solomon, Images, and Graphic Nudity in Modern Film

Movies and TV shows with explicit sex scenes have consistently been controversial among Christian circles. A series may have great writing, but also an excessive amount of graphic sex, violence, and often times a mixture of both. The question for me is simple: Do the ends justify the means? In counting the cost, does filling my eyes (and subsequently, my mind) with dangerous pornographic images justify my indulgence in just another story? Personally, I don’t think so.

My memory of graphic sexual images will far exceed my memory of a plot progression, and I would go so far as to say that is the case for everyone, not just me. All I need to do is try to remember any series I have not seen in a decade or two. What do I remember more, the plot of such a series, the precise details of the character progression, or certain visual scenes that happened to make an impression on me? It is always the explicit or shocking visuals that have the longest lasting influence on the mind.

I think it is unarguable that the sex scenes of some of these shows (Game of Thrones, for example) are no different from pornography. I guarantee that those scenes are spliced and put on porn sites. So why would I think surrounding such content with a fantasy story makes it okay for me to watch? It isn’t merely Game of Thrones that is guilty, I just find it to be the easiest example. Pretty much anything on HBO has a massive problem with sex and nudity. Even Netflix is becoming problematic in many ways. I have to go to the IMDB parents guide before every new show because graphic content has become a cancer in film. It seems like every Netflix original is rated TV-MA.

Whenever I read articles about Christians who watch some of these shows, they never actually say anything to justify the graphic sex or nudity. The pornographic content is always the elephant in the room, and it is always ignored. It is actually incredibly bizarre and awkward when people so casually recommend a show like Game of Thrones, as if this is something I could watch with them. As if I wasn’t horrified by what IMDB said was in the first episode alone. I once spoke to an agnostic friend of mine who is not in any way religious, and he said even he was uncomfortable watching Game of Thrones with other people, because of the sex.

If Christ said it is better pluck out your eye than to allow yourself to be corrupted through the eye (Mat 5:29), I find it nonsensical to think saying “it has a great story” is a valid excuse before God for indulging the eyes in pornographic content. When pornography gets a decent plot, it does not cease to be pornography. The devil has icons too. Behind every pretty woman with her breasts exposed, and behind every graphic sex scene, is a dragon waiting to chain you to your own passions.

One might say, “But nobody says anything about violence. Isn’t that bad too?” Yes, violence is never a good thing, however comparing depictions of violence with sex is to compare apples and oranges. For one, the sexual content is not fake, like war scenes. Actors actually strip down to nothing and have sex for a camera. This would be considered prostitution if they didn’t actually enjoy it and make a lot of money. Indeed, a poor and ashamed prostitute, stuck in her situation, is more righteous than such actors who do not even know how to blush (Jer 6:15, 8:12). Secondly, watching a violent scene does not, in of itself, tempt the viewer to become more violent. However, watching a graphic sex scene will tempt the viewer to become more sexual. Because the eyes stimulate the body, watching such things will have an involuntary effect on the body. This is why the scriptures say to flee from fornication (1 Cor 6:18). Other sins do not manipulate the body the way sexual sins do, and sexual sins always occur first with the eyes. It was when David “saw” a naked woman washing herself that his passions were tempted (2 Sa 11:2).

However, it should be noted that not every sex scene is equally explicit, therefore not every sex scene is equally destructive to the mind. I can think of a total of zero people who have complained that a movie or TV show was not as good as it could have been, simply because it lacked graphic sex scenes. In fact, the majority of sex scenes have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. If it does have to do with the plot, then the purpose of the action is generally to tell the viewer that so and so had an affair or something. However, the viewer does not need to see the details of how the affair took place, the viewer only needs to know that the affair took place. In modern film, the ‘how’ is extremely overemphasized and put on the screen for extended periods of time, rather than the previous trope of having two couples wake up next to one another in a bed (implicitly revealing what had occurred).

Song of Solomon in Visual Format

Icon depicting aspects of the Song of Solomon as it relates to Christ and the Church. It depicts Song 2:16; 4:12; 5:10; 8:6-7.

One might say, “but the Bible is graphic, read Song of Solomon.” Because this response is inevitable, I will even use Song of Solomon to prove my point. Firstly, Song of Solomon is a text, and one that is shrouded in poetry. It does not bombard your eyes with explicit sex scenes, because the metaphor makes the sexual content implicit. And because it is a text, the content is not visually seen, but imagined. Breasts are even compared to fuzzy little animals (Song 4:5, 7:3), so I don’t think any woman today would find that to be particularly romantic.

Christians do not have icons of the Song of Solomon literally depicting graphic sex. It visually depicts Song of Solomon as metaphor, not as literal sex. Depicting such a thing literally would be absolutely scandalous.

Icon depicting aspects of the Song of Solomon as it relates to Christ and the Church. It depicts Song 2:2, 5, 8-9, 7:6, 12.

Sex and nudity are supposed to be sacred. Sex should not have bystanders, for it is exclusive because romantic love (Eros) ought to be exclusive. When you have tens of thousands of flies on the wall in the form of writers, directors, videographers and HBO subscribers, the act of sexual union is cheapened into a marketing tactic to entice the passions. The phrase “sex sells” exists because people figured out how to exploit human weakness.

We as a culture penalize the one “Peeping Tom” who peers through the neighbor’s window and call him a pervert, and then we sit on our couches, turn on the television, and peer through the bedroom windows of countless couples. Does such actions not also qualify as perverse? It seems like a double-standard to me.

Whenever the scriptures mention nakedness, the expected response is always to cover/clothe (Gen 3:21, 9:23, Eze 18:7, 16, Mat 25:36, Mar 5:15, Jas 2:15-16). This is because, like I said, nudity is sacred and it ought to be respected. It is exclusive, and it ought to be protected. That’s what I think anyway. I do not write this to condemn or judge anyone, I merely seek to work through the details of what it is I believe about the subject.

The Unreliability of Vocal Dialogue

The Unreliability of Vocal Dialogue

I have been in a variety of vocal conversations (ie: in person/face to face), and I meditate and reflect after each one. Literally without exception. I do this so often that I began to notice a pattern within myself: I can’t seem to say exactly what I want to say, when I want to say it. I took this thought a step further, and I began to realize that if there were a significant enough people who are just like me, it has tremendous implications on the nature of common dialogue, and how unreliably misleading it can be.

I have watched many formal debates in my life, both political and religious. However, I want to address religious theological debates in particular. On multiple occasions, one person would struggle to extemporaneously say what they believed, and the other person would pounce on the perceived weakness. Then when they think of a more detailed and helpful explanation to put words to what swims around inside them, the other person then accuses them of changing the position or being contradictory. In other words, we do not seem to allow people the room to refine their outward words to correctly align with their inward beliefs. Instead, we assume that every spoken word a person utters is precisely what that person wants to say and how they want to say it.

Writing seems to be different. As I write this, I do not need to follow the unspoken rules of face to face conversation. Rules such as: “You must think and respond within three seconds.” I have time to prepare what it is I want to say. Or, more accurately stated, I have time to prepare the combination of words that best align themselves with the unspoken words within me. When speaking extemporaneously, I do not always find the best combination on the first attempt, because I am often not given the opportunity to think it through.

As a real example, on one occasion I was in a conversation about dyslexia. I said that when I reflected on my own dyslexia, I realized how there is a kind of balance to things. Though my dyslexia made me deficient in reading comprehension, it made me far exceed my peers in visual memory. After saying this, I said something general like, “That’s why I believe for every deficiency that exists, there is something exceptional to counterbalance it.” However, even though my words were generalized, my thoughts were not. In my mind, I was thinking of three deficiencies in particular: dyslexia, down syndrome, and autism. And yet, my words did not accurately align with my thoughts. However, because my words were generalized, this led to the skeptical response, “Do you think that’s true in all cases, though?” If this were a debate, I would have immediately been labeled contradictory if I replied with the truth and said “No,” because my generalized spoken words immediately condemned my specific unspoken words. I would then need the time to clarify that my first attempt at articulating my unspoken words was a failure. Hence the problem with verbal communication.

This troublesome situation leads me to believe that written words are more likely to accurately represent what a person thinks, rather than spoken words. Though, it is also possible to write in haste and fall into the same trap. There are many times when I write, my thoughts do not come in chronological order, and I often have to shift paragraphs around to make it a linear progression. Upon further reflection, it is quite possible that I discover I could have better articulated even this very post.

Therefore, it seems to me that we as human beings should graciously give others the benefit of the doubt when they say things that may rub us the wrong way, or don’t sound quite right, because they likely did not have enough time to reflect and accurately articulate what they truly wanted to say. I will freely admit, I am a much better writer than I am a speaker, so the times I verbalized what I didn’t mean to say far exceeded the times I verbalized what I did mean to say. Though, contemplating my own shortcomings has given me a deeper sense of love and understanding for others, and I suppose that is all I could ask for.

A Dyslexic Memoir

A Dyslexic Memoir

When I was in preschool, my teacher (who also happened to be my grandma) put a bunch of shapes on the rug and asked us to find the circle. My reply?

“The rug.”

The Mystery

Dyslexia is one of the most mysterious “disabilities” of modern times. It is unusual mainly for three reasons:

  1. Many people have it.
  2. We know little about it.
  3. It has a grand spectrum.

Dyslexia seems to be less of an official diagnosis and more of a word used to describe a specific collection of symptoms. Thus, most people are usually self-diagnosed. As someone who is dyslexic (by current standards), I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences on how dyslexia plays itself out in my life. This will be based on my personal experience, so it will not be entirely scientific, but I believe anecdotal evidence can guide scientific analysis in the right direction.

The first thing people should know about dyslexia is the fact that it is more extreme in the developmental years. Much of the downsides of dyslexia are brought to the surface generally because of the learning structure of most public schools. Simply put, schools are not designed for people who think outside of the box.

Much of my experience in school can be likened to an artist being told how to correctly hold a paint brush, what color is to be used, how long each stroke must be, and what is to be painted. To an artist, this scenario is a nightmare. This rigid notion of how children ought to learn is why someone like me, who loves to learn, ended up hating school.

When most people hear that a child has dyslexia, they think the kid reads letters backwards or something. That is probably due to past misunderstandings of dyslexia that began to circulate in the 90s when all of this was very new. Now, there is an understanding that dyslexia manifests itself differently in different people, but with a few broad similarities that warrants one category.

I felt inspired to write about some of my past experiences with dyslexia, how it affected my performance in school, and why I ultimately consider it to be a gift.

Stuttering

I used to stutter as a kid, and struggled to get the words out of my mouth. I saw all the same words. They were not all jumbled together, or rearranged, or whatever crazy illustrations people come up with to discern the phenomenon, they were there for me just like for anyone else. The problem was vocalizing the words.

I would say stuttering occurred more commonly in extemporaneous speech than it did while reading out loud, but in either situation stuttering was a really frustrating and bizarre experience. When trying to say any sentence, there is first an internal/mental reading of the sentence, and then there is an external/verbal reading. The internal speech was never an issue, but translating the internal into the external (mostly in the presence of two-or-more-syllable words) was where stuttering took place. I could see the word in my mind as clear as day, but for some reason that first or second syllable does not want to be formed.

Reading Comprehension

The second of my two reading issues was (and still is to a degree) reading comprehension. This is what I have to emphasize the most when I talk about my experience, because I think this might be one of the things that unites dyslexic people.

When I was in 2nd grade my reading comprehension was way below average. By this time my main issue was not stuttering, it was comprehending what I was reading. I could verbally read the words faster than even my normal peers. However, I had to turn off my brain in order to accomplish such a feat. If I wanted to remember what I just read, I had to go back and re-read it four or five times. This made reading comprehension tests one big anxiety attack, because it inevitably became a race against time. I had three options:

  1. Finish the test before or at the same time as everyone else and do poorly because I rushed through it.
  2. Not finish the test and do poorly because I did not complete all the answers.
  3. Finish the test late, obtain anxiety from being socially aware of my situation, and do poorly for not being able to focus.

I’d be willing to bet every dyslexic person can relate to this particular losing scenario when it comes to taking tests.

As a result of this, I was placed in a remedial reading class that remains to be one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I still remember it vividly. It was before school, and I quite literally rode the short bus. When I got there I met the nice lady teacher and I sat between two other students. On my left was someone who I do not remember too much, but was probably also dyslexic. I can not remember the person on my left because they were in my periphery being my head was focused to my right. On my right was a student with Down Syndrome.

As one would imagine, my past experiences of Elementary and Middle School made me withdrawn. In most cases, I sat quietly in class, never did my homework (I saw it as simply extended school), and passed with a B or a C. There were, however, three classes that I loved: 10th grade Biology, 11th grade English, and 12th grade Philosophy.

Biology (10th Grade)

In my school, there were two paths you could have taken with Science. Most kids took Earth Science in 9th grade and Biology in 10th grade. However, there was a kind of remedial path to split the Biology class into two years, so I took Biology for both 9th and 10th grade. I picked up on it extremely quickly. Because I did so well in 9th grade and remembered all the content, I never took any notes and still got A’s on the tests. It was the first time a class felt natural to me. I also became the class clown with my partner in crime, Curt. I used to write the most ridiculous notes to Curt about Captain Planet, and I would make it seem like I wanted it passed to him secretly, when in reality I wanted to get caught and have the teacher read what I wrote. My plan worked flawlessly. My teacher saw a student pass the note to Curt and then confiscated it. She then proceeded to read how I couldn’t wait to tell Curt about my Captain Planet DVD collection. What I didn’t plan for was what happened next.

She made me read it to the class.

The joke is on her though, they all laughed.

I liked my teacher too, she was like a grandma. She was the first teacher that really noticed my potential. I still remember that one day after class when she scolded me for my lack of motivation, telling me that I could get into any college I wanted. I think this was the turning point in my intellectual life at school.

English (11th Grade)

I still smile when I think about Mrs. Perera’s English class. She was someone I respected almost immediately. She had short brown hair with blonde highlights and glasses. She was sharp, and had a sarcastic sense of humor that I really appreciated. If I recall correctly, she was married to a Buddhist and had a Christian sister. She liked Family Guy, and often made references during class. She was generally reserved like an introvert, but at the same time was not intimidated by us. She was cool. Mrs. Perera was a phenomenal teacher, not just because she really connected with her students, but because she knew precisely how to teach.

She didn’t just give us a book to read at home. We read chapters in class and talked about the content. We were given a chance to practice thinking, and she would help guide our thoughts (which is something that doesn’t happen at home). Simply put, she found a way to make English fun. Doing this allowed me the room to focus on the content without having to be anxious about the serious things that normally come with a standard classroom. I was at ease.

This was the year we read Of Mice And Men and Catcher In The Rye. Those are the only two school books I remember well, and Mrs. Perera is the reason for that. It would have been difficult for me if I was given a book and simply told to read it at home. Because of dyslexia, it takes a much longer time to read because of how easily my mind goes into ‘meditation mode.’ It takes a lot of energy to read, not just because of how much I have to re-read things, but because of how much detail I notice along the way. I always have to stop and think about every little thing in order to paint a mental picture. More on that later.

Oh, and I got an A on my final.

Philosophy (12th Grade)

I still remember the first day of Philosophy class with Mrs. Pentola. I had heard about how she was such an amazing English teacher, but I didn’t know what to expect. Then, as we sat there waiting for her, she came in the room.

She was a very eccentric woman. Almost theatrical, really. Very animated and extroverted. She was also very bright, and she had a cheerful sense of optimism about her. Personality-wise, she was the antithesis of Mrs. Perera. As an introvert myself, being much more naturally drawn to someone like Mrs. Perera, you’d think I would be uncomfortable around Mrs. Pentola. However, she quickly grew on me because of her depth.

The day in class, we were told to write our thoughts on the nature of happiness. Right then and there I knew this was the type of class for me. Mrs. Pentola made teaching into an art form because the class basically ran itself. The content was so intriguing that everyone in the class was engaged. I remember one day she asked the class about the famous paradox: “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If you say yes, you go on one side of the room. If you say no, you go on the other side of the room. If you don’t know, you go in the middle. Then you had to defend your position against your classmates. It was loads of fun.

I didn’t participate too much, as I enjoyed observing everything unfold. However, I believe Mrs. Pentola connected with me through my assignments. She saw the thought I put into my essays, because she randomly started calling on me asking for my input. And it wasn’t like a “You’re not talking, so I’m calling on you” kind of selecting. It was a “I know you have thoughts about this, I’ve read your essays” kind of selecting. There was one assignment that we had to share in front of the class, and we had topics from which to choose. I remember that I chose dualism. I forget exactly what I wrote or the details of the assignment, but I remember after I made my presentation, she said with astonishment that she has never heard such a perspective in all her time as a teacher.

Dyslexia the Gift

All of this leads to why, despite my struggles, I now see dyslexia as a gift.

Due to the fact that I need to read things multiple times and meditate on everything, I have a very good memory. This became useful when I began to read the Bible multiple times in my late teen years. I was able to retain even the most minor of details because I found them interesting when I read them. Like I mentioned before, I had to re-read things multiple times and meditate. This is why as a 19 year old, I knew things like Solomon was supposed to be named Jedidiah (2 Samuel 12:25), or that left-handed people were gifted with slingshots (Judges 20:16). It sounds odd, but dyslexia makes my memory better than it would be without it.

Dyslexia also brings a very artistic perspective of life, connecting things that do not seem to be connected. Since I am first and foremost a man who is theologically-minded, I have a theological example. When I first read Genesis 22, I didn’t immediately see Isaac as the type of Christ (which is the classical understanding), I saw the “ram caught in the thicket by its horns” as representative of Christ. Why? Because I immediately saw what links the two figures: a crown of thorns. Such an understanding I believe adds another layer of depth to the story. It is this kind of thing that comes naturally to me, and I think that is because of my dyslexia (being right-brained).

I do still struggle with the negative sides of dyslexia, but there are workarounds now. Audiobooks and Podcasts are perfect for dyslexic people. With the growing research around this mysterious abnormality, hopefully schools will adapt accordingly and understand that dyslexia is something that requires a different teaching method.

Perhaps there are other left-handed right-brained dyslexic people out there that would read this and be encouraged. Overall, I am thankful for the way God made me, even though I exist in a world that is structured in a way that is contrary to my nature.

 

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!