I went to a pretty cheesy church once. It was small and they had question and answer sessions. They had questions like “Where do you feel closest to God” and the answers were things like “sitting on a hill looking at the stars” and things like that. They then asked what the most difficult aspect of being a Christian is. They answered somewhere along the lines of knowing that there are so many people who don’t know Jesus. I answered that because I’m a Christian, I can never have any friends.
Now my argument at the church was a little silly, I was kind of just saying it to be a bit different. I said that if Jesus found all the people closest to him, that he had invested himself into for such a long time, abandoned him in his time of need how can we expect to have anything better than him?
However the problem really is love. I am supposed to love people and this makes things difficult. Every single relationship with non-Christian friends of mine has an aspect where I’m kind of trying to convert them. (Note: bear with me on this one!) This puts a bit of a downer on the relationships and it gets even worse because there is this knowledge that eventually everyone is going to turn on all followers of Jesus and so the people who say they love me are eventually going to hate me.
With my Christian friends it’s basically no better. There will come a day in heaven where we can just “be” with each other but now within the church there is a hierarchy. I find that I’m either “stronger” in faith in which case I’m supposed to think about all my words with them and make sure it is “supporting them in their pursuit of God” (loving them) or I’m “weaker” in my faith in which case they are doing the same for me but only temporarily and only until I’m stronger in which case they’ll drop me.
Ok, so I’ve started this with pretty over the top far-reaching statements that would probably be quite offensive to plenty of people. Most non-Christians don’t like the idea of being converted and most Christians will probably not like seeing themselves as weaker, especially if they actually are weaker.
Let’s try this from a different angle. Rather than talk about love, let’s talk about politics.
I would love to work with a bunch of people who could just be completely honest with each other. We’d have a similar vision we want to see enacted and just run with it together. However, in work, and it seems all work there is politics preventing this kind of honesty from happening. Especially when individuals needs pop in like the need to eat, or feed a family. One person said that they interact with everyone through a filter.
I think in politics there are two ways of dividing people into two kinds of people. There are people who are politically minded and there are people who are manipulated by those who are politically minded. Alongside that there are people who can see politics everywhere and those where it goes over their head. But if it goes over their heads they will still be in one of the first two categories, just not knowingly so.
I think if you think you’re “just yourself” with someone it’s probably that you are in the second category for both those distinctions and the other person is in the first category (whether they know it or not).
Take it this way. I want to be completely honest with someone. So I think up the words to describe how I feel that most accurately describe the specific feeling I am trying to communicate that differentiates it from all the other feelings that I might be feeling that aren’t quite the same. Take the phrase, to someone you care about, “I’m scared of you”. Now you communicate this knowing that all the words fit with what you believe to be true in such a way that you feel you could stand up in a court of law and say “Yeah those are the words I meant and those are true”.
Thing is they take it badly. You meant it as “I respect you and you intrigue me and so I want to be near you” whereas they took it as “Being around you is unpleasant and I want to be away from you”. The issue is we haven’t thought about how it has been communicated, we only care about saying what is true.
What’s point of saying what is “true” if the statement gets misunderstood by all the listeners who matter? However, If I say something that is not strictly true but leads the listener closer to the truth, isn’t that the kind of thing people want to do when they say “I want to be honest with someone?”. For example I might say “I’m not scared of you, I didn’t mean that, I just really respect you and want to spend time with you”. This is a lie, cause I am scared, but I’m throwing away the words that don’t really help to help the listener get closer to the subtler true truth.
We have an issue here.
The first one feels like I’m just “being myself” and “being honest” but it leads everyone to a misunderstanding of where I stand. The second has a higher chance of truly connecting with another person but in order to get there I have to constantly put up a filter. “What is it I am trying to say and how can I get the person to understand?”. In that sense, I’m never actually just BEING myself, I’m intentionally trying to lead the person to myself.
However both of these are far away from where I’m supposed to be as a Christian/ person. Both of these are self-centred (I’d like to say narcissistic but I see that word used a lot and I don’t really know what it means) and neither of these involve love.
Instead I should be asking something else… don’t fully know how to articulate it yet but instead of “How can I be myself around them” or “how can I lead them to me” I should be thinking “How should I be treating them” or “How should I love them”. One is focused on them to me, the other is me to them.
This puts up an even bigger barrier. I am not only trying to think how to communicate what I’m trying to communicate but I’m only trying to communicate the things that I feel they need to see communicated based on my love and caring for them. Now the person is going to be even further removed from me.
We can put this more practically.
1) Honest: How can I tell the person the specific thing that they do that winds me up at work truthfully
2) Communicative: How can I help the person see and understand what it is that they are doing (filter A)
3) Loving: How can I help this person who is annoying me, move forwards in their career?
The third is different, the third barely cares about the self, except as a tool to help another.
In Christian terms this third position is easy to articulate. It is “How can I help them pursue God” or “How can I love them” or “How can I serve them”. These are questions behind literally every communication, every sentence, every piece of body language. You’re never yourself you’re always for them.
This is the heart of politics. This is lonely.
I started by suggesting that someone who lives like this will go through life thinking they are essentially better than everyone. Trying to convert non-Christians and “mentor” Christians. But let’s put it differently. Some people might think they don’t like this, that they wouldn’t want to interact with that person.
Imagine you met someone and as you got to know them you found out that you thought they loved you. Not a Kate Nash style love (LINK) where the person knows how much sugar you take in your tea. They were someone who was there for you. Imagine whenever you spent time with this person you would open up your soul to them, telling them everything that was going on in your life. They would pretty much only offer responses that were exactly what you needed, maybe some gentle advice, maybe a “pull yourself together” or maybe just phrases that suggested empathy and understanding. You felt completely sure that if it came to it they would literally take a bullet for you. You knew when you weren’t with them they were thinking about you and what’s best for you. When you were with them they were just so much fun, they just cheered you up. They just got you.
Would it be desirable to meet this person? Would you like them as your friend? This is someone who is showing loving acts consistently through the way they treat and talk to you. This is the same offensive person above.
Now I don’t think this person is non-existent, I think it’s possible to meet someone like that. But now try to imagine this person from their point of view and what they think of you. Do you think it’s likely that they think the same stuff about you? If every time you meet up you discuss your problems do you think that’s because the person actually has no problems or because they aren’t telling you those things? Do you think the reason why they just cheer you up all the time is because life is just really good for them? Do you think they never get pissed off and angry at everything and just take it out on the first person but always handle their anger well.
I think this person exists, but if you were to meet them and think they were a nice person it’s because they are lying to you. In the words of scrubs, people are bastards, they are bastard coated bastards. This person has days of insecurity where they want to bring down those around to make themselves feel better. They have days of sadness where they just want to wallow. They have days of anger where it seethes out and infects even those that they aren’t angry at because they have days of weakness where they can’t control how their emotions play out. If you can’t see that in someone because you think “they are just one of those happy people” it’s because your eyes are shut.
It seems there is a choice. I can be a friend to people around me. They will like me, look up to me, think I’m nice. Or I can force people to be my friend. They will find it exhausting and irritating but they may continue anyway for some reason. But I can’t just have “friends”, I can’t just have a mutual friendship where that is all we are.
The Last Psychiatrist writes anonymously. The problem with not doing this is that there is a large chance that if anyone is ever going to read this, they are the kind of person that will think “Hey Jamie! I thought I was your friend! Screw you and your birthday party”. Well to that person I can only say one thing…
“Please don’t leave me….”
Now getting that out-of-the-way the problem with friendship I think stems to a problem with love itself. Particularly unconditional love. Everyone inherently demands unconditional love from everyone else but no single person could reasonably ever offer it. I think this is uncontroversial.
In fact the love that we demand is unconditional, unlimited and eternal.
Its unlimited. People sometimes say things like “It’s the thought that counts” or “you only need to try” but that is simply not how we engage with love. What if your dad said something like this to you? They don’t love you anymore but don’t feel too bad because they tried really hard? Or your mum said that she really wanted to love you but just can’t?
None of these things will make you feel any better. We don’t want someone to try to love us we want someone to succeed.
However “unconditional”? Imagine a lover, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife saying that they loved you. And then you asked why? They said it was because of your amazing looks. Well thank you, I also love staring at my naked body in the mirror but whilst that is a compliment it also dooms me to forever worrying about the day I get in a car crash. What about if they loved me because I was intelligent? Again I’m just waiting until the day I accidentally say something stupid. What if it’s because I’m nice? Then the next day is really stressful and I come back home acting like a dick.
The horrible thing is that the more this conditional love gets me. The more I enjoy and desire the love from this person, the more it will destroy me when the conditions inevitably fail. Like the letter to K offering him a promotional in Kafka’s the Trial every little glimpse of love is drawing me deeper and deeper into a trap that will eventually destroy me or just go nowhere.
Finally eternal. God is not against sex before marriage, he’s against break-ups. And so are we as God has put eternity on man’s heart.
But what about the flip side? Well Scroobius Pip says that unconditional love is being in love with the mere idea of loving something. He’s kind of right, the concept is ludicrous. Why would I love someone who is unlovable? Why would I love someone who is rubbish and doesn’t deserve love? I’ve always thought marriage is a little horrible. If I wanted to be with someone for the rest of my life I could just do that. Marriage is not an expression of what is your desire, marriage is a promise to stay with someone even if I don’t want to!? Why would anyone buy that? This attitude is brought to you by the bible.
My Wife: Jamie do you love me?
Me: with all my heart
Wife: Why is that?
Me: Because I chose to
That might almost be romantic… almost. However it continues
Wife: Is there anything you like about me?
Me: No, in fact the mere idea of you causes me to be physically sick. This pool of vomit we’re sitting in isn’t actually due to your terrible smell but it happens even when you’re not around. All your values and thoughts about the world are disgusting and I don’t know what you look like any-more because I try not to look.
It doesn’t work.
All humans will always love conditionally because it is the only acceptable way to give out our love but all humans will only accept unconditional love because even the slightly transgression from that is horrifying.
Is this view of politics correct? Do we always have to have a filter up with everyone? Is the filter actually a good thing or is it better to be “true”? Could I work with a bunch of like-minded people where there was no politics between us, we were a team of us against the world. Could I ever get married to a person where there was no politics between us, it was just us against the world? Is wanting this just a sign I should grow up? This is just the way the world is I will forever be alone.
The psalms that are moany, tend to end with praising God. My next blog post will probably deal with this a little more but I have a suspicion that all this becomes exciting when Jesus is bought in.
- I don’t think I need that filter when I’m sitting before my creator. I think I can be broken before the one who understands. The fact that God knows me is almost more exciting than the fact that God loves me. I think those are linked and I’ve heard that in Hebrew “know” has sexual connotations.
- I think the Holy Spirit (The Go-between God) can replace my filter, he can be my filter. Rather than putting forward a filter of my own creation where I work out how I should treat someone I can instead turn to him, who I can communicate with directly and seek after how should I treat this person now?
- Most of the time where I’ve tried to end this filter and be “honest” with someone I’ve also felt a slightly sense that I’m going against what God wants me to do in that situation.
- If we go with this, instead of “I’m trying to convert my non-Christian friend” as my agenda and filter its “I’m trying to seek out what God wants me to do here, what God sees with this person”. Here if God is wanting to bring this person closer to him then I might help in that, if not then I might do something else.
- The church is going crazy for community at the moment. They keep talking about it and going on about how “individualism” is bad. However, I have a feeling like they are going on about community in the wrong way, they are doing community minus God and that falls under all the problems talked about here.
- Whilst I can never give anything but conditional love, I think there is a sense where love overflows. If you met a girl who had a terrible relationship with their Dad and then something happened where it was hugely improved how would you expect that girl to change? There is something important in being a human who is able to receive unconditional love from somewhere else.
There must be more than this.
The Last Psychiatrist’s latest blog posts almost hits on things similar to this. Maybe I’m just a narcissist and psychotherapy will save me?