The Human Condition

“I’m only human. Of flesh and blood I’m made. Human. Born to make mistakes.” ~The Human League

HUman_Like_you_3_Androgynous_FoxWe often speak of being human as something we have accomplished, as if being human is something to be proud of rather than a weight around our necks. But maybe it is precisely the latter, as being human carries with it a wealth of responsibilities we don’t attribute to any other species. As human beings we are tasked with being citizens, of thinking of the feelings of others, of taking care of our young, and of taking care of our old, among many other duties.

And when one of us shirks those responsibilities, when one of us doesn’t carry out our perceived duties, that person is ostracized, or celebrated, or both.

See, I look at Facebook posts every day, and whenever I see one side of the human equation, I see an equal and opposite side, just as forceful, just as vehement, both proclaiming to be the sole arbiter of the human condition. But there is, of course, no sole arbiter of the human condition. There is simply the condition itself, for all that’s worth.

There are those who believe we, as human beings, are inherently good. I see their memes celebrating difference, that we are all part of one race, one nature, and one creed — that is to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves. This side of the equation is always surprised when bad things happen to good people, when kids are shot down in the schoolyard, when any crime perpetrated by humans occurs, as a matter of fact. They post and share their opinions like they’re going out of style.

On the other side of the spectrum exists those who think everyone has a side angle, who think that anyone who does a good deed is doing it for some kind of selfish purpose, for some kind of kickback. These people are ashamed to be human because they know all the horrible acts human beings are capable of, because they’re seen it firsthand, or because they just haven’t bought the rose-colored glasses worn by those on the other side of the equation. They are never surprised when bad things happen to good people because they don’t believe there are bad and good people. They believe that whatever they do speaks for itself.

But being human is never black and white. It’s not the sum of its parts, not obvious in any way, shape or form. Being human means being able to process that we are all and none at the same time. We are people capable of the most outstanding art, of the most phenomenal music, of everything that’s beautiful in our world. While at the same time we are also capable of the most nefarious acts, of being the “devil in blue jeans” we were warned about as kids.

Why are we so surprised when celebrities or politicians get caught with their pants down? It’s the human condition to be dissatisfied with what we have, to yearn for something different. It’s the human condition to disappoint both ourselves and others, because the standards we hold everyone (except for ourselves) up to are impossible for even perfect beings. And we all know that there has never been a human born who was perfect. So why do we spend so much time and energy railing against those who don’t fit into our self-satisfied contrivances?

I think we do it because we can’t stand not having a solid definition for what makes us human. Is it our ability to make decisions apart from instinct? Is it our capacity for compassion? Or is it something less solid, something that has absolutely nothing to do with our inherent goodness or our tendency for evil? Perhaps we have been tying it all together, judging each other (and ourselves) on something that we can’t truly judge because we don’t have all the facts. Because each of us is an individual, and because the human condition is not a shared condition.

It is each of us, separately, living our own lives, following what we feel is the correct path for us. It is something that we will get judged for no matter which path we follow, no matter if we are those who are optimists or if we fit into the realist category. The only thing that the human condition has in common between us all is that we are all born to it, for better or for worse. Being human means we are all arbiters of ourselves and of our own decisions.

Nothing more. And nothing less.

Sam

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The God Box

“You are not upset that we have different boxes. You are upset because my box does not match yours.” ~Rob Lester

MovingBoxToo often we place God in a box, whether it’s a box of our own making or one belonging to someone else that we’ve co-opted for our own designs. We lift up the flaps, place Him in, and think things will be fine from then on because He’s there. We’ve defined Him by placing Him firmly in our own concept of where He should be, of where we think He fits, and we leave Him in there.

And the craziest part of it all is that we don’t realize we’re doing it. You know what I’ve realized, though, after all this time? I see now that the whole time I was growing up I did just the same thing. I placed God inside that box, and it has a name: organized religion.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) (The Bible)

It is this grace that is the key, not anything else. By placing God inside a box it means we believe we can decide what happens. It means we think our works will mark us for salvation. Organized religion the world around is based on this assumption. If we do good works then God will reward us. And each one is different, yet the same. Christians say that God will reward those who have been faithful. Hindus say we need to be dedicated to ceremonies and rituals for a gift from a God in the afterlife. Muslims believe in a God who gives us what we deserve based on our deeds.

In this way too many organized religions place God in this box. It’s understandable, too, because we like definitions. We as human beings like to be able to visualize and define everything. Instead of taking it all in faith, instead of simply accepting that undeserving grace, we look for validation from others, then we translate that validation into a blessing we believe we will get from whatever our version of God happens to be.

“Did man emerge from non-being through his own devices? Was he his own creator? Did mankind create the heavens and earth? Certainly they do not know God.” (52:35-36) (The Qu’ran)

This idea that mankind can know what’s best for mankind is ridiculed by the Qu’ran. This passage is another way of saying God knows best, that we must trust in God, and yet the beliefs espoused by the religion itself shows a God who does not accept all. It is once again not an idea of grace and an all-encompassing acceptance. The only way to know this God is to follow the teachings of the prophet and of the holy book itself. It is simply another way of placing God in this box.

For some people this is the only way for them to be able to understand God, by placing Him in this box, by placing limitations upon a being who is above even the idea of limiting. Even by just saying Him we place restrictions on a being we cannot ever truly contain. Nor should we be trying to contain Him, trying to bend our will and actions to this idea of a God that organized religion imposes on us. For a time it’s necessary, even instructive, to see God through a childlike lens, through that rudimentary belief system, but as we grow in Him we can see more the individual nature of the relationship that has no limitations. Because He has no limitations.

Then we battle over it, as if one religion is better than any other, as if God esteems one more than he esteems all the rest. We are of the “one faith,” the “one church,” the “essential elementary understanding,” and everything else we do to place labels of differentiation and judgment on everything and on everyone, including ourselves.

“What religion needs today is not more flying with God, or leaping with God, or jumping up and down with God, or going into spasms and convulsions and epileptic fits with God. What religion needs today is more walking with God.” ~Milo H. Gates

This idea of walking with God is one espoused by many organized religions, or at least they pay lip service to it. They agree that we all need to walk with God, but they don’t make it a personal walk. Just saying that our walk with God needs to take place alongside others (who are on their own personal walks) undermines the strength of that statement.

I remember when my youngest was in kindergarten, and one of the comments from the teacher was that Madeline was good at “parallel play,” which means playing alongside other kids without playing with them. She said it like it was the worst thing in the world, but it was peaceful. Madeline was doing what she wanted instead of destroying what the kid next to her was doing. I was good with that. It’s how I feel about the idea of having to be with others, to share the “walk” with others. It’s unnecessary, and it can be detrimental. We are all on our own journeys with God, personal journeys that could be disrupted by thinking ours needs to be just like someone else’s.

People often ask me why I don’t go to church now, especially those who I grew up with in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. They ask me what’s going on with my personal relationship with God because they fear for me. They’re worried that my lack of fellowship with “true believers” will be detrimental to my soul salvation. And to them I say they should focus on themselves, on their own personal relationship with God, that instead of putting Him in a box, they should actually walk with Him, free of those boxes. Allow for His grace, for His mercy, and for His overwhelming acceptance to help you see that it’s not about organized religion.

It’s about you and Him. That’s all it’s ever been about.

Sam

Where Are You Now?

“Where are you now? As I’m swimming through this stereo, I’m writing you a symphony of sound.” ~Jack’s Mannequin [“The Mixed Tape”]

no_looking_backDo you ever wonder where they are? I mean all the people you’ve left behind, or the ones who’ve left you behind? I sometimes do. In the darkest shadows of the night, when I should just move on, I can’t seem to do it, because they come to me, like ghosts, vestiges of the persons they were when I knew them, when we were new and unblemished. But this distance, it blemishes them, it stains them with broad brush strokes that I wish I could unsee.

And I guess you can say I’ve been stained too, that I am not the same person I was either, that some of that is my own fault, or even if it isn’t, it’s fair to say me feeling that way makes it so. It’s even funny in a way because of all the things I could regret in life, some of the biggest regrets are the ones I don’t even remember, because something, in some way, alienated people from me. I shouldn’t even care. I should say that it’s their loss, but I somehow can’t bring myself to look at things that way. Maybe I’m a masochist.

I hear songs that we shared and I think of them. I listen to the melody and I can’t help but relive the memories that we still share, except now separately. When my phone vibrates I still think on some level that it might be them, that they might be texting to make amends, or at least to explain. Because the lack of an explanation is what makes it all so… incomplete. The lack of an explanation is the difference between the shadowed nights with ghosts and a good night’s sleep. When my phone vibrates I keep hoping that it’s the one line that will bring me closure.

“It was never you; it was all me.”

“It just wasn’t the right time for me, emotionally.”

“You never listened to me, and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

I firmly believe that some people are only in our lives for an age to teach us lessons, to be there for that moment, to be a brief impetus in our lives, and that these people inevitably move on. But I can’t bring myself to think when the time’s up that only one of us would know about it. Maybe I’m just not the kind of person who can move on to the next thing if something is left unsaid, even if I know the time has come to separate from whatever I’ve had with someone else.

Now that I’m older I’ve taken to reminiscing an awful lot. I find myself seeing time ago through some colored lenses, letting the blacks, whites, and grays blend together to form a kind of muted rainbow. I find that I think back a lot less, but that when I do it’s for those people I really thought would be around my life forever, either because they said they would or because, to me, it was merely understood. And for those ghosts I can’t help but hear specific songs and get brought back, every single time.

In spite of myself.

Sam

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