My First Calvinist Encounter

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john calvinAs I have said before, I missed out on a lot of the alternative rock back in the 1990s, not because I was unwilling to branch out from my preference for metal, but because so many of the fans and adherents to the exploding alternative scene were obnoxious douchenozzels about it. The overall sense of elitist snobbery from the fans utterly turned me off from wanting to check out the music for myself.

It’s essentially the same experience I’ve had with Calvinism, while attempting to investigate and understand this particular theological branch of Christianity, instead of an enlightening discussion on the topic, I usually walk away with the feeling that my own salvation was questioned due to my lack of understanding the particular brand of theology, while a nagging feeling that they were merely parroting memorized talking points rather than engaging questions.

But, this really isn’t a post about my thoughts on Calvinism. Let me, instead, tell you about my first actual encounter with a Calvinist. This should amuse you.

There was a time, a decade ago, when I didn’t know what a Calvinist was, let alone Calvinism. As a matter of fact, most of my theological studies stemmed from my study of the scriptures themselves. I adhered to the Apostle Paul’s sentiment in 1 Corinthians 1:12-15, as I identified myself as a Christian in and of itself. I still do, it’s just now I’ve done much investigation and studying the various branches of Christian theology since then, in an effort to understand.

Anyhoo, all this to say that my first encounter with Calvinism was when I met my now-ex fiance back in 2007.

We initially met online, by way of one of those Christian alternatives to MySpace, named Shout Life. We were both hanging out in one of the chatroom boards on the sight; she was impressed with my ability to spell correctly and actually hold a somewhat intelligent dialogue. Also, I made her laugh. We both held interesting and in-depth conversations in the chatroom over the months, which led to chatting on IM late at night.

One evening, I fixed myself a bit of dinner, took it to the computer, and began chatting on IM with her. She started things off by asking, “Do you believe in the existence of free will?”

I was not expecting that question. Nor was I expecting her response when I answered to the affirmative:

“Oh, that’s okay. We can still be friends.” Then she put in one of those smiley-face emoticons at the end, there. How whimsical.

When I pressed her to explain in a bit more detail, she merely stated that free will is an illusion, that God has preordained everything and everything is out of our control. This statement completely blew my mind; not by the profundity of it, but from the completely half-baked nature of the statement. It was then that she identified herself as a “hyper-Calvinist”. To which I responded, “Cool. What’s a Calvinist?” To which she began explaining to me…completely omitting any mention of John Calvin or his writings. Just a lot of words including that of “predestination”, “limited atonement”, and something about the ESV translation. In other words, she wasn’t very good at explaining this thing she claimed to adhere to.

Since I have the terrible gift/curse of overthinking things when it comes to wrestling with my faith, I began talking of my own ponderings on the subject of free will and the sovereignty of God, and how the two didn’t have to be mutually exclusive if we consider our own finite understanding of God…and after less than five minutes, I swear I could hear the audible *POP* of her brain ‘sploding all the way from Kansas. After that, when we were dating, the topic never came up again.

So, there we have the first, and sadly only time I’ve encountered a self-defined Calvinist in real life and in person. I’ve met several self-described Calvinists online over the years, through message boards and on social media and blogs, but never someone I could sit down with and have a civil exchange of questions and discussion, one-on-one, in a genuine effort to understand. Mostly I get pelted with a barrage of soundbites and memes from those online Calvinists who view John Calvin as having done no wrong and every word he spoke was gilded with shiny gold and delivered with a backing Wagnerian choir.

There are a few exceptions, mind you. For example, I find Dr. James White of Alpha Omega Ministries has a gift of explaining Calvinism (and teaching the Scriptures in general) to be both scholarly and edifying in a way that never sounds condescending.

So, to end all this prattling on, I would encourage you who are maybe consider yourself a Calvinist to go beyond your scope of understanding and have a discussion with someone who is a fellow brother or sister in Christ Jesus who doesn’t necessarily agree with everything about Calvinism. I understand the tendency to surround yourself with friends and associates that only believe the same thing you do about the faith, as I did the same thing once. But, trust me, as Proverbs 27:17 states about iron sharpening iron, there is so much benefit in doing so.

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Memories Of My Childhood Past: 1983

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Memories Of My Childhood Past: 1983I am nine years of age.  My third grade class – the third one I’ve known at this point – is taking a field trip to various scenic locals within busing distance in the Pacific Northwest I’ve been calling home since the December previous.

We are making our collective way down narrow pathways, descending a cliff down to a rocky beach that, as we were told, was a Native American preserve featuring a wide variety of aquatic sea life and stark beauty.

The tide was out, revealing a landscape of rocky shorelines, jagged boulders and mysterious caves carved into the sides of the cliff, eerie doorways to the unknown.

Slowly we descend down the cliff, the trail zigzagging back and forth instead of straight down, for the sole purpose of traversing the steep slope without falling.  The trail is only a couple of feet wide, and at times indiscernible from the dense underbrush that frames the trail.  Below lies jagged boulders, slick with sea spray, natural teeth forever open to welcome anyone foolish enough to slip and fall into its carnivorous wake.

I am nine years of age, and I am following with the group, walking single-file on the trail. We’re halfway down the cliff, and I slip.  I fall.  I’m hanging upside-down, staring into those massive teeth, more than eager to consume another tender meal.

Instead of sliding to my doom, another one of my classmates has hold of my foot.  Time passes slowly.  The school principal rushes over, aids in pulling me back up to my feet.  Standing once more, I look down, shuddering at what could have been my fate, and shutting out the scolding my principal is giving me.  Looking down on those jagged rocks, rocks that would have had a broken body of a nine-year-old boy cradled in its maw, my blood drenching the rocks.

The moment passed, I continue on with the group down to the beach…

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Prius Plates, The Dead Milkmen, and High School Flashbacks

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Today I was in Omaha, to take care of some errands. Once in a while, this is unavoidable, where I have to leave the relative comfort and isolation of my crypt, and venture into the land of the living, and subject myself to the possibilities of having to socialize with other humans, outside of work. It was my day off, not my idea of how to spend it. But, today there were things that needed to be done that necessitated me to go to Omaha. One of which was picking up the ticket to go see the RiffTrax presentation of 1998’s Godzilla on Thursday.

So there I was, full of Chinese food from one of the nearby buffets, guiding the Aluminium Falcon through the pothole-infested parking lot of the AMC Oakview theater multi-plex, when I pass by a Toyota Prius with vanity plates that read BITCHIN.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never, ever considered the Toyota Prius to be a vehicle worthy of being called “bitchin'”. “Amusing”? Yes. “Pretentious”? Most definitely. But, “Bitchin'”? No, most definitely not.

Really, though, the only thing that went through my head as I pondered this sight I just saw, as I was guiding the Falcon into a parking space between two minivans with various bumperstickers, was “The only time I would have licence plates that said “BITCHIN” would be if I owned a Camaro.”

And that made me giggle a bit, because it’s kind of a reference to this:

And the only reason I know of this song is…well, because I am much more awesome than I let on, and I have a deeper understanding of actual alternative music than any of my rather pretentious alternative music snob friends in the 1990s assumed I had. That, and I first heard of this song by way of this guy I went to High School with, name of Tyson, who played this song one Saturday morning while a bunch of us were helping decorate the gym for the Spring Sweetheart dance. Back then, I had yet to really develop an appreciation for the more avant garde and offbeat side of music genres, but I did find it rather amusing.

There really was no point to this story. It just so happened that I had another one of those brain ricochet moments that stuck with me, so I decided to write about it to exorcise it from my soul. Or something like that. Cheers.

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Notable Dates On The Calander Of Dread – July 1989

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Notable Dates On The Calander Of Dread - July 1989The few people who know me well know I have a rather peculiar aversion to touching anyone, and being touched in return.  Hugging, especially, is an act that I avoid, whether it’s giving or receiving, unless under special circumstances.  Even then, I’m very weary of doing so, making minimal contact, and making sure the act doesn’t extend past too long (a second or so).

Of course, normally this so-called “quirk” of mine is looked upon as something not at all strange – really, what’s creepier, the one who doesn’t hug, or the one who hugs anyone at a drop of a hat?  Exactly my point.  However, having the added vocation of attending churches where it’s expected of the congregants to engage in the affectionate – yet platonic – act of touchy-feely, more than one eyebrow has been cocked when I suddenly vacate out of the sanctuary briefly to either use the restrooms or freshen up my coffee cup (used to be I would step outside for a quick pass with the cancer sticks, but that’s long behind me now) at the onset of the “greet your neighbor” portion of the service and wait out the love fest.  There were some places that took this to mean I was somehow spiritually deficient, but that’s another story entirely.

So, what exactly was it that causes me to bristle at the hand laid on my shoulder absentmindedly?  Why is my first instinct, when confronted with an inevitable unwanted hug, to duck, dodge and dash?  Why is it, as a guy who has been stocky most of his life, I’m so great at contorting my gelatinous frame to make for the minimum amount of physical contact in even the most congested and crowded of public places?  Well…normally these questions are met with a pleasant “none of your bloody business”, and a smile that will haunt your dreams for weeks to come.  But now, for no other reason other than I’m feeling in a random blogging mood, I shall share with all of you reading this, the secret behind my aversion to physical contact with the rest of the human race.

It happened on my fifth, and ultimately final, stay at the juvenile psychiatric ward in Omaha.  I was fifteen, and a very different person then – let’s just say, young and excessively stupid, coupled with a cocky sense of indestructiveness and jacked up on the hormones coursing through my chemical makeup.  A volatile mix, to be sure.  And I ran with it, being a pudgy, foul-mouthed punk.

Not that I was brazenly stand-offish all of the time.  No, I had my moments balanced out, being the manic depressive that I was, and all the medication swimming in me at the time.  Doesn’t matter, really, because what happened had nothing to do with if I was “nice” at the time or not.  As a matter of fact, what triggered the eventus monumentus would be considered quite innocent by some.  Most, in fact.  Certainly, I did at the time.  But, I reiterate, none of that matters.

Her name was Tracy.  Not sure if she spelled it that way or not.  She was 17 years of age at the time, and was friends with another patient named Jody previous to her internment at the hospital.  I mention Jody, mainly because she was one of the few older patients that was actually kind to me, going out of her way even at times to be so, when most of the other older kids…well, let’s just say, didn’t.

Whereas most, if not all, the kids who wound up on the Fourth Floor of Emanuel Hospital were admitted by their psychiatrists, their parents, or more often the combination of both, Tracey was one of the rare residents of Four East who admitted herself.  Her reason for her voluntary confinement was a mystery at first, as was her curious aversion to talking with, or even being near, myself personally. The answer to the first part was an infuriating and sad one.  As to the second part…well…

She was habitually raped by her older brother.  Admitting herself was the way she escaped the bastard.  This information was freely given on the first group therapy session the Monday after she admitted herself.  Of course, there is no fathomable way I can even begin to relate to that kind of horror.  Why this was allowed to continue to the point of this girl having to take matters into her own hands to take herself out of there…I’m speechless.  She immediately had my and the group’s sympathy and support.

What she didn’t tell me was, apparently I looked almost exactly like her brother.

As to why this information wasn’t as forthcoming as it should have been, I don’t know.  You would think that, having just admitted yourself into what you thought was a safe haven from the darkness and horror of your every day existence, only to find out that one of your fellow residents resembled the very thing you were trying to escape, this would be some very important information to be supplied with.  It’s like being the only survivor of the Camp Crystal Lake slaughter, only to be admitted into a hospital room where your roomie is a hockey fanatic that wears a goalie mask nearly all the time.  And I really hope some of you actually get that reference.  It’s very apt, really.

Looking back, I can understand why she wouldn’t want to initially let me in on the whole coincidence.  Kind of.  But, considering what happened…

Okay, this is rather hard for me to tell.  So, bear with me.

One afternoon, after the lunch time, the adolescent-age kids would go into a gym and just knock around, play, basically what anyone would do after lunch at school.  Basketballs were shot at hoops, bouncing balls, running around, playing tag or whatever.  You get the idea.

That particular afternoon, I remember spying both Jody and Tracy and another girl their age chatting in one of the corners, standing in kind of a circle together, and I thought to my stupid 15-year-old self, “Hey, wouldn’t it be hilarious if I snuck up behind of of ’em, and do a grab-tickle under their arms and shout ‘BOOGA BOOGA!’?”  And so, due to the fact that I hadn’t fully developed the Good Idea/Bad Idea filter in my brain by that time, I went over to the nearest girl to me – Tracy – and did just that.

She seized up.  She folded onto the cold hard gym floor in a fetal position, and began trembling hard.  She immediately regressed inside her mind, experiencing a flashback, and a horrible one at that.  Only I didn’t notice all of this happening, because I was jumping around and laughing at the fun-fun goosing I just did.  Ha ha, wasn’t that a funny joke?  Wait…what’s everyone staring at?

I’ll spare everyone the details of what transpired during the following week.  Needless to say, it was a very tense week, to understate things.  After being fully assessed of what transpired and why, I tried to help pick up the pieces.  I sought forgiveness…and received none.  While Jody was the only one who forgave me after confronting me about it, Tracy never could.  And one other girl, who never really liked me to begin with, used this incident to justify her snark attacks from then until I was discharged a week or so later.

This…changed me profoundly.  Keep in mind, this all happened before I gave my life to Christ Jesus.  Don’t know why I bring that up, I just do.  To this day, I don’t like to touch, or be touched unwantedly.  Is it an unconscious form of self-flagellation, a sick penance that is neither useful or needed in the long run?  Maybe.  All I know is, I think about this woman from time to time, more frequently than one normally should really.  I pray and wonder if she ever truly escaped the horror of her life, and found peace in the only true Source of it, like I did shortly after being discharged from that place for the last time.  I wonder if she’s ever gotten around to forgiving that stupid 15-year-old doppelganger of her brother.  So many questions; an answer would be nice.  But, that’s not the reason why I write this overlong, overwrought blog post.

Well, maybe it is.  Maybe I needed to finally purge a lingering demon or two.  But, ultimately, I just wanted to expose the reason behind one of my major peculiarities.  And to have a point of reference for those who demand to know why I punched them instead of hugging them at church.

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