Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Instantaneous Personal Magnetism

Matthew took up the hollowing of books a while back. He gave my dad one with a carved-out slot for his pearl-handled pistol to sit in; my daughter's will hold her earrings and hairbows. We started browsing the books at Goodwills and carried home a stack to slice up, only to find that we couldn’t cut into most of them. The covers were fantastic; the contents even better.

One that we found tells the reader how to gain influence through increasing his personal magnetism. It included a section on foods not to eat. Bacon, previously recommended by health experts for its carbon (according to the author), is best avoided. Wilted carrots, gravies of all sorts, boiled eggs, and fish. Men in three-piece suits with remarkably white teeth were scattered throughout the book, looking classy, confident, and composed.

Their poise reminded me of an article I read a few months ago about gaining influence through posture. Participants in a study were told to spit in a control cup; their saliva was studied for its levels of testosterone. They were then told to sit in power-diminishing poses for 15 minutes, shoulders slumped forward, knees together, chin down. They spat. Then they sat in postures that exuded bravado. They put their feet up on desks, put their hands behind their heads, and spat again. Across the board, people who acted like they were self-assured had raised levels of testosterone and, presumably, the ability to intimidate people.

I’ve been thinking about these essays on influence recently because I’ve become increasingly aware of the fact that I have none.

This is not to say that I will be eating Magnetism Dinners on a TV tray or that I’ll consult a chiropractor for the sake of the gospel. And does that sentence make sense at all? Did you know already what I was referring to?

I write post after post about Christ, about God, about the reality of the unseen, and the only ones who respond are the Christians. I’m not saying that my writing should persuade you to get on your hands and knees, but does it do nothing? Do you not wonder, at the very least, if it is true?

I think that it is because I am nothing to most people. And I don’t say that in mock-humility or out of low self-esteem. I say this because we simply don’t place value on what another person believes.

My mom saw man land on the moon in Ecuador on a grainy black-and-white TV screen. She thought it was a hoax. Ridiculous! A man on the moon. I recognize that asking you (dear Reader) to believe that I have seen the darkness tremble at the sound of Jesus’s name, that I have felt the power of his forgiveness made possible because of the cross, is as illogical as asking a TV viewer to believe that Neil Armstrong wasn’t walking on a Hollywood set.

And yet, you believe that the American flag flies in outer space.

You do. Because at some point, we all have to believe someone else. We choose when to listen and when to walk on.

Books used to be hollowed because Christians were hiding tiny copies of New Testaments inside them. They were willing to risk their lives for the chance to know this God more. They still do.

I met a woman who was tortured for her faith. She was beaten on the pads of her feet until they were raw like meat, and then made to walk in the dirt with heavy shackles around her ankles. She was told that all she had to do was sign a document recanting her faith. Communists in China, they give weight to belief. She walked in circles, reeling in pain, and finally decided to sign. As she was about to, she glanced down and saw her bloody footprints, now pooling up as mud. She said that she stopped for a moment, startled, realizing that this is what Christ’s footprints must have looked like as he walked towards Golgatha. She said, her voice choked, that she realized that he endured the same pain, only he didn’t have to.

You are so beautiful, Jesus. You are so beautiful, she said.

She wept. She could not deny him. She walked on.

You don't have to.

The blurb for Instantaneous Personal Magnetism reads: In light of today's understanding of biology and physiology, many of Shaftesbury's explanations of how to promote Personal Magnetism seem quaint and exaggerated. Regardless of the terminology, the methods work, and produce results. Little to nothing will come from just reading the book, it is the application of the outlined principles that manifests the ability.

I laughed at how easily the blurb could suit the Bible. In light of today's understanding of biology and physiology, many of these claims (ie. dying for sins and resurrection from the dead, omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence) may seem quaint and exaggerated. Regardless, Jesus's methods work, and produce results. Little to nothing will come from just reading the book, it is the application of the outlined principles (faith and love) that manifests the ability (to someday see God.)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

On Looking Good

When I was in high school, I wanted some tattoos and a nose ring. My dad said no, you'll give people the wrong impression. I said "What impression is that?" He said they'd assume I was on drugs. I said that was their problem, not mine. I sang the teenage party line that appearance shouldn't matter. He asked if I really meant this. I said yes. He said if appearance doesn't matter, then starting tomorrow he would wear biker shorts with a flannel shirt tucked in, and I could do whatever I wanted with myself. I thought it best to not call his bluff. He had a little bit of crazy in his eyes; you don't play chicken with someone like that.
I saw an episode of What Not to Wear a few weeks ago where the girl sang the same tune. She was a recent graduate with a doctorate in Sociology, and she insisted that image is nothing. Stacey said something to the effect of "You're trying to communicate that you don't care about materialism, but what people are actually seeing is that you're sloppy." (I could picture my mom telling me that I looked like I didn't care enough about the people I was going to see to bother putting myself together. She burned my favorite pair of pants. Burned them.) The girl saw the futility of trying to claim that appearance is nothing. She ate her words just like I did.
I don't know why we're so insistent of this notion. It's youth, I suppose; you think you've discovered something that no one else has thought of. Gonna shake up the establishment, teach them a thing or two: what people think about you doesn't matter. I've been noticing recently how much Christian teenagers apply this line of thinking to religion, treating the appearance of evil as insignificant. They make comments that would cause people to assume that they mess around with people of the opposite or the same sex; they pursue godliness but don't want people to know it. They shrug off the dissonance by claiming it's not their problem how they're perceived, it's what's on the inside that counts.
The outside matters. Case in point: my dad once once gave a guy a discount on his car repair because he looked a little punk. I was away from home and he missed me.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Joy of Faithlessness

I was tucking my son in last night in his polar bear pajamas in his tiny bed, putting away his dinosaurs that scare him at night, leaning down for one last skinny-arm hug. "Quedate no mas" he said. I can't, I told him. Octavius is little and he needs a bottle; I have to go. "Yo no soy chiquitito, soy grande" he said, making tiny fists, clenching the muscles in his arms. So big, I said. He was suddenly quiet. "Why don't I see angels anymore now that I'm a big boy?"
I shoot from the hip when I talk to my son. I said that God wants us to have faith in him, and that faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see. If you could see God and angels, I said, you wouldn't have faith. Entiendes?
He's gracious with me. "Yeah," he said, "I understand." And someday you won't need faith at all, I said. Someday you'll see God face to face. He considered this. "God lives in a palace in the sky? That is very strange." Yeah, I said. It is very strange. "And he's making a room for me in his palace?" Yeah Flaco. There is a room for you. "Do you think he will paint a pteradactyl on the wall? Eso si me gustaria." I think that's a nice idea. I ran my fingers through his blond hair, wincing. "I think Loli's room should have a painting of a hen on the wall." Oh Flaco, she would love a hen. "When is Loli going to die?" Heart stopping, in my throat; I shoot from the hip but I try not to lie. I don't know, Flaco. But you don't have to think about that, not at all. Estamos en las manos de Dios.
It got worse. "Will I have bruises?" What? "When I die, will I have bruises like Jesus? When they killed him." He's three, he's three, I thought. He's only three.
Flaco, when you die, God will come and take you by the hand, and say "Come home, mijo." It is nothing bad. "Okay." A pause. "Me va a llamar mijo?" Yeah, he'll call you mijo.
Octavius was finished with his bottle; I could hear Matt at the sink. I covered my son up again and kissed his little face. Duermete no mas, I said. Eyes burning. Te amo. He closed his brown eyes and I stepped out to the darkened staircase, heart turned upside down and sinking like lead, telling myself not to be afraid. I reached for faith as if it were something substantial to hold, while realizing for the first time that the only reason it has any value at all is because it will one day it will cease to exist.