Back when I was a little more arrogant (or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, proud of my own arrogance) I used to tell people I was writing my own memoirs. This started in my junior year of high school, and I titled the project “In Exile,” (later, “It’s Complicated”) with the first overall part being called “Genesis” and the second (and final) part being called “Exodus.” They didn’t really have much to do with the biblical books of the same name, other than the fact that Genesis dealt with my origins and Exodus was to deal with my (then impending and self-imposed) exile to Salt Lake City, which I presumed would last a lot longer than it actually did. Today’s retro-post is the introductory chapter from that project – written approximately six years ago (though an exact date is unknown).
I haven’t edited it or touched it up any, since who-knows-when the last time I worked on “It’s Complicated” was. A lot has changed in the intervening six years, but winter always seems to prod me towards introspection. And as some of you may know, Valentine’s Day is a very special and personal “holiday” (perhaps anniversary is a better word) for me, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Today has been about new beginnings, and that’s what I’m going to write about.
Lately, I’ve been a bit dissatisfied with the way my life has been shaping up. Around this time last year I was medically retired from the Marine Corps due to an incident that occurred around this time two years ago. My life has never been the same since February 14th, 2009. On that day an event occurred which would strip me completely of my identity – I had so thoroughly invested myself in being a “Marine” that being told I could no longer serve was like being told I no longer had a purpose in life. I had intended to serve until I died in battle or I was forced out (due to age, I mean, not what had happened). I’m making a long story short here, trust me.
Initially, I thought I’d return home and study philosophy – an old love of mine – and go into teaching. Somehow I convinced myself this wasn’t “realistic enough” and therefore I ended up getting a technology internship at a local non-profit that dealt with museums. I enjoyed this and was even offered a paid position there. However, the position wasn’t to last very long and so I thought the natural thing to do would be to try to make a career of the thing and go get a proper degree in the field.
I chose ITT Tech mostly because it was convenient and because I needed to start school straight away, in order to use my GI Bill benefits and continue to make enough money to pay the bills. (For those that don’t know, the new and improved Post 9/11 GI Bill includes a stipend that varies depending on where your school is located, meaning that in addition to having tuition more or less paid for, service members also receive a monthly income. Going to school was to be my new “job,” since I wasn’t particularly enthralled with studying for an IT degree.)
Today I made the 2 hour public transportation trek up to school only to find out that class was literally about 9th grade mathematical concepts. Problems like solve for X given the equation 3X – 5 = 10. (Not a joke.) Followed up with systems of equations (two variables, two equations, solve for X and Y). Now, I understand some people might need this kind of thing as remedial math, but this has been the tune of the course for the past 8 weeks. We started out doing basic fractions (addition and subtraction in week 1, multiplication and division in week 2). My other classes aren’t much better. The place is basically a degree mill; a series of hoops to jump through so at the end you can get a stupid certificate that says to someone in HR that you’re worth looking at (without which your resume would be junked by the auto-filtering programs and what not).
Outside of class, my roommate (whom I met at church) has been getting back into creative real estate. I’m not at liberty to talk too much about what he’s up to (trade secrets yadda yadda), he offered to teach me what he knows and work together on some deals. It can be pretty lucrative and he’s good at what he does but I feel as though it just isn’t for me. (I wasn’t interested in doing it for merely money’s sake, mind you – the idea was we were going to take the majority of the profits and use them for various ministries. One idea we’ve talked about is taking portable drills over to Africa and teaching people how to drill wells, irrigate land and grow food for themselves – and of course giving them the tools to do so.)
So anyway, one might say that “it suddenly occurred to me” that I didn’t have to sit around and be a victim of circumstance and relegate myself to a life of monotony. I might have to put up with ITT Tech for another quarter or two, but the idea came to me that I could study mathematics on my own in the interim and then make the switch to a proper college or university in the fall, with the intention of studying math/physics and becoming a math/physics teacher at middle school or high school.
Now, why do I go about using funny phrasing like “one might say it suddenly occurred to me” and the like? Well, it is my personal belief that all good things (which include good ideas) come from YHWH, who has gotten quite a bad rap as the guy known as “the LORD” thanks to a (series of) bad translation(s) of the bible. “The LORD’s” name is a very interesting subject and I highly recommend you read (one of several of) Pastor Ahyh’s writings as an introduction to the matter. The TL;DR (shame on you) of it is that the phrase “the LORD” is a really ugly substitution of the tetragrammaton (YHWH), which happened because of a misunderstanding about blaspheming the name and Jewish scribes using “Adonai” (which translates roughly to “lord”) rather than YHWH when copying manuscripts.
Because I had been so down on myself lately, I’d also been slacking on reading my scriptures, so I decided that I wanted to start reading at a pace that would put me through the whole Bible in a year. Simple math showed that I would only have to read 3.25 chapters a day to accomplish this, which was actually a lot less than I thought it would be – so this came as a great encouragement. (To this day, I still haven’t read the whole thing – I’ve read all the books of the Torah, and parts of the rest of the Old Testament, as well as all of the New Testament.) So after buying some note taking implements for my soon-to-be-embarked upon mathematics adventure, I decided to start at the beginning (Genesis 1:1) while getting a hair cut.
Which brings me to a gimmick – so to speak – for this blog. I’ll be sharing a bit of scripture each day from my reading and talking about it. I ended up reading 10 chapters of Genesis but there’s a lot to talk about even in just the first chapter. Today I want to talk about a narrative that has a bad reputation – the Fall of Man. From the New King James version:
[Gen 1:31] Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
[Gen 2:15-19] Then
the LORDYHWH God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” And the LORDYHWH God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
[Gen 3:1-5] Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which
the LORDYHWH God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
[Note, for a much more expert analysis of these passages, refer once again to Pastor Ahyh’s site.] It’s likely that most of my readership is at least familiar with this story – regardless of your religious inclinations, if you grew up in or around America you were probably exposed to the Bible’s creation story at one point or another. But there’s a reason I keyed in on these specific passages – there’s subtleties that the common understanding of this story seem to miss.
Take for instance the first passage – at the end of creation, YHWH surveyed His work and saw that everything was good. Indeed, the scripture says, it was very good. It is important to note that at this point in the narrative of creation, nothing which existed was evil. YHWH knew what evil was, but He had not created anything evil. Keep this in mind.
The second passage contains two things of note. The first is the commandment not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good or evil. Common understanding sees this as a sort of obedience test from God to man; I tend to agree with Pastor Ahyh’s interpretation that it is rather God acting as a parent and trying to prevent a child from doing something harmful (for example – “you may drink from all of these bottles, except for the one with the skull and the cross bones, for the day you drink from the bottle with the skull and cross bones on it you will surely be poisoned.” No parent is saying this as an obedience test, but rather out of concern for the health and safety of the child who doesn’t know any better.) As for the second interesting bit of this passage, my pastor, Pastor Rob Glickman, humorously pointed out in a teaching the first thing that YHWH looked upon which was not good was man – he (Rob) stressed that it was man that was not good, not woman. While this got a chuckle, he clarified that the passage didn’t mean that man was flawed per se (as that would be taking it out of context) but rather YHWH saw that it wasn’t good that man should be alone; all the beasts of the land and fish of the sea and birds of the air weren’t good enough to rectify this problem, only another human would do.
The final passage I’ve pulled out highlights how and why Eve was tempted to eat of the tree – the serpent implied that Eve would “become like God” if she ate of the tree. This is highly relevant to what happened to me two years ago and thus why I’ve taken note of it here. The rest of the story, which I didn’t quote, outlines God “punishing” Adam and Eve for “disobeying” Him. But go check out that link to Pastor Ahyh’s write up and recall the first passage… A bad TL;DR goes something along the lines of: Adam and Eve did not know evil until they ate of the tree; indeed, evil could not exist until they ate of the tree. This of course brings up all sorts of fun questions like “what is evil” and so on and so forth but that’s for another time, because I’m still not done talking about my day yet. Sheesh!
So as I said, I was reading through Genesis as I was getting a hair cut. I go to a place called the Associated Barber College, where you get your hair cut by (apparently) students who receive pointers from instructors (or maybe more senior students? I’m not entirely sure). Anyway, it’s cheap and they pay close attention to detail so I like going there. Midway through my cut my barber starts having a conversation with his supervisor about “being close to the edge” (or something of the sort) due to some drama at the shop. Awkwardly and unexpectedly the supervisor (who must’ve noticed I was reading the Bible) asked if I would pray for the barber (not on the spot or anything) which prompted the barber to say he didn’t need or want prayer. Moreover he claimed he was “all alone” in this world and that “no invisible being” had ever “helped him out” and everything he had ever gotten in his life he had gotten by himself.
Now we come full circle – this was exactly the same mindset I had 6 years ago when I was writing “It’s Complicated.” I don’t like to witness to people (as it is called) because I don’t consider myself a particularly strong Christian (for lack of a better term) yet, and while I think salvation is important and I pray that everyone I care about is saved, I’m not going around making a show of it in the streets. However, God put on my heart to talk to this man, so I waited until after he was done with my haircut to try and brooch the topic. I did a lot more listening than talking as he was very animated and passionate about his views (the same as I was six years ago with many of the same conclusions and problems – he described himself as an agnostic).
Eventually I was able to tell him just a little bit about myself – how I considered myself a self-made man, since I had sorta run away from home when I was 17 and then enlisted in the Marine Corps and did really well for myself yadda yadda. It wasn’t until two years ago, and the events that led me to being diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1 disorder, that I began to see things differently. I didn’t get to finish telling him my story, but as it turned out he too had been diagnosed as bipolar. I left him my phone number and told him perhaps we should have lunch or something some time.
So there you have it. A whole lot of words. If you’re going to be following this thing, expect more of the same.