Saturday, April 18, 2015

You've Said It...And, Now I Know It to Be True

Today, while I was poking around online, as I tend to do at times, I came across Plugged In's review of Fox's hit show The Mindy Project.  I may have read it before...but, when I looked over it today, it stirred some serious emotions in me.  Here's an excerpt:
Mindy Lahari [sic] is a good person. In her heart she knows this.

So what if she doesn't always do particularly good things or say particularly nice words or think particularly good thoughts? [...] That doesn't diminish the inherent ball of goodness that she is. Really. She is.

And while she might not have been good today, she will be good tomorrow, she swears. Or, perhaps, the day after.

Such is the setup of Fox's comedy The Mindy Project. The project, it would seem, is Mindy herself—embarking on a listless, bunny-hop progression of self-improvement that emphasizes self and sort of loses the improvement part along the way.

Mindy is played by The Office alum Mindy Kaling. She's a thirtysomething ob-gyn [sic] who was raised, essentially, by romantic comedies. She believes true love has to be the product of quirky meetings and heartfelt speeches and, if possible, a swelling musical score. Thus, as the star of her very own romantic comedy (otherwise known as her everyday life), she believes that those around her should accept her quirks, foibles and flat-out bad behavior with grace, good humor and understanding.

When her relationships don't turn out as she'd hoped or people wander off her internal script—well, it's all she can do to avoid stomping off to complain to the director.

The Mindy Project is gleefully self-aware. And in a twisted sort of way, it's a show Plugged In "gets."

Now, follow me for a minute here: Mindy is no role model, but the writers don't intend her to be. She is instead a reflection of our media-soaked, self-obsessed times. She's been told all her life that she's a great person (no matter what she does), and she believes it. She believes the template for lifelong love can be found in the movies. She believes the world owes her something, and woe to the world should it fail to pony up. And when Mindy's at her best—her real best—it's when she turns her attention away from herself and, just for a moment, considers the well-being of someone else.

She is (at least in the show's earliest stages) the foundation of a cautionary tale: If you follow secular society's step-by-step instructions to life and don't have anyone to provide a little perspective and moral grounding (say, your parents or even Plugged In), this is what can happen. It is, perhaps, the most cogent statement of 21st-century foibles and failings I've seen on television.
 Why did that affect me so much? It's not because I'm a fan of the show; honestly, I've never seen it, and I have no intention of doing so.  Rather, it's because Mindy Lahiri's life sounds way too much like mine...which is a big problem.

What exactly is the issue? Well, it's multifold.  First off: "[Mindy has] been told all her life that she's a great person (no matter what she does), and she believes it."  Over the years, I have won the favor of countless people.  From a young age, various folks--mostly older, but sometimes coeval too--were amazed by everything from my vocabulary to my computer skills to my dedication to morality to my Bible knowledge to my bargain hunting skills to...well, you name it! Though I'll admit that there are times when I deserve praise, there have also been plenty of times when I deserved the exact opposite...but wanted no part of it.  From a young age, I believed that I was a "good" kid.  Never mind that I got one grounding after another at home, or narrowly escaped serious disciplinary action at school several times; as far as I was concerned, I was still good...or even great.  I talked before about an incident where I was accused of having an air of superiority; that wasn't the only time it happened.

The issue of praise vs. reprimanding is tough.  I remember hearing a Father's Day sermon where the preacher described how a search of his notes showed that his Mother's Day sermons were usually praising and adoring mothers, whereas the Father's Day sermons were almost always challenging dads to be better.  Part of that may have been that the preacher didn't want to toot his own horn, as he had been a father of two for quite a while up to that point.  Still, you don't want to do nothing but praise someone, especially when they're doing wrong...but, at the same time, if all you do is reprimand and rebuke, you could be seen as hypercritical and a jerk, and the recipient could despise you.  I know that because I've had to deal with people--especially one in particular--who rarely had anything nice to say about anything I did, and got all out of joint over essentially nothing, such as a brief reference to Mork & Mindy or the Disney Channel.  Still, looking back, I realize: Even if I couldn't stand such individuals...maybe they had a good reason for rebuking me; I very well could have been the one being the jerk, despite my belief of the opposite.  Proverbs 12:15 says, "The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice." (NIV) Most of the people I've known were much wiser than I ever gave them credit for.

You may already know this story, but, I'm going to tell it anyway: When my niece was born a decade ago, my sister and brother-in-law had three cats and two dogs...but, by the time my niece turned three, both of the pooches and at least one of the felines had to be euthanized due to various health concerns.  Though that's always hard to deal with, it became even more difficult when my niece wouldn't stop talking about them, and believed with all her heart that they were coming back someday.  No matter what her parents said, they couldn't deter her; my brother-in-law told me, "We have tried to explain this to her so many times, and it just goes right over her head."

I mention that for one reason: Even though I'm a grown man, I can be the same way; I hear what someone says, but I staunchly disagree because it just isn't what I want to hear.  Just before the likely permanent ending of our friendship, one of my former friends had this to say:
You are very rigid about your opinions, and it seems that if one does not agree with you, they are persecuting you, or just wrong. [...] Being so dogmatic can lead people to just agree without sharing their own ideas and opinions, because they don’t want to argue anymore. This means they stop really sharing themselves, and it keeps friendships very shallow.
 You may very well have read those words before, and saw how I staunchly disagreed with them...which is only further proof of how right she was.  In fact, said former friend got really upset because I refused to accept what she said...and understandably so.  She was merely trying to reach out in love, but instead got relentlessly burned.  The lesson to be learned here is: Numerous people have given me suggestions of things to try in order to have a fuller, richer, happier, why haven't I tried them? I can answer that in three words: Stubbornness...and laziness.

Second off: "Mindy believes the template for lifelong love can be found in the movies." Another former friend had this to say just before things irreparably went south for us:
No, I don't know what it feels like to not have a date/not be engaged/not be married, but i can tell you that all the people that we know that ARE doing those things--specifically engaged, married, are doing so at a young age, I think the average age of marriage is 26-28? And even later. God, Jerry, there are so many people that get married later in life. The media IS permeating your reflection of reality. Most people DONT [sic] get married so young. If my situation is [sic] different, I would have waited until I was done with grad school (25ish). But it's not.
 We all know that I grew up on entertainment.  True, some of the media I've consumed over the years had nothing to do with romance, especially when it came to gaming; love stories and Nintendo rarely mix.  Still, right much of it is just that.  Lizzie and Gordo went from best friends to becoming an item; Mork & Mindy were married and had a kid in the show's fourth and final season; and, of course, there were all those "girly" romance movies such as Leap Year and The Princess Diaries, not to mention the countless books--usually within the Christian fiction genre--that were in a similar vein.  I had plenty of other books and DVDs to watch--superhero cartoons, mysteries, sci-fi/fantasy, Christian devotional books--but I still consumed such media like it was going out of style.  My mom even mentioned a year or two ago that reading romances written by women was causing problems, and I was not happy with her for telling me that...but, a former friend of mine was saying just that years prior.  The former friend who talked about my "rigid opinions" had this to say on the subject:
I believe you have some unrealistic expectations of how relationships develop and function. They are not instantaneous, and ones that last are not easy. Whether romantic or platonic, relationships are a lot of work. They require mutual respect and consideration. [...] When you’ve talked about marriage, it’s always been about the ways you would benefit. What will you bring to a marriage? This is not about income. You’ll need to be her friend, her shoulder to cry on, and her sounding board. She’s not always going to agree with you. Will she just always be wrong (Because you know you’re not going to marry a woman who is always picking on you.)?
 Entertainment has a tendency to portray relationships--whether they involve marriage or not--as idyllic fairy tales.  How many times have we seen a show or movie that ends with a wedding and the implied assumption that they lived happily ever after? That's not the way it really works, though; even I know that a marriage is merely a new beginning...and it's wrong to expect happily ever after.  Some time ago, I read the book The Vow, the true story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, a married couple faced with crisis; it was eventually turned into a movie starring Rachel McAdams, which I have no interest in seeing.  Long story short, a mere ten weeks after they said, "I do," a car accident led to Krickitt completely losing all memory of her husband and their marriage; when they asked her who her husband was, she said the name of her old high school boyfriend.  Kim's dedication to her was admirable; if I remember correctly, he went to the trouble of holding another wedding and having another honeymoon, since she had completely lost all memory of the first ones.  That isn't a tale of infidelity or divorce, but it does show the problems that married couples go through; that isn't very "happily ever after," is it? The question that remains is: If I ever got married, would I be as dedicated as Kim Carpenter was...or, would I treat my wife like a device, and trade her in for a "new model" when she started giving me problems? I'd like to say that I'd do the former...but, with the fictional accounts of marriage I've seen, it would be hard for me not to do the latter, because problems like that aren't supposed to happen...yet they do, all the time, as I'm sure you married folks could attest to.  Maybe it's time to cut back on the romantic movies and books.

My third--and most alarming--point: "And when Mindy's at her best--her real best--it's when she turns her attention away from herself and, just for a moment, considers the well-being of someone else." We all know that I've lost friends; some of them abandoned me for reasons that aren't exactly clear.  I used to say that it was the posts about the celebrity crushes and entertainment in general that caused me to be unfriended, and that's likely true to a degree...but, more than that, it was likely my continued selfishness.  When I was little, my mom and my sister used to tell me, "Everything's always about Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!" I couldn't figure why they kept saying it, and, when I've thought about it in recent years, it seemed they were being harsh...but they weren't.  People are selfish by nature, but, in my typical style, I take the "normal" human trait and exaggerate it to levels many people have never seen.  When things don't go my way, I tend to freak out, and fail to look at the bigger picture.  Just look at this quotation from yet another former friend:
You place a lot of pressure on your friends and if they don't give you the right answers or do exactly what you expect of them, you cut them off. You ever think that unfair pressure on people has an affect [sic] on your relationship with them?

You're are [sic] not a hopeless case, but you need to do a lot of soul searching. And I will be removing you as a friend as well because of what you have said and done. [...] Try to take some steps on the road to maturity and maybe apologize to some people without making it all about you and your AS. [sic] People respect humility and the ability to admit mistakes take responsibility. Take some time to figure out what that means to you.
What's the context here? Long story short: When someone who I used to call my "best friend" got engaged to her longtime beau...I lost it.  I not only unfriended her, I laid her out in a Facebook note for all of my friends to see.  True, some people actually applauded me for what I did; maybe they just didn't want to break my heart by telling me what they were really thinking...but, this friend of my supposed best friend wasn't mincing words.  I could say that was the last time it happened...but it wasn't.  It's happened again and again and again, in ways that most of you don't know about.  I've been doing it for so long, I just don't know how to stop.

My last point before my conclusion: "[Mindy] believes the world owes her something, and woe to the world should it fail to pony up." When I was a senior in high school, there was a fight during lunch one day that was started because one guy wouldn't stop taunting another guy; the opinion among my classmates was that the recipient of the first blow deserved it...but that wouldn't be the Christian response.  Sometimes, when I think of people who have done me wrong, I believe they deserve to be punished for what they've done to me.  There's a guy I used to know who used to brutally harass me, and was pretty much a jerk quite a bit of the time.  Years after I lost contact with him, my mom was taking care of his aunt--who lived with the guy and his dad--as part of her job as a home care nurse.  Despite his supposed plans to the contrary, he never went to college or got a job; all he did was hang out at his dad's house and play video games.  It would be easy for me to be like Junior Asparagus at the start of Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie and say to him, "You're just getting what you deserve!"...but, as the film goes on to show, that's not right.  It's not my job to give people what they deserve; Romans 12:19 says to "leave room for God's wrath" (NIV), because He has promised to repay those who do wrong.

Besides which, it's not like I'm some special individual who deserves absolutely nothing but respect and honor.  This kind of goes back to the first point: I may be unique, but that doesn't make me superior to anyone else.  Jesus warned His followers that they would be persecuted (John 15:20), and that includes me.  Who among you reading this has never suffered mistreatment at someone else's hands? No one, right? Even if it wasn't for being a Christian--or even if you're not one, for that matter--you've been hurt emotionally and/or physically by someone...and so have I.  It's just part of life; people are going to be jerks and do the wrong thing...including to me.

Now, for my conclusion: For a long time--especially in recent years--people everywhere have done whatever they can to discredit the Christian faith.  Many of you probably remember the documentary from filmmaker James Cameron about the supposed tomb of Jesus.  A longtime Baptist friend of mine saw it, and had a serious issue with it as soon as it started; when they said, "This may [emphasis mine] be the tomb of Jesus," his first reaction was, "Well, if you weren't sure, why did you go to the trouble of making a documentary about it?" Though we've seen more of such media come down the pipeline since then, that isn't the biggest discredit to the Savior of the world.  You know what is? People who claim to be Christians but don't act in a Christian way.  I could sit here and tell you stories about people of the faith that did me wrong...but I've got no room to talk.  Whatever they've done, I've probably done worse; by the world's standard, at least, since all sins are the same to God.  One of the reasons I've always admired the Apostle Paul is because of what he says in 1 Timothy 1:15: "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst."  You all have said for quite a while that changes have been in order; now, I know it to be true.  Here's to acting in a Christian everything I do.

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