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Getting Started: Life Unsustainable

Bipartisan Cafe
7:09 a.m.

Listen, my son, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

And first of all, whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it, that He who has now deigned to count us among His sons may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He has given us, that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children, nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions, deliver us to everlasting punishment as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

– Prologue Part 1

“Sloth of disobedience” sounds about right, although sometimes the disobedience is determined and vigorous. Basically, I’m here because my life has become unsustainable. My marriage is strained. My business is in trouble. All of a sudden, I’m forty pounds overweight, with no physical energy or endurance, committing slow suicide by cheeseburger.

I feel distant from God. Not distant – disinterested. Not disinterested – disinherited. Most days, my faith is one more exercise in an intellectual life that is active but unfocused. I spend an obscene amount of time on the internet trolling through the same ten websites. I have 42 books checked out from the library and another nine on hold; I recently paid $55 in overdue fines at two different libraries, even as I spend an average of $100 a month at Powell’s and Amazon. Right now my desk looks like a recycling center: three stacks of books, piles of back issues of theNew Yorker and High Country News, reams of documents for work, last Sunday’s New York Times, and eight or nine half-filled legal pads, each representing good works begun without earnest prayer. It occurred to me this morning that my desk serves as a kind of physical manifestation of the cerebral.

I tell myself that I’m just curious, which is true enough, and friends write it off as a quirk while admiring the range of my interests. But there is something insidious at work too. I crave all knowledge. And I don’t like being a follower. It’s not that I want to lead, it’s that I want to be first. I think this is a corruption of my basic personality.

My friend J. is a true believer in the Enneagram, a nine pointed geometric figure (the ancient symbol of perpetual motion) that has been used as a way to describe nine distinct personality types and their interrelationships. I took the test and confirmed what J. already knew to be true, that I am a Four, a personality type which tends to obsessed with the “ideal and distant” rather than the “ordinary, the mundane, and the everyday reality of what is.” Major traits of the Four include “a desire to feel special or unique, a concern with authenticity, a preoccupation with the search for the ideal forms of love or connection, and wistful pleasure with melancholy.” My “holy idea” is originality. My vice – in other words, the corruption I mentioned before – is envy.

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