May 15, 2015
I know I’m supposed to be the teacher and all, captivating my Korean munchkins with the wonders of the English alphabet, but most of the time it is yours truly who does the learning. But it isn't the kind of learning that builds on top of previous knowledge until someday one has a grand coliseum of wisdom and understanding. No, for me I've been learning the same friggin’ thing over and over. Everyday the clear-as-a-bell truth that rings in my face and rattles my heart is simple. Do you want to know what it is?
Because most of the time I think pretty highly of myself. “I got my stuff together, I know what I’m talking about.” So it’s like a boulder thrown at my head every time I (re)learn this not-very-fun fact about myself: that I can’t do it. God, I’ve come to understand, doesn't want me confident. He doesn't want me confident in me. He’s made this clear. And what better way to shrink my false confidence than to put me in a place—in front of a classroom—where I come face to face with my perfect inability.
Let me break it down in no uncertain terms. When a classroom of deviant, oft-lethargic, post-lunch second graders grace my chairs with their rear-ends, I am quickly met with The Nick That Can’t, the Nick of patient-less-ness, kind-less-ness and foul-mouthed-ness, not the Nick of supreme glee and agape.
I’m needy. But not for alms, for God Himself. The real me is Beggar. But often Beggar gets crowded out by other versions I like better, the Strong me, the Capable me, the Competent me. These versions sound good but they sure as heck don’t bring me to my knees.
Thus the lessons—one, two, three, four, five, etc.—are all the same: I’m untrustworthy to produce the virtues I need to obey God. Call it Adam’s seed. The only thing you can trust me with producing is more need. There’s a harvest full. So it works out because God is not frugal with grace (charis). We
Some of my classes I loathe, legitimately. I told a co-worker one time I’d rather go to the dentist for fifty minutes than struggle to curb the anarchy. I have literally held and carried kids around to refrain them from wreaking havoc.
It’s here, where I'm losing my mind, I surrender to God. If my heavenly Father didn’t withhold from me—dead and sinning, loser me—His Son to set me free from sin, than surely everything else I need to live a conquering life He’s freely given. And that includes the love, gentleness, faithfulness, etc. I need to teach.
Now, I do what Watchman Nee and David Wilkerson have taught me. I rest.
It’s second nature to strive and fight and try to conjure up the things we lack. Alas, it’s vain. This is what I’ve learned. I can’t. I can’t do it. I have nothing to offer myself. No matter what I do. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (John 15:4). Branches don’t clench their fists. They don’t foam at the mouth. They don’t strive to produce what they can’t on their own. They rest, rest in the vine and suck up everything that flows from it.
The Christian Job Description: abide and receive the flow.
We're just weary deserts of skin and bones, but the Holy Spirit, that foundation of life, flows from within. Let's be proper branches, then, and rest in His divine power to supply us with everything we need, everything we lack (2 Peter 1:3).
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November 25, 2014
November 19, 2014
No one questioned it. We didn’t know that was even an option, but why would you? You can’t question something so – so true!
The brilliance of our republic was great. It was a real beckon of hope to millions of lives. No one would argue. But with such a bright history it’s no wonder so many find it (seemingly) unbearable to say goodnight to those national hopes. We don’t want to believe all that is over.
But over it is. Gone are the days when our presidents were respected, when our citizens were happy, when the world awed at our blessings. Long gone. If you haven’t realized this, you probably feel it.
Soon though it will be clear as a bell.
The reasons for the end of our glory days are many yet people I see and work with everyday aren’t aware and live as if it all means nothing. So I’m going to spend time laying out (some of) the elements, one by one. The ones that can’t go ignored.
"A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves." - Edward Murrow
I was washing dishes one morning at work – in a home with intellectually-handicapped children – and one of my coworkers can’t not have the local news blaring whether she’s in the room or not. I can’t stand that. Plus, to make things better, she’s terrifically in love with complaining about her life to everyone not interested.
From where I was in the kitchen you could look through a cutout in the wall directly above the sink and see the television in the living room. The news anchor started talking about armored vehicles or something for local police in western Washington. Hello! A jolt of information went off in me. I looked up, listening with all my life, drying some dish.
I tuned everything else out. Had to. She, the anchor, went on about the government’s new policies or some new program - maybe she said it was issued from the Pentagon, I can’t remember. Basically, local police were getting an upgrade. A militarized upgrade.
Then the next topic. That was it. So nonchalant and smooth. Accept it and move on, they seemed to say.
But how could we, especially when we know the founding fathers would whole-heartedly disapprove? Why do the local police need equipment used in war?
This has spawned heaps of books and articles and interviews with experts, one of them being John Whitehead, attorney, author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, and president and spokesperson of The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit devoted to civil liberties and human rights.
American historian, political analyst and author Tom Woods interviewed John Whitehead and there is a sixteen-minute clip that lays out some of the important basics. Take 1% of your day and listen to it (watch below).
And if you like to read, two other books that may be of interest are Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces and How America Was Lost: From 9/11 to the Police/Warfare State. All three books are available on Kindle as well.
Bigger guns, more gear, stronger and tougher machines may not seem like a huge deal. After all, we've been told the Pentagon just had extra stuff and gave it away. That was it, simple. But why couldn't police in San Diego return their armored vehicles? I mean, let's be honest, when will they ever use them? Useful or not you don't just send back a gift from the Pentagon.
There's more going on here than just an awkward gift exchange. There's an agenda. More on that next. In the meantime, start asking questions, read some articles (there are dozens online), and talk with local police.
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November 12, 2014
It started with JFK. I didn't know much about the conspiracy to kill president John F. Kennedy until early this year. Hearing bits and pieces throughout my life was never enough to get me interested. Until... Scanning books on my Amazon app, a small addiction of mine, I came across a book by a guy named Jim Marrs called Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, which was later used by filmmaker Oliver Stone for his 1991 film JFK. Something about the book, but probably just the possibility there was an actual "plot" to murder a president, got to me. I stared at the photo on the cover and read reviews.
Lee Harvey Oswald, Lyndon Johnson, Jim Garrison, Jack Ruby, the freakin' Mafia, Cuba, Russia, double agents, reality doesn't get much more interesting than this, folks! I found and devoured They Killed Our President: 63 Reasons to Believe There Was a Conspiracy to Assassinate JFK authored by Jesse Ventura with the help of researchers Dick Russell and David Wayne. It immediately became apparent (but don't take my word for it) that the "theories" of an outrageous and inconceivable plot to murder in cold blood one of our most beloved presidents were hardly theories at all. The evidence that JFK's assassination was the machinations of a top-secret and widely-
But even with gapping holes in the official story the heralds of the masses continued broadcasting their message. The official story, that Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone lunatic working by himself, murdered JFK, is no doubt less-demanding on us citizens than a conspiracy involving the highest government officials and members of the Mafia. Because if the latter is true we can't in good conscience just continue our daily routines unmoved, believing foolishly everything is hunky-dory. And if what the U.S. citizens are (still) being told are blatant lies than we have a moral issue on our hands and that demands proper reflection and action. The truth complicates.
That was almost a year ago. Since then I've zig-zagged across the spectrum of lies and coverups. I learned about John Perkins, an economic hit man, and how his whole job was ensnaring developing countries in a web of debt with the United States (see Confessions of an Economic Hit Man). I learned about Project Paperclip, the secretive searching-out and bringing-over of Nazi scientists to our country during and after World War II. We gave them homes, cars and jobs in universities and invited them to continue their research and experiments in things like mind control, which led me to Brice Taylor, MKULTRA and the splitting of personalities through trauma. The deeper I went the more outrageous and heinous things got.
But even with many of these being common knowledge I get looks from people that tell me I've crossed the line. They don't want to know. Though, the terrible truth is there are weightier issues, things I've heard and wish weren't true.
In the end, everything hidden will be uncovered (Luke 8:17). But what you know and understand now just could save a life. Lacking knowledge destroys (Hosea 4:6).
God knew. Ezekiel didn't. God showed. Ezekiel wrote.
The truth is not easily apparent, often. Add on top of that the fact that elaborate systems function to keep certain truths suppressed. If a person or a society live within such a false reality long enough the Actually Real will become un-confront-able (to a certain extent). And thus, God Himself had to baptize Ezekiel into Reality!
I have never met someone who was snatched up by God by the hair but my spirit knows God reveals truth today to those called, to those willing and seeking, to those humble and lowly. Discovering the truth will mean digging. Digging is work. Ezekiel dug. Jim Garrison dug. Splitting the Sky dug. Mark Flynn dug. They too found doors leading to secret chambers.
For the next little while, if you visit this space, I pray you will find light in the labyrinth and hear whispers through a megaphone. The evening news, the political charades, the happy-clappy mantras of collapsing empires that drown out the quiet voice of Truth end here. The bulk of my writings will be sharing what I've learned, what, by God's grace, I have read and researched, resources to learn more and anything else I think will help or inspire normal people to know and act and live in a world gone mad. After hours and hours of gathering information, in my opinion, our world and specifically the United States is ripe for major shifts and not for the better. Like I said, the truth complicates, but it also compels. May it compel you!
Jesus is the real, "the really Real" as Brennan Manning puts it, the ultimate and most invigorating Truth. Truth is a person and I love and follow Him and thus we should never shy away from that which is real, big or small, because, at the end of the day, Jesus knows all about it. If He desires He'll give us all the grace to handle and understand.
Grace and Peace to you.
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February 15, 2014
Oh, I would never do that!
To this a good psychologist might ask, "And just who is this I?"
Is the "I" not that which we wish to show to the world? That image of smart, strong, moral, sexually proficient - whatever it is - we are preserving, creation of our own hands, to illicit the response we want most desperately from people? Say, respect or admiration.
As necessary as that is at some level, the "I" has an issue with honesty. This is because it's proficient in lying. It's not that the "I" isn't strong or smart or hip or whatever at times. What's false is the uniformity. There's more. There's a surplus to the "I" we present to the world. These other selves (of ourselves). Which forever haunt our nice and pretty images like ghosts on strings.
And this is where we get into trouble because the fortress of our "I" doesn't have extra room (or time!) for loose, wandering selves. "We're running a tight campaign here, people! Anything that doesn't fit with our agenda - our image - must be thrown into the dungeon! Capiche?!"
What happens is the parts of ourselves that don't line up with how we want to be seen get the shaft and get roped down in the dark depths of our unconscious, rarely, if ever, to see the light of day, except of coarse by mistake (Freudian slips, etc.), so as to leave the parts in the limelight untainted. Let's face it: we all do this.
People, though, are these other parts and that's important. Repressing them only makes matters worse. A perfect and primmer image often means imminent breakdown, which, psychologically, is really good. This fortress, castle, and self-created image is what Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr and David Benner would all call the False Self.
One of the absolute worse things you could do to your False Self is to be honest. Being honest about all the parts of yourself, but particularly the parts you've hidden away, out of sight, out of mind, because they don't look good with the image you've become obsessed with maintaining, begins the dismantling of the image and the journey toward genuine change.
Try it. When quiet and alone, sit down and openly and sincerely invite all the parts of yourself to get together, no matter who might show up. Like an AA meeting of sorts. This will probably take loads of time, and several tries to get everyone there. Having removed all filters, corporate political agendas, and other truth inhibitors, hand the microphone around and give voice to everyone present. Let them introduce themselves and share a little of their testimony. Listen up.
Maturity: giving opportunity for the beautiful in us, as well as the disfigured and downright absurd, to speak and to sing.
All this really annoying talk of psychology and spiritual formation has got me thinking about my favorite musician at the moment, believe it or not.
On ANTI Record's website, I started searching for tantalizing new music to send chills tap-dancing down my spine. Or just something that didn't suck, something better than, say, Chumbawamba. Cake for a record label with the brains to sign brilliant musical artists such as Sean Rowe, Mavis Staples, The Milk Carton Kids, and Saintseneca.
I clicked Neko Case.
I'd seen that name before, but now I had her cover art staring at me, which I found weird. She's running, with sword in hand, toward three sketchy els. What an oddball. The album is called The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You. Plus, she's from Tacoma, Washington (where I live). What's not to love?
I bought the album eventually, having only heard two tracks. Shit, it's good. I was surprised. A country twang here. Lyrical swag there. Sometimes bold and haunting. Always alternative. Some melodies are lovely and arresting. Others almost make me want to skip the track.
But it's that very element I find so alluring in Neko Case. It's her difference. Her multifacetedness. (If I can make up a word!) Her ability to pull out the charming and unnatural. Her album lacks shallow uniformity.
If the False Self could sing it'd belt out its baritone as a created image, as a neat and tidy, all-together and presentable "work of art." The False Self cares too much about how it looks to its audience in order to make good and honest music. And oh how it loves its audience! (What's stupid, though, is I don't know if Neko Case is writing music freed from image. It's impossible to say since an individual living as a False Self is usually unaware themselves of this very fact! Her album could end up being the very manifestation of a False Self, although I don't believe so. All I know is her stupid album has got me thinking too damn much.)
It seems to me that good, mature songwriting takes place after one couldn't care less about the False Self and all image-making and maintaining. This kind of music would be honest above all else, giving voice to whatever there was to give voice to, the lovely and beautiful, the odd and absurd. No filters. No agendas. Just great music.
Go listen to Neko Case to see what I mean (or this will forever remain incoherent babble). And might she be our soundtrack to writing, painting, and dancing after having given our ears to the hidden and suppressed, odd and absurd selves of ourselves.
September 16, 2013
Late sixties or early seventies I'd guess, capped with a hat my younger brother would buy from a thrift store and dressed in a shirt and blue jeans he has probably owned for years, his big, hairy hands were frenzying about stacking and re-stacking numerous audio books he had picked out for himself atop the shelf, as if organizing them into some system only he knew. I was curiously browsing the rows, nonchalantly.
I glanced at his stack, hoping the direction of my eyes remained unnoticed by him, wondering what in the world this old man was after. War history, economics, politics, science, his interest ran broad. Toward the bottom of his stack I recognized Christopher Hitchens' Mortality and decided to comment since I had been listening to Hitchens' memoir Hitch-22 in my car that week and since he seemed inclined toward conversation.
The exact comment I made I do not recall. What I do remember is he bounced into conversation with me, as though he had been eagerly desiring it, as though he could hardly wait to tell me about his great stack of audio books. In a bewildering flurry, words and stories flew from his mouth.
He is a Vietnam veteran and a retired chemical engineer and completely obsessed with learning - that stack was all his! He told me he agreed with Hitchens. Religion poisons. I slipped in that I was a christian, which, in retrospect, I suppose was my way of informing him that I wasn't going to be hostile or argumentative (particularly since I, too, think some religion poisons quite resolutely). He wasn't phased, though I thought he might think it strange I would read Hitchens, being a popular fundamentalist atheist while he was alive.
This man reminded me of my friends Jeremy Strain and Ben Prindle and also myself, though my friends could actually hold a mature conversation. He continued talking, passionately commenting on Richard Dawkins - of course! - and having heard him lecture twice, somewhere in the area, Oliver Sacks, whose Hallucinations he recommended to me, being open to the truth, which I told him was a passion and concern of mine as well, and a variety of other topics he deemed suitable to bring up in this crash-coarse "conversation" I had been sucked into.
There was no break between his words and hardly time for taking a breath. Apparently, there was just too much to say to ease up and actually be present with another person, to receive what someone else might have to offer, however simple, however profound. Anything I wanted to say had to be coerced through his near impenetrable sentences.
His insatiable appetite for knowledge, and at his age, though at first was inspiring, quickly became, for me in that moment at least, his downfall. Once, I came close to stopping him mid-sentence - there was no other way - and offering him advice on how to actually converse with a stranger, or anyone for that matter, if he cared. Does he talk like this to everyone? My god! To me, knowledge about social and political issues, historical events, or ancient metaphysics amounts to nothing - as in who cares! - if that person is unable to hold a normal conversation with another human being.
I'm not saying this man sucks or I hate him. Nothing of the sort. If anything, I'm glad I encountered him. I just find the acquisition of facts or truth or reality coupled with the inability to shut your yapper and listen backwards. Wisdom is quick to listen, slow to speak, I'm nearly certain.
Eventually, I had to cut him off because it was time for me to leave the library and meet up with some friends who were by now surely waiting for me. I never got his name but I shook his burly hand and told him to enjoy his audio books. He assured me he would, though for some reason now I doubt he will.
Inside my mind or my heart or both there is a pitcher, sometimes empty, sometimes full, sometimes partly filled. And for a reason I am unaware and outside my control when people talk to me and for long periods of time, for me, my pitcher fills up quick. After this I begin to wane and need to pour out. But if someone talks with me, when they pour and I receive and then I pour and they receive I am energized and strengthened like little else.
This dance, this flow, this art - why, I don't know - has become a rare gift, possibly even among those in our society we should expect to find it. Like words and sacrifice emptied of love, knowledge and a searching for truth doesn't mean wisdom and maturity is the soil from which such a pursuit should flower up. It's a shame.
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September 2, 2013
I've written about Christopher Rollston before, former professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at what is now called Emmanuel Christian Seminary, formerly Emmanuel School of Religion. Like I've previously said, my friend Ben and I became interested onlookers to the situation as it began to unravel a year ago (If you haven't already, it will be a good idea to read at least the few beginning paragraphs of my previous post).
This situation, I think I can speak for both of us, intrigued us, at least partially because we had learned together about Peter Enns, once an Old Testament professor, as well, at Westminster Theological Seminary before falling prey to it. Upon the release of his book Inspiration and Incarnation in 2005, in which he writes honestly about difficult Old Testament issues, criticism stirred regarding whether or not the conclusions he made fit within the doctrinal commitments of Westminster. Long story short: they didn't. He transitioned out, became an independent scholar, and, like a boss, continued writing important books, like The Evolution of Adam in 2012.
Ever since learning about Peter Enns I've been more empathetic toward Christian academics employed at Christian universities and somewhat interested in academic freedom, admits often strict doctrinal statements, and the possibility of a "Christian" institution.
Well, Christopher Rollston has reflected upon the last year of his life via his website, Rollston Epigraphy, a couple days ago, putting his situation in some much-needed context, context that honestly brought tears to my eyes as I read, trying to grasp the layers of grief and turmoil brewing underneath the surface of his dramatic removal from Emmanuel Christian Seminary as a loyal and inspiring teacher. I've never met Rollston, and doubt I ever will, but my heart felt for him albeit in a very small way.
Back when I first learned about it, I think my interest in Rollston's situation was made immediately compelling because of my interest in Thom Stark, a former student of Rollston's. My respect for Stark was and is huge, first because of his personal blog that, at the time, challenged some of my taken-for-granted beliefs about Jesus and other doctrines students of Scripture should find naturally alluring and second because of his important book The Human Faces of God.
Some books are entertaining and you're glad you read them, though they quickly slip into the realm of forgotten things. Others offer an affirming pat on the back: "You already believe all the right things." But every so often there's a book that will leave you stunned and even wounded, beyond repair, in the best possible way. Stark's book is this and more. It's a loaded canon purposely pointed at the doctrine of biblical inerrancy as most evangelicals have come to know it, consciously or not, which is important to me since I was taught this, more or less, at college and was the general consensus among the student body and faculty. The provocative honestly and rich substance of Thom's book satisfied me deeply. From then on I've kept an eye on Stark and his work and obviously became very interested if and when he ever mentioned his teachers. Who do people I respect respect?
During his beloved professor's controversy, Thom advocated for Rollston fervently and masterfully combated some shallow opposition to Rollston's Huffington Post article, which he obviously defended because it was true, on Religion at the Margins.
I say all this about Thom because if I respect him as I do then I should at least pause for a moment to offer my mental respects to Rollston, his teacher. If you want to know how well a teacher teaches, watch, listen, and engage his or her students. This doesn't mean that the brilliance of a teacher always trickles on down to inspire the minds of students, but it will some of the time. It's obvious after reading through many "Open Letters" from Rollston's students that his brilliance was translatable more often than not.
They wrote over and over about how Rollston taught them, inspired them with his intellectual honesty and faithful scholarship, opened up Scripture to them in a deep and profoundly impacting way, and nourished the skeleton bones of weak, unthinking Christian faith.
This stirs me up inside because I, too, have had such teachers. I recall Charles Lee, as a freshman, sophomore, and junior reflecting on his own life, faith, and doubt in ways that left me bare and astonished. He challenged us to take faith seriously, to ask the hard questions, to grow up and stop acting like pansy-ass Christians and actually follow Jesus. Or, who could forget the varsity theology couch Jim Adams with his stripped sweaters? I am indebted to his realness, his work, his life.
And it was these kinds of teachers that, for me, that had the greatest impact. It was never the ones that affirmed everything I believed nor never called me out for flimsy theology. Real teachers leave you shocked, annoyed, and often with a wounded faith, but only because the faith that was there before was impoverished or needed to be shot. Real teachers know that there's a time for building and a time for ruining. Rollston seemed to have this figured out. This is why I write about this now. We need teachers like him more than ever when institutions seek donors and their donations more than the reason they were established in the first place: to teach.
... I wasn't planning on writing a full-blown post. My plan was to simply share Rollston's reflections on this last year. Even if you're only vaguely familiar, or not at all, it could be a good read. It was for me.
August 28, 2013
The guy in this old, blurry photograph looks like he could be asking this question. "She's pretty, but she sure don't dance like my mama taught me!"
Romantic relationships are baffling. I mean really people, how in the hell?!
I complicated things, as if potential relationships weren’t complicated enough, and always before they ever began. Thus I decided, and successfully managed I might add, to steer clear of them my entire adolescence and beyond, until now, at the dawning of my twenty-seventh year. How I was able to sustain such a lifestyle, for some, is incomprehensible.
The deep ruts of my single habits began to level-out not long after meeting her (which, I am fully aware, is a distasteful flaunting-of-a-sentence to any even mildly pessimistic single person!). But don’t get me wrong; I still overthought it all.
The big obstacle in the beginning was figuring out if I liked her, which was something I, as the man, had to conclude, and fast, according to the advice of friends, pastors, and other voices from within the evangelical blogosphere.
Yet, no matter how many times I heard this, that the guy has to get his shit together and decide if he likes her, as to not play with her heart, I had difficulty stomaching it.
Not wanting to “lead her on” and other Christian dating failures, I started obsessing about these questions: “Am I interested?” “Do I like her?” “Am I intrigued?”
Bla, bla, bla, whatever!
These questions were about as helpful as a fork in a sugar bowl. They fell flat and left an eerie echo in my head. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the hell I would want to base my decision to “pursue” this girl on an answer to a question that was ultimately about me.
Granted I can’t just extract myself from the equation. I am a part of this potential relationship. But there’s no way I was going to be satisfied grounding my decision solely on how I felt. And yet I was stumped. I couldn’t think of anything better.
I started asking co-workers, if given a chance, about what they thought were good reasons to start a romantic relationship. Wow, lots of interesting answers came in, which left me all the more baffled, until a better question finally arrived at me.
Where did it come from? I don’t know. All that matters is that its simplicity graced the contours of my thoughts and whose answer gave me the confidence to, finally, move forward - and thank God I did.
Instead of those self-centered questions - whose answers, I hope you realize, have no substantial consequences for the girl - what about this: Would I sacrifice my life for her?
Hear me out. I’m not talking about taking a bullet for her, although that may not be a bad question to ask either. It’s more subtle. Would I lay down my life - habits, space, time, meritocracy, even dreams - to be with her?
For some it might be too early to tell. For me: lightbulb!
I was lucky. I had been getting to know this girl via email for nearly six months before I learned to ask this question. I knew her well. And what I knew I loved. I loved her dreams to help broken, hurting people, to contribute to people’s good. I loved her passion for listening to other’s stories and being compelled to weave the thread of God’s grace across hearts once broken. I loved her excitement for travel, books, and ideas. I loved her past, though grossly painful at points, her present, and where she saw herself down the road.
Did I like her? Definitely. But more importantly, I realized I was, and am, willing to support her story and hopes and dreams to the point of laying my life down, that she might flourish and live her dreams.
It was that question and that answer that turned things on for me, that made clear what was before muddied.
Yes, I want to be with her.