Game of Thrones–Power

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I will now begin/continue a perhaps slightly self-induglent series on Game of Thrones.

I think GOT was not merely “pretty good TV” but the height of this art form. I have long agreed with critics who argue that television is, too often, a vapid, wasted art form which plays to the lowest, basest, meanest impulses and primarily feeds our inclination toward living vicariously rather than living presently. I know, what can TV offer other than escapism and vicarious living? It can teach us about ourselves.

Game of Thrones is spectacular. It is powerfully written, skillfully acted, and well-directed. The cinematography is gorgeous, heart-wrenching, breath-taking. The series is a wonder. It is a feat. And it is great art.

Like all great art, it shines light on the human condition. I believe in art for art’s sake, because beauty matters. Art need not teach a specific lesson. One could argue that beauty matters most, more than anything else, and that we need beauty now more than we ever have before, when baseness and hatred and vulgarity seek to rule the day.* God is beautiful, God is the creator of all that is beautiful, and all beauty reflects God to the world.

Game of Thrones is beautiful, but by this I mean both it is lovely and it has a terrible beauty, the beauty of sharks and deserts and fire. The beauty that destroys. It reveals what people are at their core. People are beautiful; people are dreadful.

Cruelty is a theme in Game of Thrones. It runs as a constant throughout the narrative. A few of the characters nearly personify cruelty, notably Cersei. (I think Joffrey and Ramsay are not simply cruel but sadists, which I consider a separate theme, though they are both extreme versions of the corruption of power). Others feel the draw of cruelty, its whisper and caress, its sinister overture and promise. Game of Thrones is beautiful and also ugly, horrifyingly ugly, but always for a purpose. It depicts the twisting of beauty. Much like Tolkien’s Ring works to twist and corrupt power under the guise of bestowing godlike authority–“All shall love me and despair!” Galadriel exalts, and in that very moment rejects the ring as she catches a glimpse of who, of what it would make her–so too the desire for the Iron Throne, and in fact for all power over others, comes with the potential for warping us into horrors.

Power comes with that potential, mind you. In GOT, power always comes with some high, often unseen cost, but power is not inescapably an evil in itself. I consider this one of the most accurate, and most haunting, depictions within GOT: if you pursue power, power will pursue you. You will not come away unscathed. Even so, in many situations to refuse or run from power will also lead to great harm, because others, whose motives are far darker, will gleefully seize and wield it if you will not.

John Snow, the bastard child of Ned Stark (we all thought, for most of the show) gives us the clearest case of this conflict. John spends most of every episode looking perplexed, dismayed, brooding. In Season Seven, Tyrion even comments on it:

Tyrion Lannister (to Jon): I came down here to brood over my failure to predict the Greyjoy attack. You’re making it difficult. You look a lot better brooding than I do. You make me feel like I’m failing at brooding over failing.

Jon, of all the hundreds of characters, seems best to understand both the cost and the necessity of power. How many times does he utter some version of “I don’t want it”? Because Westeros exists in a continuous state of violent upheaval, most manifestations of power we see are violent, whether the direct ability to kill others–Arya, The Hound, the Mountain, Jaime (until he loses his hand and to a certain degree still after that), Bronn, Brienne, Oberyn Sands, Jorah, Euron, oh, and Drogon–or the influence over a ruler–Tyrion, Varys, Little Finger–or the ruling power itself–Cersei, Daenerys, Jon Snow, Sansa, Olenna Tyrell, and Joffrey. Rulers in GOT invariably wield their power to take as well as to protect life. I can’t think of a single example of a ruler who is not shown thus.

In a powerful exchange between Daenerys and Jon, she states, “We all enjoy what we’re good at.”
“I don’t,” Jon replies. He doesn’t specify, but he may mean leading, fighting, killing, wielding power. As his strength and confidence emerge, people want to follow Jon and Jon is a natural and skillful leader–who wishes he weren’t. Of all the leaders throughout the series, save perhaps Ned Stark (and not counting Bran, because come on), Jon alone does not desire power. He doesn’t aspire either to take over or to climb higher. Those around him see this and it inspires their trust. Jon is as close to a servant leader as Game of Thrones gets…and I would say that is very close, indeed.

If caution or humility in the face of power–resisting the grip of power–is one end of the spectrum, then wanton destruction and cruelty fall at the other end. In one scene, Cersei berates Jaime because he persuaded her to allow Olenna a merciful death…and though Olenna is already dead, Cersei yearns to have caused her greater agony. In another scene, which I will not describe here, Cersei gets to carry out the full brunt of her revenge on the woman who poisoned Cersei’s daughter. This is the horror of power with neither conscience nor restraint. For Cersei, power exists for the purpose of wielding it against her enemies…or anyone who would oppose her…or those unfortunate enough to get in the way. In this sense, Cersei and Jon are opposites: for Cersei there is no hesitation to use power and her only question is “How can I use this most effectively to achieve what I want?”

In a few different scenes, Jaime tries to convince Cersei to reconsider, to take a different course, to back down or show restraint. What we see is a leader consumed. She literally blows up all her enemies, which leads her to lose the only thing she claimed to be fighting for, her son, her last surviving child. When Jaime urges her not to fight a war she cannot win, one he tells her will destroy both King’s Landing and The Red Keep, she sneers at him. This is the man she loves, the only one who, we hear repeatedly, might be able to reason with her. But what we see is that Cersei no longer has the capacity to refrain from using power. In this, she becomes, strangely and hauntingly, like the Night King himself: bent on one objective, giving no thought to any alternatives.

Power exacts a price. It does from Arya, who pursues it not as an end in itself, certainly not for the purpose of leading others, but as a tool. It does from Sansa, who pays horribly for the power she courts and gains. It does from so many leaders throughout the series who pay with their lives for seeking a bit more. We haven’t even considered the Red Woman and the price she pays for her power. No one gains power and maintains clean hands.

And that, for all of us who are not Jesus, is the world we live in, as well.

Next up: forms of redemption in Game of Thrones.

*The current President boasted about the size of his penis during the Republican presidential candidate debate. It’s gone downhill from there. Let me know if you need me to provide examples.

Game of Thrones and the Choices that Form Us

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I just finished watching the Game of Thrones series finale. I’m sure a bunch of you did, too. Probably another group of you have never watched a single episode and it’s near-miraculous that you’re reading this now. I’ve been reflecting on life a little recently (new for me, I know), and I’m going to see if I can tie those reflections in with some thoughts on the series.

Today I met with a friend, Annie, who is starting the journey to become a pastor. We talked about her upcoming first funeral, for which she is preparing a eulogy. My first funeral was for my father. Talking with Annie reminded me how much pastoral ministry is pouring oneself into small things for people, believing that your efforts can make a difference. Little choices, every day.

The genius of Game of Thrones, if you watched it, was seeing characters grow and change, or be challenged and refuse to change, or–the show’s signature move–be in the midst of growing and changing and then BAM! Dead.

Theon Greyjoy. Consider his character arc over the course of GOT, from his introduction in Winterfell. Think of when Yara came to rescue him. Or how he fought his way back from being shattered into Reek when he chose to rescue Sansa and help her escape.

Arya’s character almost defies tracking. You can see the glimpses of who she will be and yet you can’t imagine how far she will travel or how fully she will transform and embody that fighter. When she leaves the House of Black and White, when she rejects Gendry’s proposal, when she sails west of Westeros, she leaves behind lesser versions of herself to seek something more. Yet it’s almost the seeking itself that gives her meaning. In one sense, she is the greatest hero of the Seven Kingdoms, but she finds no place to stay and be, no home, no rest anywhere. She had her list and we might have thought her list forced her to keep moving, but I think the forces moving her became deeper than that and the list was after all just a manifestation of who she had become. When The Hound convinced her not to pursue Cersei any longer, it was one of the great moments of the show; he demanded that she see the end result of the road she was taking–him–and she chose another path. One episode from the end and she still changed.

Cersei, in contrast, had opportunity after opportunity to change and refused. She could have let herself become someone other than ruthless and utterly monomaniacal. In that sense, Daenerys spoke the truth: it was Cersei who forced what happened to King’s Landing (while in another sense, Daenerys had her moment of choice as to who she would become with devastating consequences for nearly everyone…including herself).

I could easily go on with character comparisons: Ramsay Bolton would not change; Jaime Lannister definitely did change, substantially, and then in the end…; Bran, oh Bran, we’re not even sure what you are by the end, but whatever that might be, you’re the mystic King. That’s quite a transformation.

Okay, here comes my personal reflection: I think we make big plans and imagine that life runs linearly, but much of the time we are deluding ourselves and the course of life runs according to our small decisions when we choose, or refuse, to change. When we have these long-term, overarching plans and goals for our lives, we subsume all of our other decisions to follow those bottom lines. Well, so did Cersei. I know, that’s about the nastiest example one could find. But think about this: her claim was “My family comes first.”

We have small opportunities for kindness or courage every day but we disregard them because we have our eyes on some imagined bigger picture. I’m not suggesting we ditch all plans for career and child-rearing and retirement. I am telling you two things:

First, who we are is more important than how those big plans go. There’s a false view that if you make the big choices well, the little ones will take care of themselves. That is brought to you by the folks who told you the end justifies the means and, possibly, the ones who tried to sell you on trickle-down economics. In narrative theology, who we are is the composite picture of all those small, daily, hour-by-hour choices. Making the small choices well transforms us into becoming the people who make the big choices well. Learning grace when we fail and sin, learning compassion when we recognize our failures and sins in others, transforms us, not presto change-o! but steadily. Jesus makes us more like him through our good and bad choices, when we respond in humility and learn.

Second, quoting C.S. Lewis:

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.

I love this: “what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s imagination.” Why? Because that isn’t the life you’re living nor ever will live. The life you’re living, and I’m living, those are made up of unplanned interruptions, from locking my keys in the car to having my son say, “Hey, Dad, let’s play HORSE.” I was just talking with a friend today about how we’re both increasingly aware that we’ve been imagining that we will do things “eventually” or “when things come together.” So we imagine those are the things we will do and we imagine circumstances will change so that we will be able to do them. None of that is actually true today, but somehow we imagine that’s who we really are and today is just a temporary delay in getting there.

Who you are today is who you are and if you know that needs to change, in about three minutes you’ll get an opportunity to start. Your first choice will be whether you recognize that small choice as that opportunity or disregard it because you’re waiting for something else, something bigger, something “real”…that likely will never come.

Over eight seasons of Game of Thrones, we saw characters faced with both small and enormous decisions. Often the smaller ones set them on the path where they would face the monumental ones. The show is big and dramatic and exciting and has dragons, so we find its action satisfying, but it’s also a mirror that we can choose to look in if we’re willing. Cowardly people can become brave (Samwell) and heartless people can develop compassion (Jaime? or Jorah?), while wise people can become fools and then, perhaps, grow wiser (Tyrion), and if you won’t step back and see where you’ve made mistakes…if you convince yourself that you see good and bad clearer than anyone else and you alone are fit for that judgment…you know how that comes out.

My conversation with Annie about death and what we say in remembrance reminded me that we get these choices for a finite time. We don’t know how many seasons or episodes, but in the moment it feels like we’ll always have more…and then in that moment, it’s done and we have no more choices. From that perspective, how will I respond to choices I get today?

Acceptance and Resistance

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I haven’t done a political post in a while. Have you missed me?

I’ve made a few passing comments about our political madhouse state. I had to take a break for some time, to step back and breathe, for my own health and sanity. I’m privileged in that I could do this and not suffer any direct repercussions. We all suffer the indirect repercussions.

Not long ago, I listened to the President tell people that wind turbines kill bald eagles. They are “bird cemeteries,” where you can see piles of dead birds of all kinds.* Thus, by implication, they are inherently unpatriotic and anti-environmental. They cause cancer. They can drive you mad with the noise they make. Oh, and if the wind isn’t blowing, zoop, no TV reception for you.

The President talks shit. He exaggerates wildly to deceive. He repeats alt-right propaganda and conspiracy theories as if they are facts. He lies for sport, for fun, for malice, for expedience, for manipulation, and, I suspect, sometimes just to say whatever he wants with no concern for the truth. I guess that last one is “for indifference,” or perhaps “for convenience.” He finds the truth inconvenient but refuses to be inconvenienced by its cumbersome restrictions. Some of his lies don’t even seem to benefit him, which suggests he just prefers lying to telling the truth.** Or maybe he can’t tell the difference.

Now if I had a personal relationship of any manner with someone who lied like this, I would know how to respond. If it were someone I depended on at all, I would treat that as an abusive relationship, set boundaries, and not offer trust again until I had seen repentance in action through changed behavior. If it were a person I was mentoring, I would do my best to walk with them through understanding what motivated them to lie so horribly and recklessly. I would exhort them to pursue recovery, as I would with any other addiction or damaging compulsive behavior. In this comparison, my guess is the person would need professional help beyond my abilities.

But this isn’t a person I or you know personally; this is the leader of our country. I don’t think his lying about wind turbines is the worst thing he does. I’m not even certain his lying is the worst thing he does, though it probably connects, as those things are interwoven.***

One of the most ardent claims I hear from the President’s supporters is “He tells it like it is.” This has made me feel like I’m crazy. How can we be living in such different realities? As of April 27, 2019, he had told 10,111 (ten thousand, one hundred eleven) lies or misleading claims. No typo there. These are all documented and verifiable. Yet recently I was part of a conversation in which the other person demanded “Name one time he has lied!” Of course, the person then rejected any example produced. “For his enthusiasts — especially those who share his anxieties — Trump’s lies feel truer than the truth.” (That’s from Financial Times, by the way. See where they fall on the Media Bias/Fact Check spectrum.)

I mention this as a glimpse of how we are stuck here, at the moment. Day after day, this man commits horrendous acts and demonstrates his character as a narcissist. We have a narcissist and an abuser for President. To be clear, I’m not name-calling, I’m describing him. For a long time, close to four years going back to when we realized we had to take his candidacy seriously, I believed that I could persuade those who support and follow him, especially those who also say they follow Jesus. I truly thought, through hearing reasoning and seeing his actions, people would reach their limits with his behavior. To my knowledge, I convinced not a single person, though I’d love to be wrong about that.

I don’t have much hope of convincing anyone now. I’m sure I’ll keep trying, because I’m an incurable optimist. For a long time, I was furious that people who call themselves “Christians” would defend and rationalize and even uphold his behavior. They justify it based on other people’s bad behaviors, which is at heart a bizarre argument. They make excuses that what is evil is jest, or that it has been misreported or taken out of context. I saw it day after day and raged.

But I’ve moved past that, as well. I’m nearing the end of grief now. I’m close to acceptance. Acceptance in grief is very sad. In one sense, it is the opposite of hope. When our son Isaac died, acceptance took me years to reach, because I didn’t want to say it was okay that he was gone. I fought against God and even rejected my faith for a time because acceptance means surrendering hope of going back. Of course, acceptance actually means entering the reality that there is no hope of going back,**** so any thoughts of going back are rooted in denial or bargaining or one of the stages that fights against this reality. To come through grief is to live in reality and not self-deception.

I’ve accepted now that a significant percentage of caucasian people who call themselves Christians in the US still, after everything we’ve seen and endured, support this President and desire to see him reelected. I find even typing that statement inutterably sad. When I say I’m reaching acceptance I don’t mean “Okay, shrug my shoulders, move on, it’s all fine now.” I mean, like many of you, I’ve made peace with the fact that my place is outside a community that can support him.

I can and will remain friends with people who support him, because Grace is that much bigger than anything else. I will live by Grace. God’s Grace for all of us is my one real hope in the world. But this isn’t business as usual, a mere disagreement over politics, two opposing sides of an argument over, for example, which foreign policy would best serve US interests.

That’s the part we who oppose this administration try to convey: this is utterly, appallingly different. Truthfully, I felt crazy for a long time, not being able to make people see that. How in Jesus’ holy name is that possible? “Look–Rome is burning! See the flames? Smell the smoke? Feel the–what? You don’t? No, it’s not a warm, sunny day, those are–no, that isn’t a hazy sunset, we’re on–no, you aren’t smelling a campfire or someone’s bonfire it’s… You’re kidding?”

“Oh. You’re not kidding.”

Someone can look at him mocking a disabled person, using the exact motion we did in grade school to mock disabled people whom we then called “retarded”–because we were horrible little beasts in sixth grade and God had a long way to go to change our hearts–and then look me in the eye and tell me he wasn’t doing that? I know, he did that so long ago, he’s done so much since then, but the song remains the same. Verse after verse. He calls women “dogs,” he calls Latino immigrants “animals,” he calls whole nations “shitholes.” Yet someone tells me I’m not seeing with my own eyes what my eyes tell me I’m seeing. I’m told that Obama started this policy of separating children and parents. It doesn’t matter that research and investigation shows that while the seeds of this policy existed, carrying it out has been a conscious, strategic decision of this administration. Even if this were a continuing abhorrence, how would that make it defensible now? Wait–Christians are okay with children being taken from their parents with no plan or intent to reunite them…when they came here seeking help, for asylum…because they were starving or their lives were threatened in their home countries? Like the country in which I lived for seven years? Because I have friends who fled that country and sought asylum here.

Nothing about that says “business as usual” and we haven’t touched on how he is attempting to dismantle the framework of checks and balances on which our democracy depends. Acceptance is heart-sick sadness for me. But I’m nearly there, now. I still don’t get it, but I don’t feel crazy anymore. I’m not crazy. Jesus didn’t change. I’ve thought and talked and listened a lot to try to understand, and I do believe I understand some of the motivations and thought processes behind people’s choices.  And I wholeheartedly disagree. I accept that this is what some people believe; I cannot accept that I can follow Jesus and remain silent about any of this.

I hope you understand, acceptance as a stage of grieving does not equal acceptance of this President’s choices, actions, or his continuing in office. I’m more convinced than ever that we must work together to end this.

But you know that. “How” is a different question and a different set of posts.

I’m just letting you know how I’ve regained my sanity, worked through my grief, and continue in my determination to oppose this nightmare.

PS If I’ve surprised or offended you by what I’ve written here, you may have missed this post. Again, I’m not seeking to end friendships, but I believe being faithful to Jesus requires that I speak up.

*”Collisions with wind turbines account for about one-tenth of a percent of all “unnatural” bird deaths in the United States each year. And of all bird deaths, 30 percent are due to natural causes, like baby birds falling from nests [source: AWEA].”

**He lied about where his father was born. Where his father was born? Could anything be easier to verify? Why do that? “My father is German,” he said in the Oval Office. “Right? Was German. And born in a very wonderful place in Germany, and so I have a great feeling for Germany.” His father was born in the Bronx.

***This is true of all of us. My worst sins are connected to my other sins.

****Outside of a Marvel movie.

RHE-Inspired Rule of Life

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 First of all, a Rule of Life is “a set of principles and practices we build into the rhythm of our daily lives, helping us to deepen our relationship with God and to serve more faithfully.”

A Rule of Life does not equal mere “rules,” in the sense that games have rules or your classroom has/had rules. I’m not talking about regulations. A Rule of Life is a structure that both shapes our understanding and motivates our action. I love the phrase “rhythm of our daily lives.” We don’t instantly integrate these, but grow into them, we build them into our daily thought-life and activities, with missteps and stumbles and the occasional about face. The purpose, the explicit and conscious motive for a Rule of Life, is to deepen our relationship with God.

A pressing question for me has become: How to decide–and communicate–what is and is not acceptable to say on my blog and Facebook page. That might sound incongruous with discussing a Rule of Life, a trivial matter for something spiritual and all-inclusive.

Quick review: I’ve spent the past year trying to figure out how to engage constructively on social media as a Jesus follower and writer. I had reached the tentative conclusion that I, like many others, would simply close my Facebook account and save my sanity. I fasted (imperfectly) from Facebook for Lent. Even abstaining inconsistently, I came out feeling much more sane and peaceful. But as a writer and pastor who wants to love and encourage people with the gifts and through the channels I have, I was not fully at peace with this decision.

(Not) Coincidentally, a bunch of people all let me know, at right about the same time, how my words and message and presence helps them. Weird how God speaks.

Then, just a week ago, Rachel Held Evans died. One of the voices that did for me what I hope to do for others went silent. Bad curse words here. Grief and anger and…renewed determination. NO. No, I’m not going to be quiet or retreat into the safety of avoiding confrontation because trolls and know-it-alls won’t stop shouting. Really, no.

While rereading a bunch of RHE’s grace and fire, I happened to read her blog’s guidelines for replying.

Comment Policy:Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Pop! went the lightbulb over my head. A tiny little epiphany for my humble little world.

I’m not going to stop writing, I’m not going to withdraw from places where I connect with people whom I’m trying to encourage, and I’m not going to suffer an ulcer and high blood pressure. I’m going to incorporate this framework into my online presence.

The idea grew, from a decision to continue into something bigger. No, I’m not merely going to make up some rules or borrow Rachel’s policy as rules. I’m going to take this, sculpt and embrace it as an online Rule of Life that shapes and directs how I approach this crazy virtual world we co-inhabit. Rachel Held Evans showed it’s possible to love people who will receive it and show grace to all while not getting dragged under. I desire a rule of life that will help me serve more faithfully like that.

My last post serves as my purpose statement, even a vision statement: Here is my voice–to the best of my understanding–and these (you!) are the beloved of God with whom I’m speaking–“with,” not “at.” With this, I’m addressing the question of “how.” How to create a constructive environment. How to help people feel connected instead of isolated. How to communicate in grace.

A friend for more years than I have memory told me recently: ” Mike, I love your posts. I read them. I reflect on them. I am sorry to say I will no longer reply to them. But wish you to know how much I value you as a person and friend.” She said this because she is “weary of being attacked.”

Again, NO.

No, friend of mine for whom I’m writing, I’ll not have you silenced in my sphere because certain people choose not to use their words positively, constructively, or with grace. Thinking one is right does not give a license to bludgeon. To quote my beloved Opus from Bloom County, “Nope! Nope! Nopity nope nope!”

I will seek to live this into my daily rhythms. Imagine having all your self-talk weighed through this “rule.” Not sure how, if I insist on being a general ass to myself, I can enforce the ban. I will know I have stumbled/been led (how do you think being led feels?) into some truth if my Rule of Life for interacting as a writer on social media spreads into how I speak to Kim and our children, to my friends and acquaintances, and especially, especially if it impacts how I speak to myself.

The thing I love most about RHE’s policy is its simplicity. It doesn’t try to account for all possible situations. It neither apologizes nor offers conditionals. It’s elegant in its simple cause and effect: “If this, then that.” “If it is critical, please make it constructive.” Imagine if all online discussion followed that. I hear you laughing, Cynics. Here, Dear Reader, I will choose to be the change I want to see in the world. Join me.

Therefore, I’m establishing here an Online Rule of Life. I’m excited about this direction. I need it. I ask myself, easily twenty times a week, “Do I block him?”* I’ve struggled mightily not to block people because I don’t want to create an echo chamber for myself in which I hear only from those who share my views. I’ve wanted to continue to listen, to dialogue, to understand. And, of course, sometimes I just want to [deleted word suggesting a not-gracious response] them and I end up spending all day fixating on the rude or critical or troll-ass-hater things they’ve said. Twenty-six years of marriage with Kim finds me still trying to learn from her how to shrug things off.

For myself, I don’t need just a measuring stick to show me “I should delete this” or “this is bad enough.” I don’t need only to be calmer about the horrors going on in this country or people’s willingness to defend them. I won’t settle for writing and dialoguing in these spheres as long as it doesn’t damage my relationship with God. Survival isn’t enough. I don’t even need “merely” to have grace for everyone, though that is my lifetime’s journey to pursue.

I need to live this part of my life as a means of helping me deepen my relationship with God.

As always, I’ll be a messy, grace-dependent work-in-progress with this. I hope you’ll come along.

*Yes, so far, always “him.”

A few more thoughts on Life, Death, RHE, and where I go from here

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Yesterday, I told Kim I’ll probably die of optimism.
They’ll write on my gravestone “He didn’t think he would.”
Best laugh I’ve given her in some time.

I realized on a hike yesterday–only yesterday–that I have found my voice as a writer. It took me a mere twenty years, give or take. Believe me, this was good news. I think I found it before I understood that I had.

But in that same moment, I realized I’m now trying to discern to whom I’m speaking. I think I had confused or conflated those questions. I believe that’s why it’s taken me so long: I was trying to answer the wrong question. I thought I was still working out “how?” when really it’s “to whom?” The latter is a very different question.

I am astounded, and I hope you are too, at the widespread grieving–and concommitant cry for action–in response to Rachel Held Evans’ death. I knew we all loved her, but I had no clue how hard her death would hit me–or millions and millions of others. If you do a quick search (#becauseofRHE) and look at all the personal testimonies about her and the wide range of publications that speak of who she was, you start to get a small sense for what her voice meant to people.

I never met Rachel Held Evans. I’m seeing the photos of friends who got to meet her and in my grief I’m choosing not to feel jealous but something more like awe. This woman loved so many of us fucked up souls. Go read how many of the testimonies are from the self-identified misfits, the alienated from church, and the seekers for spiritual community. Why do you think people in the LGBTQ community loved her? Why did so many who claimed no faith at all love her blog?

Ask the women who have careers because of her championing. Ask the mothers of gay kids. Ask the queer believers who found welcome. Ask the women who are in ministry now. Ask the ones who found Jesus, who found hope, who found their voice. Literally ask ANYONE from #BecauseOfRHE.*

Anytime someone dies suddenly and too young, we should stop and ask ourselves, “Am I living well? Is this my true life or a safe, comfortable, anesthetized escape?” Quoting Mary Oliver: “Is this what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

When Rachel Held Evans died, I started to grasp the impact of her voice, of the life she lived, how she spoke to us and how that mattered to us. How we were changed by her words. That was a grand use of her one wild, precious, and all-too-brief life. I see Jesus in how Rachel Held Evans lived and loved. I have no higher praise than that.

So here I am. I’m no Rachel Held Evans. Let me just beat you to that, in case you were starting to wonder if you needed to tell me. But I’m listening and I’m watching and I’m paying attention. I swear to you, I’m paying attention. When you’re like me (long pause for snide comments) you fight a constant battle against doubt and negative self-talk. I hope no one in your life says to you what I say to me.

But then, in the midst of this slog through the puddle, here comes someone like Kate Lynne Logan, who several life chapters ago was part of my young adult Bible study. Kate Lynne is a singer/songwriter, mom, wife, and queer. She’s a superhero. In response to my thoughts on Rachel’s death, she wrote:

I can’t stop thinking about her. 37 is just too shockingly young. Her babies. Oh, her babies. Her 3 year old, who will understand that she’s gone, and not understand why. 

I’ve followed accounts in the fringe, and she was always a primary voice. I knew who she was and knew what a light she was. 

I stopped believing a long time ago. I was once someone who gave her whole life to church and the gospel. 

I tweeted that Rachel was one of two Christians who held my respect, of all the hundreds I knew closely and the thousands I “knew of.”

You are the 2nd, Mike. 

Rachel is deeply affecting me. Her loss is so deep, and I was just a fringe “acknowledge-er.” 

If there is a god, he’s the god who’s you’re friend. There is no one who could convince me more than people like you and Rachel. 

For the record- I know my personal opinion means nothing. It’s not like it’s some great honor for me to think the things I do. But Rachel was personal. 

And you are personal. And when all we know is what’s personal….it’s all that matters.

So what is the point? (Okay, sorry, crying here. Give me a second. Damn it, Kate Lynne.) For some reason, like a coincidence that isn’t, right when I’m wrestling with this question of “to whom” a bunch of people chime in, unsolicited, to tell me how my voice has impacted them.

I love how real you are Mike. Unafraid to live and die with the emotion of the moment, and totally unwilling to let that rule you. I hope and pray to continue to learn that balance.

Dude. I love your fiction. I think it’s time for you to publish your non-fiction. You have words and truth that the world needs to hear. Seriously!


For a long time, I’ve believed I can challenge people in the church to think a little more about justice, to embrace Jesus’ love and grace for those left out and pushed away. But I don’t know if that ever got through.

I know for certain, however, that some people who don’t feel loved by Christians have felt loved by me as a Jesus follower. The way I experience God and my own flaws resonates, even though they have nothing to do with church. Some people who can’t understand how Christians can follow Trump have come to me to ask “where the hell is God in all this?” (Think I’m joking?) Others who have stuck with church but increasingly feel like outcasts and aliens where they used to be at home compare notes and share back and forth our tiny glimpses of hope.

I have this message of grace and vulnerability and compassion and justice for the poor and oppressed intertwined with “Holy Shit, this whole being a competent adult thing is hard!

That may not be the message for you. That’s fine. You may have this competent adult thing wired. Rock on. Stay around for the laughs or go with God.

You may have no interest in a version of following Jesus that questions conservative politics or uses cuss words or suggests that we’re not entitled to live at the the maximum comfort level we can afford while billions suffer and we decimate the planet–which causes those in poverty to suffer even more.

I used to feel bad when people got offended by these things I said and wrote, like somehow I needed to be more compelling or convey my message more clearly or root it more deeply in Scripture.

I’m done feeling bad.

If I’m helping you, that’s awesome. I hope to. I want you to know that God loves you wildly and that grace is real. I believe that all the way through.

But if you’re here to argue or to debate why I think Jesus loves gays (he does, madly) or to help me to see the wisdom in trickle-down economics or arming school teachers, well, how do I say this nicely? You are not my audience.

Is that nicer than “I wasn’t talking to you?”

Will I dialogue? Absolutely.

Am I suggesting no one should disagree with me? If you think that, this may be the first thing I’ve written that you’ve ever read.

But a beloved friend pointed out, not long ago, “Part of what surprises me in your posts is that you seem to think you need to appease the right, as though they are right.” Dead on accurate, because I thought that’s who I should be speaking to. I keep hoping to be a bridge-builder and peacemaker.

But who am I kidding? I’m a pastor, and will be until the day I die, but no church wants to hire me as their pastor. People know me as someone who pastors them. I’m a “dem fine” preacher.** But turn me loose on their organization? Trust me to keep it together and say whatever seems appropriate to me? They are not lining up. See above.

I have a transgender son whom I love with all my heart and of whom I’m wildly proud. I believe materialism in the church and syncretizing US cultural values with the Gospel are our besetting sins. I think Trump is a narcissist who displays in his character, day after day, the antithesis of how a Jesus follower should act and speak.

I have known, from the time Jesus showed me he’s real and not a fairytale, that I want to spend my energy reaching the people left out, not fighting with the people already in.

Therefore, I’m not kicking anybody out, I’m not disinviting anyone, but I’m saying here that I’m done appeasing and feeling bad and holding back. As I alluded to in my last post, I’m done self-censoring. I no longer believe that doing so is honoring God and I now have a clearer idea what to do with this one wild and precious life of mine. Rachel’s death made me stop and reflect. I know my voice and I know my people.

If that all makes sense to you, guess what?

*From a tweet by Sarah Bessey, which, by the way, comes in the middle of a furious rebuke of Christianity Today for publishing someone who should not have been writing about RHE, but that is a different story and this proclaims who she was in the face of self-righteous criticism.

**Can you really get upset at me for using the language C.S. Lewis uses in a chidlren’s book?


Rachel Held Evans, 37

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I’m thinking about my mortality a lot lately. More than I wish I were.

Today, my sister gave me the news that Rachel Held Evans, the author and blogger, died this morning. She had lived thirty-seven years.

If you hadn’t ready the news, this is how she died: [Rachel] entered the hospital in mid-April with the flu, and then had a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics, as she wrote on Twitter several weeks ago. According to her husband, Dan Evans, she then developed sustained seizures. Doctors put her in a medically induced coma, but some seizures returned when her medical team attempted to wean her from the medications that were maintaining her coma. Her condition worsened on Thursday morning, and her medical team discovered severe swelling of her brain. She died early on Saturday morning. (quoted from Slate.com)

I loved her writing. Not everyone did. Some were offended that she had such a strong voice, that she had/was given authority to speak so loudly to so many, just one individual woman, not a trained theologian, not a pastor of a big church.

I read her books and her blog and I loved them. I just reread her very last blog post. She wrote it for Ash Wednesday. Paradoxically, it speaks both of readiness for death and of her plans for the series she would write for Lent. Rachel did not know she was about to die. Read the post. She probably had outlines of a few of these posts, at least in her mind if not yet on her computer. She was going to draw from Rilke and Lisa Sharon Harper and Barbara Brown Taylor. She intended to write about grieving over the loss of our faith and the hope of finding it again, not in the exact same form but reborn, something both old and new.

But then she died. She had no idea it was coming. She got the flu, then had an allergic reaction, and then she didn’t recover. There was no plan for that. Her little boy is three and her little girl is one.

I want to honor Rachel Held Evans by saying I think she was a great writer, but she was a great writer because she was a great person. In her last post she wrote

Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t reach out to me, in person or online, to tell me they feel betrayed by their family of faith—by what has been done, and by what has been left undone.

You can glean her compassion and her humor, her imperfection–about which she is more than forthright–and her grace through what she wrote. But this, between the lines, tells us that when they reached out, she responded. She loved and listened to people, including strangers. She gave of herself. This is so clear in her blog.

People don’t get to demand real spiritual authority. Positional authority is something different. You can be given a title and decision-making power. But spiritual authority comes when people see they can trust you and invite you to speak into their lives and lead them. Pastor them. Spiritual authority is given by those who follow. Some people are misled and deceived and Jesus warns about wolves pretending to be shepherds so they can eat the sheep. But Jesus also teaches that you will always know by the fruit they bear, by the impact of their lives on their followers, by what you see in their character.

Rachel Held Evans did not take spiritual authority, she was given it by people whose trust she earned, by people she loved well. She shared her life and her griefs and joys. She spoke truth to power and confronted evil, both inside and outside the church, and received exactly the backlash you would expect for that. She wrestled with the Bible and took it more seriously than most and came back around to loving it. Of that she wrote:

 Anyone who has loved the Bible as much as I have, and who has lost it and found it again, knows how a relationship with the Bible can be as real and as complicated as a relationship with a family member or close friend.

 Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again.

This is a funny thing to quote, but as I am grieving, I have been reading through the comments on her blog from her readers. They tell the story, both of how friends and strangers received love from her and the blowback she got for daring to say this things. So here was her comment policy:

Comment Policy:Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

That doesn’t mean we hide from the negative things in life or sweep them under the rug and focus solely on rainbows and unicorns. But don’t be constantly negative or a general ass. Stay positive. If it is critical, pleae make it constructive.

If it is critical, please make it constructive.

That’s what I see in Rachel Held Evans’ writing. She wrote A Year of Biblical Womanhood not to mock Scripture but to make sense of it from the inside, to find for herself what was true. Consider the titles of her books:

Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.

She had doubts and anguish and the abuse and politics she saw in the church drove her to leave evangelicalism in 2014. She describes it here. It’s a painful experience that she lays wide open. But, to my amazement, she takes what is critical and makes it constructive:

So rather than wearing out my voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars, I think it’s time to focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion, those who have, for whatever reason, been “farewelled.” 

Instead of fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, I want to prepare tables in the wilderness, where everyone is welcome and where we can go on discussing (and debating!) the Bible, science, sexuality, gender, racial reconciliation, justice, church, and faith, but without labels, without wars. 

I’m in.

Today, I am grieving the loss, the shocking, nightmarishly-too-early loss of a voice of grace and hope for the Kingdom of God for all the people God loves. I’m honoring a brave woman, a powerful writer, and a true shepherd of a self-selected flock of misfits and broken folks. How many people have felt a little closer to God and a little closer to sanity when they have read her words? That is good fruit.

Today, I am also realizing that life is too short and I have been letting myself be censored for too long. I’m angry, as I’ve mentioned on here once or twice, but the remedy for my anger is not to self-gag nor to stew. Rachel taught us, for the precious few years she had, “If it is critical, please make it constructive.” Oh, and don’t be a general ass or a troll. It’s time to speak up and help build that community.

Life is too bloody short. I think about death, how I have less time left than I’ve already spent. I think about how in Nicaragua I could make some small difference while here I am floundering…and the clock is ticking. Sometimes I also think how it would be nice just to be done. Depression and discouragement and feelings of failure can swamp my little boat.

Instead, I’m remembering, and I’m telling you, today is the day. Today is the day because tomorrow is promised to no one. Rachel Held Evans ended her post with this:

Death is a part of life.

My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Lord, hear our prayer. Thank you for Rachel’s life. We commit her spirit to you. We commit our spirits to you. Help us to live and love while we still can. Life is short and death comes too soon…

and death is a part of life.

Failing, and Gaining from, Lent

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Lent is almost over. I’ve fasted from being on social media for Lent. If I were to grade myself for how well I’ve stuck to my fast, I’d give me a “D.”

However.

The biggest reason I chose this fast is because I’ve been so angry about all that is going on in our country. All that this administration is doing, on a daily basis. I read the news and I am outraged, over and over, every single day. I was seeing the negative effects to my physical and mental health. My blood pressure went up. My depression intensified.

Last night, Kim and I went to dinner. We don’t do this often. But yesterday we celebrated 26 years of marriage. Last year we went to Ireland. This year we went to Indian food. It was delicious, including my shockingly expensive mango mohito (sic).

During our conversation, which was mostly about our children–we were laughing afterwards: “If you didn’t want to be talking about your kids for anniversary twenty-six, then you shouldn’t have had kids!”–we discussed my choice to step back from the constant news stream and the neverending, bellicose debate over these events.

I told Kim I feel less angry. Immediately, she said, “Yes, I’ve noticed. It’s really obvious. You seem a lot better. I can see it.”

I have prayed a little more during Lent, but not a lot. Prayer hasn’t gone particularly well for me in the last…since I moved back to the States. I’m guessing if you either have a consistent and bullet-proof prayer life or don’t pray at all, that sentence might not make a lot of sense to you. If you’ve been married 26 years and you know the ups and downs of a relationship over the long haul, it probably needs no explanation whatsoever.

I still pray. If I say I’ll pray for you, I’m praying for you. I still pray for me. But I don’t feel much connection and that is something I can neither manufacture nor fix.

I had hoped this Lent would help me feel close to God again. It hasn’t.

So I would call it a success at helping me regain a little balance and sanity. But as a time of reconnecting with God, I can’t discern much having changed. For this, I wonder if being more consistent at cutting out all social media would have helped more. Maybe.

Because of this lingering question, I don’t think, come Easter Sunday or that classic fast-breaking Monday after, I will call it good and go right back to what I was doing before Ash Wednesday. I’m thinking now that this fast has been a good start to ramping down my social media time and I need to keep going. I don’t imagine doing so will solve all my problems–I’ll probably still be late and have illegible handwriting–but it’s not a bad rule of thumb, when moving in the right direction, to keep going.

The main things I need to do more are pray and write. Spending less time on social media can only free up time. No guarantee I’ll use that time well, but who knows? I might.

There is a whole conversation about how I can best be a responsible citizen, here and now, and what role being on social media might have in that. There is another, related discussion about my awareness that I’ve had a positive impact on many people through my presence on Facebook–I know because they’ve told me. I value that highly. I’m searching for that elusive (or illusive) golden mean.

Meanwhile, Easter is coming. I like the seasons. I love spring. I like the church seasons. I love that grace abounds and Resurrection does not depend on how we feel or even on how hopeful things appear in the world, but on love’s power to overcome death and hate and the evil in my heart.

Lent is also our time to remember we are sinners, saved by grace.

I get a much higher grade for that.

Winter into Spring

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On Sunday, I walked out of our house to go to church. I took one breath. And I knew:

Spring.

Regardless of what the Weather Channel tells me, regardless of anyone else’s forecast, even more authoritative–if you can imagine this–than the groundhog, by that single breath I knew.

I lived in Nicaragua for seven years. We had different seasons and played a different waiting game. We watched dry season get hotter and drier and dustier and then, when you thought it was unbearable, get more humid, and more humid again, but still without a drop of rain. It started in February. By May, we prayed hard for rain.

I had forgotten waiting through winter for spring. Not the idea of it, but the feeling. We had a *&(#-ton of snow in February and severely cold temps. Kim and I drove into a blizzard because we were on a schedule that allowed no Plan B and we still almost stopped because, well, dying was not a good Plan A. Short, cold days and bitterly cold nights. Watching the sun drop behind the mountains at 3:15 PM. You know it has to end but no one can tell you when.

“Well,” the chipper man on the radio told me, “looks like more snow in the forecast, with up to eight inches accumulating by this weekend.”

I’m not a skier. My niece broke her foot sledding this winter, which kind of put a damper on that activity for us. The Sunday before last, my 11-year-old son asked me to go play one-on-one basketball with him. He’d had enough of being cooped up. So we did. We started in 34 degrees and ended in 29. The ball that promised it would not go flat kept its word admirably. We ran hard enough not to freeze. It was cold.

Now we have flowers coming up through the snow around our house. We are watching the snow mountain that the plows piled up in our cul-de-sac lose its war of attrition.

Winter has been gorgeous. From an aesthetic standpoint, watching the mountains go white, covered in new snow over and over, has been stunning. One day when we took the dogs on a hike, we reached an altitude where the snow had crystallized. It shined like a hillside of diamonds in the sun and, when you scooped a handful in your glove, it shattered, not powder, not flakes, but truly crystals. You could hear the snow breaking as it fell from your hand. On a walk home one night, the flakes were so big that when I caught them in my mouth–completely owning how ridiculous I looked, out on the sidewalk, mouth gaping, picking out flakes to track and capture–a single flake filled my mouth. I know that sounds like I’m exaggerating. When I missed, they soaked my nose or a side of my face. I have no video proof, but they were the biggest flakes I’ve ever seen in my life and I’ve lived in both Illinois and Colorado.

I can both appreciate winter’s beauty and long for spring. I find nothing contradictory, nothing mutually exclusive in these responses.

In fact, I feel the same about Lent and Easter. Lent means taking time to see my own brokenness. To focus on repentance. To face the distance I have let my heart move away from God and even let myself consider the causes. It’s more pleasant to focus exclusively on God’s beauty and love for me than on my sin and self-rejection. But looking only at the happy stuff doesn’t make the ugly stuff go away, it merely gives it more space to grow.

My analogy here is not that winter is a time of darkness, though I personally could certainly use more sunlight than Wenatchee winter provides. I’m saying that, if I allow myself, I can see this time of self-reflection and facing truth has beauty, too. It’s easier to see the beauty of Easter. Flowers offer more obvious beauty than snow. It’s easier (and tempting) to jump straight to the good news without spending time meditating on and offering up the bad.

But I don’t simply mean Easter is more beautiful because I’ve gone deeper into Lent. It’s true that “Hallelujah” has a truer ring to it when I have repented as fully as I can. I mean I can see some moments of beauty in the ashes themselves. I’ve been in a dark place spiritually for a while now. I know that and it’s not something I can fix quickly or even at all, on my own. Knowing it doesn’t solve it. But finding hope in darkness holds a different beauty than happy celebration. Trusting God in the darkness means knowing God here, now, in this darkness. That is a moment of winter beauty, not spring.

I’m glad spring is coming. I’m trusting that the darkness I’m in will not last forever, either. I’m trusting I will learn and grow from it, as I always have from these deep tunnels in my life. Trusting is not the same as knowing. There’s a lot more hope involved. There’s also a lot more doubt.

God is walking through this season with me. I don’t think winter will become my favorite season; I don’t think this will become my favorite season in life.

But these glimpses of beauty are undeniable. I appreciate them, even as I long for more light.

Stop Hiding

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Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. Luke 12:2-3

God has gifted me strangely. I have the gift of transparency.

I am wildly screwed up and sinful…

and I talk about it.

In tandem with that, people trust me with their stories, their secrets. I believe God gave me the gift of having people open up to me.

I know that’s an odd gift. I’ve had strangers tell me their life stories in parking lots so often that my kids now expect it. A man working in the Lincoln Museum as an actor, doing a dramatization, somehow stopped in the middle of his presentation and started describing his family and employment situation to me. I joke about having some code written on my forehead that tells people I’m safe. I can’t see it in the mirror. I’m the boy who listened.

Humor aside, I consider this an honor and a sacred privilege. At times, I feel overwhelmed by it. I don’t always appreciate it in the moment. But I know we all need to be heard and encouraged. I’m grateful that I can give these to people, including strangers.

Self-deception kills us. So does keeping our darkness hidden. Having these gifts compels me to tell you, “Do not hide your darkness.”

When I talk with people about this, sometimes they look at me like I’m crazy. Of coursewe keep our darkness hidden. Yes, we disguise or cover up our weaknesses. That’s a given.

Two days ago, I heard from a friend that their high school principal had an affair with their social studies teacher. These two wrecked both their marriages, scarred their children, sent horrible shockwaves through the school, they both lost their jobs, the husband of the teacher, a pastor, lost hisjob (they told him he needed to work on his marriage), and of course it damaged the church he was pastoring. I heard about this because my friend’s four boys go to that school. Both the principal and teacher had become significant influences in these guys’ lives. They are four of literally hundreds of people hurt in the fallout. 

We pretend that we have it together while we trainwreck our lives.

God still loves them. Us. God still calls us to repentance. God still offers grace at every moment. But if we’re blind to our own darkness, we see no need to repent. If we insist on denial or deception, we cut off the path to repentance.

I’m not saying something new here, but I’m going to say it with the voice God gave me, because I think many desperately need to hear it. I’m praying that some can.

I’ve never cheated on my wife, though I’d be the last to say I haven’t experienced temptation. Could that happen to me? Of course it could. Could that happen to you? Adjusting the question to the equivalent self-inflicted wound in your own circumstances (e.g. you may not be married or in a position of leadership), could you make that mistake?

How do you respond when you hear what they did? I know it’s become a common story. But do you think “How could they?” or “There, but for the grace of God, go I?” Do you judge them and categorize them, two more Christians who aren’t doing this as well as we are?

It becomes increasingly clear to me as I get older that we want to hide our weaknesses and struggles not only from others, but from ourselves. We have this strange love-hate relationship with hearing about others’ sins and failures. Don’t believe me? Why are the celebrity gossip magazines and shows so popular? When leaders among Jesus followers crash and burn, do we share that news—and seek to hear that news—because we want to pray for them? I know what’s what we saywe want, but does intercession truly motivate us, or is it something else? 

As for the love-hate, I believe it’s this: we are reassured when others fall, because we have an uncomfortable suspicion that we, too, carry brokenness in us and their self-destruction gives us opportunity to say, “Okay, not that bad, anyway.” Yet we hate, and I do mean despise, the evil or darkness in others that mirrors what we have in us, much of which we hide from ourselves. When I truly can’t stand someone, I have learned to ask, “Okay, what do I loathe in myself that I’m seeing in you?” I don’t actually ask them out loud, it’s more a conversation between God and me. Jesus almost always shows me. Funny how I can’t always get direct answers to my prayers, but when I ask “Why does this jerk bug me?” God will notbe silent. It’s almost like Jesus was waiting for me to ask that question…or even…prompting me. 

Hmm.

I’m going to keep this short and direct. I’ll ask you one question for Lent.

Some of us fast from certain things, “give them up for Lent,” be it chocolate or alcohol, chewing gum or gossip. I like this discipline because focusing on being closer to God in a specific way helps me and because there is power in joining much of the Body of Christ in this act of repentance (even if we’re giving up something objectively good, we’re doing so acknowledging that we have let our love/desire for it pull us away from God).

If, for Lent, God asked you to give up hiding, what would come into the light? 

I Give Up

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“I give up!”

I heard my dad say those words so many times. You cannot imagine what impact that has on a young child. I know I heard it when I was maybe six or eight, but maybe four. I think Dad’s lung disease first got bad when I was six years old, so he was forty-three.

His “I give up” speech almost always included: how miserable he felt with his illness, how hard he had tried to make things go better, and how hopeless it all felt now. Often someone’s unfairness to him or downright abuse of him came in.

I tell you now, the absolute scariest thing for me about getting older is this: I understand better and better how my dad felt.

I don’t know that for sure, of course. But what once seemed so extreme and unreasonable, I can now relate to. I do not say this as a good thing.

And no, for the actual love of God, do not jump in with “See? Parents all get wiser as we get older.” I’ve addressed this in another post. My dad was wise in many ways and generous and caring beyond most men of his generation, but he was also bi-polar and severely unhealthy, physically and emotionally. His rantings and refusal to forgive haven’t suddenly transformed into wisdom.

But I miss him more than I used to. I know this is partly because, twenty years after his death, his unpleasantness no longer remains fresh in my mind while I do still remember clearly that he loved me. Praise God. In fact, as I fail and fail with my own children, I’m encouraged that what has stuck with me about Dad is how he truly did love me, as best he could within the limits of his own brokenness. I take some hope from that.

Coming back to the impact on me, as a child I would hear, in vivid detail, his despair. He was angry and discouraged and sick and beaten down, and all this makes sense to me now. He chose to tell that to a small boy. This still does not and, I hope, never will.

But hearing it changed me. I felt responsible. I felt guilty. I felt I had done something wrong, or was failing to do something right. I don’t think I could express any of these things at that time–in fact, had I been able to, likely someone in my life might have said, “Mike, that’s not reasonable or realistic. You don’t have to and aren’t supposed to. In truth, you can’t.” But no one said that. I don’t think anyone said, “Stop telling your six-year-old that you give up.” Or, if anyone did, Dad did not heed them.

I’m not going to sift through all the “this happened to me but I’m not a victim but I need to treat myself with understanding” nuances. That’s another post. The fact that, twenty years after his death and fifty years into my life I’m still dealing with it tells you what you need to know.

I wish that I could say “I feel really bad for how my dad suffered in his later years and I have no idea what that must have been like for him.”

But I feel like giving up. I feel angry too frequently. I’m not shouting this at full volume at my son Corin while he sits on a beanbag trying to watch TV (for one thing, we don’t own a beanbag). I’m also not chronically ill with a disease that makes every breath difficult and robs me of my energy and physical activity and much of my purpose. It’s sobering, and more than a little humbling, to say I don’t know if I would handle it any better if I had to go through the same thing Dad did.

I’ve lived a very different life than he did. I started following Jesus at nineteen and he found peace with God only near the end of his life, after he had lost much of his independence and mobility. I’ve worked hard to forgive others and not hold bitterness–and a good thing, too, because I suck at it and need all the work and all the grace I can get. I do think growing up with a man who could or would not forgive others–including me, at times–made it both harder to learn forgiveness and clearer what a high price I’d pay if I did not. I’m sure that’s why forgiveness is a central theme in my first novel–I’m trying to teach myself.

I want to give up because I have not fixed anything. The world is just as awful as when I got here, and, I would argue, getting worse. That’s the summary. There’s a longer, itemized list. Most days I feel like a failure and I mean loudly I. Feel. Like. A. Failure.

I think he did, too. We’ve had different goals. He felt sorry for himself for being so sick and he struggled to find purpose and meaning after retirement. He’d gotten screwed and now he had to gasp for air and people had abused him at every turn and no one appreciated what he’d done.

But then, for some years, it got better. He relaxed. He found ways to have fun. He and mom went on vacations. He golfed, for heaven’s sake. His breathing problems improved significantly. He laughed more and shouted less.

I am discouraged because people whom I thought shared my values have rejected them and argue that I’ve done something wrong. If it sounds like I’m not taking responsibility, well…that’s what’s happened. I’m taking responsibility to forgive and having a hellishly hard time doing it. I feel like giving up. I don’t know what giving up entails, but it calls to me.

So here we are. Tuesday. Hours before Ash Wednesday. Hours before Lent.

I think it’s time to give up. I’m ad-libbing this, so bear with me.

I’m not going to tell you I’m giving up changing the world. I cannot

. I’d be lying and I’m not trying to wrap this in a neat little false bow for either of us. Perhaps when I reach a healthier spirituality, when I become a contemplative, I will. Or perhaps I’ll simply have more peace about failing.

I’m very tempted to give up on some people. I’ve been offered this as the way of peace. I’m not sure I won’t end up doing this, but I’m not there yet.

Okay, I just took 45 minutes to ponder and meditate. Not usually what I do in the middle of writing one of these.

Giving up feeling like giving up is not an option. It doesn’t work that way. The only option is whether to keep going or not.

But doing things the same way over and over while expecting different results, we all know that as one version of madness.

I’m giving up these negative lines of thought. By that I mean I’m going to choose this Lent not to indulge in giving free reign to these negative thoughts, beliefs, voices, attitudes, responses running amuck in my brain. But by lines of thought, I also mean how those negatives get rolling there in the first place. I’m not sure of all the implications, but at the least this means I’m taking a Lenten fast from social media, getting worked up about politics, and unnecessarily entering conflictive situations (“unnecessarily” being the operative word there).

I announced on Facebook I was taking a break and then realized I would do better to make it a fast that started with Lent…but decided not to announce that, as well. I’m pretty compulsive, so this won’t be easy. When I feel anxious that I don’t know what’s going on in politics, I will either read news directly or, better, spend that time and ease that anxiety by praying.

Thanks for reading this. Sincerely, I do mean thank you. Comment if you want. Pray for me if you pray. I feel I’m at an important impasse. I’m trying to figure out how to go forward from here with God. God-willing, this will free both my time and energy to write more. Conversely, it may force me to address the causes of these negative voices–I’m not imagining just deciding “don’t think negatives” will make them all hush up–and lead to some deep soul-searching.

But it is Lent. Soul-searching fits.