R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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I’m taking the gloves off tonight.

For the record, I’m sober and in a pretty good mood.

A college friend responded to my last post, openly sharing about being bipolar and how humiliating that can be when people come to define you by your inconsistency, by your ups and downs. I was very struck by what she wrote:

“It’s to be expected. But it’s embarrassing.”

Tonight, my family went to a concert in which my niece sang, led by a deaf woman who has an incredible voice and who has trained herself to sing again after losing her hearing. This is mind-boggling.

Here we go, connecting the two: people understand what an astounding triumph this woman has achieved. She has overcome the physical challenge of deafness to become a singer again. She inspired all the students with whom she performed and the entire audience who heard her sing.

My friend equally kicks ass. She lives with a debilitating condition that most people cannot comprehend. She raises kids, loves people, follows Jesus, and lives as a light in a dark world while her brain chemistry sabotages her. But few people stand in awe of her achievement.

They can grasp overcoming deafness, even though their hearing works fine. But they can’t see the wonder in what my friend is pulling off.

I’ve said this to people before: you act like I don’t have it together when you should actually be giving me a fucking medal for living with what I have and still doing what I do. Yeah, things got awkward after that. I got a bit of a pitying look. I clearly lost respect in his eyes.

But tonight, I’m going to say this again, because people need to get it: I don’t want your pity, I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, I don’t want you to pat me on the head. I want your fucking respect for living with something you can’t quite grasp and still managing to be a force for good in the world.

Blunt: I think about dying about eight times. A week? No, more like a day. On average. I’m not supposed to say that. That’s going to make you feel very awkward about me. I expect to lose several subscribers to my blog for saying this directly (or for using the “F” word, one or the other).

That’s life for me. On the downward cycle, it can spike up to a lot more times than eight. On good days, it doesn’t cross my mind. But that’s just one challenge. I have this swarm of hornets that flies around inside my head and sometimes they just attack. I’m trying not to have negative thoughts. I’m praying not to have negative thoughts. And then all the painful, humiliating, discouraging, and traumatic experiences of my life come raging through my brain.

No, don’t feel sorry for me. Be impressed.

There are people who overcome worse shit than I have and do more with their lives. Absolutely. I’m not claiming the grand championship of living with shit. But I am saying it’s pretty damned amazing. I wouldn’t really wish this on anyone, yet there are moments when I do imagine that certain people would get to walk in these shoes and deal with these thoughts for twenty-four hours.

It’s a little controversial–some would say stupid–that I’ve never tried anti-depressants. I’ve figured out my own ways to maintain my mental and emotional health. This is my path. I only regret that some have felt a stigma about taking medication to help with their mental health because of my choice. That was never my intention. I hope I’ve made it clear that if you struggle with mental illness, you need to find what works for you to be okay and function. Period.

I played these cards closer to my chest earlier in life. First, it takes a while to realize that other people aren’t living with the same challenges. Then, it quickly becomes apparent that you’re a freak and people don’t get it, at all. The next stage is figuring out in whom you can confide, whom you can trust to handle knowing what you’re really going through without their dismissing and completely losing respect for you.

I hit my fourth stage a few years ago. Some folks like me, like us, need to hear that they aren’t alone. They need to know that the voice in their head which says, “No one is as screwed up as you are” is lying to them. But you can’t just tell them, “No, that’s a lie.”

“Yeah, says you, mentally whole person.”

The only way I’ve found to help is to say, “I get it. I’m there, too. God loves us exactly as we are.”

But I think at fifty, stage five begins now.

A ton of us live with stuff like this. Not all the same diagnosis, but exhausting and sometimes paralyzing without any clear external symptoms that “normal” folks can recognize and validate. Some of us hide. Some of us acknowledge it. Some of us try to cope through means that prove self-destructive. And remember, many give up.

Cue back-up singers with lead-in to chorus:

“Just a little bit! Just a little bit! Just a little bit! Just a little bit!”

I believe stage five is this: I’m done apologizing for having to cope with something that isn’t my choice to people who don’t ever experience the same challenges I have simply to make it through a day.

I would appreciate respect for carrying this off as well as I do.

But most importantly, I’m here for the people who feel ashamed, who say “It’s to be expected but it’s embarrassing,” who are humiliated because they can’t function at the same level others can.

You are amazing. You kick ass. Are you reading this? Are you still here? Then yes, you are, and yes, you do. Stop judging yourself because others–who don’t get it–judge you.

You have my respect.

Stop the Politics of Hate: Step 2

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Wow. Today the President of the United States tweeted that congresswomen who orginally came from–let me get this–“countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt, and inept anywhere in the world” can “go back and fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how [the government is to be run].” To be clear, three of these four women were born in the United States.

Well, today is a perfect day for this post.

Step One was “Stop the Memes

Step two is “Don’t Demonize the Opposition.”

Now if you are a Trump supporter, and I know I don’t have so many of those reading my stuff but still, it’s fair for you to know that we who are not have read these tweets and feel sick to our stomachs. Those words sound racist to us. But I’m not here to argue with you or accuse you. I just want you to understand. I know you have plenty of things to point back.

If you are not a Trump supporter, today is not the day you want to hear “We need to see the opposition in a better light.” If we all thought that maybe there was some racism implied in Trump’s response to Charlottesville that there were “Many fine people on both sides,” today we’re damned sure. Today, we want to grab pitchforks and just storm the damned castle. Because enough of this!

This, of course, is exactly the moment when we need to hear “Love your enemies.”

I’m not going to spend any of this post defending the President or his racist tweets. I promise.

Jesus taught us to love our enemies. I can think of easier things he said to do, such as…every other thing he said to do.

We’re in an emergency. No, I’ll say catastrophe. It’s desperate.

One of the worst aspects of our current situation is how much we hate people on the other side. Strangers. People we’ve never met and never will meet. People we only know through their words and opinions and memes and caps.

To demonize someone means to project evil attributes on them for the purpose of causing others to hate and fear them.

I know. It’s tempting to say, “We don’t have to project anything. They’re already doing that.”

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

In World War II, the Allies fought the Axis. The United States fought the Japanese.

Image result for anti-japanese propaganda WWII

That’s what we told our country we were fighting.*

Countries have used propaganda since before they fought with guns and bombs, probably before they made iron swords and spears. It’s how war works. It’s evil, but effective.

Jesus turns all this on its head. That’s why we sometimes call it his “upside-down Kingdom.” We’re not to kill our enemies. We’re not to hate our enemies. We’re not to demonize our enemies. Jesus commands us to love our enemies.

In U.S. politics, both Democrats and Republicans, both conservatives and liberals, have recognized that the most effective and lasting way to solidify their respective bases is to vilify the opposition. It is no longer even a question but a matter of certainty (“It is known”) that the opposing political party is the enemy, the greatest threat to our country.

When we’re convinced that’s true, we have a moral duty to oppose them. Hating them, Democrats or Republicans, is being patriotic. In fact, stopping them becomes the truest act of patriotism.

We talk about “Why won’t they work together?” in regard to our congress. I really believe this is why. Having started down this road, it would now cost a politician too much in constituent support to help someone across the aisle, no matter what good they might be doing. Rarely, rarely, you will see bipartisan support for a bill, and those are only the absolute safest, softball-pitch-down-the-middle, every-US citizen-will-want-this bills.

I’m not much of a hazy, nostalgic, ” Back in the Olde Days” kind of guy (okay, I am about baseball), but I do believe that, up until the 1960s, there was more collegiality, more of a grudging mutual respect among political adversaries and an acknowledgement that governing required some form of cooperation. I’m not saying U.S. politics haven’t always been dirty to a certain degree, and yes, we survived McCarthyism, so we had a full round of demonizing the opposition. But the full commitment to “I hate him because he’s one of them,” “I hate her because I hate all of them,” that we have nailed down tight in these last two generations. It’s gotten many politicians elected. And we are reaping the whirlwind.

I want to be clear here that speaking against hate does not imply calling evil actions “good” or “okay” or even “agree-to-disagree.” I’m not agreeing to disagree about racism. But I know it will destroy my soul if I keep letting myself seethe with anger and then watch that putrefy into hatred. I don’t want to win any political battles and lose my soul.

What do we do?

First, let’s be clear, this will feel like a drop in the bucket. I have no illusions that suddenly choosing to speak respectfully to people who call names and make blanket accusations will result in mass repentance and kum-ba-ya-ing. I mean that on both sides; I’ve seen ample nastiness in both directions with the aggressors feeling fully justified.

But if I’m looking at what Jesus says to do, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5) I know how to respond. Probably not with “Oh, bless your heart, I will praaay for you!” which is kind of its own version of Christian ridicule. When I’m attacked, or my “side” or “cause” (or article) is attacked, I won’t answer in kind. In fact, I most likely won’t answer at all, unless I’m convinced the other person wants to engage in real discussion. If I do respond, I want it to be in respectful terms and to stay focused on the issue.

I know this sounds cliched, but I’m going to try–and therefore say it–anyway: I will pray for that person. I haven’t been good at this, but I’m convicted that I need to make the effort. God knows who might be impacted.

When I was in college, another member of our Christian fellowship clearly did not like me and demonstrated that with his behavior. Young as I was, I was still taking everything Jesus said seriously and not rationalizing loopholes (note: that was sarcasm), so I started answering his hostility with kindness and praying for him. God changed someone: me. I didn’t feel as angry at him. What had been forced words of kindness out of my mouth came more naturally. I even started to…like him. Then one day, he switched. Completely flipped from being obnoxious to being friendly. What happened? I never found out. Did God move in his heart? Or had I come across as arrogant at first and then my efforts to love my enemy made me more bearable to my enemy? All I know is that we became friends after that.

So God does know who will be impacted but I also know one person who will be. It is so easy to read people’s screeds and dismiss or despise them. Or both. I think, no, I believe God can do something powerful in my heart if I will choose to pray and in that manner respond with love toward my enemy. This isn’t an argument about what they deserve. Jesus made no distinction about “deserving” or “undeserving enemies.” This is solely a question of whether I’m willing to obey Jesus and see what happens.

If I’m praying and responding with civility, I will not demonize. I can’t love my enemy and demonize him or her at the same time.

Second, and lastly, I’m learning to seek individual discussions rather than group ones. Even when I’m succeeding at having a mutually respectful dialogue, quite often someone else will jump in with an attack because troll’s gonna troll–I mean, beloved person created in the image of God’s gonna troll. I’m learning that this applies both to social media and public discussions in the real world. Too many people either feel a need to firebomb or believe that their “wisdom” (still often involving sound bites, name-calling, and sarcasm) will solve a disagreement. I don’t think I persuade many people through argument, if any, but I know I can convey respect and kindness if it’s one-on-one, and shut up when I reach my limit. With five or six guys or gals lobbing in hand grenades, all bets are off.

That’s what I got. We need to stop demonizing the opposition party–both sides, both directions–and stand for the truth while loving our enemies. I know politics is all about the end justifying the means but following Jesus never works that way.

Let me repeat that: In following Jesus, the end never justifies the means.

God loves those enemies of yours.

And here we are.

Help us, Jesus. We really need it.

*I use this because it’s such a blatant example. God, forgive us for making the Japanese out to be monsters.

Stop the Politics of Hate: Step 1

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I made a commitment not to post memes. I’ve slipped on that a few times. Today, I remember why I made it. I just saw one, posted by a FB friend ridiculing and mocking the intelligence of a politician who is almost certainly more intelligent than my friend. No deeper message, no politics with which he was disagreeing, not even a reference to anything the politician actually said or did. Just a completely fictional “this person said X, isn’t that stupid?”

The politics of hate. Making “jokes” that others jump in and laugh at, not because they’re funny but because it gives us a chance to vent our hostility and then hide behind the defense “C’mon, it’s just humor!”

So when the new kid walks into the locker room and someone makes a “funny” comment about his clothes or hair or mom and everyone laughs, they aren’t laughing because of this insightful witticism; they’re laughing as a means of ganging up against the new kid. The ones who don’t hate the new kid (for the crime of being new or of another race or poor or all three) feel pressured to laugh so they don’t stand out and get attacked, as well.


So here’s what I’m asking: don’t post political memes. If it’s so damned funny that you can’t resist, just send it as a message to someone who shares your views. If you have something of substance to say, say it. Absolutely. Share your thoughts, share an article, add your comments. Put it out there for people to agree or disagree. Back it up. Dialogue.


But honestly, when we post political memes that do nothing but mock and disparage, we’re only widening the massive divide. We’re only playing the politics of hate. No matter who gets elected, we all lose.

How I Respond to Children in Cages or Why We Want to Go on Mission Trips to Help Kids But Don’t Want Them Here

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(Members of our Nicaraguan Family)

A friend just asked a question which got me thinking down some heavy pathways. I’m going to try to get this down before it fades. I’ll need to connect some dots, so bear with me.

Living in Nicaragua made me less judgmental. That surprised me. I was extremely judgmental before I moved. I had a set of unrighteous behaviors and choices for which I judged those around me, friends and strangers alike. I knew I had a problem…but so did they have a problem! Look at all that unrighteous behavior!

My heart was ugly. Who knows, maybe I was right about their poor choices, but my anger and superiority were vile. Then I moved to Nicaragua. Then I became a missionary, a Jesus follower willing to leave his comfortable home and life to suffer for the Gospel and live in an impoverished nation without an air conditioner or a dryer. If pride is the root of being judgmental, you might predict I would become unbearable.

Instead, I crashed and burned. I slammed into culture shock, suffered heavy depression, failed in a whole slew of ways, and got way too near the edge for comfort. Instead of becoming more self-righteous, I came face to face with how we are, all of us, a bunch of train wrecks and disasters. No, some of us don’t realize it, but we all are. Grace is greater. Grace is greater than our train-wreckedness. Grace is greater than our unrighteous behaviors. Grace is even greater than our unbearable self-righteousness. Thank God.

I didn’t do nearly the good I had hoped to do, but I did some. I loved some people, far more feebly than I imagined I would. I didn’t change the world. I didn’t change the culture. But I learned this:

We want, desperately, to see ourselves as good. But doing good costs much more than most of us are willing to pay, and being good? Oh, seriously. So we work out a very narrow, very circumscribed standard for our own goodness. This likely has nothing to do with God’s view of us. We just need to be acceptable in our own sight.

Jumping tracks now, but not really: Short-term missions. Short-term missions are a perfect example of both an opportunity to know Jesus and an opportunity to feel good about our own goodness. We can sacrifice for two weeks. We can get dirty and suffer inconveniences and image ourselves to be laying down our lives for the Gospel. I know, it sounds like I’m mocking short-term missions. I led eight of them. I believed in them. Because I went on them, my family and I moved to Nicaragua for seven years. I think we did certain things very well on our short trips. We loved some people, we built relationships, we did some good. I regret nothing. I saw lives changed and I saw God do miracles.

And…

Here is the difference between visiting Nicaragua to “do” a mission trip and living in Nicaragua: you can’t keep up the image of yourself as good when you live there. It’s hard. It’s hot, nothing works the way you think it “should,” and there are tropical diseases. People drive crazily and risk not just their lives but yours and your children’s. Jesus is there, but not in the way you imagined. Jesus isn’t there leading you to become a hero. Jesus is there teaching you faith through a poor costurera who can’t do simple arithmetic but is more generous with her humble talents than you will ever be with yours.

Why do we want to go on mission trips to Honduras or El Salvador and help those poor children but we don’t want to let those same children fleeing for their lives come into our country?

Here’s my answer: letting them come in, live near us, become citizens, and share in our resources requires more than a narrow, circumscribed version of acting good. We feel great about ourselves when we send out Samaritan’s Purse boxes. We helped feed hungry kids! But what happens when the hungry kids come to us? What happens when they have no way to support themselves but their parents have chosen to flee here so that they don’t starve or get murdered? A box isn’t going to do it.

Tell me this: Why does that choice they’ve made to come offend us? Because we’re all so committed to following every law? Seeking asylum is legal in our country. We have a history of desperate people escaping to our country. My ancestors did. Did yours?

I’m a Jesus follower. I have no argument for someone who believes that we should not share our resources with children who would otherwise be raped or burned alive in their homes, because “Why should our tax dollars have to go to them?” When I say “I have no argument” I mean we have no values in common from which I can argue. I can argue basic humanity and minimum requirements of mercy, but so far those have fallen on deaf ears. If the ten cents or two dollars that would come out of your taxes are more important to you than a starving child’s life, and you truly believe this child deserves to sleep on a cement floor in worse conditions that we keep our convicted felons because “her parents broke the law,” then I have no hope of convincing you. We understand the world and our responsibilities in it differently.

Assuming you suffer when you see children suffer, I’m trying to speak to you as plainly as I know how: living next to children suffering all the time forces you to find a way to cope. You have to. I went home and ate dinner and fed my children dinner and I knew some children close by were going hungry. Yes, I tried to help–I lived there so I could help, I fundraised so I could help, we started a team and started a preschool to help–but they kept on suffering all around me. Do you know why? They’re poor. Poverty means suffering. We don’t have to see that, most of us, most of the time. I’m going crazy hearing these arguments of “Why should I care? How is that my problem? Why don’t they just obey our laws?” while I’m picturing my precious neighbor girls, Ansielli and Daniella (above), shivering and screaming for their mama in those cells. You and I know those arguments are abhorrent. But we also know, deep down, that we’re talking about a lot more now than going on a trip, doing some manual labor, and getting some photo ops with cute children. We’re talking about traumatized children whom our own government has abused–intentionally, knowingly–and no rationalization can make us the good guys. Evil has been committed, in our names, against the very ones of whom Jesus said, “To such as these the Kingdom of God belongs.”

I’m not self-righteous. I saw suffering, day after day, and could not solve it, could relieve it only in minuscule ways, and–ready for the honesty bomb?–often had to focus on other things instead of taking it on directly just to be able to continue living there. Very few other missionaries that we knew in Nicaragua lived in the barrios with those suffering poverty. We did. Missionary friends told me we had achieved the best balance they had seen of being with the people and still staying rooted in the supportive ex-pat community. We did the best we knew how. And we failed and failed and failed.

I understand why people get excited about a short-term trip but shudder at the thought of wading in with illegal immigrants. I promise, if you commit yourself to doing something about this cruelty and abuse, you’ll be forced to face your own limits. I mean both the limits of your power and the limits of your generosity and goodness. What do you want to give up to offer someone else a better life? Is your comfort worth the chance of alleviating someone’s suffering? It may cost you and not work. Up for that?

Now let me tell you what we didn’t fail at: giving our hearts and loving people. We didn’t raise our neighbors and Nicaraguan family out of poverty–we’re still fighting that battle–but we loved them. We made one another family. My recent visit there reminded me. I would not trade any of it, including my depression and insomnia, nor the brutally eye-opening encounter with my own selfish, undersized heart; I would not trade the seven years we gave ourselves in Nicaragua for anything. In many ways, I wish we still lived there.

I’m trying to figure out my part in this immigrant crisis. Of course, there are many crises all over the planet every day and more suffering than we can possibly learn about, much less change. People use that as an excuse to do nothing. Again, I think that’s defining our “goodness” in such tiny ways that we succeed in our own eyes, while turning a blind eye to the pain around us. It’s so much harder to try and fail than it is to decide it’s not your problem and succeed in your own eyes.

I think following Jesus means letting him lead us past our safe and narrow belief in our own goodness. I think we learn our need for grace when we try to love beyond our capacity. I am not saying we sacrifice ourselves. I am saying we look at children in cages and ask God, “What do I do?”

I Still Have No Answer and I Never Will

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Yesterday, I had lunch with two of my favorite people on the planet.

They are smart, funny, and happily married. They are tremendous parents. They have raised two children of their own and also raised her much younger brother as their own while her mother lived in Costa Rica for many years. Her mother lived in Costa Rica to earn more money for the family.

They live week to week, sometimes day to day.

God has put us in their lives, which also means we have the opportunity to help them. But the help we give them alleviates only a little of their stress. At times we’ve been able to make a real difference. Yet what I want is to change their situation, and that seems out of my reach.

I’m coming back to talk about this again, even though there is no answer, even though the topic makes some people uncomfortable. It makes me wildly uncomfortable, but I think my coldest days are the days I forget to notice or it doesn’t bother me so much.

Why are Juan Ramon and Amada poor and we are rich?

First, yes, we are rich. Not wealthy billionaires, but rich. Top ninety-something percent rich. You have to be insane if you don’t see that as rich. If I can lift more weight than all but the top ten–or five–percent of people in the world, I’m strong. If I’m better at ultimate than 95% of the population, then yes, world-wide, I’m good. (Hmm.) We own two cars that both run. We own a house. We never, ever wonder if we’re going to be able to feed our children today or tomorrow or next year. Our children have all that they need and much that they want.

It is so easy–and I would say encouraged by those who want us to spend our money–to pay attention to the people who have more. In fact, this saturates US culture such that we barely notice it. From direct advertising to constant news about celebrities, the wealthy, and the powerful, to all the coverage of professional sports (people making boodles of money playing games), we’re so soaked in reminders that Other. People. Have. More. Than. You!

It’s true. Some do. Not many. But some. That means what?

What does it do to our hearts to be soaked in reminders that we could–should–have more, and then to get these tiny glimpses of how badly some other people live? What does it do to our understanding of how things should be, for us and for others?

I’ve heard many theological explanations why some are poor and others rich. I’ve been told that it’s God’s decision and not mine to worry about, and I think that’s pretty freaking convenient when I’m the one who is rich. I’ve heard that it’s people’s own fault they are poor. I know this is true in certain cases, but for worldwide poverty, it’s a ludicrous argument. You and I would be living in poverty if we had been born in certain countries. Why weren’t we? Does God love us better? That’s an atrocious theology. It’s been used as the basis for imperialism worldwide. So no.

Then I hear explanations that they are “blessed differently,” that people living in poverty have benefits and experiences of God that we rich will never know. That may be true. People forced to have faith in and dependence on God for daily survival may experience God’s presence and daily providence more powerfully than I do. I will tell you that every Nicaraguan I have spoken with in depth during this visit has ended the description of how horrible the economy is, prices for essentials (e.g. tortillas, beans, cheese, cooking oil) have skyrocketed, businesses have gone under, and people have no money for non-essentials with the declarations “Dios es mi fuerza!” “Confiamos en Dios.”

I want to say very clearly, I believe God is with them, Jesus is their strength, and they have learned to trust in God in ways, and at a depth, I have not. But I see very few lining up to join them. We’re not so convinced that those blessings are better than our wealth. We’re okay that they got the blessing of trusting God and we got the blessing of more stuff.

Sorry, I find this very painful and sarcasm comes out more easily than saying it straight. Yesterday, Juan Ramon described the increased cost of living and the discrepancy between that and what most people here earn, those who are employed, which is now less than fifty percent. The gap sounds beyond impossible to leap. In this context, he said, “Somehow, we are surviving, thank God.” Juan Ramon has tremendously strong faith, much stronger than mine (as best I can measure these things). They are frugal people; they rarely buy anything they can’t afford. As Aria and I ate the lunch Amada made for us–our first comida autentica of our visit, which was marvelous–I hit the iceberg (okay, bad imagery for a Nicaragua metaphor, try again) I hit the wall. Again.

I. Don’t. Understand. I don’t understand why they are poor. I don’t understand why we have so much more than they do–“we” my family and “we” all of us who are rich–or why we get to make decisions about what we do and don’t share of our abundance. We’ve been able to share significantly with them, both from our own and from support we received as missionaries in our previous chapter of life. I feel good about what we’ve shared. I know it’s helped. We’re not having a discussion here about how charity can be disempowering, which is true in some circumstances, nor how giving might create dependency. We’re talking about beloved friends, people who helped make our time in Nicaragua possible, living in a downward spiral economy, trying to provide for their children. There’s nothing abstract in this for me. I just don’t get it.

This is the part of the post where I’m supposed to draw some insightful conclusion. I’ve written about this topic before, of course, and I still believe we have a responsibility to share. Absolutely. I say that as a Jesus follower. I believe all people have the responsibility to share with those in need (Juan Ramon and Amada share at a level that might put many of us to shame). Jesus followers have the clearest instructions I know of to give.

But the only real insight I can provide here is that I am not okay with this discrepancy and never will be. I love being in Nicaragua so much. I love the people here. I jokingly tell most of my Nicaraguan friends “Soy Nicaragüense!” “I am Nicaraguan!” We laugh, because my accent belies my claim. But they also know I’m telling them that I love their country and their people so much I identify myself with them, remedial Spanish, wrong skin tone, and different passport notwithstanding. When people debate our “border crisis,” I don’t see nameless brown-skinned people. I picture Juan Ramon and Amada fleeing the violence and hunger crashing over their home. I see their little Annalise, whom they named after our Miracle Girl, locked in a bare cell. No, I’m not suddenly getting political or switching subjects. The fruit of living in Nicaragua for me is that this will always be personal. Poverty is personal, including for those of us who are not poor. If you’ve read this and it still sounds like an abstract question, I’m failing in my communication.

Why are some people poor and other people rich? Why are Juan Ramon and Amada and most Nicaraguans living on $200 a month while we can spend $200 without having it affect us much?

I have no answer.

But I do have my next question.

Now what?

The Deal with Me and Losing

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Some of you could care less (or not care less) about this. I’ve written some other things that you may find more spiritually edifying.

As I was pondering writing about this, I realized now is the moment to dig into it: when I’m in the throes of a recent-yet-not-devastating defeat. I’ve written on depression when I’m depressed. It comes out very differently than when I’m discussing it dispassionately on one of my sunny days. Not that I’m planning on screaming and cursing here. I just know I’ll be able to express it most clearly when I’m feeling it strongly.

I’ve already done a whole series on competition from more of a pastoral/character-building perspective. I truly believe that stuff. This is slightly different, hopefully complementary. This doesn’t cancel any of that out, but this is an attempt at full-scale honesty. Please do not answer my honesty with cliches.

First, and most importantly, I will not “go gentle into that good night.” I am a fifty-year-old ultimate player who plays against much younger and more athletic players and I hold my own. Sometimes better than that. It takes a ton more work and effort than it did when I was younger. The desire to excel, and to win, motivates me to keep the conditioning, flexibility, and focus required to keep playing.

A friend around my age asked recently, “How do you keep that fire up all the time?” I quoted Bruce Banner in the first Avengers movie: “My secret is…I’m always angry.” I’m not always angry, but I am raging “against the dying of the light.” That’s why the fire is always burning. I’m sure there are those who can keep playing hard as they get older and not care about winning or losing at all. Wanting to win helps keep me playing and playing helps keep me sane.

I am the underdog.* A tremendous friend pointed out to me once that I always see myself in that role playing sports, whether or not it’s accurate to the situation. It means that I always feel I have to prove myself. I’m grateful for his insight. It’s helped me understand what drives me.

I know some of this comes from not having been as successful in sports as I hoped to be growing up. In some sense, I’ve never gotten over failing to be a starter on the basketball team in high school. I don’t mean in the Napoleon Dynamite Uncle Rico sense.** I mean in the “I still have to prove myself as an athlete in what I’m doing now” sense.

I can step back and see that’s silly. High school is so many lifetimes ago for me now. Today I told my high school teammates that the only reason I can respect them is that I’ve forgotten what an idiot I was in high school. But it’s one of those deep, multi-layered, tied-up-with-my-identity things, wanting to earn the respect of the people against whom I’m competing. I’d have to quit all competitive sports entirely to make that “go away”…and then it would pop up in other, less helpful areas of my life. Better to vent it on the ultimate field, having fun with others who also need to vent.

I’m massively less competitive than I used to be. I used to have to win at anything I played and would get truly angry (mostly at myself) if I didn’t. I don’t miss that and I’m glad I’ve outgrown that. I would say Jesus changed that in my life, largely through the good influence of Kim. This might make you laugh, but even so, I worry a little that I am mellowing. What if the fire goes out?

To give an example of how I’ve found more balance, I can now actually decide between a competition which I consider important to try to win and one which does not matter. I know. Wow, right? If you aren’t competitive, that might sound…a little late in developing for me. Whereas if you are, that might make you question whether I still qualify as “competitive.”

I’ve said, as both a captain and as a coach, “We’re here to have fun…and winning is more fun.” For me, it is, certainly in ultimate. Playing together as a team, working together to overcome the challenge presented by the other team, and experiencing that success collectively is more satisfying. Having said that, I would rather lose well than win badly, i.e. I’d rather lose having played our hardest and experience that self-respect than cut corners or bend rules to win and experience that self-queasiness. In my view, winning fairly is the only winning that counts.

Losing, it follows, is less fun. Not “no fun.” Nearly all the time, I prefer to play even if I lose than not to play at all. These days, I’m increasingly grateful that I still can play, period. I have also had losses that felt so crushing to me, that took me so long to let go, I might have preferred, in hindsight, not to have played. My wife would call that “taking this too seriously.” (I can hear her say this in my head as I’m typing.) I’m not saying she’s wrong. As advertised, this is the deal with me.

In a given game of any sport, you could have played better (perfect game in bowling might be the exception, perfect game in baseball would be pretty darned satisfying but, ironically, might still leave room to improve). Growing as an athlete means learning from these mistakes–there are some strange parallels with life here–and seeking to correct and overcome them next time. You can do that whether you win or lose. However, for me that self-critique after a loss has sometimes crossed the line into something more closely resembling self-flagellation. Unfortunately, my defense against that has sometimes been anger. Here again, I’m getting better. It’s a slow process.

Winning, in contrast, gives me some emotional boost that I can best describe as a high. It does this almost always, and the closer and more hard fought the game, the bigger that boost. The best highs are the true underdog-overcoming-big-odds victories. After those, satisfaction moves closer to something resembling euphoria. As someone who deals with depression on an ongoing basis, these little bursts of euphoria are treasures. I’ve wondered before if some people feel this good normally, in daily life. I don’t. I consciously try to live in the moment, love people and give them my attention, and be present in my life. I love and follow Jesus. But only in these euphoric states, or other mountain-top experiences, do I get a full break from the heaviness that I live with.

That’s me. It isn’t always easy. Exercise feels good and my body (almost) always thanks me for working out hard, whether hiking with the dogs, doing power yoga, or running up and down the ultimate field. But what I’m describing isn’t an automatic by-product of exercise for me. I can hike in a beautiful place and, sometimes, still be stuck in my head. Losing is good exercise, but hardly ecstatic.

No, having others let me win is not the same as winning; it’s actually worse than losing well because it feels disrespectful. That answers the unasked question, “Aren’t you afraid by sharing this people might start letting you win?” Plus, most of the people I play with are competitive like me. That’s also part of what makes the competition fun. We agree to try our hardest and see how it comes out.

Last point: having said all that, the outcome of my games is secondary to the relationships I build. I am wired relationally, anyway, but Kim really brought that lesson home for me. The people are more important. I play to encourage and build up others, to love them in the context of sports. I’m good at this and people feel it, at least those who can receive what I have to give (I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Who is?). Therefore, after a loss like today’s, I can declare, publicly, “Losing sucks” and still love the time I got to play ultimate with my teammates in Nicaragua (whom I’ve missed terribly) and be happy for and proud of the Nicaraguan team who defeated us, many of whom I’ve worked with closely and seen improve dramatically.

I’m a blessed man still to be doing this at fifty.

So that’s the deal.

*I also love Underdog, the cartoon character, but that’s a different conversation.

**Uncle Rico: “How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?… Yeah… Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter, we would’ve been state champions. No doubt. No doubt in my mind.”

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?