Words Have Weight

Thoughts from a young husband, father, and pastor

the death of culture

I’m going to riff on something here that is outside my pay-grade. I’m not going to tell you how all the things must be fixed. It’s my own personal blog, though, so I can do what I want.

We elected Donald Trump. I’m not going to get into who he is or stuff like that because I’ve already done that. People are still trying to figure out how and why that happened. We could just listen to The President/Donald for the reason: He’s the Best! He’s going to MAGA (which I always say in my head like it’s the “cawcaw!” of a crow)! He’s going to Drain the Swamp!

That last bit is what I’m interested in, though. The sentiment that Washington is a swamp that must be drained of all corruption. There’s good reason to believe this, of course. Lobbyists have far too much influence, I think (uncontroversial opinion alert). Long-term politicians (left and right) work the system to advance their careers instead of getting things done for the country. Party pragmatism trumps (ahem) progress for the country. It’s not hard to see the swamp imagery, or the need to see it drained.

But there is a pervasive sickness that is growing stronger and stronger in America and throughout the West. Data says that Americans don’t distrust only Congress or The-Swamp-That-Is-DC. Americans increasingly distrust all institutions. Financial. Journalistic. Religious. Anywhere that power and expertise has traditionally been warehoused and supervised, Americans are more and more turning their noses up. At least according to Gallup’s polling. Those confidence numbers are very low.

Anecdotally, I would back up the data with numerous conversations I’ve had with people, both online and in person. My go-to example is that of journalism. Maybe it’s because journalism has a special place in my heart that I think should be true for everyone. I worked on a very good high school newspaper that won awards and stuff. I really enjoyed working on that paper and believed what my teachers taught me about the power and the necessity of the Press. Increasingly, though, more and more people just flatly reject major sources of journalism as actual news sources. The New York Times? A joke. Completely untrustworthy. Gimme dat Breitbart. Wall Street Journal? Conservative toilet paper. Hello, HuffPo opinion piece! People have (usually rightly) detected the biases of the NYT or Washington Post or WSJ or whatever and then said, “That means they’re basically blogs.”

But newspapers and even cable news networks are not blogs. They have actual editorial processes and procedures. There are actual laws they can be held to regarding libel and slander. They’re supposed to run corrections when they’re wrong. They employ people who are professional journalists. Blogs are… blogs. They’re not equal sources of news. They’re just not.

Now, is there bias in the news? Of course! Bias is inescapable. To be human is to be biased. And the New York Times and others have enormous blind spots and tendencies to favor candidates and all of that. That’s all true. But we are in the place, culturally, where we so distrust institutions that we are willing to throw big journalistic names away as being in the same category and possibly less trustworthy than garbage factories like

I think this kind of ethic has put us in a very dangerous place. I think we are running around and setting our institutions on fire. In so doing, I think we’re burning down the house around us. I think we’re killing culture.

Institutions have a valuable function in society. I think we are all aware of the dark side of institutions, the lust for power that is primarily concerned with self-preservation. Let me grant all of that. But I want to say that institutions do serve culture, they don’t just hold it back. Institutions, the Elites, when functioning properly, bring expertise to bear on their various realms of influence. At the heart of our distrust of institutions is, I think, an individualistic self-confidence that allows us to dismiss the necessity of experts. This very medium, a blog, which will most likely be accessed through social media links, teaches us all to think that there’s basically no difference in my opinion and some man or woman on this or that major platform. The only difference between me and them is the size of the audience.

When we are in a place where we believe this, though, we dangerously skip the valuable processes implicit in institutional power. Theoretically, institutions throw up barriers to membership in the halls of power. While this can be racist, exclusionary, snobbish, etc., it also serves as a screen for stupidity and inexperience and thoughtlessness. You have to actually power through the process to be a part. Mediating institutions can erase the pretenders, the charismatically vacuous.

There has always been an anti-institutional strain to being an American. We value individual effort, individual governance. The stuffiness of British culture is something we mock and moved away from on purpose. And there’s a lot of good in that instinct. But we are, I think, experiencing the very dark shadow side of that gift. We see an increasing willingness to believe nonsense just because we like it better. We distrust everyone, no matter their expertise, that we perceive as being part of The Swamp, which, obviously, must be fundamentally opposed to my interests.

And, again, I know there have been plenty of reasons to distrust institutions. The Financial markets acted against consumer interests in the financial collapse of 2007/2008. Governing officials lined their pockets and looked the other way. Journalistic outlets pick sides and under/overreport things that they shouldn’t. Churches have literally raped children and hidden it. The evidence list needed to fuel anti-institutionalism is long. I get that.

My suggestion would be that we should be very careful with what we’re doing. I don’t think we should be kicking the pillars of society down because they’re doing a bad job. I think we should rehabilitate them. My suggestions, very broad and probably not very helpful, would be the following:

Consciously examine the power of confirmation bias. We are hardwired to believe the things that agree with us. But ask yourself: “Do I believe Breitbart because they are better at news gathering, or because liberals annoy me?” “Do I believe Salon on matters of theology because evangelicals are stupid?” Ask yourself these kinds of questions in every area of institutional mistrust: Political. Medical. Journalistic. Financial. Religious. Are you rejecting the report from the Other because it’s a poor argument, or did you decide to reject it long ago because of your predetermined conclusions?

Consider the virtues of institutions. It is worth re-training yourself to consider what positive power there might be in institutions. What good is there in these processes? Are there processes? Is this purely inherited power with no basis in merit? My point here is that anti-institutionalism is in the air of our culture, both on the right and on the left. It is a worthwhile thought experiment to question the prevailing narrative.

Demand that institutions become trustworthy, not that they burn down. This would be my sincere hope in all of this. That trust would be given to these mediating institutions. If we are living as perpetually paranoid people who only live in echo chambers and only distrust those in power, who only see The Swamp, we will actively tear down the markers of civilization. We will be better off if we see institutions not as hopelessly corrupt, but as worthwhile cultural artifacts that need rehabilitation. What might a rebuilding of trust look like in our towns? Our states? And eventually our country? These are games of the imagination that are not inconsequential flights of fancy. They are vital to our future.

Like I said at the top, these matters are over my head. I don’t have solutions. I have concerns and suggestions. But I think we had better get busy thinking about these things for the sake of the common good. If we are to flourish as a society, we will need good institutions that will check and hone power, rather than just hoard and self-propagate.

Now stop reading my blog and go read a bunch of books about this. There’s actual experts out there. I’m not one of them.



I knew I wasn’t the only one talking about this kind of stuff. Here is someone who is more of an actual expert talking about this kind of stuff. I didn’t read this until a few minutes after I posted the above. So… more proof that I’m not an actual expert!

The Moment

I was told that going from two kids to three was the most difficult jump in parenting. At that point, you’re playing zone defense against a team with more players. If you can survive that, you can add as many as you want. Just throw an extra crowd into the burgeoning crowd of children. That’s what people told me.

Those people were lying to make me feel better.

The jump from three children to four has been far more difficult than I could have anticipated. Apparently, I am a man who can handle three children.

To repeat: I have four children.

I have exceeded my natural limitations. Almost daily, I have been reminded how true this is. I come home and my atomic-energy-fueled two-year old son is careening around the house in laughter/maniacal deviousness/rage-tantrums/emotional meltdowns fueled by hunger. Occasionally, all of them at once, which, I know, doesn’t seem possible. My daughters independently have pressing questions that must be answered immediately. That, or they have to point out the piece of candy that I have hidden from said psychopathic two-year old, which he feeds off of to redouble his efforts. While this mayhem is happening, my newborn is screaming because… well… just because. And she’s a quiet, nice newborn. But they all have this sense for The Moment.

The Moment is when my insides are coming apart at the seams and I have nowhere to turn for shelter. At that very Moment, I am also in charge of being a father to these four beings. This is The Moment. Maximum demand. Minimum competency.

Children are wonderful and can make you happier than just about anything or anyone else. But I was made with a natural capacity for three children.

I repeat: I have four children.

In some sense, The Moment is what parenting is all about. The Moment is also what marriage is all about. What life is all about. The Moment is hard and can absolutely break you. It will break you.

The response for many people is to avoid The Moment. Just don’t put yourself in that position where you reach that breaking point. Or medicate yourself away from The Moment, either with legal drugs or illegal drugs or experiences. Or sit in counseling and try to work out what it means. Probably the most common of the above is avoidance. More and more people my age are avoiding marriage and family precisely because it’s hard. “It’s just not for me. I like my/our life as it is.”

Make no mistake: Having kids will break you. Getting married will break you. Deep and lasting friendship will do the same, if you invest in them.

What I’ve realized these last weeks with four kids is that my own limitations and faults are nearly uncountable. Now, this is entirely disgusting. I don’t like these moments when I’m aware of how deeply flawed I am. But I’ve also realized that these moments are very, very good for me. I need these times where I am told by my screaming two year old and my chatty daughters that I very deeply want the world to revolve around me.

Newsflash for all readers: The world does not revolve around me. And it doesn’t revolve around you either (sorry if I spoiled the story for you).

What I am bumping into in my Moment with my chaotic world on fire around me is… the truth. The truth is that sometimes I want to scream because my kids will not do things my way, which has nothing to do with any objective standard of how things should be. I just want them to do it my way. I am often staring at my screaming two year old and thinking/feeling (sometimes doing?) the exact same thing for just about the same exact reason. And I get even more furious because I see myself as a giant toddler who has all the rage and none of the cuteness.

I want my kids to do the right thing, the wise thing and I am so, so chastened by how many times I have had to apologize to them and to their mother. I hate apologizing. Being right is kind of my thing. Apologizing means I was wrong. I hate being wrong. I hate lowering myself.

Sometimes, my kids wants me to play games and read silly books. I hate being silly. Do you know why? I hate looking foolish. I hate the idea that someone may be watching and may laugh at me. You know why? Because I am addicted to the thought that people will respect me and think much of me. I am a poser, in other words. I’m faking respectability. I am lying about how worthy of respect I am even as I wrap up a lecture to my five-year-old about how she shouldn’t lie and make up stories for attention so she will be respectable.

This is all stuff on the other side of The Moment.

Four kids make me have The Moment again and again and again. Operating beyond my competency is exposing all these weaknesses.

And this is why it’s probably so good for me to have four kids instead of three.

I am far too willing to believe my silent narrative that I am a god, worthy of acquiescence at all times. You should give way to me on the road. You should behave like I expect. You should do things my way, on my schedule, to my liking. Every time. I am very willing to believe this.

But The Moment pushes me out of fairy-tale, self-delusion land and into reality. I am a mere mortal with limits and limited control of what’s around me. I am basically a giant toddler who throws fits. I strut and pose and pretend that no one knows that I’m lying the whole time. Did I mention I throw fits?

And more than anything, The Moment teaches me that I need grace. I need so much goodness given to me that I so do not deserve. I am a broken and sinful man who needs people to treat me far better than I deserve. I can tell myself a thousand times that I do not believe that I am just like the people I judge. Having four kids teaches me that I’m right: I’m actually worse.

These past few weeks, I have been able to see my son’s gaping mouth and crocodile tears and breathe deep through my rage and say, “I know how you feel, buddy. Me too.” And I have to give him grace as much as I can because I know that I need more grace than I’m giving. I’ve had to honestly confess my faults and failures to my kids, admitting that I am not omnipotent, divine, or even really all that good. The Moment has broken me again and again to be reminded me how deeply I need repair.

The Moment is about me being exposed. And The Moment of absolutely insanity has been about Jesus. Jesus being present in my failure. Jesus reminding me that He’s better than me and He can manage my failures. Jesus reminding me that He has unlimited stores of grace. Every time I think I’ve blown it beyond repair or that I am so depressed by my insufficiency, Jesus gets to tell me again and again that He is the Repairer, He is Enough.

I cannot handle four kids. I cannot handle The Moment.

So Jesus has me right where He wants me. He’s got me. Teaching me this message for years on end. I am not enough. I need Him. And He has more than enough grace for me.

I’m so thankful I have four kids. I can’t handle them. And I’m so thankful for that. I’m thankful that Jesus can handle me, the giant toddler. My Moment with Him won’t break Him like it does me. I’m thankful for that.

But also, yeah. I’m thankful that my vasectomy is in a few weeks. I’m thankful for these moments, but I’m not a crazy person. Well… mostly.


and then it happened

Last time I wrote, I told you that I was preparing my imagination for the various election scenarios ahead. As I said, the election of Donald Trump was the scariest of two scary scenarios for me. I simply do not trust him for political reasons, temperament reasons, and experience reasons. I find him frightening.

But he is my president. Or he will be, after Inauguration Day. As such, he is my president. I’m called to pray for him and the wisdom he needs to do a very difficult job. I really and sincerely hope that he far exceeds my expectations. I’m working on the state of my heart to be a good citizen both of the Kingdom and of this country. As I heard one person say, being a fearful, bitter person who speaks ill of the president at all times does not make me part of a better future for my country. I have become a part of the problem. I can be joyfully submissive to the person God has appointed, even as I push back when needed. I can show my children that trust in God is not merely an intellectual exercise, but a disposition of the heart. And that includes my attitudes towards my government.

I do need to say at greater length, though, that my fears for the state of the American Church are much, much deeper than any of my fears that I had politically for either candidate. I am deeply, deeply concerned for us as a missionary people. Set aside the political objectives. Let us look at missional objectives.

First off, it is very public information that white evangelicals voted for Trump. We can argue about definitions and all that, but this information was talked about in every context I can recall reading or viewing election information on. White evangelicals went out for Trump. This is very true of my own anecdotal social media experience. I’m not here to talk about why or if you should or anything like that. I’m just saying I know it, the world knows it.

Voting may not have come with our whole-hearted approval, but, increasingly, many people do not hear from people of the opposing political spectrum. So your vote may be known, but the reservations may not be heard.

And what have we seen? We have seen that Donald Trump has a history of saying terrible things about women. I don’t need to link to this, right? This is well-known beyond that one audio recording. And evangelicals have been seen to vote for this man who says those things. When you pair this with the willingness to believe that evangelical theology is intrinsically misogynistic (I trust this charge is not new to you either, dear reader), Trump’s election seems to be confirmation: Evangelicals are misogynists.

I don’t agree with this conclusion. Well, not entirely. I think there’s a lot of data missing in that conclusion. But you can see the simple case that people can and will make.

We have also seen Trump play on racial mistrust. My last name is Rodriguez, so maybe I’ve been more sensitive to it, but he hasn’t said great stuff about Hispanics. He’s shown remarkable insensitivity to Black Lives Matter complaints. It is well-known that white nationalists and the alt-right love Trump. Don’t believe me? Just google “white nationalist” and “Trump” and see the scores of stories about this phenomenon. And evangelicals backed this man, passed on calling him out on this foolishness. It’s not very hard to find the conclusion from people: evangelicals are racists.

Again, I don’t agree with this conclusion (entirely). I think racial bias is often unconscious and people are sick of PC culture and on and on and on. But it appears to be a problem that the evangelical world allied itself with the choice of the KKK without making known its strong disapproval of these elements.

These are just two areas I’d highlight that are real problems for us, missionally.

Again, I’m not here to tell the evangelical world that we’re all misogynistic racists. I don’t think that analysis is correct. I think there are some of those in our number, but I don’t think they’re the majority.

The problem is: our country might increasingly believe it is true.

This is a problem for us. It is a problem if people do not believe that, in Jesus, all distinctions based on race and class are erased. It’s a problem if people do not believe that we know that sin is pervasive and systemic, and that includes race.

Look, I’m not saying that these conclusions are right or even that we should expect a fair hearing on anything. But I am saying that, if we are not very careful about where we are right now, we are throwing up significant barriers to making sure the Gospel gets a hearing with our country that will only grow more and more brown/black as older white faces pass away.

We are in a precarious place because of the allies we have chosen.

This is not to say that concerns about abortion or religious freedom or illegitimate. I’m not going to tell you what your political strategy should be. God bless you in your creativity in that realm. But I’m just saying that there are consequences to decisions like these. I have many thoughts about how to deal with these consequences but my simplest suggestion is this:

We need to open our ears. We need to find our voice.

No party should expect unalloyed allegiance without criticism from us, the Church. We need to be sharply critical of all those elements that are antithetical to the Gospel. Racism is abhorrent and it is more widespread than we like to admit. We need to listen to the Church both here and abroad who will tell us this readily. We need to root out any belief that women lesser, “impossibly emotional” beings who do no image God.

Here I must cop to some growing frustration. I keep seeing, in long-form writing and on social media, out and out refusal to countenance the possibility that women and minorities have any legitimate reason to feel concerned about a Donald Trump presidency. The distaste for PC culture (which I understand) has predetermined that their stories will not be heard. Evangelical men refuse to believe the many women who say they are routinely, inappropriately spoken to on the street no matter what they wear (as if what they wear would in any way legitimize being spoken to like a sexual object). Evangelical white men patronizingly shush people of color, telling them that racism has been institutionally eradicated with Civil Rights legislation in the 60’s, as if generations of white people legally owning and abusing other non-white peoples will have no long-term effect. Evangelicals are choosing and will choose to ignore the sudden flare-up of stories of people using this cultural moment to express their racial disdain, feeling liberated by the space opened up for them by the way Trump ran his candidacy. All of these things are “liberal conspiracies.” As if people of color are too stupid to recount their own stories.

The world is watching an evangelical Christian world that cast their votes at an 80% clip for Donald Trump (albeit, for many of those votes, begrudgingly and disgustedly) and then absolutely refuse to hear the fears of those who did not feel it was possible to vote for a man they were terrified of, no matter their investment in similar social/moral issues. We have to change course to some degree. We have to listen to our brothers and sister in Christ about why they did not vote for this man like we did. We have to listen to why they are so afraid and, at least for a moment, stop and ask if they are so afraid for reasons other than “the media made them this way.”

And we need to speak prophetically to politicians. We should not be tweeting their hashtags and singing their praises without also calling them to account for their actions. If you found it necessary to vote for Donald Trump, you must also find it necessary to hold him to the Biblical wisdom he says he admires. And, yes, more politically liberal believers must do the same with their politicians.

There is no unspoiled political party, no absolutely pure heart. We cannot, for the sake of power, give up the divine charge to love our neighbors, care for the weak among us, and call people to repentance.

So, Church, are we ready? Are we ready to clear our throats and bring prophetic charges against the ungodly rulers of our day? Are we willing to hear the voices of those who are afraid even if it makes us uncomfortable, even if it complicates our political strategy? Will we see beyond political labels and execute that prophetic office for all of those public officials to whom we are called to submit? For the sake of the reputation of the Church, will we make clear what we love most?

For the sake of the Gospel, our allegiances must be clear. We have to, in our daily lives, make it easy for our friends to believe that we do not approve of some of the things we see and hear. Have to be known, not for our voting records or our defense of politicians, but for our love for Jesus, our love for our neighbors. The degree to which we fail to love God and love our neighbors is the degree to which we fail the commandments.

So the question is now this: Will we be good lovers? The question of who will you vote for is over. The eternal question is brought back to the forefront. Do we love God above everyone and everything? And do we love our neighbors as ourselves? On these things, may our reputation rise and fall.

what if it happens

I’m so glad that today is November 4th. I’m so glad that November 8th is so close. I’m so glad that my country’s Presidential election will soon be over. I know that the vitriol will not be over. I know that the disgust and the disdain will not be over. I know that the insane “news” posts from clickbait, sensationalist website will not be over. But at least we’ll know what we’re dealing with. We don’t have to shout at each other any more about who we should vote for, which demon to avoid. I’m ready for that to be over.

I’ll be honest and say that in the last couple of weeks, I’ve allowed myself to imagine either major party scenario. I mean, really contemplate what it might mean. I don’t plan on voting for either major party candidate for president as I think they’ve disqualified themselves. Yes, I understand why each side hates the other and how all of you think I’m really voting for the other major party candidate if I vote for a third party candidate (which is cool, because I apparently now have three votes, one for the Republican, one for the Democrat, one for the person I actually vote for). I’m not here to talk about who you should vote for or why I’m voting for the person that I’m voting for. You can find some other blog about that.

I have real fears about either candidate. I won’t lie about that. Mrs. Clinton has a lot of experience, which I appreciate. But her story doesn’t exactly scream “humble public servant who values the rule of law and public welfare above all else.” I don’t think all of her policies are ultimately in the best interest of the public good, though I think some are. I really do think that there are scary signs for religious freedom swirling around her. The Left dismisses the concerns of Christians on this issue because they think that we are afraid of just having less power. I’m really not worried about that. I’m more concerned with the idea that she seems to have that the public square is a place where religious people don’t get to be religious. They have to leave aside their convictions and ancient beliefs in the cold light of ultra-modernity. I think there’s a real dismissal there of people who disagree with her. Which, by the way, is like half of the country. I don’t think that’s really good for us. So a future with her as President (and, yes, the President who may pick a few Supreme Court Justices) has frightening aspects to it.

To be perfectly frank, I’m even more terrified of Donald Trump. With Hillary Clinton, I feel that I know what I’m getting and I’m prepared to be “the other.” I’m prepared to have things change around a recognizable political opponent. I’m far more scared of Donald Trump, who many I know will consider a political friend. But everything that he has ever been about is consistently opposed to what I think is in the best interest of the public good. He has refused to ever admit he was wrong. He has openly advocated killing the families of terrorists and called himself the pro-life candidate. Religious liberty advocates claim him as their candidate when he spent months saying he’d ban immigration of all Muslims (which he has now conveniently moderated). This is a man that is a major party candidate and takes to Twitter for ridiculous late-night rants and encourages chants to lock up his opponent, intimating violence or misappropriation of power any number of times. He has no experience, no idea what he’s talking about most of the time. And, horrifyingly, people consider him an ally. At least with the other option, the lines will be clear about who is on who’s team.

So. Both options scare me. You can vote for who you like. I’m sure you have your own reasons why one may tip the scales over the other. And that’s cool. You do your thing. I’m just telling you why I’ve been scared by both.

So when I say I’ve been imagining both possibilities, please know I’m saying I’m willfully walking into waking quasi-nightmares. But the truth is this:

One of these people will win. One of these scenarios will begin (even if I’m woefully wrong about either one’s danger). As a person of faith, I am exercising my moral and spiritual imagination to begin asking myself this question:

“What then?”

What if Hillary Clinton is my president and the slow creep of religious exclusion picks up? What then?

What if Donald Trump is president and he drags us into armed conflict or something else awful? What then?

These people who have very little of my respect, one of them will be my president. After President Obama was elected (and then re-elected), I heard many angry voters mutter, “He’s not my president.” The disgust has been palpable.

But I am a Christian. I am not afforded that luxury. I do not get to look at the results of an election and say, “I didn’t vote for them. They’re not my president.” You see, I believe that God is sovereign over the governing of nations (Daniel 2:21, Romans 13). I am called to submit myself to the government over my nation (1 Peter 2:13-17). This does not mean I don’t vote or that I can’t be involved or protest. It just means that… well… they are my president. It matters not whether I approve.

So what will it mean for me when President Clinton or President Trump is inaugurated? Well, in many ways, nothing much will change. My church is still called to my tiny valley, to our community. We are led to believe that doom will befall us all, everywhere if the wrong candidate is chosen. But if we turned off the Internet and our TVs, a great many of us would not notice many changes (which is not to say that changes are not occurring). We are called to our local place and that won’t change.

But what will change is that I am no longer called to view these people as candidates. I’m called to view them as governing authorities. I’m called to pray for their wisdom. If it all possible, I would hope that my people, Christians, would come alongside whoever they are and acts as agents of wisdom and mercy. And yes, I’m called to oppose them (peacefully, legislatively) on whatever they do that strays into immorality and/or foolishness.

And they will be my president. For good or for ill. My president.

I hope our kingdom identity is settled in all of this, though. I hope that we are people that submit themselves to the wisdom of God. I pray that we would not be so foolish as to put our passport identity on par with our spiritual identity. Ideally, the Church and State would work together towards common goals, even if we are two separate entities. Sometimes that relationship is closer than others. We may be moving to a time when that relationship is even more strained and distant. And that’s ok. As long as we are firmly home-d in our identity in the City of God, we will not be overly troubled by the state of the City of Man or our homelessness there.

One helpful reminder is that while God may let our culture, weakened by an absence of real moral compass points, have what it wants (in either candidate), he will always be faithful to his people. He has trained us to pray that this nation would fade away, anyway. Really, what we want is for the kingdom to come. We Christians want to crave that his will be done, his monarchy to be established as the government of every land. We Christians are all meant to pray that America (and every other nation) would fall away. We want it to fade and dissolve in light of the kingdom fully come. And we have a promise that it will arrive one day. Until that day comes, we may respectfully submit to our governing authorities. But our hearts bow to King Jesus. We can be grateful for this election season if for no other reason it can give us this clarity.

There is nothing to fear. I’m not sure who my president will be. But I know who my King will be. He has my allegiance above all others. And I know that he will take care of his people. This election season, we see it better than ever:

There’s no king like King Jesus. There’s no God like our God.

less of me

A couple months ago, almost exactly, I stepped onto a scale for the first time in a long time. I generally just don’t care about what I weigh. I want to be able to run and play soccer and I can look in the mirror to see if I’m doing ok with my fitness. But the previous few weeks, I noticed I felt creaky in the warmups to my workouts. The short, 400m runs felt a little painful in my joints, like I needed a warmup for the warmup. In addition, I noticed that the previous soccer season, I felt very slow. I’ve never been fast, but I felt slow. It made me timid, afraid to be aggressive because I’d probably get burned by other guys’ speed. So I thought, “Oh. I wonder if I’m just a bit heavy.” I looked in the mirror and confirmed that this was likely. So I had a number in my head that I thought I was at, a number that felt heavy. I stepped on to the scale.

I was 10 pounds over that number.

I felt disgusted and horrified. I was working out most days of the week and had for years. Something needed to change because this was unacceptable. I decided I wanted to lose 25 pounds. I wanted to drop ten percent of my body weight and then rounded up a bit. Before I could shy away from such a goal, I told my wife. I know that I’m 31 and working on this kind of thing is only going to get harder. I’m perpetually injured already and that’s not going to get better with age.

To be honest with you, I really wanted to lose 10 pounds. I thought that’s all I’d actually be able to do. I even told my wife that I’d like to drop 10 pounds and then I’d “work on” the rest. But in the deepest part of me, I never really thought I’d get there. I’m a pessimist by nature, and also not very disciplined. So I thought the odds were pretty low.

Two months later, I have lost 24 pounds. I now feel reasonably confident that I can get to my goal.

As I reflect back on my experience, I wanted to write about some things that struck me as important. Not because I want you to copy me and not because I’m particularly interested in starting a health and fitness blog (very not interested in that). But because I think there are principles there that are useful not just for dropping pounds, but for moving towards spiritual health. I’d like to use these things as a helpful metaphor. So here are some things that have helped me:

Eat less junk. I know. Revolutionary discovery. If you asked me, I would have told you that I don’t snack very much, that I don’t eat much junk. But I’ve realized that I am inclined to fill gaps in my day with sweet carb-y things. I cut all of that out. Which, to be honest, wasn’t even that hard. Adding broccoli to replace it was hard. And sometimes saying no to delightful treats from Black Mountain Bakery was, indeed, very hard. But, by and large, paying attention to eating less things that I know that I don’t need, was not that hard. But it has made a big difference.

It is amazing how much we do this spiritually. We consume vast amounts of garbage. Not that what we consume is overtly trashy or anything like that (though it can be). We just spiritually consume filler. Inconsequential nonsense. And it adds nothing to our lives. Recently, I put an app on my phone and iPad from Covenant Eyes to filter my Internet and provide visual accountability for me. I didn’t feel like I really needed it that bad. But the filter is so sensitive at times that I found that sometimes mundane, innocuous stuff was blocked. But I also found that that stuff being blocked made me stop and think, “Wait. Do I really need to read this though?” And the answer is usually no.

Eat less junk. It really works.

Eat good stuff. One thing I realized I needed to do was pay attention to how much protein I was eating. I was working out pretty hard, but never really feeding my body the protein it needs to build muscle. Also, protein (and fats) helps you feel full. So by paying attention to my protein intake, I created better conditions for saying no to all the delicious bread I wanted to consume. I even snacked more, making sure I had a high protein snack in the afternoon, which helped me eat less at dinner. Again, this is not revolutionary. But it worked.

Similarly, having regular attention on the Bible has conditioned me to crave more and more what I ought to crave. I’ve put a Bible reading-plan app on my phone that I usually don’t actually use to read the Bible, but reminds me to read that day. The regularity of seeing that reminder has slowly but surely taught me to miss the Bible when I do not read it. In addition, I am trying to pay better attention to my spiritual appetites and find what I’m hunger for, what’s hitting the spot for me. I do well to read spiritual memoirs and reflect on the practices of the saints at large. My appetite is being trained in the right direction with sustained attention. Attention I’ve lacked in my life.

Get objective feedback. I needed to step on the scale. My own eyes saw myself grow heavier, but very slowly over time. I was able to see what I was doing well and dwell on that without ever considering where things might be going wrong. But the numbers on the scale do not care at all what I am doing well. It is just going to tell me the truth. The truth stung me that day. And I needed that sting.

My wife and good friends can do this for me. They can say, “This is not good enough.” And while that truth stings my pride and can often make me angry (which they’ll also address), I know its spoken in love and also works lovingly. Sometimes we need to be jolted by the truth and freed from self-deception. And that truth has to come from outside of ourselves, because we’re prone to tell ourselves the lies we want to hear.

Get objective feedback. No. Not a typo. The same thing, but different. Throughout these past two months, I’ve had various instances where I felt that I had failed that week. I wasn’t disciplined with what I ate all the time or I didn’t feel like I had progressed. I just expected to see that I gained weight. I was seeing evidence of that gain in the mirror and, although I didn’t want to care that much, I was kinda bummed about it. And you know what happened every time? The numbers didn’t lie. I’d done better than I thought. I wasn’t reading the mirror appropriately. I was inflating my failures and not my successes. And the scale calmly said, “Good job. You’re fine.”

Like I said, I am a pessimist. I tend to see the worst about everything. My self-analysis fluctuates between enlarging blindspots to hide things that annoy me, or insisting that I have the worst ever human being. But outside feedback, people telling me I’ve done well and providing real evidence that it’s true… it’s invaluable. Lies have a hard time living in the light of the truth.

Get encouragement. I knew that part of making my way towards what I felt was a monumentally large number (25 pounds) was making small strides each week. I never dropped 10 pounds in a week. I never dropped 5 (though one week I did 4.5). Sometimes I did as little as one. But I knew I needed to see small steps each week to make progress. The thing is, though, it’s easy for me to mock so modest a gain. Fortunately, I have a wife who is a wonderful encourager. I would tell her that I’d lost 1.5 pounds that week and she would high five me and tell me I was doing great and… you guys… she seemed… honest? Like I never thought it was fake cheerleading. She was honestly cheering for me and happy for these tiny steps. I felt so proud and boosted to have her pumping me up like that. She believed in me to do more and try harder at the gym. Like believed in me more than I did. I would come home surprised at what I was able to do and Erin would say, “Of course you can do that. You should try to do more next time. You’re stronger than you think.” People at the gym, people who didn’t really know me or what was going on, would encourage me to try harder and I responded to everyone’s encouragement. I’d try. And you know what? They were right! I really was stronger than I thought. They believed what I couldn’t.

There is no difficult interpretation for this. Spiritually, we need these kinds of relationships. We need people telling us that “better is better” and marginal gains, small lessons learned, a slightly better understanding of God’s goodness… these are wonderful things to celebrate. In the face of overwhelming darkness, we need friends that will acknowledge our grief, grieve with us, but also help us to see those small moments to be thankful for. Because there’s always some small flower pushing up through the cracks.

I have been shrinking physically, but these small practices in my body are teaching my heart what the benefits of discipline are for the follower of Jesus. I think Paul’s usage of the athlete analogy (1 Cor. 9:25) is not just incidental. Training our bodies has lots of correlation to training our minds and our hearts to think the thoughts of God and conform to the image of His Son. The reality is that Jesus does not want to leave us, will not leave us as he found us. I know I’ve been so discouraged at times by the distant target that I can not hit from where I’m at. But the progressive power of small changes that God works in us, the small choices we can learn to make, they eventually make large changes.

Erin asked me the other day if I’m going to cut this out and stop losing weight because I got to my goal or if I’m going to keep going. And to be honest, I was stumped by that question. Because now, I don’t feel like I’m doing something special. Now I just feel like I’m… doing life. I haven’t been doing anything extreme, really. I’ve been making more of the right choices. Maybe now, I’ll let myself be less fanatical about having a donut (sweet, sweet donuts) or two. But working out every day and eating right is just a good idea. I really don’t care about my weight. I don’t feel the need to be a certain size or number or anything. I just want to be a healthy father, a healthy husband. My life is being changed into a different kind of life.

And isn’t that what God wants for us? To have our minds perpetually renewed, our hearts forever turning more easily towards him?

I’ve been shedding weight. There’s less of me walking around these days. But I tend to think that’s a good thing. As my life becomes more submitted to the hand of God, I don’t want to have more and more of me. I want to have less of my kind and quality of life, and more of the kind and quality that has the Infinite as its source. I want to have more of Jesus’ life and less of mine. It’s good to shed this earthly weight. To shoulder the cross. To be transformed and renewed. This is a slow and gradual thing, a big thing accomplished by small habits.

I really don’t know that I’ll have the strength to be the kind of person I should be. In fact, I know I don’t have the strength. But Jesus nourishes me with whats really good, tells me the truth I need to hear, sends friends and his Holy Spirit and… he’ll finish with me. He’ll complete the work he started. I don’t trust my dedication to the task.

I do trust his.

when it all burns down

Two hours east of where I live, the Queen City began smoking. Days after a black man was shot by police in Tulsa, another was shot in Charlotte. The outrage built up and exploded in fiery demonstrations, attacks on police, and destruction of property. A state of emergency was declared for Charlotte. The National Guard was called up. Anger bubbles against the police. Anger bubbles against the protestors. Round and round we’ll go, when we stop, nobody knows.

The narrative is getting as depressingly well-worn as that which springs up immediately after a mass shooting. Party A says X and Party B responds with Y. Every time. It’s so depressingly familiar. You can lay out a road map for almost exactly what will happen after yet another report (inevitably) comes out that another black man has been killed by police.

I can’t write as if I understand what it’s like to be black in America. So I won’t claim that I do. But I’m shocked by how often I hear not just confusion from white people but a complete lack of willingness to try to understand why something like Charlotte happens. “Why would you break things and burn things down? That’s just so stupid.” Those questions are the easiest to ask and they take the least effort. Perhaps we would all be better served asking “Can you imagine?”

Can you imagine what it’s like to be black in America and see/hear the hot take ridicule and vitriol poured out on Colin Kaepernick for daring to use the national anthem to protest? Black people are chided to protest silently and peacefully, and when just such a thing happens, this too is deemed unacceptable. Of course, there’s no recognition that protest is supposed to be unsettling and something that garners attention. Shut up, stand up, protest…. some other way.

Can you imagine what it’s like to be black in America in a time when Donald Trump laces his campaign with white supremacist dog whistling, such that he is regularly and vocally supported by “white nationalists?” And then you’re mocked when you point this out, as if you’re making up the racial angst that Trump plays on?

Can you imagine what it’s like to have “All Lives Matter” shouted down to silence “Black Lives Matter?” As if Black Lives aren’t part of “All”? If All Lives actually do Matter, doesn’t that officially endorse the claim that “Black Lives Matter?” Many people who aren’t part of the BLM organization just want to say that, hey, this stuff matters and we pay attention, but merely saying the truth about the worth of Black Lives provokes a reaction from many people such that you are never allowed to talk about an important portion of that “all”? How “all” is it, then? Can you imagine what that feels like?

Can you imagine what it’s like to see case after case of police violence (justified or unjustified) against black men that rarely results in charges, much less a conviction?

Can you imagine what it’s like to feel that, it doesn’t matter if you have a gun or you have nothing,  you very well may end up dead in any interaction with officers of the law? And then to be regularly told that the solution is to shut up and obey, something that would never be tolerated as an instruction to a crowd that openly shouts “Don’t Tread On Me”?

Can we at least, for the sake of empathy, imagine what it might be to connect all of these dots in conjunction with the dots of our own stories? Because many black men and women have stories of being harassed or questioned or stopped or searched simply because they’re black in the wrong part of town. Imagine the emotional power of all that dot-collecting. Imagine feeling like nothing can make anyone care enough, that every recourse you have, legal or otherwise, is demeaned and derided and dismissed.

Imagine the helplessness that would cultivate. Imagine the rage that helplessness would cultivate. Imagine the fear that many black mothers (and many white mothers who have adopted black children who testify to this fear as well) have that their sons will end up dead for not responding quickly enough, submissively enough, demonstratively enough. Imagine the desperation that such fear cultivates.

Can we imagine?

I don’t think anyone should burn anyone’s property or destroy things and certainly should never attack a police officer (most of whom are good, decent, servant-hearted people who have very difficult jobs). But if I had all that fear and rage and helplessness… well… what would I do? I don’t know.

Perhaps most depressing to me is the great swathes of American Christian populations that refuse to hear that any of this might be real. So many people are so convinced that any racial tension is created out of thin air, vaporous nonsense, that they will not consider the stories of their black brothers and sisters. Our own family is telling us that something is not right and our only response is repeatedly to say, “Talking about race just creates racial division.” For example, the ChristianPost (an organization I know very little about, just that over half a million people “like” it on Facebook) posted a link to video regarding the opening of the African American history museum. The comments were almost entirely white people saying this was nonsense and they deserve a museum too or “this will divide us.” It was nauseating.

The Bible doesn’t prohibit us from talking about race. In fact, Paul says that every tribe and tongue will worship Jesus. He doesn’t say, “Hey guys, there will only be one tribe and tongue, so don’t even notice the ‘every’ part.” And what part of the Bible leads Christians to believe that talking about problems, talking about sin is a problem? Bring things into the light so the light can kill our sin. That’s our ethos! That’s our ethic! But Christians in America are shushing along with every other voice that’s uncomfortable with this.

Can the media inflame just about anything? Yes. Is every officer that shoots a black man guilty of a crime? No. But those two facts do not mean that racial injustice doesn’t exist or that no officer who shoots a black man is ever guilty.

I don’t know how to fix all of this. I don’t want to personally arbitrate every police shooting. I don’t think law enforcement as a whole is a corrupt institution. I don’t think black people are making up what they’re seeing. I don’t know how all of that shakes out.

But I want to listen. I want to learn. I want to weep with those who weep. I want our cities, our towns to flourish under a just rule and in communities that know that all people, regardless of color or creed, have support from the rest of the community.

I don’t want to dismiss or inflame. I want to listen. I want to be an agent of healing and reconciliation. And I’m ignorant on how to do that. I confess it. I take to heart the advice of Mike Moses, an amazing pastor in Charlotte who was one of my professors and a member of our denomination. The best thing I can do is make a friend. And I am shamefully bad at making friends. I don’t even know how to do that very well.

The very first thing I can do is stop dismissing. Start listening. I don’t want our cities to burn because no one will listen. I don’t want our communities to evaporate in the heat of rage and fear.

I want the Church to put out those fires with its tears and its prayers, so we might be present with the love of Jesus. We want our lives and our communities suffused with the loving rule of the God-King, who laid down his life for the life of us all. I rarely know what to do. I just want to follow him. Not the media. Not a politician or ideology. I want to follow Jesus.

Surely he can take us to better places.

waiting for the cataclysm

It’s really tacky and cheesy to start a piece of writing with a definition. I mean, it’s just overplayed. But there’s a reason so many people have done it, so pardon me for a second while I…

Webster’s dictionary defines “cataclysm” as  “a momentous and violent event marked by overwhelming upheaval and demolition; broadly  :  an event that brings great changes.” And here I am, waiting for a cataclysm. Waiting for a baby to be born.

Nearly two years ago, most people know that my son was born under much duress. He looked dead when he came out. They stuck lines in him and taped something into his nose. I saw him before my wife did. I thought I was going to have to tell her that our son was going to die. He didn’t. He was really just fine. It took a week (a tiny amount of time for those kids in the NICU), but he was out of there. Our lives are infinitely better for his little, loud body careening through the days.

In the immediate aftermath of that birth, when our son was being cared for in a room above our heads, Erin and I looked at each other and said, “We’re never doing this again.”

And we’re not, technically. This time, we’re having another girl, not a baby boy. The due date? Three days after Valor’s birthday. Four kids. Three girls. Another appointment with the beginning of October for a cataclysm. OUR LAST CATACLYSM.

I am not a very good dad. My wife doesn’t say that, because she is a nice person. But I see the way other dads talk and act towards their children. I know the truth. I’m not a very good dad. I’m not looking for arguments to the contrary. I’m not fishing for compliments. Most dads around me miss their kids after about six hours. Can’t sleep without them being home. Me? I’m not fully relaxed until they’ve been gone for a couple nights. I relish their absence. I snaffle up the quiet and the rest.

Children “bring great changes.” They demolish things. Most people can see past this, but I am here a few weeks before the birth of my third daughter, my fourth child (FOUR KIDS… ME), and I wonder how I can catch my breath and press on. My wife sees them more than I do all day and she does so much better than me. I don’t know how she does it. She sat on the couch last night and made up a story with the two girls that seemed to go on for 45 minutes. She basically produced a movie with their help. I wasn’t a part of it, I wasn’t doing it, but I was annoyed just having it happen in the background of my reading. Do you understand? My wife is the one actively participating and I got tired of the thing without even being involved.

I am not a good dad.

Of course, my children are good children. They infuriate me and exhaust me and exasperate me sometimes (/often), but they are good children. They are fun and lively and creative and caring. My son has more empathy in his almost-two-year-old body than I have learned in my 31 years. They have so much fun doing… anything. My body may be relaxing when they are gone, but I notice, keenly, that the silence is a bit emptier when they are gone compared to the silence that fills the house after they’ve gone to sleep.

And I truly delight in knowing these little cataclysms. Their unique personalities and insanities make my life filled with so much more color and meaning. And yes they can be destructive. But part of their demolition is not just the demolition of order and silence for reading and budgets, but the demolition of me and my ugliness.

Their cataclysmic presence in my life constantly finds all these places in my heart where I am frail and ugly and bent the wrong way. It’s like they know where I’m weak and they strike me there again and again. But after eight and a half years of being a father, I can tell that their goodness, the unrestrained grace of their lives is flowing over my flaws like water over the river bed, and smoothing out my rough edges.

I’m sitting here weeks before another earthquake comes that will steal sleep and emotional energy and money and comfort from me and sometimes all I can imagine is all of the things that will happen to suck the life out of me. But every once in a while, when I can imagine holding another little girl, I can see into the future and I can see that fourth little body. I can see the edges of the smile that will lift me. I can hear the echoes of the giggle that will delight me. I can feel the brushes of the arms that will encircle my neck. I can see the cataclysm that will demolish a little bit more of the me that I cannot stand. All the jagged edges and embedded bedrock of impatience and coldness and selfishness will get broken up under the jackhammer of her joy and her demands.

I am not a good dad. But I have really good kids, given as good gifts from a good God. They will wear on me. They will drain me. I am not a natural at fatherhood at all. I’m just not a good dad.

But maybe I’m slowly becoming one. Maybe all these hours and days and weeks and months with good children, they are making me good. Their imperfections and delights are finding the weak spots in my armor and they are unmasking me, remaking me in the image of a good Father, who gives good gifts again and again. Children are a delight not because they are always delightful, but because they usher parents into better joy.

I’m sitting here, four weeks from another birth, and I’m not sure if I can make it, not sure if I’m cut out for this. But maybe that’s the hope. Maybe my capacity needs to be greatly changed, demolished, bulldozed, and pushed off to the side. Maybe my children will make a good dad out of me yet.

Maybe God is going to upend my life one more time and these little cataclysms will make me the man I could not be on my own.

I’m sitting here waiting for the cataclysm, holding my breath, not sure if I’ll make it. Hoping I won’t. Hoping I’ll be torn down into something else. Hoping I’ll be demolished by joy again. Hoping that God will change me to be a better man. Hoping to hold softly and be held strongly. I’m waiting for the tidal wave to descend all over again and sweep me away.

Bring on the tidal wave.

Bring on the cataclysm.

dying to die- thoughts on euthanasia

I posted this on my Facebook page and discussed it there briefly. I wanted to elaborate on my thoughts (read: use more words) here.

It is a first-person account by a woman named Kestrin describing a party/going away ceremony for her friend named Betsy. Betsy has ALS and has chosen to take advantage of new provisions in California that allow for her to willfully end her life. The writing is lovely and very emotional. Betsy has asked no one to cry, but it’s hard for friends not to cry when they’re saying goodbye. It’s hard not to feel the pain of that moment. Betsy finishes her party and ingests the prescribed barbiturates, falls into a medically induced coma, and eventually dies. You should read the whole post. It’s pretty quick.

When I posted the link, I said I was “deeply, deeply disturbed” by it. One person messaged me to question the usage of that word “disturbed” and thought it unwise. Another commented and asked for my rationale. I want to expand on both the choice of that word and my reasons.

For one, I want to be very clear that I use that word “disturbed” in a very literal sense. I wasn’t trying to tap into the ancillary connotations of the word to primarily communicate that I felt disgusted at Betsy or superior to her. People can say, “That’s disturbing” in a very sniffy way. But I meant it to say that, deep down in my guts, I was moved by what I read and and it unsettled the waters in my brain. The initial rock busting the surface was that of sadness.

ALS is a terrifying, terrible illness. People can live with it for a while and treat it to some degree. But the disease is going to get you and the end is not pretty. Betsy was already losing control of her body and had a hard time speaking. I felt really sad for Betsy to know that the extent of her suffering physically and the emotional trauma of the prospect of her limited future made her decide that dying in front of her friends and family was a better prospect. That should tell us how deep her agony was. That made me sad.

But the disturbance rippled out from there.

If you read the blog, you can read how much everyone is trying to make this occasion a happy one. People are trying to celebrate Betsy’s life and make light of things and honor her requests. There is something undeniably noble in their desires, their intentions. But, to me, the bare facts of the matter are glaring and make those friendly displays garish and… hard to swallow. The event is not a happy one. You can tell yourself that it is a happy thing that Betsy will no longer suffer. That sounds like something we can all be behind. The avenue of the end of that suffering, though, is her death. You cannot have the end of her suffering without that final fact staring you in the face. Death is not a good thing. Death a horrible, horrible wrench in the mechanics of Creation. It is something that we are supposed to weep. Her friends cannot hold back their tears because they are not meant to hold back their tears. When we pretend that something is not when it it actually is, the theater we are living out seems perverse. My suggestion is that it is not healthy to pretend that death is not in the center of Betsy’s story. We’re talking about her choosing to die. Not possibly die. Not try a new, experimental treatment that is dangerous. No, no. She is choosing to cease living. That is not an occasion for a party.

What disturbed me as much as that was the communal implications of Betsy’s personal choice. In the West, we take as plain truth that the individual should determine the actions of their own body. For many reasons, I think this is a good policy. There have been many horrible things done by people who believe they have the right to be decide basic matters for other people. Wars have been fought for such reasons. Great sins have been done in violation of that principle.

However, the modern (or should I say post-modern?) iteration of this conviction has totally disconnected the individual from the grounding of community. In other words, you may do what you want and what I think about that personal choice is irrelevant. As long as our elbows aren’t touching, you do you. First, I think it’s worth noting that this is a remarkably privileged position. You can only hold this view if everyone really does have the resources to take care of themselves. That simply is not reality in most of the world where people are not so wealthy. So I guess this where I say… “Check your privilege.”

Beyond this being a uniquely modern, Western view of the world, I think this kind of mentality denies the implicitly communal nature of human life. You absolutely cannot live alone as an island in the world. And these kind of “entirely personal” choices have ramifications that extend beyond the person making that choice.

In theory, we have boundaries to this philosophy of personal autonomy. If you push hard enough, you can find it with people. You’ll think of something so gross or weird or harmful that you’ll eventually find something that causes pretty much everyone to say, “Ok you can’t do that.” Off the top of my head, if I were to announce that I choose to be privately racist, no cross burnings, no law changing, I’m just going to decide to hate in my heart everyone who did not look like me, everyone would say, “Whoa, whoa. No. That’s not ok.” Why? Because at some point we think that individual choices have implications for everyone.

And I think here in Betsy’s story we have a statement about the value of someone life when they suffer, when they decline in utility.

Here’s what I mean: We’ve now legally reached the point where we are not so appalled by someone the death of someone with ALS that we just refuse to let it happen. What does this say, even if it doesn’t make it out of our mouths? We now say that people who suffer or who are disabled are no longer people with our lunging out to stay the hand that seeks to kill.

I have known depressed people. Clinically depressed people who suffer to varying degrees, but pretty much continuously, with deep depression. If such a person went in to a doctor’s office and said they wanted to kill themselves, what would the doctor do? What would the friends do? Rush to stop them! We’d have them committed and restrained to make sure they didn’t kill themselves. Why? Because we still fundamentally believe that that life is worth saving.

But how is Betsy treated? In the name of personal choice, personal autonomy, we back off. Why? Because we’ve decided that her life, a suffering life, a limited life is not worth the lunge to restrain. Her suffering has stripped her of something that the depressed person has.

Perhaps that decision is made based on prognosis. Or pain. Or… whatever. But the point is that in our minds, culturally, we now weigh the life of a suffering person or a disabled person differently than we weigh the life of an able-bodied person, even one who is mentally ill.

Betsy’s personal choice has ramifications. Participation in Betsy’s party has ramifications. Our legal approval has ramifications. And I think those ramifications are disturbing.

We have to reexamine our commitment to the “every man/woman is an island” commitments of our day. The truth is that the statements about any one life can and often do have implications for what we are saying about other lives, if not all lives. Yes, I understand that Betsy should have control over her body. I understand that we are scared of pain and loss of communication. Those things are still terrifying. But there are many people who are suffering and who are losing communication abilities who have every desire to live. No, I’m not suggesting people will start sneaking around and killing them. But for the sake of the collective valuation of their lives, we should not assent to Betsy’s choice for her own individual life. Betsy’s life is not just about her. It’s also about how we think and feel about those other lives.

Betsy’s life was about all of our lives. What we think about them, how we weigh them. We can dress it up in all the party clothes that we want. At the center of this party, though, was death. And we have become comfortable with death in a way that disturbs me to my marrow. Life, all life, whether it is housed in a wheelchair or running in the Olympics, all life is worthy of the lunge to restrain. No matter how much a life is dying to die. We should be able to collectively look at our suffering friends, our disabled friends and tell them that that kind of life is worth preserving, it’s not a lower class than our depressed friends or those who can do more for themselves.

I understand what some individuals want. But sometimes, we’re all better off when we don’t always get what we want.

puzzle pieces and judgment

I came across this blog post a couple weeks ago and have chewed on it for a while. I’ve heard things similar to this person’s blog in many different places and ways. It unsettled me for reasons I’ll get into. But what really stuck in my mind were the comments beneath it. I found many of them to be alarming and strange.

If you don’t feel like reading the post, the author, Glennon, is disclosing to her audience (which, apparently, is quite large… I know I’ve seen this website before) that, right as she is releasing a book called “Love Warrior,” she and her husband are separating. Divorcing. Her rationale for the decision, which was her idea, read thus:

But what can happen over time is this: You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary. When you let yourself die, there is suddenly one day: new life. You are Different. New. And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit into old, dead skin, or a butterfly trying to crawl back into the cocoon, or new wine trying to pour itself back into an old wineskin. This new you is equal parts undeniable and terrifying.

Because you just do not fit. And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. Because pretending makes you sick. And because you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one. You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.

There is much more in her post, and I encourage you to read the entire post (and more- she’s a good writer) for context.

Let me say a few things first:

-I find her willingness to disclose this right as she is supposed to be selling books and event tickets to be admirably direct and honest. She stood to lose a lot by telling everyone this but she did it anyway. I really, really appreciate that.

-Glennon is purposefully vague on some things, so we do not know what was going on in her life or in their marriage. There are legitimate reasons to pursue divorce. I am not privy to what was going on in that relationship that prompted her choice. It is not hard to find in her blog archives the truth that, four years ago, her and her husband dealt with her husband’s infidelity (of some kind). Apparently, they dealt with this painfully and slowly but seemingly very well. Glennon speaks highly of her ex-husband and doesn’t cast him in a poor light at all. Four years ago, we know, they experienced significant marital trouble. Four years ago is both a long time ago and not that long ago. I do not, in any way, want to pretend that I know anything more than that. I do not. Frankly, I’m uncomfortable with how much Glennon discloses in that post to people who are, in actuality, strangers. “Blog friends” are 99% not real friends. I don’t want to pretend to be her friend or to know her like a friend. She is, I’m sure, working this out with her friends and family and church (she writes as a Christian). That’s good. I’m not one of those people. What I’m trying to say is: I don’t her and don’t want to pretend to talk like I do.

-She says “separated,” but the rest of the post leads me to believe they are pursuing divorce. Perhaps my reading is wrong, but I’m operating under that assumption in the rest of the post.

-Divorce is painful and complicated and the last ingredient a divorced person needs from the church is unreserved shame and scorn. Again, relationships are difficult to parse. If I don’t know you and your situation, if these words are not your words, there’s a good chance your own story reads differently. I know that. I hope you know that I know that.

I’m not here to judge Glennon (again… a person I do not know). I do want to look at her words, though. Because they matter.

Suffice it to say this kind of rationale is particularly novel. What I mean is, obviously, divorce is uniquely common in our day. In Biblical (and inter-testamental) history, men (or sometimes women have been able to dot his too) could end a marriage for any old reason, but there wasn’t really a need to explain or seem justified in divorce. People could just do it. But mostly they didn’t. Divorce is far more common now than ever before, culturally. Increasingly, it is a coin flip whether kids will grow up with their parents. I say all this only to point out that reflecting on the choice to divorce is a much more recent phenomenon than any other time or cultural condition that I’m aware of.

I’m struck, though, by this particular conception of marriage. At least the conception that we can take at face from the words themselves. I think it’s a very common, very normal way to think about marriage. “I found the person with whom I fit together as a puzzle piece.” This speaks to our cultural expectation that things will/should “click” and that this is a very, very singular event, a special miracle.

The problem with this idea about marriage, though, is that people do grow and change. Glennon appears to have gone through a very significant and possibly very traumatic season of growth. So she finds herself married but changed from the person she was when she verbalized her vows. Now, the pieces don’t fit. Therefore her marriage is overly restrictive. The need for authenticity (“because pretending makes you sick”) now tells her that the solution is that the puzzle must be disentangled.

There is perhaps no higher virtue in our society than “authenticity.” To be less than “true to yourself” is the highest sin. The need for authenticity and the puzzle piece philosophy of marriage appear to be exerting incredible strain on her, thus her decision worked out between the two of them. Leaving aside the dynamics of their marriage (which, again, I know nothing about), I think it’s necessary to stop and put our finger on these words and interpret them together. Let’s sound them out together and see what they may mean for all of us.

What I would suggest about these words is this: No marriage will last. If this rationale is good and true and right, no marriage can stand the test of time. I will tell you a secret about marriage (and I’m an expert because I’ve been married for 10 whole years /sarcasm): You will change. In fact, you will radically change. Frighteningly, your spouse will also change. You will both change significantly over the course of the days and months and years. And if your puzzle pieces felt like they fit into place before, they probably won’t later. Because the pieces have morphed.

I promise you, this will happen. Time and life and circumstance will change you. In fact, I’d suggest that that’s one of the chief purposes of marriage: To change you. Marriage is not a cure for loneliness. It is not a happy factory (something I’m sure Glennon would tell you as well). Fundamentally, I think marriage was made to make you holy. For a Christian, that should absolutely be the goal. And at some point, that process will start to work. And it will also not work because people fail God and people fail one another. But all of those forces will change you.

You will not fit like you once did.

At that point, your not-fitting is not, or should not, be the cue to leave. I think, again, there are 100% legitimate reasons to leave a marriage. But if we admit this reason, this puzzle-fitting reason, then all of our marriages are doomed. We will all fall into discord as things shift and change over the years. But on the other side of seasons of feeling lost and strange are seasons of reintroduction and synchronization and the music harmonizing again. All of that is marriage working.

Again, though, what particularly bothered me were the comments that followed.

I think many words could be spilled about the nature of online communication and the feelings of false intimacy that are created. You can read many familiar words and seeming unconditional love from faithful readers, people who seem to feel that they are friends with Glennon (and perhaps that’s what she thinks, too). Lots of modern electronic communication fosters this kind of dynamic. I don’t think it’s unique to the blog world. But I do see it a lot there.

What I found most interesting and disturbing was the overwhelming number of people who speak not just words of love to Glennon (“we love you no matter what and are praying for your family in this traumatic time”) but 100% affirmation and acceptance of the decision as the right one. Many people chime in with their own stories to verify the judgment that what is happening is good. Plenty of stories contain tales of adultery or even abuse, which are certainly good reasons for divorce.

Occasionally, though, some of Glennon’s readers that are Christian like her question her decision. They question the rationale, the acceptance of divorce as the outcome. And for a Christian, isn’t this question natural? We don’t have (or shouldn’t have) a view of divorce that matches with culture. We believe marriage is more binding, more permanent, a little harder to shake. If Glennon, as a Christian, is going to put this out there, shouldn’t it be normal to expect others who are a Christians to say, “Uh…. what? Why is that ok?” I know the PS in her post tries to shut that down, but the comments section is still open. So…

The response from Glennon’s blog-friends is swift and clear and, I think, pretty severe. “You’re so judgmental.” “You’re shaming her.” “Oh <condescending address>, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Some of the people who comment, I’m sure, are insensitive in the way that they frame their questions. Perhaps some of them deserve rebuke. But it seems to me that merely asking the question: “Is this really ok?” has been deemed a sin in and of itself.

I take a good-faith reading of those comments. I think they want to protect someone in a vulnerable place. But I don’t think the correct thing, the right thing, the kind thing to do is to accept a rationale like the one laid out above. Perhaps the real lesson is that this kind of thing really shouldn’t be worked out over the Internet. But I think these words need to be addressed. And addressing them is not mean or judgment of the person who says them.

We fundamentally believe the opposite as a culture. Have you ever heard someone talk about “my truth”? It’s an increasingly common refrain that has the function of shutting down any critique. And I’ve heard “my truth” used to justify some pretty terrible things. But we need friends, we need moments of sanity where we’re asked, “But what if you don’t even understand yourself properly? What if you’re wrong?”

What’s perhaps the most distressing aspect of this is those voice that pop up in the comments that are very clearly in marital trouble. They are wondering if they should stay or go. If they will be left by someone. They are wondering if things will ever be better. And you can hear the relief that here they may have their roadmap out of difficulty. Sometimes people in danger need to be told to get out. Sometimes infidelity cannot be overcome.

But sometimes friends need to be encouraged: “Stay. You will make it. You can survive. This is not forever.” And that encouragement is not always what someone may want to hear in the moment. It doesn’t make it less right.

There is no real space for that with these blog-friends. Disagreement is judgment. Questioning is shaming. There is no loving way to point to a different way.

When we are in a place where we cannot look each other in the eye, we do not solve the problems of loneliness and shame. We condemn each other to islands of autonomy. Everything rides on our interpretation, our truth. And when we are inevitably wrong about this thing or that thing, we are alone. We have brought ourselves to this place.

“My truth” is rubbish. Things may feel true to you, but friends tell you when you’re seeing things rightly. The autonomy of our own empires is not what we need. We need communities who love strong enough to hold on tight to us and tell us when “my truth” is a load of lies. Sometimes we think we see ourselves clearly, but we really don’t.

I don’t know about Glennon’s marriage. I don’t know what the right thing to do is in the actualities of her marriage. But I do know that her words sell marriage short. And her blog-friends, her commenters are not building a framework for transformative love. They are providing the means for people to push off into the great unknown entirely alone. I hope we can all take cues from Glennon’s willingness to be open and talk. But I hope we leave her puzzle pieces and her “blog-friends'” defense and set them aside. They don’t provide a better way forward for us. They muddy the water.

Sometimes the puzzle pieces change and shift. And sometimes we’re not being judged. Sometimes we’re just being told that we’re wrong. And all of those things are ok. Who knows what’s on the other side of all of this? But I think we can do better than this. I think we must.

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