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Words Have Weight

Thoughts from a young husband, father, and pastor

admission of wrong

I think my time with Facebook has just about run its course. I won’t delete my account because I know people can use it to get in touch with me. I know that I have photos I can access on there. I have used Facebook in the past to have meaningful, substantive conversations with people with whom I deeply disagree on important issues. I am very grateful for that.

Maybe the best function of social media for me is the links I get to really wonderful reading material. Whether it’s a link to a book or an article, I really benefit from those links.

There are real benefits to social media.

But the costs have become so high. For one, the most obvious tax is on my time. I give too much of it there in moments where it is meaningless to do so. I want constant distraction for no good reason. I have four children. There’s no real need for distraction or time wasting. Not like that.

The more difficult issue for me, the thing I have come to really hate, is the increasingly partisan world of social media shouting.

I am an advocate for advocating. I am truly for stating what you think and why. In fact, I think people do far too little of that. But President Trump’s presidency has lit this wildfire of shouting commentary that I’m already tired of and we’re only two weeks into his presidency.

I’m already tired of every single action being greeted with ear-piercing shrieks. I was sick of it from conservatives under Obama and I’m already sick of the reverse of field. Just as annoying is all of the conservative “Oh just get over it you big babies” when I just spent 8 years watching/hearing conservatives commit to opposing literally every single thing the president did and complaining that “we want our country back” and yadda yadda yadda. It is the blackest of all pots calling the kettle black.

What I can’t stand more than anything, though, is the increasingly obvious power of confirmation bias. Everyone has seemingly divided into teams and all data is always interrupted to convey that their team is always right. The echo chamber… it’s real. And loud. I never imagined that Earth would be able to house so many infallible people. Donald Trump is doing some deeply disturbing things and every single question you raise about it is explained or dismissed away. There are never any problems. It’s all an illusion concocted by “the liberals.” There are very legitimate reasons why many Americans felt angry at Democrats and PC culture and those people are all (millions and millions of them!) brushed aside as uneducated fools who got duped. No one is ever wrong.

I’m not here to lecture on this because I know I hate being wrong. Maybe more than hating being wrong, I truly cannot stand admitting that I am wrong. I had to do it at 5:30 this morning before I even left for my workout and I was so disgusted about it. I had to tell my two-year old that I was wrong and needed forgiveness. Ugh. So repulsive.

Social media can provide some iron to strike against and make you sharper. But it can just as easily give you gasoline to throw on your fiery opinions. More and more, it seems that we reach for the latter. When people have honest, respectful exchanges, I’m surprised. When requests for information are made, you have to couch it in the gentlest of language for people to understand that you’re not being snarky, you’re legitimately curious.

I am a born arguer. I like to explore ideas. But there’s another side of me that is ultra-competitive that just wants to be right. And I’ve found that social media feeds that second side of me more than the first.

I don’t need that. I really don’t.

I need to be better about admitting I’m wrong. I need to more clearly and faithfully say that I am not always right. And social media does not help me with that. It feeds my vices. It is poisoning discourse and it is acting like poison to me.

I feel some sort of responsibility, some delusional temptation to be there on those platforms and be different (which I’m successful at sometimes and fail deeply at at other times). But this is self-delusion. This is crazy belief that I can be different from everyone else. I can’t, though. I’m just like everyone else. I think that whole world is fracturing apart into little island republics full of infallible rulers who speak ex cathedra. I want to be on such an island.

I can’t do it, though. I just can’t. I know the truth of the matter.

Right now, I can’t be a part of the social media world. Maybe I’ll figure something out or become the kind of person I need to be to be there. I just shouldn’t dabble there any longer.

I am wrong far too often. And there’s no place to be wrong anymore. The sides have been drawn and I can’t pick a team.

I have to take my ball and go home.

I’m wrong for this place.

If you need me, shoot me an email. Comment on this blog. Even send me a Facebook message. I’ll get those still. Text me. Call me (Yes. You can even call me). I’ll pop in and out randomly to make sure I haven’t missed something that was personal to me. It’s not like I’ll never see Facebook or other social media again. But I hope to be absent for a good while.

Farewell, social media world. See you on the other side.

lists: heaven, smiles, and baseball

I have gone quite a long time without writing here. Some of that is down to holidays, of course. But something is going on with me and writing that I have been thinking about for a few weeks and I have not quite gotten sorted. I’m not sure what the resolution is going to be. I do know that silence has a momentum all its own. To avoid the momentum of silence, I’m writing a mishmash of bullet point things that I have been thinking about with very little weight behind them. I’m sure, dear reader, that you have not missed me and have not been wondering what I was thinking. But in case you were…

-Tim Raines just got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. This makes me very happy. He should have been elected a long time ago. He’s the second best leadoff hitter of all time and he was very good, historically good, at stealing bases. Baseball writers can be rooted in the most insane, archaic argumentation, but they finally got this one right.

-My daughter has a remarkable smile. All of my kids have been different as babies. But Hope has been the smiliest and her smile has been… sweeter. I can’t really describe it. She smiles with her eyes in a way that is exceedingly precious. Especially as she often does it with her two hands clenched directly under her chin. She does this all the time, sometimes smiling so hard, her whole body jolts with her delight. Having a baby can be a real pain, but they sure do know how to make you want to keep going.

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-I had a dream about heaven. I never really dream. Not memorably. And when I do dream, I usually can wake up and trace the reasons for major parts of my dreams and see why my brain came up with that. The other morning, I was dreaming that I was waiting in line with one of my children (I don’t know which one) to go grab some food off a few high tables. We were dressed nicely and had small plates in our hands. Then everyone with whom we were waiting was walking off towards this field that had more tables scattered everywhere. People had their plates in hand and were lounging in the grass (in their nice clothes) under trees and near this outdoor amphitheater with a stage and screen. It was very chill. The only way I can describe it is that it was like a big outdoor wedding reception. But all of a sudden, for whatever reason, out of nowhere, I had a very real sense of how deeply God actually loves me, how much Jesus actually does approve of me and is not disappointed in me. The emotion, in my dream, was so intense that I wept uncontrollably for a time, shaking with the force of it. I realized that this was happening to many people around me. All of a sudden, I just… understood… that this was heaven. The only way we could understand love this purely was because the Story was resolved. Then, people’s stories, stories transformed by loved, started appearing on the projector. I remember that the first story was that of two friends, a black man an a white man, in Maine. I only got part way through their story before I woke up. As I processed through it all, the feeling of a wedding reception and the theme of heaven made more sense. I’m sure this is not exactly like what the end of all things will look like. I don’t think that was the point. The love was the point. I have no idea why I had this dream. I never have dreams. I never have really memorable dreams. But this one has stuck with me for more than a week now. It’s the sweetest dream I think I’ve ever had. Well, this one and the one I repeatedly had as a child where I could suddenly fly. I’m not much of a mystic at all, but there was something undeniable about this dream.

-More and more, I find Facebook to be sad. Everyone knows it’s often a waste of time and social media often serves to make people depressed. But I am getting more and more sad watching my fragmenting social group speak into echo chambers, to people that agree with them, and often slanderously, vilely about the people not like them. Horrible, garbage sources of “information” are used as clubs to beat the Other and make the wielder feel great about themselves. And, horribly, I’m tempted all the time to walk around correcting everyone, as if A) It will do any good at all and B) I’m the embodiment of the Holy Spirit. I feel guilty vacating the space because I don’t think good things happen to any segment of society when people who are committed to the common good (everyone’s common good, not just the common good of those we agree with), start leaving. I can’t say I’m an angel without biases, but I try to be a bridge between various groups. I have, I think, seen some success with that goal. But I’m tired of the trying, really. And I’m sad at the fragmentation I see. Very sad.

-I’m very glad that my son’s life was spared. Most people who know me know Valor’s story to one degree or another. I thought he was going to die when he was born because he looked like he was going to die. He was fine after a week in the NICU. He’s actually been a remarkably healthy kid, even compared to his sisters. He is an unmanageable terror, at times. At church, he regularly provides entertainment for people behind us (which is the whole church), because he is insane and we are just trying to contain it. But he makes me laugh like pretty much nothing else in this world. And I am so unreasonably proud of my son, for who he is with his craziness and fierceness and his tender affection for his sisters. I am, of course, proud of all my children. But the past couple of weeks I have had many moments to reflect about how much I find him delightful. I’m sure the next couple of weeks will provide reasons for each of my other kids. But I’m so delighted with my son (even when he is throwing the mother of all temper tantrums, which is not uncommon).

-Books are great. Seriously. Reading is a wonderful joy. If “reading just isn’t for [you],” I get that. But read anyway. You will be better for it. I promise. Over time, reading will be more for you than you realized. If you have a dyslexia or ADHD or some other condition that makes it difficult for you to read, listen to audio books. Something. I don’t know. That’s not my field. But reading is wonderful.

-Extended family is wonderful. Erin and I are the only people from our families that don’t live in regular driving distance of our parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, etc. We are kind of on an island. We love the people around us. We have great friends here, a great church. But as I get older and as every holiday trip to Atlanta or Michigan ends (and this is true of both my family of origin and my in-laws), I realize how incredibly lucky our siblings are to live near one another, to have family. I feel the loss of that both for myself and especially for my children. There will never be any easy resolution to that. Never. And some part of that makes me homesick without a cure.

-I’m not smart with money. I’ve been trying to get things like savings and retirement and life insurance lined up. I’ve had all of these things to some degree. But I’m trying to get a bit more on track to be ready for life as I age. And for my kids so that they are very marginally less in debt for school. I don’t know a lot of things. I’m not saying I invested in penny stocks and am trusting that this will be my lottery ticket. I’m just saying I don’t know very many things. And I’m not great at saving. Hopefully my kids will appreciate that I’m doing my best. If they don’t, then I’m granting the Rodriguez scholarship to myself and they can figure it out on their own.

-I’d like to go back to school. I have no idea what to do with this desire. Institutions, finances, exact area of research. None of this. So I’m not going back to school. But I really want to. Maybe one day I really will take that Rodriguez scholarship.

-I live in a beautiful place. It’s tempting to get used to these mountains and let them be in the background. But it is beautiful here and I am forever grateful.

-Anxiety is exhausting. It’s so annoying to be beating back anxiety all the time. It’s so annoying to tell people I’m having a hard time. It’s hard not to think about whether I’ll soon be anxious, because that kicks anxiety up a gear and makes my heart do all kinds of funny things, which makes me more anxious. You try not thinking about the pink elephant in the room when you walk around all the time with a sign that says “pink elephant.” It’s annoying and I don’t even have terrible anxiety. I still would like it to go away, thanks.

-I enjoy teaching. I taught three classes last semester. It was a lot. It was tiring. I am only teaching one class this semester. Forced to choose, I’d probably choose to teach three classes. I legitimately enjoy the students. It’s a real privilege to get to do this. I try to appreciate every semester that I’m allowed to do this. It has made me a better student myself. And college students are the subject of all kinds of memes about “those damn millennials,” but these people are going to run the world soon. And they are massively talented. So lay off the millennials. My students will figure it out. Give them time. Yes, push them to do better. Please do. But they’re pretty great.

These are just some of the things that I have been thinking. There’s more in this whirlwind. But we can save that trivia for some other time.

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 infowars.com.

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.

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