1.12.2022

Deconstructed Church

(This post is the second in a series. If you haven't read the first post, please click here and do that now then come back to this.)



I need a deconstructed church. Wait, what?

The modern church - as it is in America, especially for conservative white evangelical America - isn’t working for a lot of people. Many people do need and enjoy it. Kudos if that is you. Or good luck. Or as my southern friends would say, “bless your heart.” Aside from the devout, there is a growing population of exvangelical people going through deconstruction.

On the other side (or in the midst of) detangling their faith they’re discovering a lonely landscape. Sure, they’re connecting on social media, but if the Covid pandemic has taught us anything, we’ve learned how online spaces are great but still a substandard substitute for actual in person communion. People are biologically wired to crave human contact - to drink and laugh together, to hug and high five, to cry on a friend’s shoulder or make love with our soul mate. Former youth group kids might give up on God but still miss the comfort and camaraderie of hanging out with their peers inside of a church.

Religious elders, clergy, and administrators have looked at the data of dwindling attendance numbers and the decline after kids reach adulthood is disturbing to them. They’ve been on a quest to find the cause and fix it once and for all. This inquisition has been ongoing since I was a teenager (and probably longer than that) so obviously, their efforts have not been successful. However, there is more to the study than pure numbers of people walking through church doors every Sunday. For reasons I’m unable to explain, the rest of this data has been ignored by church leaders.

This is the information that intrigues me, after all, I’ve worked as a data analyst and my analytical brain craves facts and figures.

The study showed what we all know to be true: the percentage of churched Americans (meaning the number of citizens who regularly attend religious services) is shrinking. This number is the lowest it’s ever been in American history. Conversely, the Public Religion Research Institute shows “unaffiliated” to be the largest religious subgroup in America.

image courtesy of PRRI

When questioning people who claim to be unaffiliated, we see some curious trends. For those leaving Catholic, Mormon, and Protestant churches, the majority still believe in God. Many still practice regular prayer and/or meditation. Scripture is still a part of their lives. The most peculiar result I found was a small percentage of people who say they pray more and read the Bible more after leaving the church than they did when they were active members in a church.

The data doesn’t show how those studied feel about these results, but I bet they think they’re the only ones experiencing isolation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re surprised to see so many other unaffiliated Christians. I guarantee they feel alone and abnormal. Why am I so sure of my assumptions of their emotions? Because I’m one of them.

Ive faced so criticism for believing the way I do. Ive been told I'm backsliding and leading others astray. When I meet other Christians locally, they're usually the "Trump is awesome" variety, not the "it's complicated" type. I feel like a weirdo in most religious circles. I miss attending church but every time I go back I’m faced with this overwhelming sense I don’t belong there. Where can I go to escape the legalism, hypocrisy, and bigotry rampant in the evangelical world? Where can I find God without the baggage of the religious right?

This is why I want a deconstructed church.

1.07.2022

Another Kind of Divorce

There’s been a lot of chatter about people like me in evangelical circles and most of it is unjustly spiteful. Matt Chandler called deconstruction a “sexy thing to do” and inferred real Christians aren’t capable of deconstructing. Those going through this process are looked at and often treated like heathens or apostates. I was once told to go to Hell because I refused to take a gospel tract. Earlier this week, a simple tweet from Lecrae stirred up a surprising amount of controversy and hateful replies.
image courtesy of Lecrae

At the heart of it, deconstruction is a search for truth. Many of us have discovered the Sunday School lessons from our youth don’t match the teachings of the Bible. Or we suffered abuse that conflicts with the morals we were taught. Or we found a discrepancy between the teachings given and the actions of our teachers. Or we were given a revelation that the modern church is more like Egypt and Babylon than the Israelites fleeing captivity or the first century recipients of Paul’s letters. Or maybe we are fatigued from seeing mainstream Christians kneeling at the altars of power, pride, and politics. Whatever the igniting spark, we’ve come to the conclusion what we always thought was true might not actually be true.

Over and over again, I hear the criticism about deconstruction as a quest to abandon God or feel better about our sin. Neither assumption is accurate. While it’s true some who embark on a deconstructive journey do lose faith, just as many find their faith in God strengthened through the process. They’re abandoning corporate churches because they’re seeking God and not finding God in Evangelical buildings.

For as long as I can remember, religious leadership looked at the statistics of young people leaving the church. They could see young adults fleeing organized religion in droves and grasped at any possible reason in hopes to fix it, to be the next big thing to resolve the post-youth group attrition plaguing white evangelical churches. It’s been the same thing since I graduated high school. We’re not relevant enough. We’re not entertaining enough. We’re not this or that. Programs were created and TVs installed. Worship bands got bigger and louder. Youth pastors got younger and trendier. What was the result? Young people kept leaving the church and leadership kept wondering why.

But now we know why. The exmo and exvangelical communities are clear about why they’re leaving. They’re vocal and not afraid to share their reasoning and logic. Open TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, or any other social media outlet and you can easily locate outspoken users processing deconstruction in the public forum. The rationale is laid bare and the people in charge look at it and say “Naw, that can’t be it. I know, let’s have a laser tag night at youth group again.”

While my deconstruction is a product of my late 30s and early 40s, I can trace the foundations of my doubts back to my younger years. I’ve been asking the same questions for three decades and found nothing but pushback, rejection, and condemnation. I questioned the divine and fell more in love with God. I questioned my faith and discovered something deeper. I questioned the church and realized it doesn’t love me.

Deconstruction has reminded me a lot about my divorce. It was uncomfortable and stressful. I second guessed my identity and self worth. I never knew if I was doing the right thing or not. I made a lot of mistakes and learned from all of them. In the end, it was the best thing for me. I was able to crawl out of the mire a healthier and happier man.

So I guess you could say I’ve gone through a second divorce - just a different kind of divorce. Much like my first marriage, I didn’t leave the church, the church left me. This wasn’t an easy process. It was uncomfortable and awkward, making me second guess all of the things I once valued. I learned a lot but accepted the fact that everything I believe could be wrong. It was the best thing for me. I’m now a healthier and happier man more deeply in love with Jesus than ever before.

I’m not done yet. The work continues. I’m in the ongoing process of deconstruction. It is beautiful, but (sorry Matt Chandler) there’s nothing sexy about it.

12.23.2021

Peace on Earth or Something Like It

It’s one of the most recognizable phrases of the Yuletide season:” Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Ranks up there with “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night,” “bah-humbug,” and “Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.” The line, taken from the biblical gospel of Luke, is the closing lyric at the end of every verse of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who authored the carol, was aware of his repetitive prose, commemorating his style in the first verse. “Wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth good will to men.” He echoed the nativity story when angels appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. The heavenly beings divulge the who/when/where details to the migrant workers; then a whole choir appears and sings “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

It’s such a familiar verse, even people who’ve never stepped foot in a church could quote it. From greeting cards to A Charlie Brown Christmas, this Bible story is ingrained in our collective psyche - an inseparable part of pop culture as much as it is a sacred religious tradition. Yet, it is woefully lacking.

Two decades ago, most of my friends (and all of my roommates) were musicians. We all challenged each other to be smarter and more artistic. We honed each other’s talents. One of these dudes had never read an entire book in his life unless required for school. When he decided to be more of a reader, the first book he chose was Plato’s Apology. He asked me if I wanted to take a class with him to study Koine Greek. How could I resist? Doesn’t everyone want to learn a dead language?

I still can’t speak the ancient Mediterranean tongue. It’s complex - lacking in punctuation and current rules of grammar. However, I do remember the alphabet, basic pronunciation, and some vocabulary. More importantly, I learned the basics of how modern scholars approach biblical translation since Koine is the language used in the most of the earliest copies of the New Testament. I learned how many of the older translations into English did not provide the most accurate translation possible. The King James Bible is rife with minor mistranslations including this verse in Saint Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ.

Here is the scripture of Luke 2:14 according to the KJV: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

And the same thing in Koine Greek: “δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας”

Yeah, I know. You probably can’t read Greek and for the most part, neither can I. However there are a couple words I recognize from my studies during the summer of 2001. Simple ones like ἐν (en) which means in. Or καὶ (kai) the Greek word for and. Easy stuff. Seminary students would likely know words like θεῷ (Theo), which means God, and ἀνθρώποις might be familiar to anthropology students because it’s the entomological origin of their degree curriculum.

To make things easy, I’ll transliterate it: doxa en hypsistois Theo kai epi gēs eirēnē en anthropois eudokias. In a literal word for word translation into English: glory in highest to God and on earth peace among men … eudokias.

That last word, eudokias, is where it gets weird. This is where the KJV goes astray. What does the word mean? It’s also the last word in Philippians 2:13 and there, the KJV gets the translation correct: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Eudokias only appears twice in the New Testament. The KJV the translation right in one verse but wrong in the other. How? Why? And what should it say?

Eudokias means good will or good pleasure or with pleasure or good favor or with favor. There’s a lot of different ways to interpret it; like I said, Koine Greek is a complex language.

This is how the KJV got it mixed up. They used good pleasure in Paul’s epistle and good will in the gospel. More specifically God’s good pleasure and men’s good will. On the surface it seems correct, but it’s not. There’s a mistake into how the good will was applied. The word eudokiasis a possessed word. Not possessed like a ghost, but possessed as in belonging to someone or something. This is apparent in the KJV take in Philippians. The good pleasure of eudokias belongs to God. Once you understand the weird and often confusing syntax of Koine, we find the same is true in the book of Luke. The good pleasure, good will, or good favor in the Christmas story belongs to God, not people.

A broken English translation of the verse in Luke should read “glory in highest to God and on earth peace among men of his good will.” Or men of his pleasure (awkward) or as most modern translations use, his favor. More specifically, the NIV reads “peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

It’s not peace on earth AND good will to men. It is peace on earth for those of God’s good will.

I can understand how the King James translators got it wrong and I can see what they got wrong, but I do not know why. All I can explain is the modern implications of this 400 year old mistake.

Despite growing up in a church that relied on the NIV, it’s the KJV version I can quote from rote memory because that’s the version from the Christmas song and Charles Schultz’s cartoon special. It’s the one repeated in the public square.

It would be easy to conclude peace on earth is the sole purpose of the nativity. To do so is missing the point. If Jesus came to bring peace on earth to people with whom God’s favor rests, God’s people should be peacekeepers, or rather, peace bringers.

We cannot sit back and pretend peace on earth is an abstract concept, the responsibility of the divine, and ignore the role we’re supposed to take. The birth of Jesus should give Christians a peace that surpasses all understanding - a sense of peace so strong and overwhelming, we can’t help but spread it to the world around us. Jesus didn’t come to bring peace on earth. He came to give us peace on an earth in turmoil. He lived to show us how to share that peace. And he commanded us to do the hard work of binging peace on earth.

Unfortunately in modern Christianity, especially in America, and ESPECIALLY in white evangelical culture, this message is lost. When I look at the American Evangelical Church, peace is the last adjective that comes to mind. Quarrelsome, fearful, vindictive, chaotic, divisive, greedy, violent, too busy fighting an imaginary war on Christmas to realize everything they do is antithetical to the gospel of Christ.

Not much has changed in America since Longfellow penned his poem.

I want to reclaim the spirit of Christmas. I want my fellow Christians to truly be a people of God’s good will. If there is to be peace on earth, may we be the peacekeepers who bring it to a world starving for peace and be people of eudokias.

12.16.2021

Coping Isn’t Coping

Situational depression. Or at least that’s what my therapist called it. One situation in my life sucked and another was really crappy. A + B = D for depressed. Ideally, once circumstances changed, I’d be happier.

Things did change and eventually I did feel better. I also attended therapy and took medication. I had a couple different support groups and was involved in my church. I was happy, or at least as close to happy as possible.

Biologically speaking, depression is always there. For some people, it’s a lingering presence and daily burden. For others it ebbs and flows like the tide. Today is OK but tomorrow never knows. Those with SAD (or seasonal affective disorder) fall into this latter category, their mental health dependent on the weather. My situational depression makes me a candidate for the occasionally depressed. Since it’s a chemical imbalance, there isn’t a cure, only treatment through prescriptions and counseling can reduce the symptoms. Your brain is what it is. It can be rewired but not replaced.

So this is who I am. Some days my depression is an echo in the basement of my psyche. Other days it’s the annoying neighbor throwing an all night kegger when I have to work at 5am the next morning. Some days, it’s mellow enough to be forgotten and other days it’s so loud and crippling it can’t be ignored. Some days, it is a circus clown waving in the distance, other days it’s a masked killer from a slasher flick chasing me up a flight of stairs because why wouldn’t I be foolish enough to ascend the stairs where there’s no means for me to escape - that’s what people do in horror movies.
image courtesy of Dark Sky Films

I didn’t learn about my depression and anxiety until I was in my mid-30s. My oblivious perspective didn’t mean I was not depressed prior to my diagnosis. I didn’t suddenly develop symptoms the moment my therapist gave me a label.


My journey through depression and anxiety mirrors my story of autism. I didn’t know I was on the spectrum until I was 40, but I’ve been autistic my whole life. In the same way, I didn’t know I was depressed until I was an adult. Looking back I can see I’ve struggled with depression since adolescence.

These are challenges no one should face alone. Life doesn’t come with a user guide; the closest thing we have to cheat codes are therapists. So I got one. She prescribed some drugs. So I took them. And it helped.

Mental health doesn’t have easy fixes. Therapeutic and pharmaceutical solutions are not cures, they’re temporary salves. Wonderful and helpful yet not enough to heal the deepest wounds. To cope with the stresses of life, changes in weather, and negative self talk, people plagued with depression and anxiety need to develop useful coping mechanisms.

Neurotypical people cope naturally. They do it without thinking. Bad things happen, they adjust and keep moving. They’re upset about something, they process the emotion and continue to function. It’s the natural order. However, not all brains are able to self-regulate on autopilot. That’s why good therapists teach coping mechanisms.

Some people count or take deep breaths, meditate or punch a pillow, read or play video games. I have a big challenge though: coping strategies don’t last. For example, I tap my fingers when I’m anxious and it helps me feel calm. Yet the anxiety returns the moment I stop tapping unless I’ve resolved the cause of my worried stress. However, finger tapping isn’t the only coping mechanism I’ve tried.

Doing something nice for someone else is a great anti-depressant. I’ve volunteered for various community programs, served homeless people, opened doors for strangers, participated in charity events, and donated to non-profit organizations. All of it feels great in the moment. I never feel depressed when engaging in acts of kindness. Unfortunately, I’m not able to do these happy acts all day every day. I have a regular job, kids to feed, and a farm to run. I can have the serotonin high of helping someone, only to come home confronted with the reality of laundry that never ends and fences perpetually in need of repair.

I’ve been told nature walks and spending time with animals are good for mental health. I agree. That’s why I tend to linger outside longer than necessary after doing evening barn chores. Giving ear scratches to our donkey, playing with the goats, or staring at the stars. It’s a peaceful end to an often hectic day. As refreshing as this time is, I can’t stay outside forever. The next day is coming with a new set of stressors.

I feel great at my DJ gigs; music is therapeutic. But my gigs have end times when the speakers are turned off and I must tear down my equipment. There are times throughout my day where music cannot be played in the background, whether due to business calls or a lack of accessibility. Songs, regardless of genre, calm me, but the benefit vanishes as soon as the music stops.

There are more coping methods. I could go on ad nauseam. Hopefully, you get the point. Coping is great until it isn’t. Coping doesn’t last. Coping isn’t coping. I still have to function.

Neurotypical people are able to cope without coping mechanisms. Either due to depression, anxiety, or autism, I do not posses that skill. How do I do it? I don’t know. What I do know is I wake up every day and do what must be done because there are people (and animals) who depend on me.

I’m OK, and even when I’m not, it’s OK. If you see me tapping my fingers, at least you know why.

11.22.2021

There Might be Something Wrong with Me

When I was in elementary school, my parents wanted to know what was wrong with me. Well, maybe that’s a bad way of phrasing it. They didn’t think I was broken, yet they knew I wasn’t normal. So they did what any parents raising kids in the late 80s would do in their situation: they took me to a psychologist to determine why I’m weird. I walked out of the psych office with an ADHD diagnosis and a learning disability that affects the way I read.
in an absence of available pictures of me from 1987, please accept this substitute courtesy of Amblin Entertainment - disclaimer: I was never that cool

One of the tests the doctor asked me to perform was an exercise where I tapped my thumb to each individual fingertip. Starting with the index finder, then the middle, ring, pinky, then reverse to ring/middle/pointer. He explained kids with ADHD struggle with this task while other kids can do it without thinking. I had to concentrate to do complete the test - and even with total focus I still came close to screwing it up a couple times.

These days I can tap thumb to subsequent fingers back and forth at a rapid pace nearly instinctually. It’s a nervous habit for me, a tick I do whenever I’m anxious. If the same shrink who evaluated me over 30 years ago saw me again today, I’m not sure if he’d reaffirm my ADHD diagnosis because I would ace the finger tapping test with unquestionable perfection.

Neurotypical people would describe my compulsive finger taps as fidgeting. For those of us on the autism spectrum, it’s called stimming - or self stimulating. And yes, I said “us” because I have autism too. If my parents wanted to know why I was so quirky, this is why. Perhaps if Reagan era psychology had a better understanding of autism, I would have been given a proper diagnosis. (That’s not to say I don’t have ADHD. ADHD and ASD are frequent co-occurring disorders.)

Stimming helps people with autism regulate themselves. It is great for me in the moment; unfortunately, it is only beneficial while I’m doing it. If I’m unable to reel in my nerves while repetitively thumb tapping my fingers, my nervousness returns as soon as I cease my anxious habit.

I often wonder how different my life would be if the doctors of yesteryear had correctly identified they way my brain worked when my parents took me in to be evaluated. Would I have found adequate support at Pinewood? Would middle school have been more bearable? Would I have been bullied less? Would I have found helpful coping mechanisms in junior high? Would I have fit in with my peers? Would I have been a better student at MPHS? Would I have completed college and garnered a higher paying job? Would I still be who I am now?

My life followed the rough path to here – now grown with the pressures of adult responsibility causing havoc inside my autistic brain. Between parenting three teenagers, a daughter biologically born from a worthless man, and a baby quickly becoming a toddler, my time is often consumed with kids. Then I have a full time dead end job, weekend DJ gigs, a farm requiring daily work, all while trying to maintain this blog and write my first novel. House chores, errands, bills, car repairs, date nights with my wife, maintaining friendships, support groups, doctor appointments, attempting to eat a healthy diet, and manage some semblance of exercise. It frequently feels like it’s all overwhelming.

Much like Elton John, I’m still standing better than I ever did. Fueled by coffee or anxiety, I keep going, looking like a true survivor and feeling like a quirky little hyperactive kid.

Yes, I know I’m weird. It’s not easy being an adult – a thing even more complicated when you’re on the spectrum. I won’t complain though. Autism makes me a better DJ and provides me a unique perspective as a neurodivergent writer. I’m not Ok but it’s OK. There might be something wrong with me but I’m doing fine.

Still, if you see me tapping my fingers, I wouldn’t object to hearing an encouraging remark.

10.14.2021

Nietzsche & the Kool-Aid Man

whoever fights monsters
should see to it that in the process he (or she) does not become a monster
and if you gaze long enough into an abyss
the abyss
will gaze back into you

10.10.2021

Deconstructing Love

True love waits. At least, that’s what I was taught when I was growing up. My adolescence began with the birth of grunge and graduated with the publication of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In the years between 1991 and 1997, purity culture took root in evangelical churches, leaving its well intentioned mark (ahem, scars) on my generation. Looking back, I am fairly confident this is the source my emotional baggage and the reason I am a psychological mess.

My experience isn’t unique. Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, and Twitter are littered with the wreckage of grownups like me, who lived through the 90s, and flailed our way through the last 20 years wondering what the hell happened to us. One testimonial after another, first hand accounts, teary-eyed disclosures, secrets people kept buried for decades. Even the author of I Kissed Dating Goodby disavowed his book as garbage, apologized for the harm he caused, and delivered a TED Talk admitting he was wrong.

But why? What was so misguided about the pursuit of purity? How did messages about abstinence and love lead to an abundance of former youth group kids trying to navigate adulthood through sexual dysfunction, broken marriages, depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, and abysmal self-loathing? I have some thoughts.
Photo courtesy of Gratisography

1. It used confusing terminology. Dating was discouraged as if it was sinful. They taught us dating and breaking up only to date and break up with someone new created an unfaithful pattern we would take into marriage, ultimately leading to an inevitable divorce. Instead, boys were told to court girls. The emphasis in courtship was to prepare you for marriage. Unfortunately, neither term (dating or courting) are in the Bible and such teaching completely ignored biblical wedding traditions. Sexual lessons resembled American Puritan values more than those of the first century church. Besides, there really isn’t any actual difference between the two. You can still break up courtship just like a dating relationship. Dating can prepare you for marriage just like courting. Courting is nothing more than a fancy term for dating. Condemning one in favor of the other is like kicking your own ass.

2. It misunderstood human biology and brain chemistry. As a result, boys were provided excuses and girls got assigned blame. The church took scientific ideas about hormones and attraction, made dozens of assumptions, then spit out restrictive rules with neither scientific or biblical basis. Boys like me were instructed to avoid all temptations, but we were also told we were helpless to resist our urges. Girls were never cautioned against their temptations, rather they were warned to not be a temptation for boys. When boundaries were pushed and broken, the same people who claimed boys will be boys also asked the girls what they were wearing.

3. It demonized everything. The music we listened to, the nooks and magazines we read, the movies and television shows we watched, all of it was painted with a broad brush of being inherently evil. Any mention of sex was taboo, depictions of romance in pop culture, and secular descripdeclarations of love were deemed the devil’s attempt to lead us astray. We were encouraged to boycott everything from Disney to Levi’s for their unholy embrace of love outside of God’s design. This fostered an unhealthy “us vs them” mindset which festered into the isolationist beliefs currently staining our world.

4. It turned modesty and purity into idols. The Bible frequently talks about having a pure heart. The lone biblical reference to dressing modestly was about about wealth - modesty over extravegance. I don’t want to claim that either are bad things. However, these admirable goals become problematic when they become the most important thing. Christians should strive to be Christlike above all other things. What good is remaining sexually pure if you’re dishonest? Does dressing modestly matter if you’re cruel to those who don’t? The book of 1 Peter says “be holy because I am holy.” Not “be pure.” When you preach “don’t have sex” more frequently than “pursue God” purity is an idol. When boys can wear tank tops but girls can’t, modesty is an idol.

5. It failed to teach the true meaning of love. The 13th chapter of Corinthians listed off qualities of love - the things it is and the things it’s not. You know what word isn’t there? Pure. Neither is the word modest. Yet somehow, the pastors and leaders running youth groups when I was a teen seemed to to preach and teach modesty and purity as if they were the essence of love. And waiting? The phrase “true love waits” was inescapable. While the first definition provided in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth says “love is patient,” true love is more than just waiting. I love French fries but if I wait to long to eat them, they’ll get cold and gross. There is so much variety in both the meaning and application of love glossed over or deemed unimportant. Perhaps it’s the laziness of the conservative evangelical movement or the unfortunate inadequacies of the English language, but the depths and power of love were never discussed with my generation. We never pondered the mystery of how the word we use to explain how we feel about a romantic partner is the same word describing our appetite for pizza. True love doesn’t just wait. It’s committed. It’s a bond of friendship and intimacy. It’s familial and erotic. And it is a long suffering which ensures hardships and continues to love when everything else has given up. These truths were never a part of the Wednesday night youth group discussions at Marysville Nazarene through the 90s. Judging from conversations I have had with friends across the US; from stories told and retold through books, blogs, seminars, and videos by exvangelicals, I know my experience isn’t an anomaly.

Why does any of this matter? How did these teachings of purity culture warp how my generation viewed ourselves and approached relationships? What led these good intentions to cause so much damage? We can follow purity teaching to its furthest logical conclusion and we see this in the behaviors and outlook of my peers who, like me, grew up in 90s era churches.

Using confusing terminology creates confusing boundaries. At many Christian colleges, there was an impression that any boy asking a girl out for a date – even something as innocent as getting a cup of coffee – meant the boy was interested in marrying the girl. It left people clueless about the intentions of anyone thinking they’re cute or even saying “hi.” It made maintaining friendships with members of a different gender difficult, if not impossible. It led to numerous unhappy couples who rushed into marriage without learning the kinds of things you learn while dating.

Giving boys excuses for their behaviors while blaming girls for the same actions creates an environment where rape and sexual assault thrive. It fosters men’s worst proclivities, allowing them to be abusers with a free pass. This is why #yesallwomen, #metoo, and #churchtoo have all been trending topics over the past few years.

Demonizing every product of pop culture teaches kids to be ashamed for liking the things they like. They feel bad for listening to their favorite songs or watching a popular TV show. They hide their interests and nothing good happens in hidden shame. They grow up developing guilty pleasures and destructive addictions. Make the topic of sex taboo and you get people embarrassed to discuss it – even in the confines of an intimate relationship.

The focus on purity and modesty distract from other essential qualities: kindness, humility, fidelity, affability, honesty, and perseverance. Kids were instructed to be sexually pure but they weren’t taught how to be good people. They’re awkward and malicious but at least they’re virgins.

When the only message kids get about sex and love is “true love waits until marriage,” you get young adults in a hurry to get married just to have sex – like it’s the only reason to get married. They’re ignorant of the nuances, commitment, and passion it takes to have a healthy and happy marriage. They’ve been told to wait but not what to do when the waiting is over.

My generation took the tenets of purity culture and thought we had the secret to lasting wedded bliss and yet so many of us still found our marriages ending in divorce. Many of us abandoned the ideas of purity culture, evangelicalism, and even Christianity due to the harm caused by the faulty teachings of our youth. However, what hurt me the most and twisted my psyche in ways I’m still trying to untangle were the incompatible and contradictory elements of what I was taught.

One of the most fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith is God IS love. From the youngest ages, we were taught this through song: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Over and over, teachers and pastors and church elders reminded us: God loves you unconditionally. According to scripture, there’s nothing we could do that could separate us from God’s love for us. Then as we got older, we began hearing different messages from the church. Leaders started telling us we were unlovable. We were taught that we did not deserve love – especially if we didn't adhere to purity rules. God loves you but you’re worthless. God loves you but you’re undeserving.
Photo courtesy of Gratisography

This is one of the many reasons why I deconstructed. Despite a crippling deprecating image of self, I did everything right. I believed God loved me and I didn’t deserve it. I waited for marriage. I married a Christian woman. I remained faithful. I was active in church. I followed the doctrine of purity culture. And I still got divorced. Doing all of the “correct” things doesn’t guarantee success. Purity doesn’t inoculate you from the pain and suffering of broken relationships. Even the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye ended his marriage. Purity teachings doesn’t work. Looking at the tattered lives of my generation, it’s safe to say it did more harm than good.

Now I’ve deconstructed what I thought love was. I meditated on 1 Corinthians 13. I studied every mention of love in scripture. I read all of the Bible stories of sex and marriage from Genesis to The Song of Solomon to Revelation. I concluded the evangelical church led me astray.

The Bible teaches all people – men and women were created in the image of God. If (as I was taught) we are unworthy of love, then God would also be unworthy of love as we reflect God’s image. This idea of being unconditionally loved by a worthless lover is illogical; I refuse to believe it. It is also completely unbiblical. The book of 1 John tells us “God is love.” If we bear his image, then humanity was created to love and be loved. We need love and deserve love.

It’s time to reclaim the definition of real love. The type of love that is selfless and kind. The love that is devoted in the midst of hard times.The love that celebrates the successes of others. The love that lifts and elevates their communities. The love that flourishes in equality and justice. Love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love that loves the way God loves us. A love that loves when it waits and loves when it doesn’t wait. A love that deserves love.

The kind of love that craves Chinese food on a stormy night. That too.





ps: I love you

9.29.2021

The Open Mic

If I have a fatal flaw as a DJ, it is how I sing along with 90% of the music I play. I am the kind of dude who would lose most ‘try not to sing’ challenges on the very first song. However, I do not have a stellar singing voice. It might not even be semi-decent. Simon Cowell would critique my voice with the most eviscerating vocabulary imaginable were I to audition for whatever show he is currently judging. I am a crappy singer yet I love singing.

My lyrical knowledge is deep and wide. I do not know everything, but I know a lot. From the Brat Pack to Wu Tang, Johnny Cash to Cash Money, Rednex to actual rednecks, new wave to nu metal, disco to digital, indie folk to arena country, Men in Black to Back in Black, Livin' on a Prayer to Livin' la Vida Loca. Pop rock, pop punk, and electro pop. Classic rock, modern rock, and hard rock. All three waves of ska.

I can “celebrate good times” and “party in the USA.” They say “play that funky music white boy” and I say “it’s getting hot in herre.” Ask to go “fishin’ in the dark,” my answer will be “I want it that way.” You could tell me to stop, but you will have to explain if it is “in the name of love” or because it is “hammertime.” Either way it will not matter because “the wave can’t stop” and I “don’t stop believin’.”

It is more than singing though. I join wedding parties on the dance floor for the Cha Cha Slide or Cupid Shuffle. I wobble and do the YMCA. I wave my arms “from the windows to the walls” and slowly drop to the floor when “shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low.” I also shuffle a little two step dance move through most gigs from behind the safety of my table where no one can see my awkwardness. My dancing ability is just as abysmal as my talent for singing. I am the stereotypical white dude – zero sense of rhythm. Still, I love to groove. Music is therapeutic and I find myself helpless to resist the beats and vocals which accompany such therapy.

You do not have to be good at an activity to participate. Most people who tell me they enjoy golfing are terrible golfers. They will never be PGA material, they hook and slice nearly every drive, and spend more time in sand traps and the rough than on the fairway. Between throwing clubs and cussing at water hazards, these people will insist the game of golf is the most relaxing thing they do all week. I get these people. They need a handicap for golf; I need one to sing and dance. I suck at my musical pastime yet still consider it the most relaxing thing I do, even if I am exhausted by the end of the night.

However, unlike those supposedly happy golfers, you won’t find me cursing my mixer or throwing microphones. Instead I leave the mic on and turn down the volume when it is not needed. The microphone sits in a boom stand, stretching from the side so I can talk into it while clicking buttons and twisting knobs. It is not in constant use, only there when I need to make announcements or introduce dedications. I assume people would rather “dance to the music” than hear me “talk too much.”

This last weekend, my habits caught up with me. I played through the ceremony and cocktail hour without an error. Dinner was great and guests were complimenting my selection of music. Then it happened. About an hour and a half into the gig, I turned and looked at my microphone. In that moment, I realized the volume was still on. I spent all that time singing and dancing next to an open mic.

Oops.

9.12.2021

What It’s Like to Be Me: Begin Again Pt 4, Fuel

My forced lifestyle change moved me into an apartment closer to my office, allowing me to walk to work. With shared custody, I discovered free time I never had before. I had freedom to cook, write, clean, and exercise. I met some new friends and built a support network I never had before.

Newfound freedom. New diet. New habits. New friends. This revised life required a remixed way of thinking. I needed motivation to keep moving forward. If music carried through my awkward childhood and the mess I made of my adult life, then music would lift me into who I wanted to become.

Social Club: “Losing Sleep
Insomnia. That was the worst symptom of my single life. Actually, the insomnia started before the divorce but got worse after. I was losing sleep. The time alone gave me time to think. No marriage, no education, no transferable skills to get me out of my day job. “Stuck in the spotlight, I'm talent-less, Life is like a circus and I'm just balancing.” Fern’s time as a thug and inmate lasted as long as my marriage: “10 years lost, can't get 'em back.” If I couldn’t sleep or get back the time I lost, the best I could do was hustle. I wrote like my life depended on it.

SPZRKT: “Better Off
I’m not a fan of divorce. If I know of a couple struggling in their relationship, my advice is usually to make it work and fight for love. Despite experiencing a less than pleasant marriage, I still believe that the bond between married couples can be a wonderful thing – when it’s done right. I failed the first time around. While I champion making marriage work, I also know ending one can be incredibly healing. When it was over, I had to start thinking like SPZRK (pronounced spazzy rocket): “I’m not thinking of you when I’m thinking of my life.” Such a mindset was freeing. I could finally pursue my passions, what made me feel alive, and become who I believed God wanted me to be.

Fort Minor and John Legend: “High Road
Not all this newness was sunshine and roses. I heard secondhand stories about myself that were not true or twisted to make me look like the bad guy. I was criticized for doing things I never did, even to the point of false complaints to the police and baseless accusations of child abuse. I received texts from her friends calling me a “shitty dad.” However, I had to speak positivly of Bekah because she was still the mother of my kids and desere nothing less. This song kept me focused on being the better person. “I’m trying to be bigger than the bickering, bigger than the petty name calling, under the breath talking, rumors and labels and categorization.” The attitude was empowering, “the bullshit you talk might work a lot, but it’s not gonna work today.”

Everclear: “The Swing
Speaking of old friends, cutting them out of my life was one of my wisest decisions. I know exactly what Art feels in this song when he sings, “All your friends, they can kiss my ass. They only see the simple things they want to see.” I needed to take back all the power I had previously forfeited. The power Bekah used to manipulate me, the power her friends used to discourage me, the power circumstances out of my control dictating how I felt about myself. For me, The Swing represents reclaiming my place in that dynamic. “Sometimes I think the power is better than a hard drug.”

Embodyment: “Greedy Hands
Divorce brought grief and disillusionment, like something inside me died. Then this song sings “It’s gone, my innocence” and I feel like I know exactly what it means. There are parts of me erased in divorce that I won’t ever recover. Yet listening to this song doesn’t remind me of all I lost, it motivates me to become a something better than I ever was.

Linkin Park: “Nobody’s Listening
My greatest fear is irrelevance. It’s the sense of not being heard or not making any difference, as if I don’t matter. When the person spreading lies about me was also charming and eloquent, it was a struggle to get anyone to believe me, let alone listen to me. I connected to this Linkin Park song so deeply, “I got a heart full of pain, head full of stress, head full of anger, held in my chest.” From the rumors and false reports to the police, to secret code words devised behind my back and use of therapists to manipulate me, I was dealt one losing blow after another. I needed this song to remind me of a way forward: “Because all of this stress gave me something to write on, the pain gave me something I could set my sights on. “

Oleander: “I Walk Alone
The chorus of this song breaks down a simple truth of my life post divorce. “Everybody and everything I've known never taught me how to stand up on my own, had to learn it from the one who let me go, now I walk alone.” That was my predicament. I had to figure out my path on my own and I never would have been able to do so if Bekah had not let me go. It was the best gift she ever gave me.

Seether: “Breakdown
After a decade of being lied to and manipulated, followed by another couple years of innuendo and baseless accusations, I began to understand the ways in which she controlled me and confront the reality of never being me when I was with her. “I could have tried and devoted my life to both of us, but what a waste of my time when the world we had was yours.” I had to determine the difference of how Bekah saw me and the truth of who I was as a person. I reached the point I no longer cared where her next attack was coming from. If that’s what she needed to do to make herself feel better, there was nothing I could do to stop it anyway.

Panic! At The Disco: “This is Gospel
There’s freedom in the words “If you love me let me go.” I never felt loved but I know the freedom of being let go. Brendon Urie sang these words as gospel for the fallen ones locked away in permanent slumber, vagabonds, ne'er-do-wells, and insufferable bastards. Those kinds of people are my tribe. If he was addressing them, then he was singing on my behalf too. “They haven't seen the best of us yet.” Those words were gospel to me.

John Reuben: “No Regrets”
We’re all familiar with the Serenity Prayer commonly used in 12 step programs: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. I used No Regrets for a similar purpose, to find serenity. “To the future in the palm of God's hand, to the past as of now that I can't understand, to the future uncertain unclear, to the past I left to bring me here, I stay I pray.” I didn’t understand my past and couldn’t predict my future. The best I could do was to “live right and pass on what I believe” and be “secure enough to admit my insecurity.”

8.27.2021

The Vows

We did a thing this week. After our wedding a month ago and our reception last Friday, Annie and I entered a courtroom in the Public Saftey Building in downtown Spokane to make our marraige legally recognized by the state.
We intentionally kept our ceremony small with only a handful of the most important people in our lives sharing a place on the beach with us as we dedicated our lives to each other. There is a video of the ceremony but the crashing of ocean waves drowned out most of the audio. Thankfully, we wrote down our vows. For those of you who did not attend in person, the vows we exchanged are transcribed below. As we forge our way into our future together, please know that Annie and I appreciate all who have been here to support and encourage us over the past few years. We value your friendships more than we could ever describe.



From me to Annie:
Andria, I give myself to you today to be your husband - your partner, lover, companion, and friend. To have you by my side and hold you in times of comfort and distress so we may build our lives and pursue our dreams together.

I promise an unwavering love through the worst days, for it will make our better days sweeter. To cherish you regardless of status or wealth, when we have money and when we don’t. To love you when life brings us sickness and health because we know we will endure both. To be faithful in times of sorrow and joy, because we know we will experience both.

I will support you in any endeavor, celebrate your successes, and carry you when you’re too weak to walk. I will forever be your biggest fan. I owe you everything and you owe me nothing.

Together, we will demonstrate a love which cannot be burned by fire, nor washed away by flood. We will overcome any challenge as a team, equally devoted. We will fill our home with laughter and hope. We will set an example of a vibrant marriage for our kids and our friends to follow. I have no greater honor than to share this journey with you.

Our bond will be strong for as long as we are alive as death will be the only thing capable of tearing us apart. This is my lifelong promise. You are mine and I will always be yours.

From Annie to me:
Nicholas Casey, I love you endlessly. You have made my life better by just being you. You are my rock and my heart. You support my dreams even when I struggle to believe in myself.

I vow to be giving and forgiving; to make you laugh and to laugh at myself. I vow to love you as you love me through our hardships, darkness, and pain. I vow to reach for our joys, our hopes, always with honesty and faith. I vow to keep dreaming with you.

Our marriage will be perfect because it’s ours. I promise these things until I am no more. I’m ready to show you how much I love you everyday for the rest of our lives.

(side note: as a surprise to both Annie and Joylyn, I also wrote some vows as a step-dad becoming dad to his new daughter)

From me to Joylyn:
Today, your mom and I are exchanging wedding vows. A vow is a promise, one to be taken seriously and never be broken.

As I make a vow to love and cherish your mom forever and always, I am also making the same promise to you. As your dad, I promise to love you just as I have always loved Christian, Chloe, and Josiah.

It will be my job to teach you, protect you, and support you every day for as long as I am alive.

Now and forever after, you are my daughter.
                            with love,
sincerely
Mr & Mrs Casey                   

7.02.2021

Sedona

Two years and a half ago, we got Sedona intending her to become Chloe’s new barrel racing horse. Our daughter needed a step up horse, a steed who could help Chloe reach her full potential as a rider and a competitor.

Chloe rode Sedona bareback the first day we had her. It’s one of the happiest moments I have ever witnessed. The two made a quick bond and practiced together any chance Chloe could find. Sedona was a little overweight so we placed her on a strict diet and had her exercising in the round pen daily. We took her out for walks and runs on trails and roads. Sedona worked her muscles walking up and down a hill we affectionately refer to as “the butt kicker hill.”
photo courtesy of Susan Shouse Photography

Sedona competed with Chloe through most of the 2019 rodeo season and we watched as both the girl and her horse made improvements in their skill. After the Covid pandemic ended everyone’s rodeo season for 2020, Chloe continued to ride and work with Sedona. She had her eyes on the future. She knew that one canceled season was not the end of anyone’s rodeo career. If she was going to compete again, Sedona would need to stay in shape.

Chloe hustled. Sometimes she begged to do it and other times we bribed her. With the 2021 season approaching, we hired a trainer to work with Chloe and it looked like Sedona was going to be the perfect partner.

Then April 22 happened.

Like many other days preceding it, Chloe and Sedona were in the round pen working. My daughter stood in the middle directing the speed and direction for her horse to run. Some occurrences come out of nowhere, freak accidents you are unable to explain even as you watch it happen. One moment, Sedona was running like a race horse, the next she was spooked and tried to jump the gate. Sedona is not a jumping horse and she was too short to clear the gate. Instead of landing on the other side, Sedona’s front right leg slipped into the smallest space possible: directly between the wood post, the end of the metal gate, and the chain looped to keep the gate closed. Sedona’s sudden predicament scared her even more and she started thrashing around, aggravating any potential injury caused by her dreams of flight.

Chloe, Christian, and I made quick efforts to free Sedona while JJ ran in the house to get Annie. The next few hours were spent trying to calm the horse and clean her wounds. Phone calls were made to the emergency overnight veterinarian who gave us practical advice and we arranged to bring her in the next morning. We feared she would need to be put down. Chloe feared losing the bond she spent two years building with Sedona. We worried about the potential costs about the veterinary care Sedona would need.

In the end, all our fears were relieved. Miraculously, Sedona did not break any bones. Her official diagnosis was a complete degloving. This is a severe injury where she did more than tear away her fur – she also ripped off the outer layers of her skin and connective tissue. She managed to deglove a solid ring around the lower part of her leg, requiring multiple stitches and isolation while she healed.
This picture is her wound several weeks after the initial injury. The first photos we sent to the veterinarian are too gory to share.

Results were better than we imagined possible. However, Sedona still had a long road ahead of her. The next few days were chaotic and filled with sleep deprivation for both horse and humans. She would need regular bandage changes for several weeks, requiring sedation for her to allow us to wrap fresh bandages around her leg. The vet prescribed antibiotics and pain medications, both of which Sedona hated consuming. Finally, she would need to miss out on the 2021 rodeo season.

Instead of forfeiting the season Chloe chose to train Renegade; the result of her decision is a beautiful and victorious story deserving a blog post of its own. Sedona slowly recovered, eventually rejoined the heard, stopped exercising, and ate a bunch of hay. She regained a bunch of weight but she would live, nay … thrive.

Sedona’s injury did more than complicate Chloe’s rodeo season, it threw a wrench into our wedding plans. Annie and I had arranged two horses to go with us to the wedding: Sedona and Roxy. After exchanging vows on the beach, we hoped to ride off into the sunset together. With Sedona’s injury, that possibility was cast into doubt. Renegade has a habit of bucking and throwing riders and we only have one other ridable horse – the mare Annie planned on using.

We kept Sedona healthy and fed. We let her walk the pasture at her own leisurely pace. Gradually, she built up her strength. Her wounds were scabbing over. It was clear I would need to begin working with her soon, shed some of the belly weight she added while in recovery, and build a bond with her so she trusts me when there are ocean waves crashing next to us.

Sedona’s most common recent interactions with me were through the ritual of medicating, sedating, and changing bandages. None of those activities were experiences she enjoyed; she actively attempted to avoid it as much as she could. She wanted nothing to do with me but she didn’t keep that attitude. First she let me approach her while she was munching on hay. Next she allowed me to scratch her neck and ears. Then she started lining up with the other horses when she saw me walking from the house to the barn to feed them. She would follow me as I dragged a bale into the pasture and stood patiently while I broke open the twine. As soon as I threw a flake of alfalfa, she’d turn away from me to go eat. Finally, on a Monday night a few weeks ago, I took a bale out to the horses while all the horses were grazing in the back half of the pasture. I looked up and saw this running at me.

Instead of waiting for me to toss some food in her general direction, she walked up to me and invaded my personal space. I spread out several flakes; the other horses found their own personal pile and started to dine. Not Sedona. She stayed with me. I picked up her feet to check her hooves, rubbed her back to see if she had any sore spots, and patted her neck to let her know she’s a good girl. As I was running my fingers through her mane, she rested her jaw on my shoulder and turned her neck to place her head behind mine – the closest imitation of a hug a horse can give.

I knew then it was time. It was time for me to start working with Sedona in the round pen. I knew it was time for her to have a rider. I knew it was time for me to (figuratively and literally) get back on the horse.

Last Saturday, we did a thing. While the family completed morning barn chores, I got Sedona into the round pen and strapped a saddle to her back. We walked around in circles in the round pen for a while, both of us reacquainting the experience of riding (me) or being ridden (Sedona). Feeling brave, I followed Chloe out to the back half of our property. It’s the first time in a couple years we’ve rode horses together. We did some practicing in our arena and I had Sedona walking through a pole bending pattern. I even got her into a trot.

Three weeks from now, Sedona will be introduced to a new environment: road trips and beaches. A couple weeks ago, I was feeling nervous about how she would handle my weight or how I would manage to control her in the sand. Now I feel much more confident and prepared. I think Sedona and I are going to enjoy our time together.

6.09.2021

What It’s Like to Be Me: Begin Again Pt 3, Acceptance

Michael J. Fox built a successful career in acting; then at the height of his fame he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. As his symptoms worsened, his ability to perform became more difficult. This devastating medical condition could have destroyed his livelihood, his identity, and his passions. Instead, he figured out how to transition from a Hollywood star to an activist and an advocate for people with disabilities. He was already a hero of mine for portraying Marty McFly, but I admire him even more for the dignity and hope he embodies off screen. How did he do it? Fox accepted his circumstances. He once said, “Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there's got to be a way through it.”

I appreciate Fox’s philosophy. While getting my feet back under me, I followed his example. As a man trying to get healthier, as a single father and gainfully employed individual trying to figure out the work/life balance without a partner to assist me, as an adult trying to forge new friendships and build a support system from scratch, as a member of a ministry team, as a human rediscovering who I was and what I needed to do with my life. I had to accept my “is what it is” circumstances so I could find my way through it. These songs helped me find acceptance.

Fuel: “Leave the Memories Alone
Before I could create new memories, I had to deal with a decade worth of old memories I didn’t want to remember. “So I find me in your garden now, a sad smile for the scene and all the flowers that we planted now taken by the weeds” Confronting my reality, it was easier to recall the bad than the good. So leave it alone. Don’t bring it up. Don’t remind me of what used to be. Tell me what is and what could be. I knew it was time to rebuild and start dreaming again.

Coldplay: “Ghost Story
You never really realize how much churches are geared to minister to married couples, especially young couples with kids until you’re a divorced parent. You never realize how much community supports are designed to help and support single moms until you’re a single dad. Losing my marriage and all of my friends in one swoop was a weird enough feeling. I felt invisible. “What's the point of feeling love for you when you don't believe I'm here?” Then it’s complicated when culture views single dads as an oddity at best, like some kind of myth, or a second class citizen at worst. Society tells men to be strong and know everything and dudes like me who fail to meet that criteria often feel invisible. Divorce is hard enough, but explaining what it’s like is harder when no one listens. “What's the point of trying to raise your voice if no one ever hears?”

Smashing Pumpkins: “Being Beige
Billy Corgan’s lyrics are intentionally vague, left open for the listener to interpret. When this song came out, it felt like an honest assessment of my ‘it is what it is’ outlook. The blunt look backwards, “I don’t love you for what it’s worth.” The cynical appraisal of current affairs, “The world’s on fire so …” This song recognizes the remorse for what was, yet it is resolved to accept what is and is to come.

Staind: “Trippy
The most important thing I did after the divorce was determining what BS I was willing to endure, and what I would reject. You can hear that thought process in this song: “I don’t want this, and I don’t need this.” Therapists call it setting boundaries. “I can’t fake this, and I won’t take this anymore.” After ten years of being manipulated and criticized, I was done. Boundaries were made and I was finally able to feel free.

Third Eye Blind: “Motorcycle Drive By
I began to see divorce as the best gift Bekah ever gave me. For ten years, she always discouraged my dreams and mocked my hobbies. “And there's things I'd like to do that you don't believe in. I would like to build something but you never see it happen.” As soon as the constant critic was gone, I was suddenly freer than I’d felt in a long time. I began to write more. I started hiking and playing video games again. I stopped worrying if my music was too heavy or of the shows I watched were too geeky. The song claims “I'll get over you, you'll wonder who I am.” I had to accept my circumstances so I could become a better version of me. I’ve grown and changed so much since then. Sometimes, it seems like Bekah doesn’t know who I am anymore.

5.25.2021

For the Aspiring Performer

My oldest son has a plan for his future. Which is good because he’s sixteen and finishing his sophomore year of high school. Two more years stand between now and graduation. Adulthood is creeping up on him quicker than the ghosts lurking over the shoulders of unsuspecting characters in one of the Conjuring movies. A plan is a great thing for a kid his age to possess.

Christian will be taking some construction arts classes next year and intends to focus on electrical engineering after completing high school. He knows electricians make good money and the career is fairly recession proof so he plans on doing his apprenticeship, working as a journeyman, then becoming a master electrician. If reality was a D&D game, electricians are wizards and he aims to max out his character’s stats.
image courtesy of vforvegard

However, if he was a D&D character in real life, there’s a bit of a bard deep inside his spirit, waiting for its time to shine. Last fall, Christian participated in competitive drama. He and his partner won second place in their district and fourth place in the state of Idaho. Much like I did when I was his age, he’s found freedom in the theatrical world. He feels he can most be himself by pretending to be someone else. In addition to his dreams of working as a master electrician, he also want to continue acting after he graduates high school. He added a new item on his bucket list - he wants a role in a major studio movie, even if it is as an extra.

Electrical work to make money. Theatrical work to bring him joy. If you ask me, it sounds like a good plan.

On a recent trip to Seattle, Christian and I had a couple hours to break away from the rest of the family and spend some time together, just the two of us. Our schedule wouldn’t allow us to drive up to Marysville for a tour of my hometown so I thought the next best thing would be an introduction to a former classmate of mine. As an added bonus, this old friend has been active in the Seattle theater scene for most of the past quarter century. I messaged Dan and asked if I could buy him a cup of coffee and let my son pick his brain. He enthusiastically agreed.

Dan is a great guy. I knew my son could learn a lot for him and I hoped to share a few laughs reminiscing about the times we shared in the MPHS drama club. What I got (and didn’t expect) was to hear him dispense advice for me as well as my son. We had a great conversation that lasted longer than I thought it would. While my 42 year old brain can’t remember everything we discussed, there are a few key bits of guidance Dan contributed which I found helpful, if not inspiring.

Much of what he shared came from the perspective of an experienced actor. However, his counsel is applicable in any artistic or performance industry. From musicians to photographers to writers, he provided personal anecdotes and recommendations worth consideration.

If you or your kids are performers - either as an amateur or a professional, take some time to absorb these highlights from the time Christian and I spent with Dan.

1. Don’t stop learning. Christian mentioned interest in studying karate and asked if it would be helpful. Dan said absolutely. He participated in competitive fencing and his experience there led to roles he might not have gotten without learning how to fence. He also talked about how being bilingual opens up opportunities nonexistent for English only speakers. Dan informed Christian any specialty skills gained make you more valuable to people who want to hire you.

2. Fail in a safe place. Everyone makes mistakes - especially when starting out as a performer. Find ways to hone your craft in a small space before going big. Join student or small community productions, film videos for YouTube or TikTok, livestream on Twitch, attend open mike nights, book shows at dive bars where the dozen in attendance are probably drunk and don’t care if you are terrible. Those places offer low stakes with minimal consequence for failure and give you the freedom to screw up and keep going. Successes in these small spaces build confidence you need to be great when greatness matters.

3. Get involved. As a student, Christian has plenty of chances to be involved with theater and arts programs through his school. Yet for those of us older than a teenager, there are still ways we can participate in our chosen crafts. For those wanting to act, Dan suggested community theaters are a great place to start. Writers have blogs, singers have YouTube. Involvement in civic organizations help you learn how things function behind the scenes, the etiquette, the traditions, all the things unseen by the audience. You don’t even need to be performing to be involved. Dan told Christian he should volunteer as a way to get his foot in the door.

4. Find a mentor. Mentors could be a teacher; Dan and I both had a phenomenal mentor in Mr K when we were at MPHS. Outside of school, there are coaches and trainers available to hire. If you’re involved in community organizations, it’s possible to find someone there who is older and wiser willing to usher you to bigger and better things.

5. Do the scary stuff. “As an actor,” Dan said, “if there’s something that scares me, it’s a good sign I should probably do it.” He wasn’t talking about the dangerous or potentially harmful king of scary - rather he was speaking of the roles and challenges that seem intimidating. He gave us the example of taking on comical parts after spending years considering himself as nothing more than dramatic actor. Doing things that seem daunting helps you grow and creates greater opportunities in the future.

6. Watch for red flags. Dan has learned to watch for troubling signs about producers and directors to avoid taking roles or participating in shows potentially problematic. For example, if they’re disorganized during an audition, the rehearsals and production will probably be disorganized too. If multiple friends and colleagues are warning you to not work with a particular person, there’s probably a valid reason for their words of caution. If people make too-good-to-be-true promises, it probably is too good to be true.

7. Learn when to say no. This was Dan’s answer when I asked him if there’s anything he would do differently. He talked about how not every opportunity is a good one. As a young or beginning creative worker, it’s easy to say yes to everything. You’re hungry for a gig and eager to prove yourself. Inevitably, everyone ends up working on projects they shouldn’t have accepted. Learning to say no helps reduce the number of times you look back in hindsight and regret doing this job or that gig.

8. Remember your power. In creative industries, there are people who think they possess all of the power as if they’re little demigods in the world of arts and entertainment. Agents, publishers, directors, producers. They act big and tough, presenting an image of unquestionable authority giving artists the only option to shut up and take whatever is offered. While it is true they have power, they don’t have it all. You have power too. They will research you before they offer you anything, you have the power to research them too. Study them, ask around for others who have worked with them to see what their experience was like. Look into the quality or other work they’ve done. Everyone has power and no one is more powerful than anyone else. If a director or a publisher uses their power in a way that is abusive or manipulative, you have the ultimate power to say no and decline working for or with them.

If you know Dan and have the chance to spend some time with him, I’d encourage you to do so. He’s filled with wit and wisdom. You will probably walk away from the conversation encouraged or motivated. Possibly both.

If you’re in the Seattle area, Dan will be a part of the cast for GreenStage’s return to live in-person performances with Shakespeare in the Park this summer. Please go see one of their shows and enjoy some of the culture the city has to offer.

Finally, regardless of where you live, please support your local arts community. Starving artists everywhere do what we do for people like you. After a year like 2020, your patronage is more important than ever.

5.05.2021

What It’s Like to Be Me: Begin Again Pt 2, Contemplation

If divorce was the lowest point in my life, everything that followed would be an uphill climb. The emphasis here is with the word climb. While my health and happiness improved, it wasn’t an instant or easy transition. It involved a lot of contemplation and introspection. For a while, the only prayer I could manage to pray was “help this all make sense.” So I prayed it over and over until things started making sense.

Before I could become who I am now, I had to rediscover who I was. There was deconstruction and reconstruction. I argued with myself. I argued with God. If I were to build a better me, I had to uproot my flaws and admit my failures. These songs helped me find ways to express my weakest parts.

Wideawake: “Greener
Scott Leger opens this song with a common adage: “They say the grass is greener on the other side.” We all fight against comparison to some extent, and Scott described his battle in the second verse. “I struggle to make progress, it's a never ending fight.” He also says he has “doubts to fill the sky” and “an ocean full of failure.” I can relate.

Showbread: “Age of Insects
Walking back into church as a recent divorcee and newly minted single dad forced me to confront the weight of my mistakes. I often felt small, like a bug walking around “on insect legs beneath an unforgiving sun.” Thankfully, I was surrounded by a community filled with grace. They gave me the freedom to rediscover God and overcome my insecurities. This song brought me full circle, beginning with my circumstance at the time. “Thought you wouldn't recognize me in the black of soot and ash, Don't turn deaf unto my voice, there's one thing I want you to know: I have always loved you, though my life has never said so.” Then it returned me to my first love. It closes with a chorus we sang at church when I was a kid, “I love you Lord and I lift my voice to worship you, oh my soul rejoice, Take joy my King in what you hear, may it be a sweet sweet song in your ear.”

Heath McNease: “'Til We Have Faces
Disclaimer. I don’t like Heath McNease. Because of things I know about him, I don’t want to promote him or his work. I’ve unfollowed all of his social media outlets and deleted any music I’d previously purchased of his. All except this one song. I can’t escape it. Even though I struggle to separate who his is with the art he creates, there’s something about these words that haunted me. “Dead and buried, no respects, and no one cares, none there accept me. I haven't done enough for love, How could love accept me?” Before I could rebuild myself, I had to recognize the self loathing I allowed to take over my identity and embrace the loneliness of divorce as a gift that brought me closer to God. “It's cold and snowy nights that slowly fade from lonely days, but it's worth these frozen veins to see a perfect face. So dig the words right out of us 'til this cage of fragile ribs protecting us is shattered, gladly ground it back to dust.”

Listener: “Wooden Heart (Sea of Mist Called Skaidan)
The person who introduced me to this song described it as a song about grace – something I was in desperate need of at the time. This raw need for grace is laid bare in some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever heard, “I am the barely-living son of a woman and man who barely made it, but we’re making it taped together on borrowed crutches and new starts, we all have the same holes in our hearts.” This is a song I keep coming back to every time I feel like I’m not good enough. It has made such a huge impact on my life especially the line, “This war-ship is sinking, and I still believe in anchors. Pulling fist fulls of rotten wood from my heart, I still believe in saviors.” Those words will be my next tattoo, with an anchor on one side and a cross on the other.

Demon Hunter: “I Will Fail You
My affinity for this song can be traced back to my brother who was the first to share it with me. As I sought to rebuild a new and better me, this song was my rock bottom looking up. It was on my mind as I forged new friendships. It echoed in my mind every time I made a mistake at work or didn’t live up to my kids’ expectations. I was even humming it to myself as I drove to my first date with Annie. “I will fail you of that I’m sure.” Perhaps I realized the knowledge of eminent failure would push me to do better. Knowing I would fail could have made successes sweeter. Or maybe my mindset took away the burden of trying to be perfect so I wouldn’t beat myself up for failing to attain perfection.