4.21.2022

Imposter Syndrome

Somewhere out there, a debut author is struggling. They can’t believe they were lucky enough to find an agent, let alone get their book published. If you ask them, they’re not really good at writing: their story is weak, their characters are derivative of other works, and their sales numbers are a fluke. They don’t think anyone will ever read a second book from them, especially if readers understood what a hack they are.

Someone out there, a songwriter is making a living playing the music they created. They’re standing on stage in front of an audience that’s singing along. Yet they don’t understand how so many people know their music. There are hundreds of better singers and better guitarists. They wonder how they got so lucky to have fans in attendance and songs on the radio when better musicians can’t even get a gig at a seedy bar. If only people knew how talentless they were, they’d have to abandon the music industry for a normal job.

Somewhere out there is a thespian surprised to be offered a lead role after auditioning for the part. Despite acting in professional theater for decades, receiving dozens of rave reviews, and getting critical praise from local media, they don’t feel like they deserve any of it. They memorize lines and dance routines, wear stage makeup and change costumes, and faithfully attend every rehearsal and performance. Yet somewhere deep inside, they feel like a fraud.

This is what it’s like for people who experience imposter syndrome. No matter how often they’ve proven their skill and competence in their chosen craft, regardless of the level of success they achieve, they feel like an imposter. They believe themselves to be unworthy, undeserving, and incapable of the recognition they receive. They often feel guilty for their successes and deny any complimentary description of their work. Unfortunately, no amount of book, album, or ticket sales can cure imposter syndrome because it’s not an actual diagnosable disorder. It’s a reaction to external stimulation, possibly a symptom of other disorders like depression or autism.

If you feel like you’re an imposter in your occupation, rest assured you’re not alone. If you’ve ever thought to yourself “if they ever found out what I’m really like, my career would be over,” you’re in good company. Those who have publicly admitted their struggles with imposter syndrome include some people who were the best at what they do.

Like poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.
Or one of the stars from the Harry Potter franchise, Emma Watson.
Or the prolific writer, Hugo award winner, and delightful weirdo Neil Gaiman.
Or former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Or the 10th (and my personal favorite) Doctor, David Tennant.
Or the enigmatic and brilliant front man of Radiohead, Thom Yorke.
Or one of the celebrated and busiest stars in Hollywood, Tom Hanks.
Or the master of horror, Stephen King.

Those of you suffering with imposter syndrome can also include me in your ranks. As a writer and a DJ, I have severe doubts in my talent. No matter how frequently people tell me they enjoy my writing, I still think I’m skeptical I have what it takes to be successful. Regardless of how many clients leave positive reviews of my gigs, I don’t believe I’m that good as a DJ.

It’s not just my creative pursuits either - I feel like an imposter in almost every aspect of my life. If my kids do something amazing, I don’t understand how I got so lucky to be their dad. If someone compliments how well behaved my kids are, I think they definitely didn’t learn it from me. Almost daily, I think to myself that my kids deserve a better dad. Or my wife deserves a better husband. Or my parents deserve a better son.

I’m a farmer with imposter syndrome too. I frequently walk out to the barn thinking to myself how completely clueless I am about all of it. I’m just a nerd from the suburbs, what the hell do I think I’m doing out here taking care of chickens and goats and horses. Every time something bad happens on the farm, even if it was an act of nature, I blame myself.

I don’t need pity or sympathy. I don’t expect anyone to fix this broken spot in my brain. Rather, I offer kinship. You are not alone.
But there’s more. While I want to offer the raised fist of solidarity, I also come with a challenge. There is another place where I experience imposter syndrome, and it’s a place where I shouldn’t feel this way. While no one can cure the voices in my head telling me I’m a fraud everywhere else, this one location can be resolved: church.

Despite believing in the same God, loving the same Jesus, trusting in the same saving grace, I feel like an imposter every time I step inside a church building – like their beliefs are completely incompatible with mine. Or maybe my beliefs are incapable with theirs.

When I attend church, I sit in the pews (or a chair in a neatly arranged row) and contemplate the possible qualms the people around me might have with me. While the pastor preaches, I wonder “what if they really knew?”

If church folk knew I agree with Black Lives Matter, support athletes who kneel during the National Anthem, and think Christians are failing miserably in racial reconciliation, would they want me in their church?

If church folk knew I think the money they spend on TV monitors, soundboards, websites, video graphics, and bouncy castles could be better spent on feeding the homeless, would I be welcomed?

If they knew I was not only accepting but also affirming of the LGBT community, would they kick me out?

If they knew I disagreed with the way they presented the gospel, or if I think the way they teach biblical principles is incorrect and possibly harmful, would they call me an apostate or heathen?

If they knew I refuse to vote for a Republican, would they excommunicate me?

If they saw me drinking a mojito, or dancing while I’m DJing, or buying tickets for an R-rated movie; if they heard me cuss, or sing along with some of that “devil music,” or promote deconstruction; or if they didn’t hear me proselytize in conversations with my atheist, Muslim, and pagan friends, would they keep their distance or shun me?

I say this can be fixed because I shouldn’t have to feel like an imposter in church. That should be the one place where I belong. Since I don’t feel that way, there are two solutions.

1. I stop attending church.
2. Christians everywhere openly and honestly examine their beliefs and why they believe what they do.

The latter option would require people to change - a process that can be uncomfortable for many – even scary for some. If this were to happen, it would transform the physical spaces where Christians meet, turning them into safe spaces for members and visitors to doubt their doubts and believe their beliefs. It would be a home for those who are wandering, lost, hurting, or broken. Churches should be accepting of where and who we are now while challenging us to grow and improve. Churches should welcome and not condemn sincere questions. Diversity of thought should be invitations to productive discussions instead of angry debates.

The first option would be a whole lot easier. As tempting it is, I love God so much that I am moved to care about God’s people, even if they don’t care about me.

So I go. I feel awkward and out of place. Until American evangelicals pull their collective heads out of their collective asses, I will continue feeling like an imposter.

But what’s new? I’ve been an outcast my entire life.

4.10.2022

Who’s to Blame?

Allow me to overstate the obvious: everything is getting expensive lately. The burdensome costs of basic needs are crippling the average American and if things don’t change soon, we will see a new boon for poverty and crime rates. Welcome to the third world ‘Murica. Was it worth it?

I’ll skip the statistics because I’m sure you’ve seen them. Those graphs comparing tuition rates and average annual incomes make it easy to see how working your way through college is a thing of the past. Access to higher education is increasingly unattainable without entering a lifetime of crippling debt. Or the charts showing the increasing new car prices year after year. Gone are the days of purchasing a reliable vehicle for a thousand dollars. You get what you pay for and many new cars cost more than their owners make in a year. More debt.

What about the necessities? Food, clothing, housing – all of it quickly becoming unaffordable for the average citizen. While a rich person and a poor person will pay the same amount for a gallon of milk, it’s more expensive for the person who makes less than $30k a year than it is for the person who makes $30k a week. Gas prices are making pedestrian commutes appealing. People with limited means are turning thrift shops into haute couture. And don’t even get me started on the real estate market, mortgage prices, or average costs of rent.
As someone who was weaned on Reaganomics then came of age in the relative peace and prosperity of the Clinton era, none of this makes sense to me. Well, actually, the numbers and statistics make sense. The natural unintended consequences make sense. The “I told you this would happen” makes sense. The functions of economic policies make sense (even if absurd). But the logic of it all doesn’t compute. The fact we allowed things to get so wild and out of control befuddles me. The believable concept of hard work being the keys to your future isn’t ancient history. I was raised in a world rewarding ingenuity and initiative. We don’t live in that world anymore. Our founding fathers’ ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness now has a qualifying addendum: as long as you can afford it.

Why? How did we get here? Whose fault is it? Who’s to blame?

You could blame the president. He creates policy regarding foreign trade, interest rates, and where we get crude oil. You could blame Biden for not acting fast enough to hold back the tide of hyperinflation or for enacting laws you think exacerbate the situation. So sure, blame him but he’s only a small part of the problem.

You could also blame past administrations. The effects of presidential policies don’t end the day they leave office. Decisions made by one individual could have consequences that last decades. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame Congress for passing legislation detrimental to the common interest of the average American citizen. Or criticize them for being so preoccupied with infighting and partisan chicanery they end up doing nothing to help the people they represent. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame special interest groups and lobbyists financing our representatives who enact laws that benefit them but no one else. Big oil, big pharma, big banks, big tobacco, big guns, all prosper and escape accountability while the rest of us suffer. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame massive corporations for abusing and controlling the market. Huge conglomerations buy out their competition and diversify their offerings so everything we buy is sold by a select few of these giants of consumerism. Kraft, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, JP Morgan, Comcast, Luxottica, Pfizer, MetLife. We don’t like monopolies in theory but in practice they exist. They control the prices we pay for nearly everything. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame the ultra-rich. People like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg. They use their massive wealth to enforce their desires and avoid legal ramifications of anything shady they have (maybe, possibly, allegedly) done. Their riches protect them from the turmoil of our economic crisis – completely detached from the reality of normal American struggles. They manipulate our culture to fit their dreamscapes while the wealth gap grows wider. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame utility companies. They continually raise rates, testifying before regulatory commissions these price hikes are urgent needs to remain in operation. Meanwhile, they’re raking in record profits and their CEOs live lavish lives on generous incomes. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame Wall Street. These investment bankers, stock traders and analysts, hedge funds buyers, aggressive investors, corporate raiders, and people who profit on the misfortunes of others. They live, work, and play in a fantasy land where all of the rules are made up. They’re able to succeed while the rest of the economy crashes. And because our nation’s economic health is based on the winnings of the stock market gambling, they’re a protected class. These white collar crooks make money while the rest of us struggle. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame the regulations that make it more expensive to operate a business. Or the businesses that exploited our environment and flaunted our safety making such regulations necessary. Or a workforce demanding livable wages. Or the staffing shortages in restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and other hospitality jobs. Or the mistreatment of low-wage workers. Or the supply chain issues. Or increased shipping costs. Or crumbling infrastructure. All little issues that contribute to the rising cost of goods and services. So sure, you could blame them but they’re only a small part of the problem.

You could blame our culture. For generations, we have lived beyond our means with expenses greater than our incomes - living off credit. We have transformed keeping up with the Joneses into a lifestyle. Our rampant consumerism and demands for instant gratification returns a self-sabotaging cost. The suppliers of the things we want and need know we will pay any price to get what we want and need. So sure, you could blame us but we’re only a small part of the problem.

The fact of the matter is we can’t blame one individual or a single group. Or at least we shouldn’t. There isn’t any one person or group of people responsible.

How did we get here? Whose fault is it? Who’s to blame? It’s all of the above. It’s the system that governs our lives. It’s unfettered capitalism. It’s rampant greed. It is flawed and corrupted. It only benefits the rich and powerful. We believed the myth of trickledown economics. We voted against our own interests over and over again. We did this to ourselves. We allowed it to happen.

If you insist on blaming something for our economic woes, make sure you blame *gestures wildly* everything.

3.21.2022

Institutions

Perfect systems do not exist. Unless you’re talking about the 1981 Oingo Boingo song, then Perfect System is absolutely real. Otherwise, a system without flaws is only a figment of our collective imaginations.

Anything that can be institutionalized has room for error and the longer it exists, the more its defects and limitations are likely to show. Systems can be great in theory. Maybe even damn near perfect. That mere perfection vanishes the moment people get involved.

On paper, communism works. Same for capitalism. And feudalism. Orthodox churches are just as reasonable as progressive churches as long as it remains an idea. In theory, private small businesses should be as viable as publicly traded corporations. Yet human intervention hinders all of it. Corruption doesn’t come from the system - it is in us. We the people are the cause of every road to hell from every good intention. Humans have a way of breaking everything we touch.



When progressive winds of change begin to blow, those who speak first are often seen through heretical lenses. Think about the early abolitionists who spoke out against the African slave trade. Or the French revolutionaries. Even America’s founding fathers were viewed as rebels. What about the suffragettes, American civil rights leaders, the scientists who first warned us about climate change, the Indian Citizens Who gained independence from British rule, anti-apartheid demonstrators, the first kids to accuse the Catholic Church of sexual abuse, the Tibetan peoples still fighting for freedom from China, or anyone who dares to say “black lives matter. Each of these are (or were) proverbial middle fingers held up to the status quo. Each demonized in one form or another.

The heroes of history tend to be deviants. Without them, systemic changes would never happen. Unfortunately, some of these heroes were beaten, arrested, or murdered. All of them faced ridicule. These brave souls refused to accept their world as it was and demanded it do better. This thing here? It needs to change. This taxation without representation? This slaughter of indigenous people? This invasion of a sovereign nation? This widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor? This restriction of voting rights? It’s not Ok and we should do better.

There are a lot of institutions in need of systemic change. Speaking from a US centric perspective (because I am an American) these are common topics in the public square. We talk about it a lot but never do anything, and those with the most radical ideas are mocked. We need criminal justice and health care reform. We need to change the way we look at gun safety and LGBT rights. Our school systems and corporate tax structures need to be redesigned. Churches and businesses and government offices need more accountability. We can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing and pretend everything is all fine.

Change is slow and difficult because people are resistant to change. Some people fear it. Yet when we talk about broken institutions, we speak in broad terms because we know we’re fighting against a system and not individuals. Still, the mention of change offends some people.

With that in mind, I’m going to be blunt.

If someone talks about the need for change within an institution, and you are personally offended, you’re part of the problem. The system is broken, and it’s broken by people like you.



We can do better. We must do better.

3.15.2022

Light in the Darkest Hours

It was a song from an underground hip-hop collective: lo-fi beats, heavy turntablism, and cypher styled rap verses: “The Night We Called It a Day” by Deepspace5. This song (along with the rest of their debut album) helped me fall in love with the art and culture of rap music. The track opened with a melancholic acoustic guitar sample and the static of vinyl before the DJ starts scratching records. In the scratches, there’s a single spoken line, broken up with the flick of the DJ’s fingers.

“Those who need light - light-light - for those who need light in they darkest hours - in they darkest hours”
It’s like a grown up version of “This Little Light of Mine” for those who enjoy coffee shops and old school beats. Millions of kids listen to hip-hop as a means of escape. They enter it like a refuge - an oasis in the desert of urban violence. I understand them. I once used grunge and punk rock as a safe place from the torment of the bullies who verbally and physically abused me through my teen years. It was my light in my darkest hours.

Even though it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the song, I still get this Deepspace5 phrase stuck in my head, repeating like a mantra. I walk around with those nine words on repeat. For those who need light in they darkest hours. They darkest hours. Light in they darkest hours. Then I see those in their darkest hours who need some light and feel moved to speak up, to do something.

These days, those who need light in they darkest hours are easy to find. Between school shootings and police violence, natural disasters and pandemics, extreme politics and foreign wars, there’s a lot of light needed for a daunting number of people in their darkest hours.

Not everyone seeks light from darkness. Many seek light in darkness. While it seems counterintuitive, there are those who find light through scary stories. Whether told around campfires, read in pulp novels, listened to in true crime podcasts, or watched on the big screen, the elements of horror can distract us from the frights of real life. Somehow the darkness of vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and aliens are brighter than homes filled with abuse and addiction.

Kids will watch a slasher movie and think “if the final girl survives the masked serial killer hunting down teenagers, then I’ll survive my abusive parents.” Those in pain will read books about an exorcism and think “if the demons can be cast out from this possessed child, perhaps I can conquer my own demons.” Laughing at jump scares in video games help some kids feel less fear when police arrive to defuse a domestic disturbance.

So why do I love the horror genre? I was raised in a safe community by two parents who loved each other with no darkness to escape. My parents were not abusive. Despite being poor, they fed me and kept a roof over our heads. They supported my creative endeavors. I did not endure any major adolescent trauma. I never got into legal trouble. I was socially awkward but still had a few great friends. My parents didn’t even allow me to watch scary movies. Aside from being bullied, I had a decent childhood.

And I have a good life today. My parents are still together after nearly fifty years of marriage. I am married to a woman who loves me more than I knew was possible. I have a great job. I’m DJing and writing and farming and raising kids and have a life so full I could burst. Between the dogs and the horses and the family, I am surrounded by a loving support system and many reasons to celebrate. Yet I still crave books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’m enraptured by movies from Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro. I’m still thrilled when a creepy book or game keeps me awake all night. It seems I seek darkness in my brightest hours.

Thanks to the world of podcasts, I think I understand my unique proclivities. While driving around the INW for work, I’m listening to storytellers do what they do best. Hood Politics, Murder Myth & Mystery, The Secret Room, Haileywood. If iron sharpens iron, I hope to hone my own abilities to craft engaging tales.

In a recent episode of Morbid, Alaina Urquhart and Ashleigh Kelly shared stories of haunted lighthouses in America. One of those spooky landmarks is the Bolivar Point Lighthouse in Galveston Texas.

When a hurricane entered the Gulf of Mexico in 1900, H. C. Claiborne (the lighthouse keeper) wasn’t worried. He had purchased enough food to last through the season so he and his family could remain at Bolivar Point for a few months, and the lighthouse structure was strong. Claiborne was confident it could withstand any storm.

image courtesy of Lighthouse Friends

As you could imagine, meteorology was not as technically advanced at the beginning of the 20th century as it is today. No one was sure where the hurricane would make landfall. The big waves thrust into the shores of northeastern Texas became a spectacle with thousands of curious people crowding the beaches of Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula. Many of the onlookers ignored the warnings of local officials urging them to move inland and seek higher ground. By the time the storm surge reached land, it was too late. They were experiencing the deadliest natural disaster in American history.

It could have been deadlier - and would have if it had not been for Claiborne. The rising waters stranded a train with more than 300 passengers near the Bolivar Point lighthouse. They waded through the waters to reach the door of the tower. Claiborne opened it up and let in at least 125 of the passengers before he had to close and barricade the door.

Those who sheltered in the stairwell of the lighthouse found safety, but not comfort. Two or three people sat on every step of the spiral stairs, from the flooded entrance to the top level where Claiborne continued to perform his duties keeping the light shining to guide wayward ships into Galveston Bay. In the dark of storm and night, Claiborne rationed his family’s food supplies to make sure the storm’s refugees had something to eat, and the crowd drank rainwater to sate their thirst. What they didn’t know of until after the storm had passed were the bodies piling up outside the lighthouse door.

The Bolivar Lighthouse was a bright spot along the Texas coast. It was a beacon for sailors seeking safe harbor. Yet its greatest moment came when the tower was plunged into darkness and one selfless man saved 125 souls from a hurricane that killed 8000.

Within a week of hearing this story, I listened to a remastered episode of Lore about more lighthouses. The show focused on the reason tales of haunted lighthouses are so prevalent. These landmarks were designed to offer light, guidance, and hope. Yet throughout history, lighthouse buildings have been filled with the loneliness of isolation. They’ve been sites of grief and tragedy; homes to mental anguish, injury, and death. Ghosts may not exist but the reasons people believe they are real are valid.

Then the show’s host, Aaron Mahnke said something that was an a-ha moment for me. From this perspective, it all makes sense.
My interests and pursuits seem unlikely. A good boy raised in a stable Christian home should have never taken a liking to the horror genre. Yet I’ve found myself thriving somewhere between The Tell-Tale Heart and 30 Days of Night. I’ve lived a blessed life while reveling in the macabre.

The book I’m working on features characters enduring some dark events. When I’m done with this, I will begin working on a Christmas themed ghost story about a man haunted by his mistakes. The stories I’m crafting are filled with grief, loss, tragedy, and death - the basis of many of the monsters which lurk in the myths and fables of scary legends and modern lore. It seems Mahnke’s hypothesis is proven in me - my tales of horror come from where my light shines brightest.

In this way, I hope to become what God created me to be: a lighthouse. A place of light and a shelter in storm, often plunged into the agony, muck, and mire of human existence. Then from the darkness, continue to illuminate a way for others to survive the strife of their own lives.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, for those who need light in they darkest hours.

2.26.2022

The Ongoing Work of Black History and Racial Reconciliation Part Two

“I live in an area with a lot of racism.” This is how he began the conversation, referring to his Midwest residence. He could have removed his hometown from the discussion and his statement would still be true.

The land once occupied by the Aryan Nations is about a half hour from where I live. The region around me has been a safe haven for neo-nazis and white nationalists fleeing Southern California for decades. I know what it’s like to live an area where racism is common. Whether it’s the Midwest or left coast, a hick town or concrete jungle, purple mountains or waves of grain, from sea to shining sea, racial prejudice is an unfortunate stain blemishing the fabric of America. Bleaching it only makes it worse.

This kid (I say kid because I’m old enough to be his dad) and I bonded a couple days earlier while eating lunch and talking about video games. Turns out his little brother is the same age as my oldest son and as I described my boy, he kept telling me “oh my gosh, he sounds just like my lil bro.” When I said Christian’s spirit animal is a sloth, this kid bust up laughing. “Same for my brother.”

His question was genuine. He wanted to know how to handle working with people who don’t like him because of his dark brown skin. “I live in an area with a lot of racism. How do you work in homes where people hate you. I mean, a couple weeks ago we went to this place and they wouldn’t even allow me in their house.”

The person who answered him is of Mexican heritage. Coolest guy in the world: bald and bearded, wears Hawaiian shirts every day, and tells stories the same way Michael Peña does in the Ant-Man movies. He prefaced his answer with assurances as someone who has experienced similar situations. He talked about safety and team support.

My new friend inquired how to behave when confronted with inescapable racism. I wanted to scream at the unjustness of his question. I wanted to say “You shouldn’t have to deal with this. People shouldn’t hate you. It’s not right.”

Life without hatred is a myopic dream. The world as it should be is not the world as it is. In times like these, wishful thinking is as useless as empty platitudes. I couldn’t respond to his valid concern with a fantasy about an equitable America that doesn’t exist. Instead, I gave him what is perhaps the whitest advice I could muster. “Kill them with kindness. Don’t give them any justification for their hatred. If they’re going to spite you, it’ll be because of their own prejudice and not for anything you do.”

Thankfully he understood the point I was trying to make. He’s a good dude and capable of maintaining that goodness in all situations. “I like that,” he said. It’s a shame this kid lives so far away. I could see myself being a good friend, falling into a mentor type of role for him.

I shared a story with him about working with people whose biases I found offensive. When I DJ, I don’t get to choose my clients, they’re assigned to me. A couple days ahead of a gig, I was meeting with bride and groom to talk about their reception party when the groom said something disgustingly homophobic. I walked away from that meeting discouraged I’d be playing music for the guy who hates people I love.

If anything though, I am intellectually consistent. I believe bakeries run by bigoted bakers should have to make wedding cakes for gay weddings. But if the roles were reversed, the baker is gay and the client is homophobic, I think the baker should still have to make the cake for the anti-gay wedding. I might not like this dude’s attitude about the LGBT community but I believe he deserves to enjoy his wedding day the same as anyone else.

Then I remembered something. There’s a PFLAG sticker on my laptop. I was going to show up at a venue with that laptop and play music for a homophobic guy with a sticker on my laptop supporting Parents Family and Friends of Gays and Lesbians. My attitude changed. I stopped feeling like I was stuck with this guy. No - he was stuck with me.

“You’re not stuck with racists." I told my new friend. "You might show up to work in their home but remember you’re doing a job. You’ll be there for a couple hours then you’re gone. You’re not stuck because you get to move on. But those bigots are stuck with you because they need you to do something only you can do.”
image courtesy of Citizen Ed

I’m not naive. I know he’s going to return home and start working with people who think of him as a lesser person because of his skin color. It won’t be everyone. It won’t even be a majority of people. Still, as far as I care, even one home where he’s mistreated on the basis of race is too many. People who hold so much contempt for someone they’ve never met makes me wish their dad was a little more like my dad.

This is why I fight for racial reconciliation.

2.22.2022

The Ongoing Work of Black History and Racial Reconciliation Part One

My dad wasn’t a perfect father. That’s normal. I don’t think anyone is a perfect parent. We all do the best we can with the tools we’re given. We fail then learn and improve. My dad is a better father now than he ever was when I was a minor dependant. For all of the mistakes he made, he also got a lot of things right. One of dad’s biggest parenting wins is how he insisted my brother and I show love to people of the widest variety of ethnic backgrounds as possible. He instilled a value in Aaron and I demanding all people of all colors deserve our respect. He made sure we knew our black friends would always be welcomed in our home and treated with dignity.

He also lived by example. One of my dad’s best friends from college was a 7’ 1” African American dude named Duke. According to family legend, he was the first person outside my immediate family to hold me after I was born. I fit inside the palm of his hand and he held me at arm’s length like I was a basketball, pointed at me, and asked, “What am I supposed to do with him.” Apparently I was his first encounter with a newborn baby. The stories I was told about Duke are legendary. They helped form my perspectives about race. I always knew that if it I was safe as in infant in the hands of an African American, I would always be safe in the company of my black friends.
Duke is the tallest on the right. My dad is in the middle, in case you were wondering where my short genes came from.

Unfortunately, the black community where I grew up was small. Even today, less than 2% of Marysville’s population is African American. My opportunity to interact with black peers was limited. I also grew up in an era where the white kids at my school were comfortable using the N word as an insult. Despite regional biases, I worked hard to befriend the few black kids I knew. Like Nigel - the buddy who introduced me to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was in third grade. Or Sony who was a star soccer player at my high school and worked at the grocery store with my brother. When I met new black people, I wanted to be friends with them because I felt safer around them than I did around white people.

How? Because black kids didn’t call me names. Black kids didn’t bully me. Black kids didn’t push me or trip me in school hallways. Black kids didn’t pick fights with me or beat me up. There was a reason for their peacefulness but I didn’t understand it back then. All I knew: my African American friends were safe and my bullies were white.

I’m older now. In my adult years I’ve become a student of history and culture. I’ve grown to enjoy seeking out the bits of history left out of school text books. I’ve learned how the darker stories of our past have influenced certain communities of our culture. I’ve also realize how excluding these stories from public education has ill-informed other segments of our population.

George Washington’s abusive treatment of his slaves
The mass suicide of the Igbo in Dunbar Creek
The New Orleans massacre
The abundance of black cowboys in the Wild West
Jim Crow Laws
Redlining
The burning of Black Wall Street and the Tulsa race riots
The Tuskegee experiment
The FBI’s investigations into Martin Luther King Jr
Watts rebellion in LA
Jackson State killings
The Move bombing in Philadelphia
The creation of anti-drug laws
Mandatory minimum sentencing
Mass incarceration

This list barely scratches the surface of how the African diaspora has been mistreated or maligned throughout American history - and often perpetrated by our own government. Many of these segments of our history were unknown to me until I was in my 30s or older.

Then I became a data analyst and began studying statistics. I dug into the numbers around upward mobility, school spending, employment opportunities, wage gaps, wealth accumulation, and uneven policing practices. I looked at how this data affected different racial groups. These numbers tell a story of stacked odds and institutional disadvantages.

Looking at the evidence, the behavior of my childhood black friends made more sense. They were more likely to get into trouble for breaking the same rules as a white kid. And if they both got into trouble for the same thing, the black kid would frequently face harsher consequences than the white kid. I learned about this by analyzing the statistics as an adult. My black friends learned this truth through experience when they were still kids.

My dad did a great job raising Aaron and me to show grace and respect to people of all races. If everyone lived by these values, racial reconciliation wouldn’t be needed. However, reconciliation is still necessary because older generations continue to pass along their racial beliefs raising a new generation of racists. As long as bigotry rears its ugly head, there’s work to be done. As long as discrimination disguises itself in coded language and gets legislated through “reasonable” policies, we still have a struggle to face. And as long as young black men ask how they’re supposed to do their jobs under the hostile pressure of white supremacists, I cannot stay silent.

1.19.2022

This Church Probably Doesn’t Exist

I want a church where sermons focus on applying biblical teachings to daily living. I can see motivational speakers outside of church and fear mongering is counterproductive.

I want a church where biblical study is open for everyone to participate, ask questions, disagree, and learn from each other. Discuss what it actually means as a group instead of letting the pastor tell you. This is how scripture was studied when Jesus walked the earth.

I want a church where musical worship is a communal activity. Anyone can play an instrument (bring your own) and everyone sings. Together. Take the attention off the stage and focus on God. This was Paul’s instruction to the church in Ephesus: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” Musical talent shouldn’t matter; after all, the psalms tell us to make a joyful noise, not a pleasant one.

I want a church where dancing is viewed as a method of worship just as King David danced when the arc of the covenant was returned to Jerusalem. Even if it is undignified.

I want a church where grief and mourning are accepted as an act of worship. One psalmist wrote “the sacrifices God desires is a broken spirit and contrite heart.” Elsewhere the poet told us the Lord is close to the broken hearted. I want a church where people can openly and honestly lament without being told to get over it or move on.

I want a church that prioritizes care for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. The Bible often instructs its readers to care for orphans, widows, and foreigners - going as far as calling it a religion that is pure and undefiled. From Levitical law, through the gospels, into the New Testament epistles, this is one of the most commonly repeated commands. These verses also include other maligned groups - impoverished people, hired workers, prisoners, homeless individuals, and more. Serving what Jesus called “the least of these” should be of greater value than serving ourselves.

I want a church that embraces social justice. The book of Jeremiah tells us to do justice and righteousness. Deuteronomy tells us those who pervert justice will be cursed. Micah says God requires us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.

I want a church that understands Christianity is not an American thing. We should recognize the oldest church buildings in the world are found in Syria and Egypt and the oldest Christian communities are in Armenia and Ethiopia. Even the first convert into Christianity (according to biblical record) was a man from Ethiopia. God’s covenant is for all people of all nations and there is no biblical basis for thinking America has a privileged relationship with or unique protection from God.

I want a church that isn’t offended when someone says “Black Lives Matter” and isn’t scared to talk about critical race theory. Paul tells us there should be no racial discrimination in the church, declaring both Jewish and Greek people are equal because of Jesus. As long as racism is rampant in America, I want a church that fights for reconciliation, supports minority communities, and amplifies voices of POC leaders.

I want a church that sees the feminine in the divine, not limiting God to exclusive masculinity. Genesis says both male and female were created in God’s image so the personhood of God must be simultaneously male and female.

I want a church that values and promotes women’s rightful place in leadership. God chose a woman to bring the Messiah into the world; Jesus chose women to be the first to preach the gospel; and Paul calls out Pricilla, Julia, Junia, Phoebe, and Chloe as partners in ministry. Women were active in and essential to establishing the early church and they must be allowed the same roles today.

I want a church that affirms the LGBT community. The first Christian convert from Ethiopia was also a eunuch. Such people were considered sexual deviants and were not allowed to enter the temple. If the early church welcomed those rejected by established religious traditions, we should do the same thing today. If all people are created in God’s image, then all bear God’s image regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I want a church that isn’t afraid of foul language, skeptical attendees, uncomfortable questions, provocative conversations, and taboo topics. I want a church that supports public education, believes in science, protects the health and safety of their communities, and realizes the most qualified people to provide counseling are licensed therapists.

I want a church who takes God’s command to Adam in the creation story seriously – to work the land and take care of it. I want a church who realizes earth’s resources are limited and we must be good stewards of the environment. We cannot continue to strip God’s creation in the name of human progress.

I want a church who calls nationalism, prosperity gospel, and capitalism what they are: idolatry. I want a church that eschews the ideals of consumerism, white supremacy, jingoism, and collection of wealth. I want a church that abandons teachings rooted in colonialism, American exceptionalism, patriarchy, classism, ableism, homophobia, and xenophobia.

I want a church where anyone is safe to express their reservations, their hopes, and their fears. I want a church were anyone regardless of their background, personality, existing beliefs, or economic status can walk through the doors and feel welcomed. When someone says “I have my doubts,” I want a church that says “So do we.”


Maybe a church like this doesn’t exist. Perhaps this is asking too much. I can dream though.

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