Loose Change

To the stranger who was trying to pay for his breakfast and morning coffee with a pocket-full of nickles and dimes and still came up short: I see you. I watched as you exited the gas station with your head down and open your truck door to dig through the crevices between and underneath seat cushions. I could read your expression of worry and frustration. The cashier voided out your transaction while your pile of coins sat on the counter in front of her. I paid for my coffee then asked how much more you needed to make your purchase. It was only 49 cents more than what you already provided.

I rarely carry cash on me, and I save most of my quarters for laundry money, but I couldn't be my normal self as I watched you frantically search the cab of your truck for a few more loose coins. I had quarters in my pocket, so I got you covered.

Some people might view you with indifference - if they even notice you at all. Some might look at you with pity. But I didn't. I saw you much the same way I see myself at 7am: a man in desperate need of caffeine. More than that though, I want you to know you're not alone.

I've been there. I know what it is like to struggle, to barely be keeping it all together. I know how it feels to scramble, making sure that every penny counts for something. I am familiar with that ache of insecurity wondering how I was going to pay for everything that needed paid.

My prayer is for you to know that whatever you're going through right now is temporary. I pulled two quarters from my pocket in the smallest of economic gestures, but you still have a life time of burdens on your shoulders. It's OK. And even if it's not OK, it's going to be OK. Some day, you will walk into the gas station to pick up your morning coffee and something to eat and you won't have to count out small denominations of loose change to pay for it. Some day, you'll be comfortable buying yourself breakfast without worry or stress.

That day is coming. When it happens, I hope you will notice someone struggling and remember what it was like. I hope in that moment you will find your own way to let them know they are not alone, you know how they feel, and their troubles will not last forever. And I hope your tiniest act of generosity will fill you with joy and you will come to realize the same revelation I had this morning: that the struggle was worth it.


Dear Church, Please Stop

In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Bilbo accompanied a band of Dwarves on their quest to reclaim Lonely Mountain from the control of the dragon Smaug. To reach the dwarven home, Bilbo's party had to pass through Mirkwood - a dense, dangerous, and gloomy forest. There were only two paths through Mirkwood; Gandalf instructed the party to take the hidden Elf-Path because the main route (the Old Forest Road) was too far to the south, inconvenient in both time and resources.

Along the way, Bilbo and the Dwarves got distracted. One became enchanted. The rest wasted all of their arrows in failed attempts to hunt deer. Hungry, discouraged, and hallucinating, the group strayed from the path and got lost. Unable to find their way through Mirkwood, they were captured by giant spiders then imprisoned by wood elves. They had a plan but lost direction. Due to their own folly, they depleted their food supply, nearly lost their lives, and risked failing their quest.

As Christians, our mission is clear. At the end of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructed his disciples to make more disciples, to travel to all nations, baptizing them and teaching about Jesus. Paul instructed the Corinthian church to adhere to a ministry of reconciliation "not counting people's sins against them" so the world could be reconciled in Christ. That is our quest. Our Lonely Mountain is to deliver the gospel to the ends of the earth and restore the broken relationship between humanity and God.

However, I fear the modern church has (like the heroes in The Hobbit) strayed from the path. Our culture is Mirkwood and we have become enchanted by populist ideals of American exceptionalism. We have wasted our efforts and arrows hunting down the American dream of comfort and prosperity. We are now facing giant spiders of political idolatry. We may be captured by irrelevance. We risk failing our quest.

I have some ideas. Granted, I could be wrong but this is what I've observed.

We became too consumed with being theologically correct that we have forgotten how to be kind.
We are so busy defending our doctrine to consider if our doctrine is sound.
We worked so hard to make our worship services safe for us that we have made them unsafe for for the unchurched.
We tried to make a nation of disciples rather than making disciples of all nations.
We focused on the promise of eternal life after death and many of us forgot to live an abundant life before death.
We shouted down anyone who disagreed with us so frequently that our words and our actions rarely aligned.
We demonized those who didn't share our beliefs to the extent that we have alienated our mission field.
We were quick to share blatant falsehoods that supported our biases then forgot how the truth will set us free.
We embraced the double whammy of ignorance and arrogance as if intelligence and humility were a source of shame.
We spent so much time building churches that we failed to be the church.

Our witch hunts turned us into monsters.
Our moral authority left us morally bankrupt.
Our evangelism become an inquisition.
Our hopes were replaced by paranoia.
Our compassion soured into contempt.

Then we wonder why people are hostile to our message. We wonder why young people are abandoning the church. We wonder why "unaffiliated" is the fastest growing religious demographic in America.

Have we abandoned the greatest commandments? To love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind; and to love others in the same way that we love ourselves? Have we given up on the instruction of Jesus to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who mistreat us? Did we quit caring for the poor, the hungry, the stranger, and the prisoner? Do we no longer see Jesus in the least of these?

Dear church, please stop.

It is time to revolt. I refuse to accept a culture where God's people no longer bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I will rebel against Christians who do not clothe themselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. I will not forget that Jesus came to save the world and not condemn it. I believe the God who once said "come now, let us reason together" is the same God who called us to do good and seek justice.

So dear church, if you're not willing to welcome and care for the immigrant as the Bible commands, please stop. If you won't engage in the pure and undefiled religion of meeting the needs of orphans and widows, please stop. If you worry more about the welfare of the healthy than you do the sick, please stop. What you're doing is no longer working. We cannot continue being jerks for Jesus.

We need to do something new. Thankfully, our God is a creative God capable of things that have never been done before. Jesus told us "A new command I give you, love one another." Through the prophet Isaiah, God said "Behold I'm doing a new thing." The same old strategies we've been using aren't working, so let's embrace the new command. Let us love. As for the new thing God was doing in Isaiah? "I will make a pathway in the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland."

Dear church, we do not need to be lost in the wilderness and wastelands. God has given us a path through our Mirkwood.


Terminators Not Included

If, at some point in the distant future we discover the secrets of time travel and invent unstoppable murder robots that look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, today is the day that future humans will try and prevent from happening.

Before we begin to debate if the past is immutable, discuss the elasticity of time, and argue if such actions would create a causal loop or a grandfather paradox, let me assure you - all that discussion about the theoretical specifics of breaking the space-time continuum is irrelevant. Regardless of what humanity invents in the decades and centuries to come, I am without doubt that history books will not look back at this era with kindness. At some point in time, I am sure my grandkids will want an explanation: how did we allow this to happen.

How did this happen? Why did we elect to be president someone so obnoxiously arrogant, insultingly brash, disturbingly unprepared, and monumentally unfit for office? How could we have ever been OK with coronating the most unpopular candidate of the modern era?

I have been wrestling with those questions since the results of November's election became apparent. I don't have good answers. Not confident I ever will. I can't fix the past, even if I had a Cyberdyne T-800 and a method to send it back in time. But I do have the opportunity, perhaps even the moral obligation to fix the future.

In recent months, I have made my opinion of our new president abundantly clear. Since Trump rode down his golden escalator in June of 2015, I have mentioned him in eight different posts on this blog. Three of those are specifically about him, two of which I described him as an ass. Now, as he is to assume his presidential role, those of us who have been critical of him for the past nineteen months are left with two choices: resist or resign.

While there is part of me who hopes to see Trump fail so miserably that his ego will never recover, I also realize a fumbling leader is bad for America. And I could throw myself into eager support in hopes of some jingoistic attempt to end the polarized divisions in our country, but I refuse to normalize Trump’s aberrant behavior. The gangrenous underbelly of America’s worst citizens might now be emboldened by the hateful rhetoric of Trump’s campaign, but I will not ever accept racism, homophobia, misogyny, and mockery of the disabled to be acceptable.

But what have I to fear? I am a straight, white, Christian, male. This nation tends to favor guys like me. If Trump’s past actions are a good predictor of how he will act in the future, then the next four years should be utopic.

Here is my reality though. I have friends who are gay. I have friends that are not white. I have friends that are not Christian. I have friends who are women. Many of them are somewhere between concerned and alarmed. Many of them are understandably anxious. While it would be a great relief for President Trump to be an improvement over candidate Trump, we have no evidence to support such a change in character is likely. I cannot in good conscience celebrate that which causes my friends to mourn.

I am not comfortable embracing doom. While it would be every geek’s dream to see a zombie apocalypse come to fruition, it’s clear I would not survive. (I’ve failed to practice cardio.) Nor am I willing to support oppression. This leaves me in a precarious balance between fighting and flailing.

So, what will it be? Resist or resign? Protest or surrender? How do I fix the future?

From now through the day Trump leaves office, I will be watching closely. Any policy, proposal, or action that benefits the lower, middle, and working classes, I will applaud. Anything Trump does to support education, repair our crumbling infrastructure, create domestic stability, and improve foreign relations, I will gladly demonstrate support. However, should Trump make any attempt to restrict our rights to free press, free speech, or the freedom of religion, I will object. Should Trump do anything that causes harm to the LGBT community, discriminates against Mexican or African American populations, or perpetuates violence against women, I will be vocal in my opposition.

They say those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. It is possible that we are repeating the failures of a previous generation. My goal is to teach my kids (and someday their kids) the error of our ways so that future generations never repeat the mess we’ve created for ourselves. And maybe, if we’re lucky, there will be no need for them to send us a cybernetic assassin to prevent all of this from happening.

Regardless of what happens over the next four years, whether Trump turns out to the best president ever or the worst, I can promise one thing. I will never hesitate to forfeit my privilege for the sake of those who do not have privilege. I will be an advocate for the underdogs, the left out, and the left behinds. I will be an ally for those who are weak and weary. I will speak for those who have no voice. I will be a safe place.



I have great respect for Mark Wahlberg. Although, I am not a huge fan of his acting career. He has roles in some films I thoroughly enjoyed like Three Kings and The Italian Job. However, it's been a few years since I have been excited to see one of his movies (2013's 2 Guns which was a disappointment) and since then it seems most of his work is either based on recent true events like Deep Water Horizon and Patriots Day or cash grabs like the Transformers sequels. Over all, his on-screen work doesn't impress me. But in his personal life, he seems like a decent guy. He's a devout catholic and a devoted dad who is teaching his kids that they're lucky. In an interview with USA Weekend, he said he wants his kids "to know that not everyone is as fortunate and how important it is to work hard and give back." Wahlberg is also active with charities benefiting youth and homeless women.

He might be a model citizen now, but he wasn't always a saint. His teen years were marred by drug use, violent crime, and gang activity. He harassed and assaulted minorities in racially motivated attacks and spent some time in jail after being charged with attempted murder.

With his wayward younger years behind him, Wahlberg is deeply religious and adamantly liberal. He was a supporter of Obama's reelection campaign in 2012, donated money to several candidates for the Democrat party, and has been vocal in his support of same-sex marriage. Last November, he was interviewed by Task & Purpose Magazine where he said that celebrities shouldn't talk about politics. In recent weeks (since Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes), a quote from the Task & Purpose interview has been frequently shared through social media - predominantly (and ironically) by people who skew to the conservative end of the political spectrum.

There is a lot of irony here. A celebrity that is vocal about his political ideals claiming celebrities shouldn't talk about politics. A person who lives in a bubble accusing others in Hollywood of living in a bubble. An actor criticizing others for how they earn a paycheck even though his paycheck is earned in the same manner. The words of a die-hard liberal being passed around by conservative voters as if it was from the voice of God.

Yet I understand what Wahlberg was trying to say. The interviewer was asking him about the surprising results of Trump's election and Wahlberg's answer was an attempt to explain how so many of his peers don't understand the typical American. He was providing a rationale behind the grandest of ironies - how a populace tired of coastal elites who are out of touch with society voted for a coastal elite who is out of touch with society. Those who live in a bubble have a hard time understanding what life is like outside of the bubble.

The magazine interview contained more from Wahlberg that clarified his perspective. Because of his tough past, he understands what the real world is like for the common person. Thanks to his successful career, he also understands what life is like inside the bubble of Hollywood. He has lived life both inside and outside that bubble. Not everyone has had the same opportunity. Many of Hollywood's biggest stars were born into either fame or wealth. Many of them have been pursuing their dreams since they were kids or got their breakthrough as a child star. Their lives are contained within the 30ish square miles of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Malibu. The closest some of them have been to a Midwestern wheat field or a slum apartment was on a soundstage. For most people, it is easy to look at famous faces and see that they don't understand what it is like to be us.

Wahlberg has a valid point, but it brings up some other concerns. If we truly believe that celebrity opinions don't matter, then why should we give any credence to Wahlberg's opinion? Is this a case of confirmation bias? Do we only care about celebrity opinions when they align with our own? Not all celebrities were always celebrities, so at what point do their opinions cease to be important? Are their opinions less valid the day after they find fame than they were the day before? What makes my beliefs and experiences of any greater value than a professional athlete, musician, or movie star? What if famous people have just as much right to possess an opinion as the average citizen? What if you and I have the same rights to voice our opinions as celebrities?

I have met a few famous people. I've had conversations with authors, artists, film producers, comedians, and rock stars. In all those interactions, one thing was apparent: they are just as human as any other person walking the face of this planet. Like anyone else you encounter on a day to day basis they have hopes and aspirations; they have fears and pet peeves. They might eat at more expensive restaurants, live in bigger houses, and wear fancier clothing, but they are as capable of experiencing joy and sorrow as anyone. The biggest difference between them and me is the size of our platforms. If I share my thoughts, it will reach 100 people. They share their views and millions will hear. I am allowed to speak my mind. Freedom of speech demands celebrities be afforded the same liberty, even if I don't like what they have to say.

Most celebrities might not be able to understand what it is like to be me, a single father and part-time writer. Yet I don't understand what it is like to be them. I will never know what it is like to spend a thousand dollars on drinks at a swanky Los Angeles nightclub - my eyes double in size when I see that my mojito cost eight bucks. I'll never attend a party in the Hollywood Hills - my idea of a good time is a game of Quelf with a few close friends. I can't imagine what it would be like to pay hundreds of dollars in a boutique for a single pair of shoes - most of my wardrobe was purchased at a thrift shop. Hollywood A-listers might not be able to relate to me because they live in a bubble, but I can't relate to them because I live in a bubble too.

In fact, we all live in bubbles. Mine is suburban life; I have lived most of my days in the suburbs of Seattle, Boise, and Spokane. I wouldn't have a clue to what life is like for a celebrity, but I would not understand what life is like for a kid growing up in inner-city projects either. Or someone who has lived and worked on a ranch for their entire life. Or someone who lives in a community dependent on one or two factories on the brink of closure. Or in a mining town. Or a city along the Mexican border.

We all live in bubbles. Someone who has never left the five boroughs of New York City will only understand life inside their urban bubble. They wouldn't begin to understand what it is like for the kid who grew up in a cornfield outside Yankton South Dakota. And the kid from the farming bubble doesn't know what it is like to live and work in the resorts around Aspen Colorado. And the ski bubble resident doesn't know what it is like to rely on catching lobster along the coast of Maine. We all live in a bubble and the only way to understand what life is like in someone else's bubble is to get out of our bubble.

The best explanation I have heard to explain how Trump got elected is the belief that those in the bubble of Hollywood elites and liberal media are out of touch with the American heartland. So middle America voted for an absurdly wealthy man who lives in a literal gilded bubble.

Maybe Trump isn't the problem. Maybe he is the logical conclusion of issues that existed long before he ever announced his candidacy. Maybe the biggest dilemma is how we don't understand each other. All of our racism and xenophobia and hatred is a result of spending too much time in our own bubble. We came to believed our fear of others was justified. We fed our fears and created enemies out of people who are just as much American as we are.

I don't think Mark Wahlberg's quote from Task & Purpose was a condemnation of everyone in Hollywood. He was demonstrating how he's more uniquely aware of life outside of of fame. How? Because he grew up in the bubble of a rough neighborhood on the south side of Boston. He spent time in the bubble of prison. He sorted through his troubles in the bubble of a Catholic parish. And he has worked and thrived inside the bubble of Hollywood. Wahlberg understands both the life of luxury and what it is like to struggle. He knows because he left his bubble.

If we want to heal the divides in America, if we want to survive the next four years of Trump's presidency, if we want to elect better leaders, we should probably follow Wahlberg's example. We need to burst our bubbles. We need to spend some time outside of our little worlds. We need to get out of our comfort zone and experience other slices of American culture.


When humor fails

Every day, when the final bell rings at Christian's school, my oldest walks one mile to the school his younger siblings attends. There he waits for a few minutes until their classes are over and I pick all three kids up in one location. Or, at least that is how it usually works in warmer weather.

I don't mind making him walk to and from school when there is snow on the ground, but I don't want him walking when the the temperatures are in the low teens or single digits. Since the last week of school before Christmas break through today and potentially into next week have been cold enough to discourage his status as a pedestrian, I have been dropping him off in the mornings. I still give him the option to walk after school but also let him know that he is free to call me if he wants me to pick him up.

Today, right on schedule, my phone rang and I saw his school's name flash onto the display. I answered.

Me: "Hey kid."
Christian: "Hi. So, um ... I was calling because ... "
Me: "You wanted to let me know you were going to walk to your brother and sister's school?"
Christian: "No."
Me: "Because you wanted to borrow my teleportation device?"
Christian: "NO!"

Like most dads I know, my goal is to be a good dad. I want my children to grow into functioning and productive members of society. I want them to know that I will be there for them whenever they need me, whether it is to celebrate their success or to support them when the road is rough.

Yet I aspire for something more. Sure I desire to be a good dad, but also wish to be a funny dad. The kind that can make my kids laugh. The kind my kids' friends think is cool even when my kids find me embarrassing. Most days I feel like a success. I enjoy my time with the kids and the smiles and laughter they bring light up my world. My oldest is unquestionably sure I could find a second career as a comedian.

Sometimes I fear, however, that my attempts to be funny are mistaken for my serious face. The moment when Christian called this afternoon to ask for a ride was one of those times where my humor and my lack of humor where indistinguishable.

Of course I knew Christian wanted me to pick him up on the way to get his siblings. I knew his intentions when he called, before I even answered the phone. I don't own a teleportation device so that comment could not have been a logical or serious suggestion. But for a bizarre few seconds, Christian thought I was completely somber. He was getting impatient with my repeated failed attempts to guess what he wanted from me.

It all turned out well. I assured him that yes, indeed, I would pick him up from school. When I arrived, I found him out front waiting for me, reading a book, lounging underneath the cold winter sun. Like this:

He said it was surprisingly comfortable.

Later tonight, he asked me if it was time for him to go to bed. I told him, "You must ask yourself, it it a good time to go to bed now? Or if now is a good time to go to bed?" That one made him laugh. My work here is done. Thank you, goodnight.


Glass Cutters

Marcus was my first artistic friend. Granted, it is hard to brag on the artwork of four year olds but I remember his skill exceeding the rest of those in our age group. We were in the same preschool class which was inevitable since his parents and my parents attended the same church.

He was always doodling pictures of monsters and he had imaginative stories to accompany each piece. His parents would frequently invite me over to their house for lunch after church and the earliest memories I have with him were in his yard re-enacting epic sagas of his invention.

He was also a big Star Wars fan. One day, for show-and-tell, he brought in a Millennium Falcon playset. It was one of those huge plastic beasts large enough to fit action figures inside of it, with removable panels to see the cockpit and other sections of the interior. Back in 1983, it was the holy grail of Star Wars toys and cost more than my parents would have ever spent on a gift for me. I had a Han Solo action figure. And Chewbacca. But Marcus had their ship, their home, the place where they belonged.

From that moment on, I thought Marcus was the coolest kid my age. In 1987, he was the first in my circle of friends to see The Monster Squad and Spaceballs. Afterwards, he told me about all of the most salacious parts of each movie and the phrase "Wolfman's got nards" quickly became an inside joke.

Unfortunately, geography drew us apart. He and I were districted for different elementary schools, so once preschool was over we would only see each other at church. We both developed friendships with classmates that we interacted with more frequently. A few years later, we attended the same middle school, but by then we rarely interacted.

Over the years of our childhood, his personality changed. Once the most comical and outgoing of my peers, Marcus grew to be more introverted and soft-spoken. By the time we were teenagers, he didn't speak much. At a rewards ceremony for our wrestling team when we were in ninth grade, Coach Iverson praised his skill on the mat and gave the most accurate description of Marcus's personality that I've ever heard. Coach said, "When Marcus joined the team, I didn't know much about him. But after working with him every day for the past few months, I still don't know much about him."

Even in youth group, Marcus maintained his brevity. He and I didn't hang out much but he was always someone I respected because of our shared status as youth group misfits. Like me, he wasn't one of the popular kids. Due to his quiet and unassuming persona, he was often overlooked or ignored. He did not go to any of the youth camps or retreats but he would show up for other events like attending Mariners games or parties held at the church.

At one of our white elephant Christmas exchanges, he brought a big heavy box that everyone assumed would be the best gift. Instead, it contained a large rock (miniature boulder) that he dug up out of his yard. Even in silence, he was a practical joker.

Once a year our youth group held an all-nighter. My favorite memory with Marcus happened at one of these all night parties.

On a Friday night, all of the teens gathered around dinner time at the church where we played group games that only 90's era church kids would understand and snacked on the type of foods potheads buy when they get the munchies. One of the leaders led a quick devotional then we piled into church vans to travel to our first destination: the Family Fun Center in Edmonds. We spent the evening with mini-golf, batting cages, and arcade games until closing time. We returned to the vans and headed off to the next location.

Around midnight, we arrived at a gym facility rented out from a local campground. Inside was a basketball court, volleyball court, a couple ping-pong tables, an air hockey table, a foosball table, a collection of Nerf footballs, and several of those rubber balls once used for dodgeball. We were trapped there until 5am and no one was allowed outside.

I don't know which of our youth leaders thought it would be a good idea to herd a bunch of sleep deprived teens into a gym in the middle of the night and expect them to be sporty for five hours, and I don't know if they would do the same thing today. What I do know is when we left the gym, most of us were exhausted and would have preferred bed instead of breakfast.

Sleep would have to wait because our leaders took us all out for breakfast. During the 20 minute ride in the church vans while we drove from the middle of nowhere to the Denny's in Everett, half of us dozed off and the rest were were silently staring out the windows like zombies.

We typically held these all-nighters in late January or early February. That meant the mornings were cold and frosty as we climbed out of the van and stumbled into Denny's. The coldest of our all night excursions happened during my junior year of high school and it was on this trip where Marcus uttered one of the funniest statements I have ever heard.

The van he and I rode got to Denny's first; our leader made us get out of the vehicle and wait in the parking lot for the other van to arrive. We stood there, shivering, complaining of the low temperatures, and observing our breath form clouds as it escaped our lips.

Then Marcus spoke: "My nipples could cut glass."

All conversation ceased. Everyone turned and stared at Marcus. For some of the kids in our youth group, they had never heard Marcus say more than one or two words at a time, let alone a complete sentence. Furthermore, our church was extremely conservative. Mention of certain body parts was taboo and the nipple was one of those parts of which we shouldn't speak. To describe nipples as being as hard as a diamond or tungsten steel was definitely verboten. His comment broke the ice - literally and figuratively. Suddenly, no one cared about the cold. We were laughing by the absurdity and audacity of what Marcus had to say.

When we were four, Marcus gained my admiration for his Star Wars fandom. When we were sixteen, he cemented my admiration for saying things no one else was brave enough to say.

Why do I share this story now? Because it is that time of year. The nights are long and the air is frigid. For those of us in North Idaho, this is the season where single digit and negative temperatures are normal. Through the years, that one out-of-nowhere comment has stuck with me. And last night, in my apartment, it was the only way I could think to describe how cold I felt. My nipples could cut glass.

It is not a phrase of my design. I am neither funny or creative enough to create such a remark on my own. I can only thank my childhood friend Marcus for his inventive eloquence.