Dear church, you have always been there for me. It must have been easy for you as I am a straight white male. Over the past few years, as I have spent time with friends who are not straight, who are not white, and who are not male, I have discovered how you have not shown them the same accommodations I received. I thought my experience was normal because the bible directs us to love without discrimination and to heal the brokenhearted. The church's mission is a ministry of reconciliation, to be a refuge for those who are hurting, a triage for the sick, and a beacon of light for the lost. True religion is one which protects the orphan, the widow, and the immigrant. Dear church, you have failed.

During the past few years, the world has witnessed multiple women's movements. In response, you have either been silent or defiant. When social media exploded with stories and personal accounts concluding with the tag #YesAllWomen, many guys - especially those within the church reacted badly. They dismissed this trend, humiliated the victims, and posted their own defense of #NotAllMen. The day after Donald Trump's inauguration, millions of women gathered to march in protest in dozens of American cities. A year later, there were more women's marches held in more cities with greater attendance. In both events, the church was largely absent. You showed up after the fact and only then as a critic. With recent causes like #MeToo, #ChurchToo, and #TimesUp, you continued to act with judgement and criticism. Dear church, your actions condemn you.

What you have done makes sense to me. I was raised at the height of purity culture when the bestselling Christian book was 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye.' My generation was taught modestly dressed girls were the only way to prevent a boy's hormonal urges because boys were not responsible for their insatiable sexual desires. Talking about sexuality was taboo and anything outside of puritan norms was condemned. You instilled in us a sense of shame around sex, even if it was consensual. You preached standards with little to no biblical basis and abandoned us with unhealthy images of ourselves, romance, dating, marriage, and intercourse. Purity culture was the logical result of generations of patriarchal dominance. Taken to its furthest extent, these beliefs led to a world where rape and sexual assault is justified and the victim is labeled as a liar or a slut. Dear church, you are at fault.

Even the author of 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye' admits he got it wrong. He recognizes the damages he caused. You still treat the book like it's sacred. Dear church, you have contributed to the trauma many women have experienced because of the shame and guilt you taught them to feel.

The cost of toxic masculinity is becoming more and more apparent. You warn us about hedonistic secular culture, yet you contribute to one of its greatest flaws: the objectification and exploitation of women. One by one, vile men are losing their positions of power as their previous deeds of rape or sexual assault are becoming public knowledge. From politics to sports to entertainment to industry, victims continue to come forward and reveal the depravity of those we once respected. These accusations of sexual misconduct even reach into the church. Dear church, you are not innocent.

20 years ago, while a youth pastor in Texas, Andy Savage sexually assaulted a high school student who attended his church after he offered to give her a ride home. Following his crime, he begged her to keep it secret. When she reported it to the church's associate pastor, he didn't report it to the police. Instead, he ordered her to remain quiet so the church could deal with it internally. Savage was never criminally charged; he is now the pastor at a megachurch in Memphis. A few weeks ago, he admitted to his church there was a "sexual incident" between him and a minor. His congregation gave him a standing ovation. Dear church, you are an accomplice, you share the offender's guilt.

Last week, Rachael Denhollander testified at the sentencing trial for Larry Nassar. Nassar was the physician convicted of sexually molesting more than 150 girls over the last three decades. For more than 30 minutes, Denhollander delivered a beautiful gospel filled plea for justice. While watching it, I wanted to applaud her and weep on her behalf. Halfway through her speech, she described the cost of her bravery, detailing cost of speaking truth. She lost her friends, her privacy, and her church. She lost her church because she leveled legal charges against her abuser. Dear church, you are supposed to be a safe place for victims. You should have loved and supported Denhollander amid her crisis, instead you shunned her and turned her away. Dear church, you are guilty of a dereliction of duty.

This needs to stop. It’s time for the church to stand up and be the church. It’s time for the church to protect the victims and not the abusers. We need to quit pretending our own indiscretions don’t exist. We need to repent and accept the consequences when appropriate. Then we need to sit down, shut up, and listen. For generations we have silence women – often when feminine voices were needed the most. Dear church, it’s time to give them back their voice.

Lucky for you, we have no shortage of intelligent and articulate women. Beth Moore, Rachel Held Evans, Anne Lamott, Ann Voskamp, Jen Hatmaker, Bernice King, Glennon Doyle, and so many more. Dear church, hand them a microphone then get out of the way. You might not like what they have to say but what you want to hear no longer matters. You are culpable and your time is up.


Something about timing ...

It was summer when Annie and I started dating. Our first date was on July 23rd. It was a Friday. The next date was on a Saturday. Then another Saturday. A month later we went on a Tuesday evening hike on Tubbs Hill. Exactly one month later. August 23rd.

That date was significant because it was the night we decided we wanted a serious relationship with each other. Not just dating, but something more. Something deeper. From the first date to the evening beside Lake Coeur d'Alene, it took us exactly 31 days to decide we each saw something in the other that we wanted in our lives.

We spent a lot of time just the two of us. Dinners. Walks in a park. Movies. Several philosophical, religious, political, and personal conversations. We did not publicize the relationship on social media at first because we wanted to be sure we were grounded together before telling the whole world. We also waited a few months before introducing each other to the friends we hung out with before dating. Three months to be exact. It was August 23rd when two of my best friends gathered with us for a bonfire at Annie's house.

A first date in July, commitment in August, introduction of friends in October. Each on the 23rd of their respective months.

So much of what we believe and value line up. Our strategies for parenting. Our attitudes about money and finances. Our love languages and the way we communicate with each other. Our opinions about laws and what they should or should not be. Our tastes in music, sports, and entertainment.

Even the foods we love and hate are similar. We both dislike seafood of any kind. We both despise stuffing and cranberry sauce at holiday dinners. We both consider Ming Wah as our favorite Chinese restaurant. When we go out to eat, it's easy to find a meal to share because there will always be something on the menu we both like. During an early date at MOD Pizza, we both ordered pepperoni and pineapple pizzas; the only difference between us is she placed her order with tomatoes and red sauce while I got cilantro and red onions on BBQ sauce.

We are a lot alike. However, Annie and I are not identical people. She is far craftier, better at Scrabble, and a talented photographer. I'm the writer with a stronger preference for spicy foods. She's a country girl and I am a textbook nerd. We are not twins. Between the similarities and differences, we compliment each other.

With so much in common, it only makes sense the significant days in our relationship also share something in common.

We got engaged this last weekend. I admitted I would be a fool to endlessly date such a wonderful woman without a ring and she accepted my proposal. It was a beautiful moment, uniquely perfect for our family.

Monday, while we ate dinner, Annie shared an observation. "You know we have a thing about months, right?" I didn't understand what she meant at first. She clarified it was about timing. "We became official exactly a month after the first date. And I met some of your friends on the same date a couple months later. Everything was on the 23rd."

Ah, I knew what she was talking about. Then she continued. "Do you realize you proposed exactly one month before Valentine's Day?"

Nope. Truth is, I hadn't thought about it. Definitely didn't plan it to be like that. We just have something about timing.

Naturally, when a couple move from dating to engaged, the most frequently asked question is when. When is the wedding date? This is a question neither of us made much preemptive effort to resolve. It is not the most urgent issue to us. Yet we have something about timing so Monday night, we discussed it.

So, mark your calendars. Tentatively speaking. August 23rd, 2020. It is a Sunday. While not set in stone, the idea of getting married exactly four years to the day after the moment we agreed to make us us is wildly romantic. Besides, we have a thing about timing.


A Lost Generation

My generation doesn't have a name so you might not have heard of us.
Generation X ended in the late 70's, Millinials started in the early 80's, and we were born somewhere in between.
A gap generation.
No one talks about my generation.

My generation has always been on the edge of something.
We were born with the death of disco and graduated high school when ska got popular.
We were too young to relate to Reality Bites and too old to relate to Superbad.

We inherited our older siblings' sense of apathy and borrowed a sense of entitlement from our younger siblings.
I guess we got the worst of both worlds.

We were the last generation to watch Saturday morning cartoons and the first generation to watch Nickelodeon.
Now we are Cartoon Networks' target audience.

We were the last generation to experience analog technology and the first generation to experience digital technology.
We are the only generation to be raised on both.
We were guinea pigs.
The test subjects.
Our education was an experiment with mixed results.

We learned from both Mr. Rogers and Super Mario.
We watched the rise and fall of AOL.
We were in school before and after Google.
We perfected social media and made it unbearable.

We were weened on vinyl records, spent our childhoods with cassette tapes, took our CD collections to high school, and binged on MP3s in our college years.
We know we should feel nostalgic for one of those mediums but we're not sure which.
We were the last generation to buy VHS, the first to stream movies, and we still lovingly hold on to our DVD collections.
We turned Blockbuster into a ghost town and we were the first residents of Netflix.
We can't live without the internet but still remember when we lived without the internet.

My generation is both listless and motivated.
We are filled with both hope and despair.

The odds are stacked against my generation.
We can't get low tech jobs because they're filled by an older and more experienced generation.
We can't get high tech jobs because they're filled by an younger and more experienced generation.
Our parents' generation didn't need a college degree to get a career.
Our kids' generation won't have a career without a college degree.
We split the difference.

We are everything and we are nothing.

We are sandwiched between a generation that's broken and the generation that broke them.
We are permanently stuck in the middle.


Faith & Pop Culture: Downsizing

When I sat down to watch Matt Damon's new comedy, Downsizing, I was expecting a lighthearted and quirky perspective on what life would be like if people were the size of action figures. The movie delivered on that premise with heavy quirkiness. It was also so much more. I walked out of the theater impressed by how this film stepped beyond the confines of humor to deliver a solid, timely, and surprisingly spiritual message.

On the surface, Downsizing is a satire about a middle-class American adjusting to life after a medical procedure shrunk him to a height of five inches tall, coupled with an environmentalist’s morality play. Underneath its skin is a critique of wealth, privilege, discontent, and ignorance. Downsizing is a story about the quest to find the lost soul of America.

image courtesy of Ad Hominem Enterprises and Paramount Pictures

Paul Safranek (played by Matt Damon) is a stand-in for the average American. He has a good job as an occupational therapist at Omaha Steaks; he appears to have a happy marriage and a comfortable life. As you dig into his character, you see cracks. The relationship with his wife isn't solid, he had to leave medical school to care for his ailing mother, he still lives in the house he grew up in, and he carries too much debt to purchase a newer/nicer home. Like many Americans, he struggles through an imperfect life without realizing his many blessings. His smile and child-like wonder mask his true feelings of unease and dissatisfaction. He has a great life yet it is not enough.

Not finding pleasure in a steady job, friends, family, romance, social status, or consumer goods, Paul does what a lot of Americans do. He runs from his problems.

A scientific breakthrough intended to reduce pollution offers Paul a chance at a better life. The irreversible downsizing process would turn his meager net-worth into a fortune big enough to retire in luxury. Miniaturization seems to be the answer for his wildest dreams. He takes the offer but his wife panics and abandons him. Paul quickly finds himself in a paradise, divorced and unemployed, and watching his hopes fade.

Time moves on. Paul stops correcting people who mispronounce his last name, finds work in a call center, moves from his mansion into an apartment, unsuccessfully attempts dating, and dresses like everyone's most boring uncle. Along with his setbacks, Paul also lost his identity. He's a man without purpose.

If we could distill American culture into a singer person, Matt Damon's portrayal of Paul Safranek would be the result. Lost, adrift, and purposeless. We don't know who we are, we're just lonely and eager to please. We're broken people longing to find our reason for being. We do our jobs, go on awkward dates, and complain about our noisy neighbors. We fill the holes in our lives with anything we can find, leisure activities, consumerism, parties, drugs, friends, lovers, celebrity worship, cultural fads, political movements, careers, travel, or hobbies. All of it is a fruitless endeavor if we don't know who we are.

Paul would have been stuck in this aimless wandering through life had it not been interrupted by his eccentric upstairs neighbor Dusan (Christopher Waltz) and a member of Dusan's cleaning crew Ngoc (Hong Chau) - a formerly famous political activist from Vietnam who was shrunk against her will. The first thing Paul noticed about Ngoc was her awkward gait, caused by an ill-fitting prosthetic. Then he recognized her face. One of Paul's greatest joys was meeting people made famous by downsizing: the scientist who discovered the process. The first tiny baby born to a downsized couple. And Ngoc, the lone survivor of a group of downsized Vietnamese refugees stowed away in a TV box.

The playboy and the dissident disrupt everything about Paul's life. Dusan encourages him to be more adventurous, and Ngoc forces him to see the world from a different perspective. Dusan loved Paul for being funny and nice. Ngoc drags him to the ghetto to provide medical care to the least fortunate of the downsized society. One showed him how to have fun, and the other taught him to be compassionate.

It is the latter that revolutionized Paul’s life. Ngoc knows exactly who she is and why she is on earth. When Paul offers to fix her artificial limb, she insists he helps her sick friend first. Despite his protests, she convinces him to accompany her. He follows her on her mission to deliver food and medicine to the sick and impoverished. He sees where she lives and realizes her sick friend is dying. She drags him to church and to her cleaning job. Soon, he goes everywhere she goes.

Paul has poor boundaries. He can’t say no. Dusan invents a story to take Paul to Norway and help him get out of constant work with Ngoc. It doesn’t work in their favor and Ngoc ends up accompanying them on their trip. Even in Norway, Paul still isn’t sure of who he is. He oozes unhappiness. He is ready to abandon his friends to live in an underground bunker with the original downsized colony, convinced that’s his purpose.

Given the opportunity to avoid guaranteed environmental disaster with the Norwegians, Paul went back to Ngoc. In the closing scene, we see a content and truly happy Paul for the first time. For the whole movie, he was miserable. It wasn’t until he willingly sacrificed himself for the service of others that he found peace and joy. It wasn’t until Paul was doing God’s work that he discovered who he was.

Ngoc opened Paul’s eyes. For the first time, Paul realized the promise of success and riches aren’t evenly distributed. He began to see the inequity in how people are treated. He witnessed first-hand something he never knew existed. Ngoc proved Jesus’ words to be true: “You will always have the poor with you, and you can help them anytime you want.” Caring for the poor is where Ngoc found satisfaction. That was her source of harmony and confidence. She knew that was where God wanted her.

Considering the current state of affairs in America, we could all use a little more peace and joy. We’ve lost our soul. We don’t know who we are. Maybe we it’s time we sacrificed our own dreams and pursuits to help those in need. Perhaps we should give up our privilege for those who have none. Can you imagine what kind of world we would live in if the church stepped up and did God’s work, providing for the least of these? Paul found his purpose there. Why can’t we?

Disclosure: there is a lot of naked dudes in this movie. All of it was presented in a medical or scientific context. None of it was sexual. However, be warned. If the sight of male genitals makes you uncomfortable, you probably should avoid watching. Otherwise, I recommend you see Downsizing, it's good quirky fun with a deep moral lesson.