Bless this Familiar Premise

It’s been almost a year since Roseanne Barr posted an overtly racist insult mocking the appearance of a former senior advisor of Barack Obama. In quick reaction, ABC canceled her show and figured out a way to rework it without the titular character and lead star. The network president called her tweet, “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.” It took nine original seasons and one revived return to television for a Hollywood executive to finally put words to the reason my parents wouldn’t allow me to watch the show when I was a kid.

My folks were never fond of Roseanne. They considered her to be rude, crass, brash, obnoxious, and generally offensive. Her show was banned in our house. My dad’s distaste for Barr’s brand of humor was solidified in July of 1990 when she belted out a screeching and intentionally off key rendition of the National Anthem before an MLB game. Between the worst performance of the Star Spangled Banner, the off color television show, and Rosanne’s irreverent personal persona, “abhorrent and repugnant” are the two most suitable words to describe what my family thought of Roseanne Barr.

Yet somehow, I understand the show’s popularity. Comedy tends to skew toward liberal perspectives and Roseanne stood in contrast with a blue collar family and conservative politics. It demonstrated a cohesive (even if dysfunctional) family in a world dominated by broken homes. As the faces and themes of prime-time sitcoms grew more diverse, white America felt like they were losing their dominant place in society. ABC saw a hole shaped like low brow, working class, grumpy white dudes and they filled it with Roseanne. After all, pop culture abhors a vacuum. In the fallout of Barr’s tweet and the show’s cancellation, I was inspired. So I took to Roseanne’s favorite medium and pitched my idea for a new show.

My unsolicited pitch linked to a post I wrote about adjusting to life on the farm and how this phase of my life would be fantastic entertainment if turned into a TV show. As a nerd from the Seattle suburbs, my story is a fish out of water tale that is perfect fodder for a sitcom.

I must be a prophet. Nearly a year later, it seems ABC was listening. They followed my advice. A couple weeks ago, they debuted a new show called Bless This Mess. Consider the official synopsis and compare it to my year-old tweet.

Newlyweds Rio and Mike make the decision to change the course of their life together and move from the relentless pace of big city New York to what they think will be a more relaxed existence in rural Nebraska. After dropping everything --including their jobs and an overbearing mother-in-law -- to make the move from skyscrapers to farmhouses, they soon realize that the simpler life isn't as easy as they had planned. Rio and Mike must now learn how to weather the storm as they are faced with unexpected challenges in their new lives as farmers.

Hmmmm. I suggested a liberal nerd be the main character. Rio is a therapist and Mike is a music journalist. I suggested they move into Trump country. Mike and Rio moved from NYC to small-town Nebraska – a state where Trump won 60% of the popular vote. I suggested they start a family farm. Mike and Rio inherited a farm.

image courtesy of ABC Studios

Theft of my intellectual property? Maybe. I pitched the idea several months before the show went into production. Regardless, I’m impressed with the end result. The first episodes had me laughing out loud several times. Sharp and witty writing with situations so familiar to my current circumstances. I can relate to Dax Shepard’s role of Mike. In the series premiere, Mike admits to his wife, “I want to be the man who can fix a roof. I do. But I don’t think I am.” I’m pretty sure I’ve said something similar to Annie over the past year – perhaps about fences or animal shelters. Rio’s response in the show was perfect; she teased Mike’s pronunciation of “roof” just like Annie makes fun of the way I pronounce “root beer.” Bless This Mess is probably the closest I’ll ever be to seeing a famous actor playing me on TV.

Even if show creators Lake Bell and Elizabeth Meriwether didn’t steal the idea from me, it feels as if they studied my life with Annie at our farm as inspiration for their scripts. If ABC wants to send me any royalty money I won’t complain. And if they ever need some advisers to help brainstorm plots for future episodes, I’m available for hire.



Interpretations of God come in many forms. The deities of Islam or Hinduism. The tenets of Buddha or Confucius. Gods found in nature, science, or the cosmos. Or the modern gods of fame, money, and power.

Even in Christian tradition, the way we see the divine is varied. The Santa Claus god who only reserves wonderful gifts for those who are good enough. The genie god who grants wishes whispered in bedtime prayers. The vindictive god poised to punish sinful deeds. The old man in the sky who watches earthlings from afar. The taskmaster who controls every terrestrial event from hurricanes in the Caribbean to traffic lights that miraculously turn green as you approach. The indifferent god who created the whole universe then washed his hands clean of our existence, leaving us to fend for ourselves. The Dr Feelgood god who is ultimately powerless but will sooth your soul and make you feel alright.

There are Christians who believe in and worship one (or some combination) of these versions of God. This smorgasbord of godly variation allows believers to pick and choose a way of seeing the supernatural in a way that makes them most comfortable. The abundance and diversity in how Christians explain the divine also inspires the opposite of faith. Atheists see these descriptions from their Christian friends, coworkers, and neighbors. They are unable to believe in that kind of god so they believe in no God at all.

If my childhood church preached the gospel of Santa or taught me to pray to a genie in a bottle, I probably wouldn’t believe in God. Nor would I continue to follow a religion if I believed our creator was some punishing tyrant waiting to smite me the moment I make a mistake. I would have abandoned any faith community who encouraged me to worship a distant and aloof god.

Instead, the small Nazarene church my family attended taught me about a God who loved me. It was ingrained through preschool praise choruses: ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ This sentiment was echoed in sermons, Sunday school classes, and midweek youth group meetings throughout the first nineteen years of my life. My peers at church all knew the words of 1 John 4:8: “God is Love.”

I am thankful for the pastors, teachers, and youth leaders of my younger years from the church in Marysville who imprinted this version of a loving God in my psyche. I still believe in THIS God, perhaps now more than ever. I am grateful they taught me about a God who loved me. However, I wish they had also taught me that it was OK to love myself.

The conservative evangelical community of the 80s and 90s was a weird place. The church was caught in a culture war, mostly in a defensive strategy. They were reactionary, hoping to combat the excesses of brat pack movies; glam metal; new wave pop; and the overt sexuality of artists like Madonna, George Michael, and Prince. They were fighting to overcome the scandals of Bill Clinton; the anger and cynicism of grunge music; and the profanity, drugs, and violence of gansta rap and inner city culture. The Christian church that raised me saw evil and hedonism in every corner of secular society. Their reaction was to condemn and forbid all of it. If any of us were to indulge in watching a R rated movie or attending a school dance, it was thought we had gone astray and needed to repent immediately.

There was a consistent message: anything you liked was bad. Your interests were sinful. Without God, you were a horrible human being. You existed in total depravity. But God was good, and God loved you. It was OK to stumble because God would always forgive you. Even mired in sin, we were God’s beloved.

To avoid falling into Satan’s snare, evangelical culture promoted humility as the most important quality. It was as if a humble spirit was a balm to heal the scars left by our sinful past and the bruises of present temptations. We shouldn’t give credence to Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech or abide by the chorus of Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunity, “I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks, let’s make lots of money.” We were told to sit down. Be humble.

image courtesy of Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records

Humility, like many of the values in my childhood church, was a biblical concept governed by non-biblical rules. For example, the bible prohibits drunkenness but not drinking alcohol. To prevent drunkenness, my church condemned any consumption of alcohol, even if done in moderation. Pride is biblically immoral, with a scriptural call to humility to be the counterbalance. However, my church took the command to be humble to extremes.

In conservative evangelical culture through the 80s and 90s, humility was achieved through radical rejection of self esteem. Jesus told his followers “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” and church leaders interpreted the denial of self to mean a hatred of self. Asking for stuff you want, saying you needed something, or pleading for help was considered selfish, and therefore sinful. Nothing about it was genuine. It was a self-loathing faux humility, smug and self-righteous. We could have ended arguments by yelling “I’m more humble than you.”

As an adult, these childhood lessons of humility have manifested in my self-deprecating sense of humor and my defeatist coping mechanisms. Even today, I struggle to express my wants and needs. I’m practically incapable of speaking my deepest desires. It’s physically painful to admit when I need help. I can’t explain how completely dysfunctional that makes me feel. In prayer, I still find myself approaching God with that same fake humility a whole generation of pastors and Sunday school teachers taught me to possess. I have no problem praying for other people but struggle to pray for me.

My childhood beliefs are slowly coming undone. I’m unlearning all of those supposedly Christian teachings that had no basis in scripture. I’m deconstructing all the damage done by unhealthy religious dogma. I’m discovering what it means to love myself and be humble at the same time. And I’m clinging to the concept of a God who loves me, even when I mess up the balance between ego and humility.