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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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
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.


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.


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.


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.