The Trouble With Hating Trump And/Or Clinton

clinton_trump_splitHow frustrated are you that people you care about will vote unblushingly for the OTHER candidate in this year’s Presidential Election?

Do you feel outrage? If yes, you’re not the only one. But here’s the real question: in your indignation, have you found your fingers furious on the keys, about to add another ill-advised ejaculation into the sour Facebook stew?

Check out these (only slightly condensed) quotes that I sniped from my Facebook wall:

“Anyone who votes for Clinton is complicit in corruption, deception, and murder.”

“Anyone who votes for Trump is a racist, bigot, and sexist.”

“If you vote for Clinton you belong in jail.”

“If you vote for Trump you have no soul.”

“If you vote for Clinton you’re voting for a demonic movement.”

“If you vote for Trump you are telling every girl in this country that their objectification and sexual assault is no big deal.”

OK, so maybe you didn’t go that far. Or maybe you did? But regardless of what you’ve posted online, if you’ve even fantasized about saying something like the above statements here are three things I want you to know:

First, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Your thoughts and feelings are inflamed for a reason, and it’s a valid reason. Whatever you perceive in the behavior, character, or policy of the presidential candidate that you oppose is a legitimate concern. Maybe they make you feel afraid. Or angry. Or embarrassed. Maybe you think they’re foolish. Or dangerous. Maybe you envision a future in which that candidate leads our country into chaos. Whatever it is that you conclude when you think about them you need to know that you’re not crazy.

Second, I want you to know that evaluating a person’s moral status based on their vote is not accurate or productive. Such statements are sweeping accusations that create a caricature of the “other” and they’re no more true about “other voters” as they are about you. Voting for Trump does not make you a bigot and voting for Clinton does not make you corrupt. You might be tempted to say: “But it’s not apples-to-apples,” or: “They’re WAY worse than we are,” or: “I won’t allow you to equate this minor flaw with that major, inexcusable one.” But if you insist on those sentiments that’s only because you’re stuck in your own frame of reference. Such defense mechanisms do not help us here. If they protect us they only protect us from understanding one another, if they defend us they only defend our own ignorance, and if they allow us to strike back we are only striking our own faces.

Third, I want you to know that we are the reason that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have succeeded as our two major candidates. We are not the victims. We have breathed life into them. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump are nothing more than the elegantly crafted visions of our judgments against one another. This was bound to happen in our post-modern age. We have grown isolated in our echo chambers and in our online tribes. We have forgotten how to love those whose values confront ours. We have turned our neighbors and coworkers into tiny bits of data in the ether and we have thereby justified ourselves in misunderstanding their reasons and afflictions. When we lost each other as physical beings we lost our own physical mirrors. This election has become for us an unwelcome mirror. If we peel back the layers- honestly, and one by one, it is the candidate who disgusts us the most that best reflects our inner weakness.


Powerlessness, or: My Last Drunk

“We admitted we were powerless… that our lives had become unmanageable.” – Bill Wilson

I might as well tell you the truth about how it happened. But listen. I’m not telling you just so you’ll read it. The only reason I’m going to tell you is because I don’t know how else to explain what it means to be powerless.

Six years ago, when I was 28 years old, I got fired from a job I created. That should have been enough to wake me up but it wasn’t.

I was the director of Campus Target, a missions organization that I started in my early twenties with my best friend Toby and a bunch of other incredible people. It was the job of my dreams. I got to travel the world. I got to speak on big stages to thousands of people. I got to meet students individually in dimly lit restaurants. My goal was to inspire people to live selflessly and to take giant leaps of faith. My invitation was always the same: Would you give one year of your life to China? Would you press “pause” on your personal ambitions and come with me? We’ll share our faith with college kids who have been institutionally stifled from looking for God.creationwest3

It was a pretty romantic job to lose. And I lost it because of sex addiction. No matter how hard I tried (and I tried very hard) I could not stop acting out- usually online but occasionally at strip clubs or massage parlors. It didn’t matter how much I confessed. I told pastors, therapists, friends and family members. I prayed. I made vows. I asked God to fix me. I took a year off of ministry to get help.

I always believed that breakthrough was just over the horizon and that the solution was rooted in my desire to change. I thought that I just had to want it bad enough. That my repeated failure was evidence that maybe I liked evil more than I loved God.

It was agony. I remember waking up so many mornings in a fog. Even the morning sunlight felt like it was only there to illuminate a deeper darkness. The shame was so heavy you could almost see it suspended in the dust particles in the air. I couldn’t hold up my face on mornings like that. I knew my life was at full count- one more strike and I might be out of a job, a marriage, a fellowship of believers. You’d think that might be enough to convince me that I couldn’t fix myself. It wasn’t. Even a five year cascade of consequences wasn’t enough. That’s what I’m trying to tell you: It’s very hard to see a truth that you don’t want to see. And I did not want to see that I was a hopeless case.

If I wanted to I could have seen it on the night before Thanksgiving, 2009. There was a Skype call. Dani and I were living in China at the time. Two squished faces on our computer screen (leaders of our sending organization) said the gig was up, that I needed to come home. I tried to talk them out of it. “Let me finish the school year,” I said. In retrospect that was only further proof of my delusional thinking. (When you’re really screwed up you kind of know it but you also think that maybe you’re OK.)

Anyway, we flew home. My ministry credentials were suspended, my job was appropriated to my best friend Toby (who was always the better man for the job if you want to know the truth) and I entered recovery. But I was angry. Why didn’t God fix me when when I was trying so hard to serve him? And why did I have to lose everything? And why was there so much disappointment in everybody’s eyes? I globalized the whole thing; I figured that if somebody as awesome as I was could get screwed up like this that maybe it was the fault of Christianity proper, that maybe the whole religion was teaching folks an untenable way of life.

This was just another way of fighting against the fact that I had a problem I couldn’t fix. But I still wasn’t ready for the truth. I was stuck on the idea that it wasn’t my fault alone. That if it could happen to me there must be a flaw in the matrix.

As a result of that conviction I forced Dani and myself through an awful season of indigence and hopelessness. I went to a bunch of meetings and therapy sessions but while I dried out from the sexual aspect of my addictive behavior I resisted any internal change. It was the worst year of my life. I lost friends who I’ve never recovered. I sunk into a deep depression. I humiliated myself and my family by hosting a multi-month temper-tantrum on my blog. And poor Dani. She stuck around, waiting, watching, hoping that I’d finally get off the couch and reenter the world. Thank God her family was nearby. There were so many nights when she would invite me to come eat dinner at their house and I would grab a beer bottle instead and say: “No thanks Sweetie, you go. Have fun. Take your time.”mattcobain2

I grabbed more and more beer bottles. I told myself it was only right, especially now that I was no longer oppressed by those old religious values that screwed me up to begin with. And besides, I could keep count of the bottles. I could make sure there were never too many empty ones. One trick I learned was to buy very large cans with very high alcohol-by-volume percentages. It never occurred to me that this was not normal behavior. I freely announced that as a “former addict” I ought to pay attention to my drinking but I left it at that.

About once a year I would do something dangerous with alcohol- like drink until I blacked out. Once I fell through a wall, once through a window. Still I chose to believe that those were aberrations and not a pattern. But year by year the stories began to add up. Several times I got in a car with a buzzed friend or drove under the influence myself.

Driving under the influence is the part I’m most ashamed of, the greatest evidence that I’d stopped being me, that my life was out of my hands. Before we got married Dani and her sister Kelly were hit head on by a drunk driver. Kelly was killed in the accident and Dani almost died too. I witnessed the devastation and I vowed to never drink again. But now I was drinking several times a week, usually at home or at a bar that I could walk to. But sometimes I drove to meet a buddy for beers and Dani would carry the silent dread that maybe this time I’d have more than my two beer limit. And usually I did, but I’d subtract it by the number of hours I was out, or by the fraction of liquid left in the glass.

It wasn’t until January 24, 2015 when I woke up to the truth that God must have been trying to teach me all along. Dani was seven months pregnant. We were one week away from switching apartments, cardboard boxes were strewn everywhere. On the 23rd we’d had a small tiff about money. I don’t remember what the problem was. I do remember that the next day, without warning, I bought alcohol, smuggled it into a movie theater, and drank until the idea of going to strip club sounded entirely innocent. So I drove to one, and then to another, and then I drove over a curb on the way to a third. My tire popped and I rolled for two miles on the metal wheel before ditching my car in a mechanic’s parking lot. I walked to a hotel, passed out, and woke up at 5am in disbelief. I called Dani and told her the whole disgusting story. I’ll never forget her sobs crackling through the receiver. She picked me up at the hotel. I was still woozy but everything came into focus when I sat down in the passenger seat. She was wearing a sweater stretched tight around her perfectly round, perfectly adorable belly. I couldn’t stop looking down, couldn’t stop drawing contrasts between her and me- how faithfully she was carrying my baby with her own weary body while I had been out looking at other bodies, how diligently she had been working to grow new life while I had been recklessly risking lives behind the wheel.

I don’t know if anything could have betrayed her more than what I did. My cockeyed car was undeniable evidence. I was no different from the man behind bars.

There aren’t words to describe the demoralization when you get that low. All I know is that in that moment I was given a glimpse of the future. That somehow I knew for sure that nothing was ever going to change. That my baby would be born and that life would go on and that every so often I would do something so terrible, so profoundly dangerous or immoral that I would jeopardize my safety and the safety of my family until Dani would have to leave me, would have to take my son away, and that the wife who I love more than life itself would be alone, that my boy would grow up fatherless, or worse- with me so eaten up and absent that he comes to believe his own worth is staring back at him in my sunken eyes.

That was my last drink. Tomorrow is my one year anniversary.

But listen. I didn’t actually start to change internally until I sought help without any caveats.

I’ve always had caveats. I’ve always thought of myself as a part time addict who needed part time help. Even when I lost Campus Target, even when I entered recovery, I was still full of self-righteous, self-justifying, indignation. I thought, “Sure, I need help, but I don’t need ALL the help, just some of it. And I’ll be the judge of what kind and how much I need, and of what’s reasonable and what’s unreasonable, and of who else is at fault here.”

I didn’t realize that was part of my disease. And I didn’t realize that my disease was fundamentally a spiritual disease- that I wanted control. That I didn’t want to need anybody or anything, didn’t want to be flawed or weak or worthless or inadequate or unloveable. That I wanted to be God, basically- to command that emptiness away.

How would I ever have discovered that? I might have spent my whole life losing everything, shouting angrily that the world was all wrong. It would have been a long slow death if reality didn’t hurt bad enough for me to let the truth in. But it finally found me in the car that hungover morning:

“I’m out of control.” I said. “I need help. I can’t fix myself alone.” Everything changed after that. I started taking suggestions. I started doing uncomfortable things. I’ve been letting go of my own will and I’ve been trusting for the first time since I was a teenager. It’s like this cloud is lifting off my brain. It’s like I’m connected to God again. I wish you could feel it because I know you’d feel the difference and I think you might relate.

That’s why I’m telling you this story. I’m wondering if you can see yourself in it somehow. I’m wondering if maybe you’ve been avoiding some truth about yourself and God like I was.

I know how easy it is to shrug off the evidence. To justify. To believe your own bullshit. And if you’re anything like me… if you’re proud, afraid, angry, insecure; if you’re guarded, if you’re trying to defend yourself, if you’re fixated on the wrongs done to you… I just want to say from one sick person to another, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to feel this way again. It can get better if you’re ready.

If any of this resonates for you please reach out. Every moment is an opportunity for everything to change. And maybe this is your moment. It could be. I believe that God loves you and is willing to intervene as soon as you’re ready. You don’t even have to believe what I believe though. As long as you admit you need help, and as long as you’re willing to take whatever help you can get, your posture has changed and your feet can finally move forward.

Here are some quizzes that might help you admit a chronic problem:

  1. Alcoholism Self Test 
  2. Anger Issues Self Test
  3. Anxiety Self Test
  4. Codependence Self Test
  5. Depression Self Test
  6. Drug Addiction Self Test 
  7. Eating Disorder Self Test
  8. Sex Addiction Screening Test

You could also Google your local area for specialized therapy, churches, or twelve steps groups including Alcoholics Anonymous, AlAnon, Coda, Emotions AnonymousNarcotics Anonymous, Overeaters AnonymousSex Addicts Anonymous, and Sexaholics Anonymous.

For sex help in Rochester, NY, I recommend Kavod Recovery.

As always, please contact me at:, Facebook, Twitter.shoulders

A Small Miracle For A Hopeless Wanderer

Hello Sunday Morning Readers!

Last week I promised to tell you what Dani, JD and I have been doing on Sunday mornings for the last five months. I hope you weren’t waiting for fireworks. All we’ve been doing is eating breakfast with another couple. That’s it. Nothing to light up the sky.

They’re a cool couple though. They both work in the health care industry. They own a home in the 19th ward. They like to watch cheesy horror flicks or hit up foodie joints in town. Anyway, we’ve been brunching on Sundays and between bites we’ve been talking about where we’re at spiritually and where we want to go.

I’m happy about our little ritual but it’s for reasons that aren’t very sexy. We eat. We talk. We hug. We leave. We’re not growing in numbers. The high-watermarks of our spiritual lives aren’t rising in any quantifiable way. All we’ve truly got is a regular rhythm and a slow growing trust. The reason I’m hopeful is because I think we’re building the kind of trust where you can eventually talk about what’s really bothering you.

I saw a glimpse of it one Sunday back in November when Dani spoke about a wall she has erected. I wish you could have been there. It was the kind of moment you wait for- where the room temperature jumps by five degrees and you suddenly want to curl your toes into the carpet.danibeanbag1

“I used to try so hard to believe everything,” Dani whispered, “to be the very best believer in the sanctuary.” Her voice cracked; my mouth fell open. As the guy who cares the most for her well-being I’ve paid keen attention to the conversations we don’t have, to the way years can roll forward and almost make you forget about what you’ve left behind.

I looked over at the other couple, still almost strangers, still without the context of our years of ambivalence. They couldn’t yet know that these sentences were sunken treasure. But I knew. I knew that it was the beginning of the end of a long internal ice age.

Dani continued between tears. “I just couldn’t do it anymore.” She peered into the depths of the carpet while I held my spine in place. I wanted to reach over and grab her hand or rub her leg or do something to wipe away the shame. But in that moment we all were pressed like gumdrops into beanbags. Dani said she was exhausted. That the spiritual equations never quite added up for her.

She said that she felt freer now that everything was shoved into the background. She said that even Jesus felt ominous and unsafe now; like maybe Jesus was the free iPhone you get when you buy a contract and you barely notice that the contract comes with a thousand additional charges that bankrupt you in the end.

For that fleeting monologue Dani was the center of a room where she prefers to hold a silence in the corner. And her tears made her eyes even brighter because they weren’t ordinary tears, they were the tears of old fears that you instinctively hide- liquid remnants of fermented shame.babydanibeanbag

The conversation didn’t exactly resolve after that. There was no altar call, no moment of decision. But I’m convinced that there was a shift in our personal tectonic plates. Either that or another hunk of glacial ice fell into the sea. What I mean is that even though no tidal wave immediately swept over us, big things were stirring way down below the surface.

That’s why I’m hopeful. Because amid our ordinary efforts I see sparks of grace. Small miracles to remind me that so many of us are longing for resolution. And that maybe the less visible shifts are the shifts that shake the firmament in the long run.

But the brightest spark in our sky has been this new couple, our sudden and closest allies. It’s uncanny how similar the dream that flickered in them before we met. They also wanted a place to tell the truth, to search, to rediscover. They weren’t bitter but they weren’t going back to where they came from either. So we’ve linked ropes with them and started floating toward some unknown destination in hopes of finding God.daveshanigang

Why am I telling you all this? Well, the primary reason is that I don’t think we’re the only four adults with this itch. And I’m wondering if some of you are already doing anything like what we’re doing? If so, I’d love to hear from you. What’s working? What’s not? What are you learning and how are you growing?

And if there aren’t a lot of spontaneous communities popping to the surface, why couldn’t there be more? Couldn’t some of you float rafts like ours in your own locale? I don’t see why not. It’s really nothing more than a recurring meeting with the hope of finding God.

I just keep imagining what it could be like if we had a loose fleet of folks who began reconnecting- with one another and with a God who made sense to them each individually. I bet that some of our private depressions would lift, that some of our gnarly resentments would unravel, that even some of our most frayed relationships would begin to mend. I only say that because I believe that I’m witnessing the early stages of it in my own life. It’s almost like the byproduct of a spiritual life in bloom. And I can’t shake the conviction that it’s available to any of us, all of us, even those of us who have been hopeless wanderers.

That brings me to my secondary reason: If by chance you’ve been wandering near Rochester, NY, I want to invite you to visit our little gathering. We’re solid enough now where we’d love to our share our strange little miracle with you. Please contact me via Facebook, Twitter, or email me at I’d be happy to add you to our private Facebook group and JD promises not to let Dani cry in front of you on your first visit.babybeanbag

To Follow Directions

You know how a recipe tells you exactly what ingredients to add and exactly how much? And if you deviate from the recipe you might end up making something tasty but at some point it stops being what you set out to make?

Well. For the past few years I’ve wanted to write a recipe for my own religion. I’ve had a vision of a personal farm-to-table spiritual restaurant. It’s a theory which has arisen based on the belief that only I could know my body’s optimum diet well enough to concoct the right spiritual practices for me.

So that’s kind of what I’ve been doing. I’ve been clunking around the kitchen, wondering whether bay leaves, thyme, tuna, apple sauce, vinegar, pineapple, and ricotta cheese compliment each other. (Metaphorically speaking.)

One reason is that I like creating things. Another reason is that I felt betrayed by the faith I followed so passionately for so long.

But a huge reason I rarely admit is that I absolutely hate to follow directions. It’s a compulsive problem. Following directions makes me feel like a lemming, barreling and bleeding through rock and fire and water at the behest of some sociopath’s plan for world domination and I would rather stab myself to death a thousand times than to be led off a cliff by another Piper.

Anyway, the point is- if recipe calls for a tablespoon of sugar I’m immediately thinking about how the inventor of the recipe could not have possibly anticipated how much I love sugar and could therefore not have gotten it correct. Same with hot sauce. Same with anything. You can rely on this simple truth: I don’t trust whoever wrote the rules.

But last week in the kitchen I followed a recipe and it kind of worked. There were 7 simple instructions written in pencil on a stained 3 by 5 card. It was an old family recipe, a marinade we use to tenderize venison. In my memory it was a manly sort of recipe where A1 was bound to be involved. In reality I had to use lemon juice and soy sauce and absolutely no A1 at all.

But I followed the instructions for a change a before I was halfway through the whole house was filled with that familiar smoky scent. It was the soy/lemon combo that convicted me of my ignorance. What a weird moment in the kitchen- my eyes bulging at that stained old recipe card and instead of thinking about instructions for a marinade I was thinking about instructions I’ve heard all my life- how I ought to attend church weekly, pray daily, read and meditate in the mornings, give away a portion of my income, and so on.

And though I’m sure it wouldn’t strike everybody this way- as I was standing before empty bowls at the kitchen counter, with JD watching me, I found a strange comfort in the reliability of a recipe to follow. I skipped the A1 and I trusted that lemon juice would work. And weirdly, I believed it would work- that I wouldn’t ruin another large hunk of meat. (I’ve had to throw away a bunch of meat ever since JD was born and I started cooking dinners.)babyinbowl

Maybe this means I’m willing to follow directions- but like with God stuff. That’s terrifying to print. It’s easy for me to admit ignorance in the kitchen but it’s the opposite with religion. I feel as though I’ve tasted everything, as though I understand the underlying principles of spiritual sweets and spiritual sours, that I’ve known God and even understood certain mysteries. So to now arrive back at the curtain of unbelief, to admit that even with all the experience I’ve accumulated that I maybe need a simple recipe to follow- one made by someone else- now that is a marinade I don’t want to stew in.

Profound Personality Change

Is it possible to undergo a profound personality change when you’re all grown up?

I mean the kind of change where you recover some former part of yourself that you lost and you didn’t know was gone. Do you know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about when you draw a straight line between 14 year old you and 22, 27, 33 year old you and the contrast slaps you: “Hey wow, I’m not right anymore.”

Have you ever woken up to an ugly personal truth like that? I have. And I’m not talking about the loss of innocence or the gradual understanding that comes with time. I’m not wishing I was more vital or feral.

I’m talking about something deeper. About the original design for my character. Like, if you picture my character as a young oak tree which was supposed to evolve tall and leafy, except that my particular tree got struck with lightning and a portion of it stands rotting while the un-dead portion grows at odd angles, leafless, like a spire against the sky.


I wonder if that kind of arrested development happens to lots of us without us paying attention to it.

A few days ago a forgotten memory returned to me. I was 16 at the time and it was an ordinary school night. I was laying on the couch playing a game on my graphing calculator. My mother came into the room and told me to put down the calculator and look up at her. Her face was pink-cheek stern. She said I was no longer the sweet, selfless boy that I used to be. That my attitude was no good anymore and would get me nowhere and that I might be able to hide it from my teachers and friends but no way I could hide it from her and I’d better take a serious look in the mirror and then get down on my knees and do some repenting.

If I’d known then what I know now I might have taken it to mean that my Oak Tree needed some attention. But I bagged up that moment with the morning trash and I took it outside. When it came back last week I remembered everything- even the brown couch fibers against my angry skin. But what I really remembered was my reaction to my mom. How I attributed her complaint as an overreaction of her feminine nature. “Oh mom,” I thought, “you’re soft. If I let you you’d turn me into a woman.” And that’s the first time I remember using a secret monologue to build a fence around my broken little tree.

If I had been a tree, and my mother a careful gardener, she might have been arriving after the thunderstorm, she might have been suggesting a procedure to keep me growing toward the sky. If so, I swept her out of my circumference and never let her back in.

I’ve been thinking about personality change because I keep hearing about it in the 12 Step meetings I attend. They promise a “profound personality change” as a natural byproduct of sobriety. These folks with 15, 25, 30 years of sobriety keep giving personal testimony to the transformation they’ve witnessed as the spiritual aspect of the program takes hold. They claim to be less selfish fathers, less angry mothers, more friendly bosses, more connected to God and God’s will. They claim to have recovered what was lost in the spidering corridors of their addiction. They explain it in different words but the common thread is the reclamation of an integral part of their character, their personality, which had faded from view without them noticing how ugly they’d become.

That idea has been facing me like a portrait of Dorian Gray. And I’m starting to remember who I used to be. I used to be sweet. I used to carry hope in my wide open eyes and I used to offer it, with or without words, to anybody in any condition. Even in New York City when I drew scowls on the sidewalk, it never bothered me because I was too busy caring about whatever pain was prompting the scowl and how the God I believed in could surely soothe it.

Yet I was already withering inside only nobody knew it yet- least of all me. What I needed then and what I’m finding out now is that I have a deep problem and I can’t fix it. I think I’m talking about sin. I think I’m admitting that sin has poisoned my roots.

And I guess the only reason I’m willing to talk about it is because I keep hearing about the hope of transformation. As if maybe I could get back to growing green and tall like I was born to do. And I know that not everybody is ripe for a 12 Step program but I often wonder if the idea still applies. Maybe you’re coming awake through a different set of circumstances but maybe we both could experience a “profound personality change” as we allow The Gardener in.

My hope for a change like that is anchored entirely on the conviction that I have grown crooked and that I can’t fix myself. If that’s you too, maybe we’re both at some sort of strange new beginning. God, help us.

Five Accelerating Results of Resentment

Are you aware of your resentments?

Do you know what they’re about and who they’re against? Do you know how long they’ve been incubating inside you? And do you realize that they’re carrying you somewhere faster and faster every day, like a river accelerating toward a waterfall?

I’m slowly becoming aware of my resentments and the unfortunate reality is that I have a long and filthy list. It’s not a checklist. It’s not cognitive like that. It’s more nebulous, like a thunder cloud.

Sure, there are faces that emerge from the cloud. Toothy, grinning faces. A few are popping into my head right now.

These people are enjoying their lives and they shouldn’t be if you ask me. They should be hanging their heads and wearing burlap and thinking only about the awful wrong they’ve done. They should not be living in the sunshine as if nothing ever happened. Let me tell you, behind their carefree smiles these folks are pythons. They’ll hug you until the breath has left your lungs and they’ll appear surprised when you fall limp as if they had nothing to do with it. And they will feast on your demise and then slither away.

Do you know the kind of people I’m referring to? If you’re anything like me you might try not to think about them. But if you’re anything like me you might find them slithering in and out of the corners of your mind more often than you care to admit.

Just the other day in the grocery store I thought I saw someone like that in the next aisle over and my heart started pounding and my face went red hot and I could feel my body yelling at him like it was actually happening. How I’d make him listen and how small and stupid and naked he’d feel when I was done. And if he tried even once to fire back I’d throw a punch because he’s needed someone to kick his ass for his entire life and maybe it was my job to do it.grocerybaby

Unfortunately that’s not the whole of it. Even more often than individuals I find that my resentments can be globalized around entire groups of people or ways of thinking. I hold these “types” responsible for certain evils that plague my life and anybody else who is as blameless as I am.

These resentments are the kind that get quantified when I watch strangers behaving in the horrible ways that I expect them to. The prototypical politician or the deranged religious leader or that ignorant blogger and her ignorant social commentary and what it proves about how dumb practically everybody is.

These resentments are the festering hatreds that melt my bones. That’s the problem with them: they’re killing me. And the worst part is that they work like gravity- they accelerate over time.

That’s why I’m writing to you about it. Because if you have resentments like I do, even ones that you’re not in touch with, they’re killing you too.

Here are five things I’m learning about resentments ever since I started to pay attention:

1. Resentments give us the illusion of Power. Instead of hosting uncomfortable feelings like sadness, helplessness, or grief, resentments temporarily scratch the itch for strength, authority, and invulnerability. The itch is never soothed and it always leaves us bleeding, but power remains an intoxicating alternative to pain.

2. Resentments pervert our productive energy. They take us away from what we can control (our behavior) and focus our attention on what we can’t control (other people’s behavior). They give us only one message: that we’re the victim- which stifles our ability to take personal ownership.

3. Resentments isolate us. They convince us that we’re the only one, that our problems are utterly unique, that no one else could understand the truth about our situation like we do. We coax ourselves away from our clear headed fellows and into our own head where a stew of mischaracterized events becomes our new reality.

4. Resentments undermine our ability to trust. When we nurse a sense of what is wrong with the world- with people, programs, and institutions, it gradually leaves us with only our own judgement to rely on. Everything and everyone is increasingly suspect until trust becomes an impossibility. When trust has evaporated, depression, addiction, anxiety disorder, and a host of other mental illnesses can gain easy access to our minds.

5. Resentments separate us from God. They set us in opposition to God because they remove us from relationships, from outside input, and from a posture of humility. Also, like I said, they entice us toward power, which is a unilateral attempt to become gods ourselves.

Does anything separate us from God as quickly as resentments do? Maybe not. But how do they sneak in so easily and quietly?

That’s the funny thing about resentments: they’re easy to find in others and almost impossible to find in ourselves. To us they are just “the truth.” We feel righteous in our resentments and in this way many of us never learn. We drift ever further from God, from our fellows, from sanity. We find ourselves alone on the racing water, in the dark, with nothing left but our absolute conviction that we were wronged.

If you have resentments and you want to address them you’re probably going to need help. I know I do. So far it’s requiring a lot of humility, gratitude (which is weird if you’re not used to it), and the help of God and other people. I hope I’ll have something helpful to write about the way forward but in the meantime I’d love to hear your experience. How have you identified and dealt with resentments in your life?

Note: I’m going without Internet for a year so my replies will probably be slower than either of us would like. But I promise to read everything and I’ll do my best to reply. You can still reach me by email ( and Facebook messenger (I still have those two apps on my phone).

Live Small, Live Slow

We often ask ourselves: “What do we believe?” The real question might be: “What do our unpeeled lives look like?”

The answer to the second question might be the truest test of our actual beliefs.

Do our private worlds hum with serenity, joy, and contentment? Are we filled with love for ourselves and others? Are we gentle people?

When I ask myself these questions and I look honestly into the details of my own affairs, I fail this test. He’s a quick report:

– I have many broken and unrepaired relationships.

– I have many resentments that I’ve been unsuccessful at relinquishing.

– I have habitual behaviors that are destructive to me and my family yet I haven’t adequately addressed them.

– I am often quick to anger and quick to defend myself.

The simple evidence of my private world proves to me that my beliefs are not getting me where I want to go. (I know without a doubt where I want to go: I want to go toward love and peace and patience and wisdom. I want to have the kind of gray hair-in a few years, that people can trust.) But the evidence shows me that I probably shouldn’t be leading any kind of visionary movement right now. I probably shouldn’t be imagining and creating a new paradigm of beliefs when my own beliefs haven’t gotten me out of bed.

Over the last few weeks a phrase has been jangling around in my head:

“Live small.”

I don’t know exactly what that means, or even how it got up there in my skull, but I’ve been chewing on it for almost a month now and I still haven’t been able to swallow it.

I think it might have to do with examining my personal beliefs before foisting them upon the world. I think it might mean that I should spend my best energy trying to be sober minded, trying to be a worthy husband and a steady father rather than striving into the wee morning hours to be the next great white American genius.cartoonporchbaby

And over the last few days two new words have added themselves to my growing mantra:

“Live slow.”

These two words are still foggy in my brain. But what is emerging- along with the horror that my aspirations might not materialize overnight- is the sense that I might have better outcomes if I tackle my life one bite sized day at a time.

I’ve always hated Day-At-A-Time slogans. They’re so matter of fact. So uninspired. I’ve always want to be at the pinnacle of my life yesterday. I was the kind of kid who imagined opening the door one morning and running 26 spontaneous, consecutive miles- faster than most, of course.

The call to live slow asks me to be OK that accomplishment does not appear immediately. It asks me to relinquish my hold on a fantasy reality: the one where I could lose 30 pounds in 30 days, could write a best seller on my first try, could inspire a worldwide movement at any moment.

Instead, it asks me to find joy in the easy, natural pace of life- the wisdom written in the eternal codes of growth and change.

I see it in my son, who at 3 months old cannot walk, or talk, or even crawl. Yet his daily struggle to focus his cute little eyes is so obviously perfect and timely and good. He already knows how to “Live small, live slow,” much better than I do. He’s teaching me to find joy in the quiet moments where it’s just the two of us on the couch, staring endlessly at the colorful patterns on his burp rags. We coo and giggle at each other and in those moments our eyes are reflecting secret messages back and forth and who cares who’s walking and who’s not.

“Live small, live slow.”

That’s what I need to remember today.

Maybe you’re like me? Maybe you want to be amazing. Maybe you want to learn something or do something or say something important. And maybe you want it to happen now. Maybe you see the years sliding month by accelerated month into oblivion and you’re getting anxious because nothing is changing- not even you. If that’s you, maybe you’re looking too far forward, like me. Maybe instead of flexing your wishing muscles for a great big immediate change you could join me in flexing your actual muscles for an itsy bitsy tiny change.

Today my change is this: I’ll be attending a 12 step meeting with my humility in tow, just like I did yesterday and the day before that.

When you’re ready, what change will you start with?

Sacramental Christianity Won’t Win Me Back

Not everyone wants to go back to church.

Do you?

My favorite Christian author (Rachel Held Evans) recently wrote an article about why millenials are leaving the church. In it, she explains that young adults like us don’t need or want our churches to be cool. She says that we’re drawn to Christianity’s long held sacraments when they’re practiced with authenticity and inclusivity.

For many of us, that’s true. We’re leaving church because it feels wrong and we’d return if it felt right. That’s not true for all of us, though. At least, it’s not true for me.

I mean, it IS romantic to kneel on a velvet bar alongside strangers and friends. To gaze at those high cathedral arches, to echo the Lexionary across the centuries, to participate in rituals like confession, communion, and baptism- all those spiritual practices that hold us together and remind us of what our souls are apt to forget.

And as long as I attend with my erudite friends, as long as I don a sports-coat with leather patch elbows, I’m happy to rest my padded bottom on an unpadded wooden pew. I’ll enjoy those quiet moments of old-fashioned-but-never-outdated-reflection. I’ll listen to the man with the low slung glasses who speaks slowly about a tree that was cut down from his yard and how it brought to mind all the trees that Jesus interacted with: Zacheeus’s tree, the fig tree, the vine and branches, the cross itself- and I’ll open myself to whatever spiritual wisdom I might derive from trees, and Jesus, but mostly trees.

But I gotta be honest- that stuff doesn’t help me any more than the fog machine or the throbbing lights or the free cappuccinos in the mega-church lobby. For me, it’s just a different kind of inauthentic- one that makes me feel slightly less manipulated and slightly more intelligent all while in the back of my mind I’m harboring the suspicion that I’m drifting toward another abusive relationship- only this time with an older, wiser abuser.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying my perspective is the better perspective. I just think it represents some of us whose problem with church extends beyond popular Christian culture. (Also, I’m not ragging on Rachel. Rachel is terrific! Her new book is beautiful and provocative and you should definitely buy and read it.)

But as much as I love Rachel (and secretly want to be friends with her and her husband) her perspective doesn’t represent me. As a pastor’s kid, a Bible School Grad, a missionary to China for six years, a church planter, a Christian conference speaker; I’ve been on the scene long enough to know that even the most Sacramental Christianity won’t fix my problem. The simple truth is that I don’t want to go back to the church until the church dies and is born bball

Not all believers want to find their way back inside the building.

If you’re anything like me, you might view the sacraments and the liturgy as good programs that good people built after Jesus left. Programs whose faithful practice has helped people follow God through the ages. Programs which should be honored and cherished and used to this very day. But man-made programs nonetheless.

I’m cool with those programs until the minute their sacraments become sacred. When people start associating rituals (communion, baptism, the sinner’s prayer), leadership structures (prophets, priests, pastors), organizational structures (denominations, theologies, creeds), and morals (sex, marriage, crime, punishment), as items which are fixed quantities that can be applied in homogeneous fashion to all- in my postmodern opinion those beliefs have themselves become calcified idols which are now undermining the very deep truths of the even deeper mystery they were originally built to point toward.

In Rachel’s new book, which is organized entirely around the sacraments, she reaches beneath the sacraments themselves to apprehend the messy, mysterious, somewhat subjective truths behind each ritual. She understands that what lies beneath is the actual pearl of great price. That’s why I’d love to share a sanctuary with her and her family some Sunday. She’s a modern day sojourner (Abraham style), rallying folks (Nehemiah style), to rebuild the broken walls of Christendom.

But at the end of the day, Rachel is back in church. And I don’t mean the ethereal line of believers strung out from Abraham to Billy Graham. I mean the institution. I mean an organization of men who lay out the rules.

And as a postmodern millennial, my mind doesn’t bend that way anymore. Our world is too wide for me to believe that God definitively does or does not want a man in Dubai to share an apartment with his girlfriend, or boyfriend. I worry that to live under the spiritual roof of men who have applied God’s precise opinion on anything from tits to taxes is spiritual abuse.

That’s why I believe that Jesus and Christianity are worlds apart. For example, what if Jesus didn’t institute communion as a formal demonstration of our proximity to God? What if he simply shared a poignant meal and said, “Hey, keep eating and drinking and remember me when you do.”?

Also, Jesus never flew a rainbow flag or carried a poster that God hates fags. Men did that. Men DO that. Men who organize around non-negotiable statements of faith.

And that’s why I can’t return to a hierarchical church. I don’t want a church to tell me that homosexuality is a sin and I don’t want a church to tell me that it’s not. I see through a glass darkly, just like everybody else, and mine is to wait and watch and love.

What I want is a church that doesn’t have an opinion for once. That doesn’t have a vested interest in my money, time, or perfect behavior. Where there are no paid professionals. Where to follow God is an amateur endeavor forever.

I’m not the only one. Many of us are fully engaged, whether we realize it or not, in our generation’s philosophical battle for faith. We want to know the extent that spiritual Truth can be objectively understood, organized, and applied. Our postmodern minds tell us that the answer is uncertain, and for some of us, a return to what we knew could only be regression.

What I’m saying is- we could start over. We could reinvent the wheel. Throw out the baby with the bathwater. Cut off our nose to spite our face. I believe the grass is greener on the other side of professional Christianity and I believe that some of us need to pack up our things and go to a land we’ve never been before.

I don’t know what it looks like yet but I imagine it as a movement of volunteers who open their homes regularly, who are autonomous except in matters affecting the movement as a whole, and who have no objective but to find God and to love people. I see such a movement burgeoning around nothing more than the belief in a God who cares, the transformation that such a belief precipitates within our ever-softening hearts, and the attraction it produces among those who suffer under the burden of fear and pride and guilt and shame.

Does this resonate with you at all? I hope so! Over the last two weeks I’ve been flabbergasted by the volume of emails and friend requests from so many of you. It’s crazy that we have so much in common yet we’ve felt ostracized and isolated- unaware of one another.

I’m beginning to wonder if we’re at the beginning of a new evolution. I believe such a leap could be catalyzed by a multitude of single-cell voices who dream a similar dream. If you’re like me maybe your voice has been languishing in silence for too long. And maybe it’s time to start speaking again, dreaming again, seeking others who are seeking God beyond the primordial ooze.

I’d love to hear about your dream too. What’s been percolating? Shoot me an email or a friend request or better yet, leave a comment below and try to make a friend on the website!

I’m Talking To You Disillusioned Christians

Maybe you call yourself an Ex-Christian, an Agnostic, or nothing at all.

Or… maybe you say you’re a Christian but you squirm through Sunday services feeling like a fraud.

Or… maybe you quit attending years ago and you only think about the faith you inherited at family reunions.

Whatever your attitude, you grew up singing songs on Sundays, believing stories about what God did and what God wants you to do and what God wants you to believe about the world.

But something happened. Either a dramatic moment or an imperceptible shift over time. Maybe you realized your decision could cost you everything or maybe not. Either way, one morning you woke up to embrace your inner doubt.

If you’re like that, we’re a lot alike. I grew up Christian too. I sang songs. I believed beliefs. Until a slew of dissonance provoked me to think freely. Ultimately, a tentative set of fractured but honest beliefs emerged and they didn’t quite fit anywhere.BeFunky Photo

And here I am- full of questions and convictions but with no safe place and with few scattered allies. I’m disenfranchised. Disallowed from from writing my truth without being branded a rebel, a malcontent, a bitter soul, an enemy, or, worst of all, living proof that the devil sometimes wins.

I’m not alone in my plight. There are scattered millions of us. Skittish, like cats in hiding. In America alone there are 300 million citizens of One Nation Under God. If half of us grew up in church and half of us ran away from church and if I exaggerated those by half that’s still close to 40 million wanderers. Uncollected. Alone. Caught in the twilight of belief and unbelief.

And yeah, we’re different. Some of us have said: “Screw it. I’m done.” Others of us want to sleep around with a bunch of other religions to rebound. But at the indivisible denominator we are in common: Disenfranchised Christians. And as much as we sometimes try to avoid it we share a similar spiritual yearning and a similar spiritual language.

So why don’t we gather among ourselves? It’s tricky, that’s why. Nobody can talk about this stuff without making a mess. Our stories are raw, unprocessed, not fashioned to fit inside a prefabricated puzzle. They sometimes sound like personal attacks. They sometimes offend the people we love. Even among ourselves our stories are associated with alarming theological implications which we might or might not believe.

It’s just easier to stay silent. Or to shout angrily at no one in particular. But if we stay silent we wander alone and if we shout loud the Christians shout back- often louder, angrier, nastier, and with the power of their collected rightness. Whether we stalk in silence or fire against the machine we Disillusioned Christians rarely make progress.

Many of us are stuck. OK, I’m stuck. I’m afflicted with the same resentments and the same hair-trigger character flaws I’ve always had. I’m not making progress. I’m not being transformed. And I’ve failed to find and forge life-giving connections with other disillusioned folks who want to change.

This is a problem and I want a solution.

Are you with me?

I want a way forward. A vision of an alternative future where we came together. Where we agreed not to spring for fights or languish in silence.

What if the fighters among us laid down their swords? What if the avoiders among us engaged the dilemma? And what we gave ourselves permission to talk about our stories and our theories about what went wrong. But what if we didn’t stop there? What if we didn’t stay focused on the problem? What if we committed among ourselves to stay focused on the solution?

And what if that solution was to revive our collective hope in God? Not in religion. Not in community. Not in a fresh batch of laws or theology. Simply the wide open hope of a God who cares.

That’s the journey I want to be on. That the journey I want to share with a timid band of believers. Though our destination may be far from where we started, I believe that this could be our journey home.

If you’re a Disenfranchised Christian and if this dream resonates with you I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email or a Facebook message or leave a comment below. Or, shoot someone else a text. Maybe you thought of someone while you were reading this and maybe they’d grab coffee with you. You could start a conversation and who knows, it might lead somewhere. I’d love to hear about whatever happens!

What Happened When My Son Was Born

Please be patient with me. Last week I witnessed the birth of my first child. I’m still moist with joy and exhaustion.

If you must know, I’m recovering from watching my wife push out our baby. I’m not kidding. Nothing prepares you for that job. Ditch digging, thief chasing, pulpit pounding, paper writing- nothing readies you for the uselessness of a man when a miracle unfolds. What happens is, you’re full of pride at having made a person and full of confidence that everything will be fine; yet you are helpless, and as the minutes turn into hours your spine gets tighter and tighter until it launches you to the moon.

That was me in the delivery room- the solitary male in a crowd of eleven, clutching Dani’s limp leg, holding it high and separate, stroking her naked skin, counting to ten again and again, watching her lips curl back like a wolf, telling her it was almost over, wondering if it was almost over, glancing over my shoulder toward my mother and her mother and my sister and her sister, and then across the bed where the nurses had dressed the doctors in what appeared to be HAZMAT suits while other nurses monitored heart-rates and IV drips, and all I could control was the Pandora radio station on my IPhone- about which Dani had hollered mid-contraction: “Turn that off unless you’re connected to Wifi!”

She pushed for two and a half hours. And I don’t mean delicate pushes like you’d expect from your wife. I mean sweaty moan-y pushes like you’d expect from a soldier with a sword in his liver. And her moans kept getting louder while her tears kept growing larger until they were the fast rolling drops that would make any husband panic.

Soon enough the baby started poking through. His hair came first, dark and thin. A sopping wet tuft and a trickle of blood. He scooted forward and backward with every push and release. In and out like the twitch of a tongue.

All the eyes in the room focused on the crux of the V. It was like we were waiting for the entrance of an unknown celebrity- the open runway, the camera flashes, the intense focus on a bright red curtain behind which someone important waited. I wiped Dani’s sweat, whispered in her ear, pressed my forehead against hers when the moans got sharp.

During one moment in particular I drank in the the entire room. Women in motion like synchronized chaos, the rise and fall of voices with every push, the counting and cheering, the use of bars and pulleys and mirrors, my mom’s steady breathing cues, the beep-beep-bop of the computer screen, 126, 126, 127, everything’s good, everything’s great, the empty IV and the nurse who replaced it, Mel and Ray scrunched beside me- sharing Dani’s leg, patting my shoulder, locking eyes with us both.

I wanted to spread myself across the entire room. I wanted to stand at the foot of the bed so I could catch my baby and at the head of the bed so I could hold Dani’s hand in case she needed to break my fingers. And weirdly, I wanted to huddle up with the doctors when they whispered among themselves. And when two nurses rushed out of the room and returned with antibiotics I wanted to drift over to the corner where I could lock arms with both moms and we could all clench our helpless teeth in unison.

That’s when an unexpected inkling arose. “Hey wow,” I thought, “this is WAY too much to absorb!” That was the whole revelation but the revelation kept growing throughout the entire delivery. Every push, every trail of blood, every tuft of baby hair that widened into a baby head- it was all fraught with such precarious, miraculous life-and-death intensity that it stole my ability to cry. It stole my ability to laugh. All I could do when my son burst through was nothing- but gasp in helpless, flabbergasted wonder.


Look. I’m not the kind of guy to get swallowed up in a moment. I’m the kind of guy who swallows up the moments. I jump forward or backward in my mind if the present moment can’t live up to it’s billing. Or, if I must remain present, I try to infuse it with craftier beer or unexpected thrills or anything to make it pop.

Usually the only time I’m fully in the moment is when something happens that I didn’t see coming. Like a truck, in the opposite direction. That’s when I feel my heart pulsing in my forehead and the cold skin of my palms against the wheel. That’s when I notice how gentle the threads of my jeans are when I jerk my foot to the break, when the rumble stripe rumbles, when the back-draft whips my hair while I recover. That’s when I’m in the moment.

But the birth of my son turned out to be a big enough moment to consume me. I felt every sensation you could imagine- just as screechy as if my sedan was careening across the highway.

We’re home now and I’d be back in control of all my moments if that delivery room didn’t change me. Unfortunately, my son is already teaching me about the sacred nature of ordinary moments. For example: what if it isn’t only the spectacular moments that are too much for me? Like, what if every moment, however mundane, has more life gurgling within it than I could absorb? My kid sure makes it seem possible.

I’ve been thinking about those mundane moments as I watch him. Over the last 12 days he’s been nestled in the crook of my arm, gazing up with the exact foggy-eyed wonder that crossed my eyes in the delivery room. And just like the delivery room was for me; now all of my sons gas cramps are alive and immediate and overwhelming.

Which is how I felt when he came to life. It’s been reverberating in my bones like existential vertigo. But it got me thinking about how often Jesus riffed on the mysterious Kingdom of God- how it’s present and distant and inside and outside and already and not yet. And for a brief flash the Kingdom of God sounded to me like the mundane moments of everyday life.

That’s when I thought of Martha and Mary and how Jesus jived with Mary’s mundane life but questioned Martha’s. If that’s a valid litmus test for faith then perhaps true spirituality is nothing more than to witness the moment-by-moment unfolding of life, to accept our cradles in the cosmos, and to receive each inexplicable moment as a treasure which can only be partially explored.

That sounds too easy. And maybe it is? I’ve been watching my son and I’ve noticed that his secret for living in the moment is his helplessness. It’s precisely the fact that he cannot change his own diapers that keeps his senses bright while I do it for him. If he could do it himself it would just be another forgettable shit.

But nobody springs for the “I’m helpless” paradigm. I don’t. (Who knows, maybe that’s why I need a truck to barrel toward me to feel alive these days.)

What I do know is that an elegant relationship is already forming as a result of my son’s helplessness. He needs me and I find him irresistible. We both live in the moment, his needs get met and my love swells, he learns to trust while I learn to be attentive.

I hope me and him go on like this forever! I’m the luckiest. :)