Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Setting 2014 Free

2014 was a good year. In the grand scheme of things, they’re all good years, the ones that you have. But squinting shows you peaks and valleys. This year for me, personally, saw many peaks, a few valleys, but I found those valleys to be in the service of more peaks. If it was all peaks you would need to get your head checked, or buy a lottery ticket. Valleys are necessary--it's all yin and yang, reaping and sewing, needing the bad to know the good, and vice versa.

In 2015 we will see our family expand, our hearts expand. I will not spend tonight worrying about a corresponding expansion in our wallet. I have plenty of time to get that worrying in, and maybe in setting it aside I will make some bold discovery--like it is unhelpful, and that maybe I should put it aside more often. We expect too much of ourselves, which is why we’re so disappointed all the time. I cannot will myself to stop worrying, to shut down timeworn functions of my character at the drop of a hat, at the demand of a fleeting whim. I cannot shut it down for good, but maybe an evening is not too much to ask.

I am looking forward to playing Chutes and Ladders and Candyland with my family tonight and just having a good time. Tonight is only for fun. No writing, no thinking, no expanding my horizons. No utility, no scheming, no mulling my options and moves. Candyland. A martini. A New Year's dance I will commission my three & four-year-old sons to perform.

2015 will be a good year. They're all good years, the ones that you have. As long as you don't squint.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Life Summed Up in a Tweet

It doesn't happen often, but when life can be summed up in 140 characters or less, it shall be preserved here at We Need The Eggs.

I Wish I Had This Kind of Passion

And if you're wondering if I'm being serious or not--yes, I am. There are countless times when I wish I could cry, but no tears come. It's a good tool to have--being able to mourn things properly.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The End of Thought

I was sifting through some notes and I came across this one from 9 months ago. I am particularly proud of it because I wasn't sure if I wrote it, or if I had copied it down from someone wiser than myself. Yes, that is the height of conceit, but I'm just saying I am extremely committed to this non-dogma thing. Certainty is the end of thought!

"In art, music, politics, never tie yourself down to one viewpoint. Stay airy and above it all, make all of the suckers regret committing to a position & defending it passionately. Much easier to defend not defending a position."

Certainty is not a bad place to be. I'm certain that I love my wife and kids, so I don't need to spend time thinking on and pondering the alternatives. I'm not certain that conservatives are right about much, or anything, much less so liberals, so, I'm sorry to say, much thinking is to be done over their frequently poisonous ideas. Although, thankfully I have discovered that politics is much less important, much less central to my life than talk radio & the television news cycle would make you think. Politics are important, but they come after the importance of developing my topspin in tennis, mowing my lawn, cleaning my garage, writing a book--this list goes on for awhile, "thinking about politics" checks in at about 103, but I won't bore you with taking you all the way there.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cocktail Party: The Stuff of Nightmares

You have no idea how much anxiety this image produces in me.
I’m going to a cocktail party tonight. This is not my thing. These make me seize up like an engine without oil. But I have had some good moments, some victories at these type of things a time or two.

I once talked with a conductor of a local orchestra.

At cocktail parties, this is how it works for me. Get to the party. Grab a drink right away. I squeeze this drink way too tight, and take a sip about every 8 to 11 seconds. I scan the crowd for someone who looks as sadsack as me. I never find them; I am the worst. I am the party’s sole loser. I am the only one with issues. Everyone else is talking, look, they’re talking. But I can’t do it. Oh, I can’t do it. I can talk, but once I get out past word 8 or 9 . . . things start to get pretty dicey.

By this time I’ve finished my drink, so I go back for drink two. Going back for drink two is awesome because you get to stand in line. I have a task! I’m DOING something! I’ve legitimized myself! I pick the longest line. I notice other people trying to catch my eye. They want to talk while standing in line. I refuse. I’ve EARNED this, dammit. The whole point of these parties is to talk to other people--you can’t force me to talk when I’m already so engaged in my task.

So anyway, I strike up a conversation with a conductor. I don’t remember who approached who. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that most likely it was he who started the conversation. Anyway, it was an interesting conversation. I asked him all about what it was like to be a conductor. I was surprised to find out that there were a lot of similarities to the way I think about writing. I asked him question after question, kept him talking--that is how I survive cocktail parties--keep your mark talking. The more flapping they do, the less psychological hyperventilating I do. The conversation ended with him giving me two tickets to an upcoming performance. I felt very validated as a conversational partner.

Speaking of conductors. I took my wife to the Seattle Symphony once (I know I sound amazing, but it was only once, never again, and it was only because I was worrying she might think about leaving me if I didn’t do something fancy now and again). We saw Rachmaninoff. Is that how you talk about a symphony, does that work? Anyway, it was occasionally pleasant, but it was also interminable. Once you have heard ten minutes or so, I am not really sure why anyone would need more. Obviously they didn’t agree, because it had to have gone on for over an hour. But at the end, right after it crescendoed into its climax, a guy from one of the first rows yelled out, “YES!”

I had to think that made the conductor feel pretty damn good.

So that is how I do cocktail parties. And that is all I know about orchestra conductors.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Instructions For Today

The life you planned—it doesn’t work out. Not necessarily. Maybe not at all. Maybe you’re supposed to follow your passion, which will lead to success. Maybe your abundance of passion will never get you there because you just don’t have the talent. You don’t know. I don’t know. Your future isn’t waiting to be discovered. It isn’t waiting. Your future doesn’t depend on you. Not solely. There are so many factors beyond your control: biology, DNA, weather, governmental policy, corporate policy, the decisions of others, the decisions of your parents while you are a child, when your tire will blow out, which person the serial killer selects, where the lightning will strike, who will be put in your 3rd grade class, which university will accept you, who will cross the yellow line when you’re on the other side, etc. I apologize for the embarrassingly incomplete list. Your future will largely be determined by forces outside of your control—you are your only chance to do what you want. It may not work out, but you have no alternative. You are the largest tool in your toolbox. 

The world will enact itself upon you. Whether the future is written or not makes no difference to you—it looks the same from here, from the present. A large, unflinching question mark.

Do you play it safe and become an accountant? Do you roll the dice and play your guitar night after night before an audience of a handful? I don’t know. The people who know the answer and give it to you with unflappable confidence, I don’t think they’re very helpful. I think they mean well, but they’re not trying to help, they’re trying to comfort. There is a time for everything, but 24/7 comfort leaves you fat, complacent, unambitious. 24/7 comfort leaves you nowhere. But comfort is nice, and countless are content to spend their entire lives there. That’s ok. We weren’t all called to ambition and achievement.

The human drive is a mysterious and unknowable thing, built on a framework of conscious and unconscious desires at raging war among themselves. For a lifetime. Why do I want what I don’t seem to have? Why do I get a little of it, then run from it to comfort? There will always be mystery. The point isn't to solve all of the mysteries, you can't do that; the point is to get comfortable with mystery. Instead of always trying to push them out of the car, learn to put their seat belt on for them.

The life you planned—it may not work out. You may choose the wrong road and not know it for a lifetime. You might get halfway there and stall out—lot's of people do. But not trying, holding back for fear, keeping your options open—these are forms of suicide. Suicide that draws itself out, day by day.

Friday, November 28, 2014

How Should We Talk About Ferguson?

I don't enjoy being controversial. I used to enjoy it enormously. I used to like to make bombastic and over the top declarations, because I thought they were conversation/argument stimulants. I was a perfect creation of political talk radio.

I don't think that way anymore. I like to spend time thinking, keeping an open mind,  and considering things. I like to leave the door open on an idea or person for as long as possible. And one reason I write this blog is to invite people to take that thought journey with me. I have decided that the best place to begin with people who don't think like you is common ground. This may not be true, but this is where I am at right now. I have this belief that if you want people to listen to you, you should be nice to them.

With that out of the way, I can say what I want to say, which are my thoughts inspired by the picture above. I think I am on shaky ground here, and I am not 100% certain in the declaration I am about to make, but I am comfortable enough with my belief to put it in print and attempt to defend it:

With regard to the picture above: Talk like this is a conversation ender, not a conversation starter.

This is a variation of the statement "black lives matter" that has found its way onto many signs in many Ferguson protests in many cities across America, and the world.

How can you respond to that? The only people who truly don't care about black lives are unreconstructed inveterate racist reprobates who are only liked and respected by their friends and family who think like them. They are a very tiny portion of  the population, and they have little to no influence outside of their toxic circle. They are usually ugly, smell bad, have less teeth than should be expected, and we all know very few, if any of them. The rest of the country, which is the overwhelming majority of the country, care, to varying degrees of commitment, for the black community, as well as the rest of the colors of communities, while they're at it.

Because the community of racist-to-their-core reprobates is so tiny, it is ok to say that basically everyone cares about the general well-being and flourishing of all other lives in this country. How do I measure this? This is how I define "caring" at its most basic level: If you could, at no risk to yourself, pull a drowning person out of a river, you would do it. And it would make no difference to you what color their skin was. You would do it. That means you care if that person lives or dies.

But it all changes from there. The more risk, cost and effort it requires of you reveals your level of care. This is a moral and ethical calculation that every human performs, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. For instance, I choose to spend the bulk of my time, money and effort on feeding my own children and seeing to their flourishing, and not flying to the other side of the world, leaving my own children, for the most part, hungry, and feeding strangers, instead. 99.9 percent of people would agree with my moral/ethical calculus, but isn't there something a touch barbaric in NOT devoting every waking moment to ensuring that all life lives, and then flourishes? But that's for another post. Unfortunately we are finite. Unfortunately we do not contain the ability to give adequate care to every thing and every person who requires it.

What am I saying? I am saying that we do all care about black lives, we all get the golden star on our sheet. But the protesters are saying that most of us need to care a little more than we do, and they are probably right. I personally wish they were nicer about it. I think talk like this puts reconciliation farther away. But that's just a matter of taste, as we all know there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Or fix a broken political/social system.

But to what extent are we supposed to "care more"? What does it looks like to "care more"? It's incredibly complicated, and there is not a right answer. And the answer is different for everyone. And there isn't just one problem. There's a lot of problems. And there are probably even problems that we haven't been able to even articulate. There are problems in the white community, and there are problems in the black community. We don't all have an equal share in these problems, and we don't all have an equal share in their solutions.

So what the f--- is it that we are supposed to do? I don't know. But talking about it probably helps. And being nice about it probably helps, even more. But even that is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes people just need to get their anger out. If you can be nice, and hang in there with them through that, maybe they can get to what they actually think, now that they have that out of the way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ways to Avoid the Normal Chitchat This Holiday Season

The Holiday Season kicks off in just two days—two days, people!

Now if you're like me—well, first of all, I'm sorry to hear that. But if you're like me (which means you're a raging introvert, you get nervous when talking to strangers—relatives you see twice a year qualify as strangers; holding up your end of the conversation can sometimes feel like holding up the Brooklyn Bridge, you linger in the bathroom at parties, you take random trips out to the car because you "forgot something," you are over-eager to speak with kids because they are more forgiving of your social problem, but even still you find a way to alienate them, the bastards; etc, etc.)

As you can see, fellow non-small talkers, I feel your pain. I jotted down some ideas this morning on how we might combat our complex. Feel free to add some of your own techniques or ideas in the comments section—and thank you in advance for not doing so. Because then I would have to find a way to thank you or validate you in a follow up comment, and I wouldn't know what to say, or I wouldn't do it right, and the whole thing would just be awkward and painful.

Ways to Avoid the Normal Chitchat This Holiday Season:

  1. Wear sunglasses and pretend you’re asleep.
  2. Ask people what THEY think about current events. No dialogue. Dialogue leads to argument. But just keep asking them what they think.
  3. “What ifs.” Instead of, how is work going, just start conversations with “what if.” What if you lost your job? What if baseball was never invented? What if thanksgiving was on a Tuesday? What if Jennifer Lawrence or Taylor Swift started flirting with me (something I’ve been worrying about lately)?
  4. Ask people what their hobbies are.
  5. Let everyone know that the news-industrial complex in this country is rotting out our brains. Ask them to boycott the 24 news cycle. You’ll have to think fast if they ask what that means, though, because I don’t really know. But if feels like it’s headed in the right direction.
  6. Hmm. Let’s think of a new way to talk about religion. Talking about religion is uncomfortable. But it’s a big deal, and I don’t like the idea of just leaving it out. Hmm. Maybe, ask people, if they had to invent a religion, what would be some of the components they would incorporate? What would be some hard and fast rules you would lay down? And then which rules would you throw in there that you know no one will ever keep, but for some reason you want to include them?
  7. If you want to end a conversation, just pull out your phone and start scrolling through your pictures, giving a detailed explanation for each one of them. Check every few pics to see if the person is still there.
  8. Keep your mouth full of food. (This is my usual go to when I am trying to avoid chitchat, but I’m on a diet this year, so I’m really going to have to reach for ways to still keep this as a viable option. Slower chewing? No chewing?)
  9. Movies! If you ever hear me talking about movies or televisions shows at a party, it is because I burned through the normal topics (work, school, family) in about 49 seconds. 
I wish all of my introverts much luck and success in this year's jungle of small talk. If you ever need any help know that you can't call me to talk about it—I will only exacerbate your issues. Give your mom or your lawyer a call—they are all too happy to keep you on the phone for as long as they possibly can.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How To Get Fired

"You'll pay for this."

From job after job my grandmother was fired.

"You'll pay for this," she would say. Sometimes she would say it while slightly waving a fist back and forth, for emphasis. The words would creep out of her mouth as she burned her eyes into theirs.

The store managers would try to reason with her, to explain the problem, but it never helped.

"You'll pay for this."

But they were right to fire her--she was a cashier and the customers did not appreciate her humor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

If the Jig is Ever Up

If we ever find God on this earth, and it turns out that he wasn’t really God, but just a guy who never died, with magical powers enough to make us think there was a God, well, I don’t think we’ll be that mad at him. “Thank you for the experience,” we’ll say. But then we will find a way to kill him. Again, we wouldn’t be mad, but we can’t really let him keep it up, now that we know.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Steal From The Best

One of my heroes is the writer, Jack Handy. You may remember some of Jack's work from Saturday Night Live in the 90s. He would write these wonderfully bizarre and hilarious "Deep Thoughts." He's not topical, he's not crass, he's not relevant—he's just mind mindbogglingly hilarious.

I did an exercise where I ripped off his form. They are nothing close to what he does, but you've gotta start somewhere, right?

My attempts at Jack Handy-style jokes:

If a man wants to get hair to grow on his back, I don’t think it’s a problem to keep it caked with fertilizer and water it periodically. But my wife does.

People like to be flattered. But they don’t like to be faltered—that’s why it’s so important to know how to spell.

There’s nothing worse than an incomplete thought. Well there is one thing, but it’s immensely if you can put it down again.

We obsess about the order of words, but do you think the words really care all that much? I think they’re just happy to be noticed.

You know when you get down on all fours and follow your dog around ironically to get him to think about his position in the universe? Well they should make special pads for your hands and knees for that, it's a lot of work.

Apples probably think they’re pretty great, but I doubt pears have the same complex. But a pear can be good, too. Apples are just jerks.

If your name was Melvin, it seems like it would be a good idea to wear chaps, spurs and a six-shooter.

A funny thing to do with a can of cut green beans is to empty it out, fill it with fake eyeballs, reseal it, then wait for your spouse to open it.

If a shirt could talk, I think that it would spend so much time trying to talk itself through how it could have ever gotten to this point, that I think it would be years until it really had anything meaningful to say. And you would probably get so tired of it that you would throw it in the fire before it even got close. So actually, with that lesson learned, if your shirt ever does start to talk, just immediately throw it in the fire.

A lot of people think that kings have it the best in this world, but don’t you think that sometimes, late at night, kings think “I just want my mommy”? And if that’s true, that would mean that actually mommies have it best. But that’s a dumb idea.

If you were bleeding internally, it might help to swallow tons of paste. But I would also feel bad if you chose to try my theory instead of seeking medical attention, and then you died. But then I would stand over you and say, “Why did you listen to me? I’m not a medical professional, the blood is on your hands”.

I think that if you woke up to a robber in your house, a funny gag would be to say “finally!, I’ve been waiting for an accomplice.” But once you had his trust you would do a swinging back kick to his head, of course.

A good way to relieve stress, when you’re home alone, is to scream violent obscenities until you go hoarse. But make sure you don’t forget your kids stayed home from school, because it was a Saturday, because if they’re anything like my kids, they’ll be white as sheets.

You know, if God was really as big and powerful as he said he was, he would do a lot more lightning and miracles to impress us. Just goes to show that our heroes don’t always live up to our standards.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

10 Ways To Make Your Life Better

I was talking to my brother the other day, and I told him something that was true, but I just hadn't realized it yet. I'm an introvert, and a thinker, so I rarely open my mouth unless I know exactly what's going to come out. This is not an ideal mental profile for an aspiring creative type. If I'm not surprised by what I say, it's not very likely that anyone else will be, either. Surprise, spontaneity, unpredictability—these are all things you want, if you're alive.

I told him: I guess I've been waiting for my story to happen to me. I've been sitting around, tapping my foot, waiting for things to start to click—instead of realizing that in order for "my story" to happen, I actually have to go out and make it happen. To quote The Royal Tenenbaums—immediately after I said it I knew that it was true.

As we all know it's a symptom of our age: Andy Warhol rather casually informed us that we will all get our 15 minutes of fame. Man did that screw us over, or what? Between lottery tickets, viral videos, celebrities from every corner of the nation, proliferating like zombies at the Apocalypse, media outlets thirsting for more and more gossip/clicks/dollars, how is it that people are still getting out of bed and putting in a hard day's work when they could be the next YouTube star simply by yelling at their kid, dancing in their living room, or give a quirky interview to the news media?

I had a friend tell me once that he had an idea for a book, but he didn't want to write it until he was assured by a publisher that it would see print. Yeah, at the time I judged him for it, but brother, I don't know about you, but that's me, too. Not all of me, but a very large chunk, expects it to be handed to me. Now I have much too much pride and tact to admit this, or otherwise let it show, but I know it's true in the center of me that no one else can see.

You and I are hardwired to be lazy and take the path of least resistance. Committing yourself to the knowledge that you will undertake hard work is the hardest thing you will ever do.

That last sentence, it's not entirely true. But it is at least 60, 70 percent true, and that's pretty good. Especially for this half-cocked world we inhabit. The best sermons are the ones we need to preach to ourselves. This year I've tried to do something that I've never done before. From what little progress I have made, I can see that I will need to continually refer to the above list if I am to progress.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

When Life Feels Predictable

One of the things that gets us down about life is that it can feel so predictable. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning you know how your day will proceed and end. You know what the commute will be like, you know the hassles at work, the stress. You know what shows you will watch in the evening, what you will eat, and that you will lie your head down again on the self same pillow from whence you are about to proceed.

The only problem with this is that it is a lie. 

You don't actually know what your day has in store for you. Just because the previous 2,999 days were similar does not mean the 3,000th will be the same. That is a logical fallacy. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking your life is predictable, you may even have a lot of convincing evidence, but it cannot possibly be true for anyone. You don't know if any of the following are in store for you today: car crash, blazing psychological insight, stroke, the birth of a habit, recognition of a life altering fact that has been hiding in plain sight, the death of a habit, a resolve to change, dog bite, power outage, forgiveness, either needed or given, weather anomaly, coup d' etat, laid off, subpoena, a gift, a new friend, gout or flowers.

The most damning fact of all: the expectation of predictability only helps to shield you further from the positives on the above list.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Story

This story starts with an opening sentence. It accomplishes the feat of both capturing your attention, as well as being a magnificent explication of what clearly will be a complicated, tantalizing and rewarding tale. As it progresses you pick up on the author's effortless but substantive style. Before you know it, you've turned the page four or five times. You look at the clock—23 minutes has gone by, and you had no idea. You get more comfortable in your chair.

The main character, she is perfect in all the ways women want to be, and vulnerable and cute in all the ways that women hope to be noticed. She faces challenges, not altogether different from other women that you might know, or maybe even you, yourself. She tries to face them with a steady aplomb, but there just seems to be something missing.

Him. He is the jig to her saw, the missing face in the eventual adorable family photos. They somehow keep missing each other. The descriptions that you read of him cause you to muse on all of the potential romances that you missed out on, simply for the fact that time is finite, and there are only so many opportunities you can have in this life. How many people would have been a good fit for you? What would it have been like if you went left, instead of right, six years ago on a rainy Tuesday, while on your way to return library books three weeks overdue?

Much conflict and misunderstanding ensues. This is the world we live in, so far from perfect. So often the longing to be understood manifests itself in such unhelpful ways. It causes your heart to break, as the fledgling couple pad their way through the dark cavern of a challenging relationship. They realize their upbringing programmed their unconscious with ideas and notions they were not before privy to. But a hilarious incident at the company picnic leads them to realize that their differences cannot outweigh their unity.

The wedding ceremony is beautiful, perhaps overwrought. Six months into the marriage there is a misunderstanding they think pushes them to their limits. It is eventually clarified, torrential relief floods the home. We've been shown they really are going to make it—challenges slayed, they go on to their reward of a happy life. The story is at its end.

Monday, October 20, 2014

When We Were Hamsters

Early childhood development is a fascinating thing. Right now my four-year-old is obsessed with inhabiting any character he comes in contact with. He's been Minnie Mouse, our dog Bennett, our Roomba, our hamster, and at least a dozen more cartoon characters. When he's in character you cannot refer to him by his born name, he will remind you every time. "Has Nolan eaten lunch?" I'll ask my wife. He will interject "you mean Bennett," a bit pedantically; willing to work with me, but showing that his patience with my inattention to his transitory identity will soon run out. Then he will remember George, his hamster, and will interrupt our conversation to let us know that he is now George, then will drop to the floor and do his best imitation of a hamster.

I vaguely remember hearing about this stage of development somewhere in the whirlwind of my college education. I could look it up, refresh myself, and read about the "why" of why my son is doing this. I'm sure it would be fascinating, but maybe there is something altogether un-fun about the scientific description of my son's current preoccupation. Something in me doesn't want to take the magic away. Yes, this is a stage of development, every child goes through it. But I'm not watching a "stage," I'm not watching "a child," I'm watching my own son, a flesh and blood person.

I like to wonder what is going through his mind. What is he getting out of becoming everyone else? It is interesting that he becomes everything else—except for what he is. He never inhabits one of the numerous little boys that he sees on the screen. It's like he's already got that one down. Right now is for devoting his attention to what he is not, perhaps to find out how those people (and animals, and robots) tick. What does it mean to be someone else? Who are these people?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Short Story: "Resumè"

I was contemplating some tweets the other day, and I soon realized I had a short story on my hands. To copy and paste my Twitter feed is much to arduous and costly a process—even though the verisimilitude would be spectacular—so below I render the tweets in plain text. Enjoy. Oh, also, please take this moment to go ahead and follow me on Twitter. Thanks!

I call this story, “Resumè”

If we had intro music when we arrived at work, WWE style, I'm just saying I think it would really ease slicing off that tiny piece of life.

I’m rocking new pants at work today. New pants really are a form of invincibility. You can’t bring me down today, world—new pants!

Note to self: wear new pants to work every day as hedge against crippling anxiety & sense of meaninglessness in universe.

Further note to self: Send cover letter & resume to universe. I’m a nice, useful guy; get it to stop ignoring you.

Attributes I would list for universe: strong-willed, multitasker, manages stress well, solution focused, ie not a complainer or “worry wart”

Things I would do as an “Office Administrator C” for the universe: MAKE SURE PPL FEEL MY PAIN. Make sure Gary gets his.

Gary said I was being “thoughtless” bc I ate his kosher lunch. Get a clue Gary—I couldnt stop thinking how crappy it was as I choked it down

Gary can’t find his sales report. Maybe it was shredded. Maybe it’s a metaphor for how he shredded my feelings over that whole lunch thing.

Gary is the kind of guy that would do well in a cement plant. Then he wouldn’t get so much attention from Sue who only likes him 4 his hair.

The thing about a guy like Gary is that he really wants you to think he’s a nice guy. Always bringing in donuts—he’s going to leave us.

Gary’s going 2 far—he wants 2 have a reconciliation mtg w/ our manager. Gary, you know how this ends—I let the air out of your tires. Again.

It’s been a long day. I need a good dinner before I go to my hole of an apartment, lie on my mattress, and cry softly into my pillow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dentistry vs. Magic Beans

The sad thing about an artist's life is that it is dependent on their effort. And this is only partially true, which makes the affair that much more depressing.

Let's pull back for a moment.

All of life's endeavors are at least somewhat dependent on a person's effort. You don't become a professional without practice and study. You don't raise a well-behaved child through hope and good intention minus cultivation (but even then, oy—but I'll get to that).

But I would suggest there is something different about the concrete world of cultivation: It is a one to one, linear progression. Want to be a dentist? Go to school, graduate, buy brick and mortar building, hire dental assistant, get chairs for waiting room. Done. If you weren't good enough you wouldn't have graduated. If you are personally self-destructive (alcoholic, lazy, etc) you will most likely implode. Want to be a farmer? Find or otherwise acquire a large tract of land, get up early everyday and put things in the ground, tend to them as they emerge, then cut them down when they look tasty. Simple.

The only complicating factors in the concrete realm are the soul-crushing forces of an unpredictable world. Drought, cancer, drunk drivers, fickle market forces, greed, frailty, general bad luck, mendacity, relational strife, blown transmission, etc. These, and some other things, are why I said that our outcomes are only partially dependent on our effort. One or many of these items can get in the way of a thriving dental practice.

Now solemnly we come to the artist. An artist doesn't cultivate the land—his job is to make the magic beans grow. There is no schematic for a great piece of art. Of course some think there is—these people are called hacks. Please don't think I am disparaging hacks—hacks can make a very decent living. Creativity is not linear. It is monstrously dependent on people's taste, opinion, prejudices, etc. People aren't allowed to tell a dentist they did a bad job if it's not true—no one will listen. The artist has no such protection, even from himself. The artistic world can be monstrously unfair. Often you have to "catch a break." Which is to say your talent alone will not get you there, you need a twist of luck to put you over the top.

There is no linear pay off in site: All you have to do is write a quality novel. Quality novelists start at $110,000 a year, plus benefits. All you have to do is draw portraits with a pinch of your own flair and personality mixed in: 16,000 people a year will purchase them over the next few decades.

Which brings us full circle: An artist has to give and give and give—and maybe they will see a return. This return may or may not have any relation to their talent. Monstrously unfair.

And if you're an artist with a bent towards laziness and despair, such as I am, well, heaven help you. The only way you will succeed in your creative efforts is if you try and try and try—and then you need some luck thrown in, over and above protection from the soul-crushing forces enumerated above.

I have stated the artist's plight in much more dire and depressing terms than reality would actually reflect—but I'm wallowing. It is one of the indispensable skills every despairing artist needs. It is one of our distinctives, as creative types. I don't like to brag, but I think we are simply better at wallowing than accountants, attorneys, electricians and grocery store clerks.

Thank you for letting me wallow all over you.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Thoughts From An Abandoned Mindshaft

I used to just start blog entries not knowing where they would go, or where they would stop. I've gotten away from that.

I was just thinking about this: It is so hard to find out what I really want. It is hard to know what I really like. It is hard to be this inarticulate.

We take the garbage & recycle out every Wednesday—but how often do we do the same for our soul?

We cut our cable TV this week. TV is worthless except to serve the purpose of entertainment. We all need entertainment—the only problem is that we need about this much:

And most of us feed on a supply of about this much:

So if we only need the smaller dot, then Netflix will more than suffice.

That leads us to addiction. We are so addicted we don't even know we're addicted, which is the hallmark of an addict, of course. Addicted to comfort, entertainment, food, distraction, technology, money. I only recently broke my 32-year-old addiction to food. Haven't broken it, just quelled it, significantly. No one had ever suggested to me that I should change my diet to alleviate my severe acid reflux. We get fat, we have bad digestion, bad posture. We're not trained to fix the problem, we are trained to treat the symptoms.

I had thought for years that I should change my diet—but I didn't want to. It sounded like death. I didn't want to give up cheeseburgers, fettuccine alfredo, butter chicken, bacon wrapped anything, pepperoni/olive/jalapeno pizza, ketchup, mayonnaise, blue cheese, grease, microwaved chimichangas loaded with cheese, ranch, lasagna, butter. Giving these up would be death. So all the while I was willing to wreak death on my body. It's a funny thing—real death, well, it's for real, and there is no getting away from it—but exiting from a false death (addiction), well I have found that it is the shortest trip home that you can make. From inside, it doesn't look like a short trip, it isn't even a trip; from inside the death of addiction the bright sunshine of reality is what looks like death. But if you can exit, you will soon find that the light of reality has an eerie, familiar quality to it. There is a vague understanding that this is where you were supposed to be. This feeling is made all the more weirder by your remembrance that you spent years insisting that up was down, left was right, and wallowing in addiction was all the bliss in the world you could afford.

I can hear our pair of hamsters bickering and fighting with each other. I noticed that the same feeling arose in my chest that I would feel when listening to my parents, as a child, do the same thing. That is profoundly weird.

I'm trying to decide if I have anything to add to this. Thank you for attending this colloquy of thoughts. Beck got away with writing nonsense. Maybe that's the easier thing to do. But if someone's nonsense is comforting, and it resonates, it spreads—can we still call it nonsense? I used to write a lot more nonsense. Little descriptive clusters of nothing. Like I was digging for something, didn't know what, and kept pulling out bits of broken pottery.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Today Was a Day Like All the Other Days

Influences of the day:

James Altucher podcast interview with Nassim Taleb
James Altucher podcast interview with Scott Adams (Dilbert cartoonist)
Radiolab episode: In the Dust of This Planet

Thought of the moment: Let's try to live.

Truths discovered or rediscovered/recovered for the day:

It's more about effort than it is about quality. You have to go through bad ideas to get to good ideas.

Things are changing—the center isn't holding. Things spinning out of control. Sense of meaninglessness/ennui/nihilism in the collective American psyche on the rise. Frustrating because this is what every generation thinks. It's what every person thinks. They are the apocalyptic chosen one. May even by the only one. Every generation thinks this is it, this is our moment. But could it be really true this time? How can you know that this is what every generation thinks and then seriously ask that question? We are human, we are all guilty of being humans. We are weak, lots of weaknesses built into the structure of our being. Survival shaped our minds and bodies, but in the future we need a different set of characteristics. Our minds won't catch up.

We have no real predictive power. We can't know. There is an ocean of things we don't know, which makes us elevate the cup of knowledge that we do have far beyond its actual importance.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Further Thoughts on Mars Hill

I'm reading the resignation letter of Dustin Kensrue, the latest pastor to resign from Mars Hill.

The reaction of top leadership at Mars Hill to all of their fallout has been evil. It is evil in the perfectly petty and pernicious way that beauracracy is so good at being evil.

Their reaction is a model of what happens when people do not wield authority well. May their exit from leadership come swiftly; for their sake and those under them.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

12 Things I Have Learned About Writing

  1. It’s hard. I mean really hard. Like it makes you want to bang your head on your desk until your desk cracks. It makes you want to tear your skin off. It makes you want to run screaming from the room, running with the speed of a well-drugged baboon. And that’s on a good day.

  2. Your perspective is everything. This cannot be understated. Understood properly—your perspective is the only thing that you have in this world. It isn’t right, it isn’t wrong—it’s just yours.

  3. Because of point two, you are in a unique position to comment on the world, and any of its contents. Because of point two, your perspective matters. Besides your perspective on things, the only other things you’ve encountered in this world are other people’s perspectives. It is a total democracy—no one’s perspective matters more than anyone else’s*.

  4. *Oh, about that last sentence of point #3: It is true—to a point. It's true that no one has more or less of a right to their perspective than you, but not all perspectives are created equal. It is your perspective, do what you want with it. But if no one wants to listen, that's probably your fault. We are finite beings, we cannot laze about at the pool and leisurely drink in the perspectives of others. We have to make tough choices; we have to be discerning. 

  5. So keep it interesting. Say something different. I can't tell you how many things I read that have been said a thousand times. Why waste your breath? Now, one of my favorite phrases is "there is nothing new under the sun." It's all been said and done before. A thousand times. But because of your perspective, you have the option to make it unique. Yes it's been said a thousand times, but you can make it new.

  6. Steal. It's ok, just do it. Not the whole bloody thing, word for word, that's plagiary, you idiot. Steal the image, steal the phrase, steal the feeling it made you feel and try to plug it into what you're doing.

  7. We need help. I don't know how other writers do it without bouncing their ideas, if not their very words, off of a trusted friend or two. Many do not do this, don't seem to need it—but I hate them and they have probably consorted with beings of darkness to obtain such talent. 

  8. Another way I get help is reading about other artists and writers talking about their own process of writing. Read people who are honest, and this will help you to be more honest. More honesty means better writing. More honesty means a better life.

  9. You don't have time to wait for inspiration. Sit at your cold desk, hate yourself if you must, and just start moving your pen. Cry. Hate yourself more. Berate yourself, even though you shouldn't berate yourself, if that's what it takes to stay seated. Produce something shitty. Slink away from your desk. Hope for a better day tomorrow.

  10. You don't have time to wait for inspiration. To quote a great sage of our time, "You're gonna go out there and grab [inspiration] by the tail, and wrap it around, pull it down and put it in your pocket." Your muse is a tease. She's like a bad dog: she doesn't respond to your commands, is selective with her love, and is, on the whole, quite unreliable. 

  11. Every artist is unique. There is no one way to do it. It took me a long time to understand this. I would read about other writers, or read other writers, and try to decide which one I would be, or which one I would most be like. I did this so that I could learn how I was supposed to be. There is no such thing. I am a combination of many styles, but I am my own. Oh, sure, I wish I was someone else. I would rather be John Updike, Stephen King, Mark Twain, Robert Capon, CS Lewis, Joseph Heller. But when I was born I was saddled with the moniker of "Jason DesLongchamp." So right out of the gate my options of who I was going to be were narrowed down to a pathway of only one. I imagine you had a similar experience.

  12. You can't wait to get it right. This is my biggest, and ongoing, writerly sin. It has to be perfect. I have to be factually, grammatically, politically, logically, socially, theologically, and actually correct. Yes, these are nice things to be. But you will drive yourself insane (take it from me, an authority on the matter) trying to connect all these dots, jump through these hoops, and line up these crooked sticks. Just say what you've got. If no one listens, fix it. If no one listens still, junk it. Come up with something else. But don't belabor it to the point where you don't allow it the light of day, for fear of being in some way wrong. You will be wrong, in some way—no way around that. A fate worse than being wrong is being nothing. 

If you share nothing then that is exactly what you have given the world.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

10 Things I've Done That You Never Should

  1. On a number of occasions I have made up aliases, complete with their own email addresses, so I could tell someone off or otherwise trick them into giving me information.
    • Waste of time. Just be honest with people.

  2. I tried to push my truck up the incline of my driveway—instead it went backwards and was stopped by my house, which pushed my open door in the opposite direction it was naturally intended to go.
    • Why did I do this? I kid you not—just to see if I could. Being in high school does not absolve me—this is unforgivably dumb at any age: Which my dad basically told me when I ran inside and asked for his help. He was right.

  3. I threw a rock at my best friend’s head in high school for no apparent reason. It pissed him off.

  4. I was often a thoughtless asshole to my siblings for most of my childhood.
    • It was like I was playing a part, the jerky older brother, and I didn’t question my role. There was nothing to question: my understanding was that this is what older brothers do. Then it hit me one night when I was 17 what I was doing. That was too long to realize.

  5. I once cheated my friends in a poker game by hiding cards under my ass.
    • OH WAIT NO I DIDN’T. This is one of the bitterest sources of contention that I have with my buddies. One late poker night in college I got up to go to the bathroom and there JUST HAPPENED to be an ace sitting on my chair when I got up. I was accused of cheating. I defended myself at the top of my lungs. Much was made of the fact that it was an ace card; all agreed that if it was any other card then they would have believed me. They claimed the ace put the truth to my lie. When my appeal fell on deaf ears, and a motion was being issued for my removal from the game, I dashed everyone’s chips across the table so no one could have fun if I couldn’t. It was a COINCIDENCE! and if I am not fully exonerated then I will have this phrase chiseled into my headstone. I’ll chisel it in myself, then lie down and die; upset.

  6. I asked a girl out in college when she was clearly not vibing me.
    • The worst part was, she really wasn't my style and there was no way a relationship could have blossomed. I just thought she was cute. Well Jason, that’s fine, but that’s not a good enough reason to ask someone out. So I asked her out and she pretended like it never happened and didn’t talk to me much after that. I had called her and left her a voicemail saying me and my roommate were going to watch "Matchstick Men" and that she should join us. Asking a girl to come alone to an apartment with two men and watch a Nicolas Cage movie, in the dark? I guess that is pretty creepy.
      • Some people are confused by this because maybe they, or someone they know, ask people out that they don’t know, all the time. I never operated this way. I didn’t “pick women up,” nor did I try. I wanted to, but I just didn’t have it in me. 

  7. I attempted an acrobatic leap: over a ditch, at night, in winter, onto ice, while drunk.
    •  I rolled my ankle. I don’t think I broke anything. Might have torn something. I don’t know because I didn’t go to the doctor (I didn’t have healthcare but that’s not why I didn’t go; dudes just don’t go to the doctor unless they turn yellow or their heart falls out of their chest). I think it took well over a year until my ankle felt like normal again. 

  8. Bought a condo.
    • Oh, God. My face gets a little hot every time I think about it. It didn’t help that it was 2007, the real estate market at its zenith. It didn’t help that the HOA dues were $330 a month (but the topiaries were beautiful!). Just don’t ever do it. Unless you’re going to live there. Forever. And you’re not into that whole “bang for your buck” thing.

  9. Visit Australia.
    • Well that’s not necessarily a bad thing—allow me to explain. The series of events that led to the ill-fated trip to Australia that you need to avoid were this: Date an Australian foreign exchange student. Then try the long distance thing when she goes home. Then buy non-refundable plane tickets to visit her. Then have her cheat on you. Then go anyway and stay at her parents’ house. Yep. But I actually don’t regret this one because going to Australia was awesome. But it is hard to keep my dignity in tact when I think about how loser-ish the whole scenario was.

  10. Date your teacher. 
    • No, it’s not as bad as it sounds. She was only a professor at my community college, never my actual professor. It was after I attended. She was actually awesome, but c’mon, I should have known that wasn’t a good idea.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Spiritual Abuse and What to do About It, Part 4

Spoiler Alert

I have bit off more than I can chew. I’ve spent some time thinking about it, and the truth is that I cannot resolve the issues for Mars Hill, Driscoll, the problem of spiritual abuse in the church, etc.

Let’s say that I wanted to. I guess the way I would start would be to begin to dispense advice and make rules. Unfortunately that doesn’t work for me: I am very wary of the double-edged sword that is advice, and I don’t like rules. We can’t live our lives according to a rule book—it’s why God didn’t give us one. Oh, we want one, desperately, that’s why we try to turn the Bible into one (unceasingly), but it is not.

The Difficulty of Advice

What do I have against advice? There are situations where it is called for; you just won’t really know when. Bad advice hurts people, every day. Good advice, applied wrongly, hurts people, every day. Advice can have unintended consequences that you cannot divine. In order to dispense good advice, you need the following to align: You need to know the person extremely well, you need to understand the situation you’re advising them on correctly, and you need to know for someone else what the correct thing to do is. People are complicated and, to some extent, unknowable. “Situations” are only these two elements (complicated & unknowable) compounded by a factor of how many people happen to be involved. It’s a minefield. It’s reaping the whirlwind. I have been helped by advice. I have been hurt by advice. I have ignored tons of advice. It’s a crapshoot.

I can’t give you advice because I don’t know you, and I don’t know your situation. I’m not writing this to anyone in particular. I saw something in the world that corresponded to a wound I suffered and am suffering, and I opened my mouth.

Now that I have gotten all of that out of the way I can get to my final goal of this series, and talk about what we can do about spiritual abuse in general, and in our current particular.

The Defense Stands: Pro-Driscoll Arguments

Here is a reaction to Mark Driscoll that I have read in the past few weeks many times over, and I don’t think it works:

I don’t know the full story, you don’t know the full story, so let’s not judge, don’t take sides, pray for all involved and shut up.

I’m sorry, that’s not going to fly. The allegations being presented revolve around abuse: mismanagement of funds by leadership, a culture of fear being perpetuated, dozens upon dozens of individuals claiming mistreatment by authority.

Here is a thought experiment for you: Do you know any of the sexual abuse victims in the never ending Catholic Church scandals? No? Would you say the same thing to those victims as you would to the many who are claiming victim-hood at Mars Hill? Can you imagine how unbelievably cruel, thoughtless, and dare I say evil it would be to say to a rape victim, “Well I don’t know the whole story, so I’m not going to take sides”?

So why is spiritual abuse any different? Because sexual abuse is illegal and spiritual abuse is not? That’s absolutely true. The only problem is Jesus did not give us the same out that the world would—“it shall not be so among you.”  This is a point of emphasis, so let me emphasize it: “IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU.”  Unfortunately we are not better than the world, but Jesus has mysteriously called us, and especially our leadership, to a higher standard. So equivocating cop-outs (“not uncommon or illegal") are unfortunately not acceptable in His House.

Here’s another thing you might hear: “don’t judge lest ye be judged.” Some would level that against the things I have said. It goes something like this: “look, Mark Driscoll has done countless good for the cause of Christ. The good he has done far outweighs any bad that he may have done.” This appeals to our sense of logic—but our sense of logic is a fairly base tool that only accounts for logic. There are many aspects beyond logic that should be considered and brought to bear when trying to decide what to do in any given situation—morality, justice, mercy, grace, emotion, just to name a few. For instance, once again, we would not use this “greater good” argument against a sexual abuse allegation.

Here’s one last thing that gets said, and was even offered by Mars Hill leadership as a reason for why Mark should not be under fire: His bad behavior, his pattern of abuse and unhealthiness, is something from the past. So yes, there may be a pile of dead bodies behind the church that Mark is (formerly?) proud of, but they were run over in the past, and this is now.

Really? Well, to that I guess my only question is: What is the statute of limitations on spiritual abuse? Apparently the accountability board of Mars Hill thinks it's pretty short. Usually pastors "disqualify" themselves via adultery or money mishandling. Can you imagine a pastor and his board of elders stating, "Sure, I had a couple of affairs, but that was five years ago"?

But Jason, has he actually done anything? He might stand accused and guilty in the court of public opinion—but that court, as much power as it might hold sway, doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with reality, with the truth. That is true. I can’t prove what Driscoll has or has not done. But, having been the victim of a gross misuse of spiritual authority myself, my opinion is that of course he’s guilty. But I don’t know that. Just my opinion.

What Should Mars Hill Do?

I told you that I can’t know and shouldn’t tell Mars Hill what they’re supposed to do. But I know you want me to opine anyway. I also think I have given sufficient context for how one should think about these matters, and so you know that what anyone’s individual opinion is just doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. So let me just say it and be done with it so we can go on to other things:

The world is watching, and Jesus wanted us to operate differently than the world. With all of the allegations that have been made, and especially with his removal from the Acts29 network, it seems obvious and fairly simple to me that Mark Driscoll needs to be placed on administrative leave, and during that time ensure that he have no ability to have any sort of control over Mars Hill (decision making, hiring/firing etc.). Then a full investigation should be done, free of any fear of recompense. Then Driscoll needs to be held accountable for the wrongs that are piled before him, make restitution, repent, have a time of healing and then be restored to his position of authority. That’s assuming all of those things take place, and his repentance is true. It’s a difficult thing to do, because we can’t “know” if someone’s repentance is true. We can’t look into the soul of the person standing next to us, or even the person we are married to. But this is the world as God has arranged it, so we have to make a decision we can’t be certain of, and then have faith.

What Do We Do? A Suggestion

We live in fallen world, a vale of tears, a hostile environment. As Francis Spufford puts it, we all suffer from the HPtFtU (which means, if you’ll pardon the unvarnished truth for a moment: the Human Propensity to F*** things Up). We all suffer from that. We all do. Christians and non-Christians, no separation. That’s not going away. We are not going to get flawless leaders, and we are not going to get flawless followers. We have to allow for that. Please don’t hear me asking spiritual authority to write a check they could never hope to cash.

My suggestion is this—that we remember one of the sustaining bass notes that resonates throughout all of Scripture: The heart of man is deceitful above all things. But this needs to be taken one step further in the Christian world: THAT TRUTH DOES NOT CHANGE THE MOMENT WE ACCEPT JESUS INTO OUR HEART. Being a Christian means that you understand the regrettable condition of your heart, and you have admitted you need help. That admission doesn’t flip the condition of your heart like a light switch; it just grants you access to help.

How do we apply this priceless piece of wisdom? If you are in leadership, or thinking of going into leadership, know that your single biggest challenge will be to wield your authority correctly. Know that you will be compelled, you will be inclined, to do the wrong thing with it. You’ll feel like throwing your weight around, leaning on someone, calling something wrong right, because it will be easier, more convenient, and most of all, because you can. In the short term, you can get away with it.

The Pattern

Spiritual abuse has a pattern. A friend of mine called my attention to this invaluable website. It has some firsthand accounts of mostly former Mars Hill leadership repenting of the abuses they perpetrated and helped to perpetrate at Mars Hill. I've spent some time reading it, and have noted the disturbing similarity to many of their stories. I've pulled out some warnings signs that are not anyone's opinion (least of all my own), but what actual spiritual leaders actually say that they actually did, felt, thought. If you recognize any of these things in your own church or small group, it is an indication that spiritual abuse may be present:

Actions of leaders:
  • getting defensive with people who have hard questions
  • lording over others
  • an over emphasis on numerical growth (easily justified as "spreading the gospel!")
  • From one confessor: 
    • I wrongfully believed the lie that Jesus is not working in any other church and that He is only working in Mars Hill
    • I did not call Mark out when I witnessed his sin as a fellow pastor should, because of the fear of losing my job
  • shunning people [and I would just add that a formal call for shunning does not need to be made in order for people to be and feel shunned and isolated in every way from their suddenly former body of believers]
  • Grace language being preached and utilized, but ultimately hollow, giving way to a practical application of works based salvation
  • A general approach to congregants as masses needing to be controlled, versus valuable participants in the body of Christ that is the Church 
  • A lack of information and openness regarding the actions, decisions and consequent behavior of leadership
  • When wrongs are acknowledged, an inability to offer genuine, thoughtful and sincere apologies

Experiences of followers:
  • A harsh demand for immediate turning away of sin that you may or may not be committing
  • Family members being told to "shun" other family members that are "in sin"
  • Asking hard but fair questions of leadership, but not receiving a response to the actual question, but an invitation, direct or non, to leave the church
  • Exclusion of information or involvement of a partner or vital family member in the happenings of a cataclysmic situation 
  • Refusal to engage or honestly participate in mediation to resolve and heal wounds and suffering sustained by both leadership and individuals 

Finally, If you’re not in leadership, know these things: being in leadership is incredibly hard. Your leaders will make mistakes. You shouldn’t keep count of these, nor be suspicious of your leaders for the sake of suspicion. No good can come from this. But abuse has a pattern, and we are called to have the courage and humility to call this out. So while you are out not hunting for it, you may stumble across it. Be sure that you are right. Take your time, pray, think, ponder, question. Know that you are subject to the same fallenness as your authorities. Treat them with the same grace you would treat yourself. It is glory to overlook an offense, and it is wrong to say "peace," when there is no peace. God didn’t make it easy on us, and he didn’t give us a rulebook, but he promised us mysterious help, and said of himself, go and do likewise.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Spiritual Abuse and What to do About It, Part 3

Part two provided the context and reason for part three (but if you haven't read either of those then start at part one!). Below are some thoughts I penned 16 months ago; thought better of posting them, and set them on the shelf.


I don't know if that's exactly the right word, but it's the word that keeps coming to mind when I think about writing what I want to write. I mean it in a detached, dispassionate clinical sense. I don't feel emotionally devastated; I am not in acute pain—but when I think about all of the thoughts I've had this morning—I think they are devastating.

Today is Sunday. Virtually all of the Sunday mornings in my life have been spent at church. But that all changed a year ago. In the last year it wouldn't take much more than one hand to count all the times we have attended a Sunday morning service.

This morning I arose and read a tale of gross spiritual abuse. My wife had come across the story a week ago. She had started to read it (it's very long), and fell asleep crying, probably not even half way through. I had been wanting to read it, so I took the hour or so that was required this morning. It is the firsthand account written by the wife of a former pastor/elder at Mars Hill Church who had been fired from his job with them for "lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority."

I got angry and upset and confused and frustrated. There were haunting, nasty similarities between the story I read and the woeful scenario that played out for my family early last year. Reading this story made me relive my similar story, as it did for my wife, and wounds faded but not gone were revived.

The church can be such an ugly, terrible thing, just like all of us, in our worst moments, when the lower angels of our nature get the better of us. We all fall short, and we all need grace, and we all need our trespasses forgiven, as we forgive others their trespasses.

But the old question—the one that I asked myself over and over and over again this time last year—revived itself: Is there another category? We need to forgive and forget and make peace with other's sin and our own—but what do you do with abuse? And how do you define spiritual abuse, exactly? And if you handle it differently, then how?

But there are just too many things to consider. Who are YOU to say? "Abuse" often falls in between so many shades of gray—one person's spiritual abuse is another person's exaltation of righteousness, of being true to God, of calling what is right, right, and what is wrong, wrong.

When I left my church my overarching reason, which I stated to the leadership on my departure, was this: I would never want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. Since there was no recognition that there was any wrongdoing, I could see no reason why it wouldn't happen again.

So I left. But I wrestled with this: did I have a duty/obligation/responsibility to warn others? I sought the opinion of many people that I trust, and the overwhelming response was "no." These situations, these he said/she said scenarios are always bound up in so many shades of gray and dueling details that it is "impossible" for an outsider to the situation to know where the truth and fault lie.

Then I read this story of the Petry’s. And now I'm not so sure. BUT I'M NOT SURE. How do you know, how do you know what the right thing to do is? My wife and I have spent a couple of hours talking about it this morning. If you see abuse happening, is it evil to NOT say something? Sexual and physical abuse are easy to identify (though, for some horrifying reason, not so easy for churches to put an end to), but what I'm talking about, what my experience has been, is spiritual and/or emotional abuse—a different thing, harder to categorize, spot, confront and treat.

Here are some of the quotes from the story I was reading that put me ill at ease with keeping my mouth shut:

"We believe that to remain quiet now would be unloving and disobedient to God."

"If Mark and the organizations he leads do not change, I fear many more will be hurt, Mark and his family included. To not speak is to not love or care and shows no thought or consideration for those who have been wounded and those who will be in the future. We are witnesses. There is a pattern. There is a history. There is an ethos of authoritarianism and abuse. Mark is the unquestioned head of Mars Hill Church and the Acts 29 Network. His elders have no way to hold him accountable. Those under him likely fear him and want to garner his favor so they don’t dare say or do anything that might anger him. This is tragic."

"And now, I am also very sorry for how my years of silence regarding the spiritual abuse that I suffered have indirectly contributed to the abuse of other precious people."

But what can be done? I have the urge to warn and protect, but what can be done? One thing I have learned through my own ordeal is that, if you didn't have the experience firsthand, it will be very easy for you to overlook the abuse. You will put it on the shelf where you put things you are uncertain of how to categorize, where you will promptly and dutifully forget about it. That's just human nature.

It makes perfect sense—if you don’t have firsthand information, it only makes sense to rely on the authority of that organization for your information and explanation. What other choice do you have? It would seem that one is incentivized, indirectly directed to side with authority in a voluntary organization such as a church. As long as you trust the leadership; which you think would be a foregone conclusion because why would you be a part of an organization whose leadership you did not trust? It's the same old story, there is nothing new under the sun: power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And to add to that, if I may be so bold, fear of those in power tends to corrupt as well.

I should know, I lived it. I spent time in leadership at my church and regularly witnessed or received firsthand accounts of actions by other leaders that offended my conscience. Sometimes I said something. When I said something I usually had a battle on my hands. Not honest disagreement—"honest disagreement" inevitably devolved into recriminations and insinuations of disloyalty and mistrust and lack of respect directed at me. So I learned to pick my battles. And I grieved over the people who were hurt and spiritually abused and I said nothing—their battle was often one I decided not to pick. On each one I had to do a cost/benefit analysis to determine if it was worth the emotional/spiritual/relational turmoil I was sure to bring down on my and my wife's head by speaking my mind.

What can be done? The painful conclusion is that people have been, are, and will continue to be people. As such they are subject to the way of all flesh, which means that most will need to put their hand on the stove and be burned (even though they have watched their friends and family do the same) before their perspective changes.

And only then will they have true empathy for those that have gone before them.

*End transmission from 16 months ago*

Part four will examine what can be done about spiritual abuse. I can't promise you all the answers, but I can promise you some thoughts, some tears, some questions.

Can We Lighten Up the Mood In This Place?

Thank you.

After all, we do not mourn as ones who are without hope.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Spiritual Abuse and What to do About It, Part 2

Here is part two of this series. In part two I explain the reason for part three.

Confusing, I know.

The thing about part three is that it was written 16 months ago and it was never posted. I didn't feel good about posting it. But I wasn't sure about that. So I asked a close friend and some family what they thought, and they agreed that, at the time, all things considered, I probably shouldn't post it.

Upon reexamination, and taking into account the current woes for Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill, it looks like its publish date has come.

Part three is a longish examination of my process in sorting through the pain of my church experience, examined through the lens of a detailed account of one of the first Mars Hill pastors to be fired for a "lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority." 16 months ago was about 14 months after we left the church.

Why am I going to dust off this piece of my writing, pull it from the trash heap, as it were, and share it with the world?

Because I have learned something from the "pile of dead bodies" that have been hemorrhaging out of Mars Hill for years that have now come to a head (or are at least approaching one): sharing your story is important. Sharing your story can bring a measure of comfort to someone else. It let's them know that they are not alone. I know that just reading the stories of people who endured a similar experience to my own of spiritual abuse has heartened me greatly.

What's the difference between sharing your story and gossip? Well, situations are like people—each one is different. Each one requires its own unique prescription for remedy. Systematic and/or structural Authoritarianism (which, in a church, often expresses itself in the form of spiritual abuse) is nowhere near the same ballpark as your run of the mill interpersonal squabbles with friends, family, and coworkers that we come across every day. Different situations, different measures. I don't think it is right to talk behind people's backs—I do think it is right for people to tell the truth about unreconciled abuse they have endured.

My main concern in posting this piece 16 months ago was that it would be viewed as possibly divisive, stirring up a hornets nest, gossipy, whatever. And maybe that's what it was 16 months ago. But another year of healing has gone by (the wound is still there, and it is considerable, but when I think of the last two and a half years I am so thankful for all the healing that has taken place). 16 months ago I was afraid of looking bitter, of looking for vengeance. Now I know and see that is not at all where my heart was at. 16 months ago was just a realization for me that spiritual abuse was every bit as real and significant (not in its effects, but in its very existence) as physical, sexual, verbal, or any other kind of behavior that is abusive. All of these forms of abuse are wrong. All of them need to be addressed and extinguished when detected (this is the ideal outcome, rarely the actual outcome). All of them require their own set of guidelines to be addressed, accounted for, and restitution made. Why would spiritual abuse be any different?

Because we don't have a language for it. You don't hear the term very often. It's nebulous. It is incredibly hard to distinguish it from all of the trappings it comes packaged in.

So we can go no further until I finally give you a definition for the term I keep using:

"Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds."

That definition was written by Ken Blue, author of "Healing Spiritual Abuse." It was selected from the dozen or so definitions listed on this helpful website. This particular definition best describes my perspective on the abuse, but they all are good. All are getting at a practice that is as insidious as it is common.

Another quote from the website, from Ronald Enroth (professor, author of many books): “Whatever label we apply, spiritual abuse is an issue the Christian community must acknowledge and confront. It is far more prevalent and much closer to the evangelical mainstream than many are willing to admit.”

So that's the problem. Spiritual abuse happens. Part three is a distillation of my reaction to it, a first hand account to be placed in concert with all the other exiles, present and future. Part four will be thoughts on what we are supposed to do about it.

The title for the piece I never posted was "Devastation."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill, Spiritual Abuse and What to do About It, Part 1

Don't kick a man when he's down.

It's true and good advice. It's not in the Bible, word for word, but that doesn't detract from its veracity.

I'm not interested in kicking Mark Driscoll when he's down. I don't know Mark Driscoll personally, and I'm nowhere near qualified to make judgments about him as a person. Sure, he grew up two blocks away from me; sure he married the daughter of my lifelong pastor, which made me privy to a few more details than the next person about Driscoll; that still leaves me nowhere near qualified.

The reason I am interested in what is happening with Mark and Mars Hill is that I feel that something similar happened to me and my family at the church I was going to for my lifetime, until two and a half years ago. And when what happened to me happened to me, I said (to the pastor, my wife, to anyone who would listen): I never would want what happened to me to happen to someone else. Ever since then I have taken spiritual/emotional/authority abuse extremely seriously.

I don't know Mark, I don't know any of the people who are now telling their stories about what happened to them at Mars Hill. But this is what I know: When everyone is telling a similar story, it might just mean something. And the fact of the matter is that many, many un-anonymous people are coming out and telling this story: I had a disagreement with leadership; I tried to open a dialogue about that disagreement with the leadership; I was kicked out of the church.

This is a pattern. This is actually happening. This is what happened to me.

But it never actually happens like that. It's not as cut and dry and simple and easy. What my description leaves out is the passive-aggressive comments, the doublespeak, the paranoia of unhealthly leadership, the trouble that the concentration of power in too few hands renders, the unstated implications, the feigned godliness, the deafening silence that suddenly emanates from your once close friends and family, the use of Scripture from people in power to justify the unjustifiable. Religion is so painful because religious people are just as broken and fallen and flawed as non-religious people--but religious people pretend they are not and so they often wrap everything they do in whoreish rags of implied morality that manage to fool the faithful because we have fallen for the same lie as the rest of the religious people have. We expect more from ourselves and our leaders because of our religion, so we think that we see it.

Oh my. I knew that I had a lot to say, but I haven't even finished with clearing my throat and I've already said so much (and probably too much).

If this examination of the subject is going to continue, it is going to have to be a multi-part series.

But maybe I will have come to my senses before I am able to post the next installment.

Friday, August 1, 2014

How To Be A Genius

I bought this magazine tonight at Barnes & Noble because I'm a sucker. The promise of unlocking the mystery of my common distress was far too powerful for me to resist. The common distress being, "How do I have a good idea, and then write about it, and then keep writing about it, until I have something about, say, book length and publishable?"

After the clerk had safely drained my bank account of the needed funds, she let her opinion be known: "It's funny how today we call it neuroscience, and we live in this age where we think it can be studied and we can understand it. They were just in the right place at the right time."

"That's the thing," I said, feeling the slight sting that accompanied the truth that I was just another rube looking for answers to the unanswerable, "we think we can figure it out."

"That's why everything is so screwed up, because we keep thinking we can figure it out, and we can't."

Maybe she's right. Maybe I'm wasting my time trying to reverse-engineer a process that won't submit itself to such awkward and sticky fumbling with its unapproachable majesty.

Or maybe she just wants to have an answer that makes her feel more comfortable in the world she wants lives in.

Maybe that's all anyone can do.