Monthly Archives: December 2011

A small glass of whine.

A couple of weeks ago, I bombarded two of my church’s pastors with a desperate email. I’ll save myself the indignity of posting it in this particular forum, but so you get the gist, I’ll sum it up.

A)    Things are hard right now!

B)     I want things to stop being so hard!

C)    Bad things are happening to me!

D)    WHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHY?!?!?!?!?!?!?

"And bankruptcy, and people don’t like me, and FIREFIREOHGODFIRE!!"

 

They responded back that same day, the two of them, and both contained some really good advice. They were very sympathetic, and I really appreciated their input on things. That said, a couple of days later, I had gained some perspective on my trials (they didn’t go away, but they didn’t seem as overwhelming) and I started to feel a little embarrassed that I had emailed those guys in the first place. Now, to be fair to myself, at the time I didn’t feel like I was being melodramatic. And it’s not like I was being emo or complaining about problems that most people would say are insignificant.

“Dear Facebook: Tommy puked on my copy of Skyrim. Life is a cesspool of unending pain.”

 

But let’s attempt some perspective, shall we? Was my whining email really necessary?

I have a loving wife who is going with me on this weird-ass spiritual journey I’m taking. I have a great family. I have a bad-ass church that’s introduced me to some awesome friends. I have been cancer free for almost three years. I have a job that is paying me well for what I do, giving me great benefits, and has an awesome schedule. I recently bought a new car – a shiny blue Chevy Impala I like to call the ‘Holla ‘Pala’ because . . . I’m . . . extremely lame.

Ain’t nothin’ sexier than a reasonably-priced family sedan, am I right, ladies? Ladies?

 

The point is, life isn’t that bad. Why, then, is it so hard for me to focus on the good stuff that’s happening to me, and so easy to focus on the bad stuff? Perhaps that’s just part of the human condition. I dunno. But it’s clear that I could use some practice on keeping myself motivated when life gets rough, and not resorting to whining.

Yesterday, I was having a rough day again (for the usual reasons) and Brandi had some really awesome advice for me. She said, “Hey. Try this – stop whatever you’re doing right now. Open up Microsoft Word. Start praising God, and don’t stop until you feel better.”

Brandi isn’t the first person who has recommended praising God in call circumstances – my church’s pastors have done it on several occasions. And I use the word “recommended” deliberately. I’ve always hated the idea that God was this huge bully in the sky, and we had to praise him to avoid getting beaten up and losing our lunch money. So when I have, in the past, been commanded to praise God, my response was a pretty short, “No.” So why, then, is praising God recommended?

 Maybe because it works. I can’t say way.  I’m not a theologist, so I can’t say it’s because God eases us. I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t say that our brains just react well to thankfulness in any form. I’ve heard both of those things, though, so there may be truth to them. Either way, I took Brandi’s advice, opened up word, and created a list that I called, “Reasons why God is Awesome.” In the spirit of sharing, here is my list. I can’t do audio files on this blog, but if you would go ahead and imagine listening to awesome ’80’s metal while you read this, you’ll be experience this list the way it should be experienced (in my mind).

 

Insert wicked guitar riff. . . NOW!!!

 

1) There is something, instead of nothing. There is no reason for matter and energy to exist. It seems to me that the more natural state of things is nothingness – after all, nihilism is the path of least resistance.

2) God helps people clean their houses. Not just helps, really, but makes it possible to clean up messes that we ourselves have beat ourselves up over.

3) The popsicle. Kind of a personal reference.

4) He heals people – not just their emotions, which is easy to write-off, but also their physical bodies, which is harder to ignore.

5) He inspires people to make huge changes to the world. . . maybe because all change exists as a result of him, and the systems he put into place.

6) Because he allows us to make our own decisions, instead of being slaves to him.

7) Because he knows us 100% – and to know someone is to love them, even if you don’t agree with what they do. His omniscience makes love inevitable.

8) He gives me an opportunity to help people feel better about things. All I’ve ever wanted to do is be a guardian angel – even if I’m not qualified. And I’m really, really not qualified.

9) He brings people together – God is the shortest distance between all points.

10) As Jesus, he went through life with us. He got down into the trenches to smell the blood and shit with us.

11) Jesus is never satisfied with the appearance of truth, but only with the truth itself. He allows no-one to rest on their laurels, because we always have work to do.

12) He provides adventure to all those who engage him honestly and whole-heartedly. It may not be the adventure they expected, but it is adventure nonetheless.

13) He exists regardless of belief. You don’t need to believe in God – in fact, you often don’t want to, and he doesn’t disappear as a result like Thor, the Dagda, Diana the Huntress, or any of the other thousands of “marshmallow gods”.

14) He loves babies. Why does God need to care about babies at all? Why is that necessary? But he does, against reason. When we are living in accordance with his design, we value the life of a single child (even though it is, essentially, useless).

"I'm serious, son. Either you start mowing the law, or else daddy's gonna have to throw these Teletubbies into the toilet."

15) God does tons of things against reason. In fact, God  >  Reason every day of the week. That’s something that we have a hard time understanding – it’s been almost impossible to grasp since the Enlightenment.

16) Beauty exists. I mean, there is no reason for our senses to comprehend beauty at all. It serves no evolutionary purpose. We can appreciate beauty even in horrible circumstances, which shows that it isn’t something just on the top of the pyramid of needs. A person dying of starvation can still be moved to tears by the sunrise, when that person should really be using every single moment to look for food. So inefficient! So why do we perceive it? Because.

17) Meaning exists. Nothing can have meaning without context – and for most things, context at most provides relevance. But meaning (more than relevance) comes from getting an answer to the most basic question of wall – “Why?” The answer, of course, is “Because,” and that implies an authority that has the power to make that decision.

18) God wants us to be together. It’s more than what I said with #9. Sure, God brings people together, but more to the point, God wants us to be together. He wants us to have community, and love, and support, and friendship, and affirmation, and early-warnings, and all of the drama that sometimes comes from it. God wants people to engage in the story – not just our story, but the story of everyone ever alive. How amazing. How utterly amazing.

19) Every now and then, he touches us in such a way that our world is shattered and remade. I can’t express how much this is needed, sometimes.

20) He’s totally unbothered by Atheists.

21) The Holy Spirit. I wish I could feel this more often, but when it comes, it’s always memorable. And weird, but in a good way.

22) Happiness without reason. Something about God makes our brains release endorphins like for free, like when we’re worshiping him. Scientists have explained why, I’m sure – and that doesn’t mean that God wasn’t involved. It just means God built a way for this to happen to us. And speaking of. . .

23) God built systems. Almost every single spiritual experience can be reproduced in a lab – and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that God didn’t make it that way, it just means that we found a way to exploit the system. Knowing this makes atheists less threatening, I think.

24) God needs nothing from us. Everything that God wants from us is for our benefit, even if we don’t always understand it.

25) God has made a world where pain, suffering, death, insecurity, and inequality happen – and I may never really understand why. But God never leaves us in any of those circumstances, and doesn’t hold it against us when we leave him.

 

"Thank you Cleveland! You've been awesome! Good night!"

There you go – my list from yesterday. And yeah, it worked. I felt much better after I wrote all of that down. I don’t know why, since it didn’t change a single fact of my life or the trials I’ve been going through. But that’s alright – those trials are there whether I feel okay about them, or I feel awful about them. Since those are my options, it seems to make sense that I should chose the one that makes me feel better.

Besides, given time, I bet you anything God is going to make my life better in ways that I can’t even anticipate.

“Well, Daniel, the bad news is your body was destroyed in the fire. . . but the good news is, we built you this AWESOME ROBOT BODY!!!”

SCORE!!!


The fastest fast

Disclaimer: On Tuesday, December 27th, 2011, overweight guy and part-time blogger Daniel Mitchell decided to go on a ‘water fast’ – that is, to eat nothing and to drink only water – for one full day, in an attempt to grow closer to God. This is his true story. Times portrayed are rounded to the nearest hour because I said so. . . I’m not doing a blog post about watches. If you want to read a blog post about watches, go find one. I’m not going to stop you from reading a stupid blog post about stupid watches on someone else’s stupid blog, so stop waiting for me to talk you into sticking around!

Disclaimer : Hunger makes me grumpy.

 

10:00 AM

Okay. A water fast. I can do this. Once, when I was in eighth grade, I fasted for seven days, just to prove that I could. I’m not going to even attempt seven days again – I was an idiot in eighth grade, there is empirical proof of this. But I’m sure I can manage one day. I’ll check in periodically (and honestly) throughout the day, and I’ll post this the day after the fast.

I can do this. Gandhi used to fast all the time. He wouldn’t be a pansy about no 24-hour fast, would he? No. No he would not. Because Gandhi is a motha-effin’ man.

The loincloth made that more-or-less obvious.

Anyway, no food until tomorrow, since I’ve already eaten breakfast today.

11:00 AM –

 My coworker friend is going to get taco dip at the café at work. Today is Taco Dip Day. Get thee behind me, Satan!

Tasty, tasty Satan. . .

12:00 PM –

 Dude. Most days I don’t even eat lunch until after noon. Why am I so hungry? Good thing I have all the water I can drink. I’m gonna have to really bulk up on that. . . water.

Okay guys, I'm not gonna lie. This idea is the devil’s buns.

2:00 PM –

 You guys – I am a total food addict!

As illustrated by that one time I almost ate my toddler son.

Seriously, I’m not even all that hungry any more, I’m just obsessed with food. Everyone around me is talking about what they had for lunch, and I’m thinking about this cup of instant noodles in my desk. You know how, in old cartoons, you could tell that someone was hungry because they looked at the person next to them and saw them looking like a turkey, or a hamburger, or something? Well, I opened my desk and looked at my cup of instant noodles, and it turned into a cup of instant noodles! I’ve got problems.

It looks JUST like food!

3:00 PM –

 Who brought the popcorn into work? Who brought the popcorn? I will bring wrath onto this person, the likes of which they cannot conceive! I’m sorry nobody got the memo, but I am friggin’ fasting over here!

POPCOOOOOOOOOORRRRRNN!!!

On another note, I’m having a lovely discussion with my coworker friend Ro about God and church and stuff. And why are having this conversation? Because I mentioned that I was fasting. Nicely!

4:00 PM –

 Okay, now I’m barely hungry. Woohoo! I can make it! I am the greatest! I am the greatest!

We ARE the champions, my friend!

It just occurred to me that I feel triumphant because I haven’t eaten in eight hours. Isn’t that nuts? There are places in this world where people are starving to death, and I’m excited that I can “survive” not eating for a whole work day.

Man. I have work to do.

6:00 PM –

 Before I’d decided to fast today, I told Brandi that I would take her to the grocery store to get some half-priced Christmas candy. Since I was feeling so awesome at 4 o’clock, I assured her that I would, indeed, take her shopping for Christmas candy. After some deliberation, we decided to go to the Walgreen’s just down the street from the Miller Trunk Mall in Duluth.

Do you know how many restaurants are by that Walgreen’s? Quite a few.

Do you know how far the smell of cooking Culver’s burgers can travel on a cool, crisp winter evening? Easily a quarter of a mile.

Do you know that, under optimal conditions, the human nose can smell Christmas candy from up to fifteen feet away, even when it’s still in the box? Oh, it can. I assure you, it can.

So listen, nose. You’ve done right by me for a long time, but if you push me any further, I’m snorting Drain-O.

7:00 PM –

 Every time I think about food, it makes me think about God. Dude. I think I get it.

Holy crap. There’s something to this.

9:00 PM

Author’s Note – Change this to 10:00 PM. The truth is too sad.

 This post has gotten less funny as I go along, and for that I can only apologize. But seriously, guys, it’s hard to be funny when you’re sitting at your computer and YouTube’ing worship songs while sniffling into your Kleenex.

“There’s something in my eye! And it’s onions, I’ve been cutting onions! And ‘Revelation Song’. . . I’m suffering from food deprivation, don’t judge me!”

Man, this day. I managed not to bite the heads off of anyone today, which is good, because I might have eaten them. I’ll check in first thing in the morning, before breaking my fast –

Holy crap! Break my fast? Break-fast? Breakfast!!! Why am I just getting that now?

Oh man, I’m going to bed.

8:00AM –

This is it. Twenty-four hours have passed since my last meal. I keep waiting for the hunger to get overwhelming, but it never has.

I brought in a pear this morning, to go with my oatmeal. It’s sitting on my desk now, on top of a bar of Ghirardelli peppermint bark that I bought for half-off at Walgreen’s. You’d think that the urge to eat either of those things, which are sitting in front of me in plain view, would be hard to resist. The fact is, I’m not sure I’ve gone through anything yet. I know it’s cliché to say this, but there are millions of people in this world that routinely go more than a day without eating as a matter of course. Who am I to complain about one hungry day? So yeah, I’ve got food on my desk to the right of me, but I’ve also got my jug of water just to the left of me. . . and you know what, I’m tempted to go another day.

So, faithful readers, I end my post. I haven’t yet broken my fast, but I’m not stressing it. Maybe I’ll do another twenty-four hours. If God wants me to keep fasting, God will see me through.

Well. . . God, and my glass of water.

You and me against the world, bro.


God the Daddy

Even though some days it’s hard to remember, there was a time when I wasn’t a dad.

Fatherhood changes you. I know that’s so obvious that it almost goes without saying, but for those of you reading who haven’t spawned yet, it’s hard to really grasp what that means. Some things are obvious – you lose a lot of free time, for instance. You feel obligated to start stocking your fridge with fruits and veggies, even if you don’t like fruits and veggies, because you know your kid needs to eat them. You get less time to play video games – at first because your baby needs to be fed, changed, or burped, but later because your baby becomes old enough that you have to share your video game system with them. The list goes on and on.

For instance, this dude is out cold at 7:42PM.

 

But the biggest change I noticed in myself was in my attitude toward other people’s kids. Before I was a dad, children scared the crap out of me. They were unpredictable, they were needy, they might explode at any minute with all sorts of various, disgusting bodily functions. I had a job opportunity at a place that worked with kids – putting on parties for them and the like – and all I had to do was show up. The job would have been mine had I just been present. Instead, I ran like hell. The idea of working with kids was as risky and distasteful to me as sewer diving.

“Man, thank God I’m not surrounded by toddlers, you know? That would be GROSS.”

 

All that changed after I had my first kid. It was more than a change in my perspective, I think – I didn’t gain a cerebral appreciation for children or anything like that. It was more a fundamental alteration of me on a baser level – like a sex change, or a lobotomy. I became subject to the mind-altering effects of “baby smell”, which turns normal people into cooing, grinning Neanderthals. I started to judge shows intended for toddlers based on their merit, separating the great (Yo Gabba Gabba) from the insufferable (BarneyBarneyBarneyBarneyBarney!!!). I used to hate the sound of children crying – it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. These days, when I hear a child crying my ears perk up like a wolf’s, and I can instantly process several things about the crying – 1) is it from one of my kids? 2) is it a cry of pain? and 3) can I safely ignore it?

True story – a couple of weeks ago, I was at an event with several families from my church. Because I don’t believe in traditional gender-role assignments in mixed company, I volunteered to watch the kids with one of our pastors. We took the monsters downstairs and let them run amok for a while, stopping them only when they were doing something dangerous or eating something sharp or just making us want to tell them to stop doing something. While I was down there, one of the kids – Naomi, the youngest daughter of my friends Kevin and Maureen – wanted to show me a picture she’d colored. She climbed up into my lap, looked up at me with gigantic blue eyes under a mop of curly brown hair, and smiled. I melted pathetically, in the least-manly way possible.

In my defense, I dare you to try to resist this face. I DOUBLE DOG dare you!

 

Now, while I don’t really take a hard-line view of God having a certain defined gender, for my own faith purposes I can easily see God as a dad. God seems to have the same fondness for babies that I have felt since I became a father myself. The Bible is chock full of stories of God focusing on children. He loves to surprise women with babies – especially women like Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, or Mary – who for one reason or another did not expect to have children. Both Sarah and Elizabeth believed that they were too old, Hannah was already experiencing infertility, and Mary was a friggin’ virgin. I bet Mary must have had a pretty heated conversation with her guidance counselor after that particular bomb was dropped.

“Abstinence is 100% effective, eh?”

 

Stuff like that makes me think that God really does have a soft spot for babies, just like many of the other dads I know. After all, nothing about the story of Jesus requires pomp and fanfare over his birth. He did his miracles as a man, after all. God could have revealed the fulfillment of his promise when Jesus began his ministry. Matthew 3:17 says this – “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (NIV) He said that a bunch of grown dudes. I’m sure there was little ambiguity among those guys that a) Jesus was God’s son, b) God loved him, and c) God was pleased with him. If that was the first time that God had pointed it out, I’m sure everyone would still have gotten the message.

But God didn’t do that. Just like every other dad does, when his son was born he went nuts telling everyone. He told wise men, shepherds, priests, widows – if there had been an “It’s a boy!” cigar big enough, he would have choked the world in smoke with his pride.

I like things that make me feel like I might have a hope of understanding God, and this is one of them. When my son Teaghan was born (ten weeks early, three pounds and two ounces, nineteen inches, red-skinned and covered in downy white hair) I was left in the hallway by myself as my wife and son were wheeled away. It was a very serious moment – the boy was so small and so early that they told us we should expect some pretty serious health issues as a result, and while they didn’t tell us that he might not make it, the implication was there. And yet, there I was, grinning like an idiot, giving a short little “whoop!” so as not to make too big a scene. I would have shared the news with shepherds or wise men, but I couldn’t find any.

But I DID talk the ear off of this hobo, or as my son knows him, “Uncle Stinkybeard.

 

So while everyone is talking about keeping “Christ” in “Christmas” this year, of course we should all remember that, before anything else, it’s a birthday party. But let’s also try to remember that even though we’re focusing on the birthday boy, let’s also take a moment to appreciate the proud dad who put the whole shindig together.

Merry Christmas, folks.


And now for something vaguely diff’rent. – By Brandi, not Daniel. Ignore that.

For those of you keeping score, last time I posted I talked a lot about things that I feel like maybe God wants me to do but am uncomfortable doing – or downright afraid of. That was a really hard post for me, because I don’t really like feeling so exposed. I thought I would switch things up this time, make the score a little more even, and talk about things that I think are awesome.

I love computers. As a child of the ‘90’s, and an attendee of a math/science magnet school, I have basically had a keyboard under my fingers since I was 6. From the very first moment my kindergarten teacher led my class into the computer lab and booted up Oregon Trail, I was hooked. Since then what I do with said keyboard has gotten more intricate, but the love I have for it has never once diminished.

Ohhhhhh yeeeaaaahhhhhh. . .

Its no surprise then, I’m sure, that after discovering faith, I used the computer as a primary way to connect to God. It didn’t start that way. In fact, had I been asked initially I would have said that seemed a little indecorous. Not improper necessarily, just . . .beneath an entity who is so sacred and holy. I started trying to connect with God in the traditional ways. First were solemn, silent prayers – which I could almost never finish, because I would get a few sentences in, and off my mind would go on some tangent. The next thing I knew I would have completely forgotten I was praying.

“God, please grant me strength as I. . . as I go through. . . is that a mouse? A brown mouse? No? Oh, it’s Snickers wrapper. Oh snaps! ‘Snicker’ means laugh, why did I just get that now? That name makes no sense! Oh, um. . . Amen.”

Worse than that was when my mind would get stuck on this endless loop and I couldn’t seem to think around a certain phrase or sentence. It was embarrassing and I felt bad. Shouldn’t I be able to focus on this? If I can’t even give God 15 minutes of solid focus, what hope is there for any other aspect of my life? Well, that’s ok. I’m tough, and nothing, not even my brain, tells me what to do! So I said to myself “Damn you, brain. I’ll show you what’s what!” And then I polished my monocle and began praying aloud.

“Lord bless the Empire, and protect her from those damnable aboriginals!”

Sadly, that didn’t work any better. I’m a very easily distracted person, and while praying aloud did serve to keep me slightly more focused, every little thing got my attention. Little ambient noises, changing the song on the radio, playing with my wicked awesome smart phone. . . eventually I would realize I was getting caught in the metaphoric weeds and feel guilty. This was always followed by me saying, “Oh, crap. I’m sorry, God. We were talking! What a jerk I am. Where was I?”

After about the millionth time this happened I decided to once again take matters into my own tentacles.

I had a friend who, while at work, told me her pregnant daughter was being rushed to the hospital after her OB-Gyn was unable to detect the baby’s heart beat. I was struck with an immediate need to pray, but I work on the phones. Can’t very well bust into an audible prayer on the call floor, so I did the next best thing. I opened up MS Word and began typing. I rattled off a prayer for her, and for her daughter, and for her daughter’s unborn baby, my fingers flying across the keys. A page and a half later, I closed the prayer, feeling satisfied and comforted. Then I realized I hadn’t been distracted once. It was so much easier to focus when I was typing! I was sold.

Since then every morning, and most evenings, God gets a little “email” from me, and my prayer times have increased from 15 minutes a day to sometimes an hour or more. Not just that, but I can totally feel his presence in response to these little notes from me. Not only that but I can see multiple responses to my prayers – which I had been having a hard time finding using any other method, probably due to my lack of focus. My friend’s daughter was fine, for example. Her baby was perfectly healthy, and has since been born a calm, little, un-fussy angel.

Who caused us all TREMENDOUS AMOUNTS OF PANIC, yes he did!

It’s a little unorthodox, I’ll admit, the idea of emailing God, but it works for me. It’s one of the easiest ways for me to feel that connection to his spirit and presence that I have come to refer to as a “God hug”. It’s not the only way, by any means.

It’s been mentioned (maybe by me, I’m very forgetful) that I grew up with a really strong church background that I deviated from in my early teens. I mostly left because I felt a total lack of connection to this “God” that everyone around me seemed to feel so potently that they were moved to weeping on several occasions. I felt like I was on the outside looking in, wondering what I was missing. I did all the “rituals” but I never felt that complete connection. I finally decided that either they were all liars, or more likely, this God didn’t want to talk to me or touch me the way he did them. “Cool, well,” I figured.  “Sorry I took up your time, I’ll leave you alone.”

“Later, Son of Man. I’m Audi 5000.”

That said, there was one period of service I never missed – not for anything in the world – and that was worship service. Something about the music, singing these love songs, praising this entity, seemed to thin the veil between it and me. And while I thought maybe God was showing up for the people in the congregation who were actually holy, rather than for me, I loved feeling it. I craved it. Music and I have always had a great relationship, and this just took that to the next level. I would abandon all good senses, dancing to the fast songs, swaying to the slow songs, and all-in-all enjoying myself completely. That was the only time I felt seen by God, and it filled me with such joy that if the entire three-hour church service could have been praise and worship I never would have missed the sermons.

Now, I feel God much more readily, and I think that has a lot to do with me taking things the way that I relate best to them, rather than trying so hard to follow other peoples’ rituals for connecting with Him. That said, my love for worship has never once abated. The connection I feel to music, the way it moves me, opens my heart in such a way to put me in a place so that it’s easier for Him to talk to me, to give me a God hug.

You’ll find me, ever Sunday, jamming out to the worship stylings of Aaron Boothe and the rest of the worship team, and loving it. Appropriate or not, I’m always doing a little dance in my seat, singing animatedly, hands gesturing dramatically to what I’m singing. I still don’t raise them, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I think it’s just like typing. For some people, it makes it easier for them to feel that connection to God, but since he sees into our hearts, He doesn’t need it. He sees our sincerity.

Joy. Joy immeasurable, which fills you for no logical reason. That’s what connecting to God brings, and since it’s been such a journey for me to find the best way to find it, I want to share that joy with all of you reader-type-peoples, the Super Squad. So share with me! Tell me what kooky way you have found that helps you interact with God. I would love to hear about your rituals for making that connection and stories about how you’ve seen those methods given an approving nod from Him. Ways he’s touched you to affirm you’re doing something right! Tell me your stories, and I will give you cookies. *

*Disclaimer : I will probably not give you cookies. 


Mentors – The Freshmaker!

I’m a mentor type of guy. Not that I’m someone who should be a mentor (God forbid), but I have always felt the need to attach myself to someone who knows more about a given subject than I do. I had a history teacher in high school who could teach the crap out of history – his name was Phil Beasley. He made it funny, he made it relevant, and he made it extremely memorable. The students who hated history came out of Mr. Beasley’s class with a profound understanding of how the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand shaped the entirety of the twentieth century. He managed to be both charming and sincere, with a razor-sharp wit that was never used as a weapon. Everyone loved him. The man was a master – nobody taught history better than Mr. Beasley.

Suck it, Peabody.

As I was a young man who was in love with history, Mr. Beasley was my friggin’ hero. He made me want to teach history for the rest of my life. My respect for Mr. Beasley was so great that he became my greatest role-model. I would ask him questions about subjects that meant a lot to me, just to get his opinion on them. On lunch I would stop by his classroom and hang out for a few minutes (and believe it or not, I was far from the only person who did so). And when he complimented something I did, it meant a ton to me – because it confirmed that I was somehow on the path to becoming just like him.

Even as I write this, I’m not sure if this story makes me out to be a teacher’s pet, or a sycophant, or maybe just a guy with no self-esteem. But I don’t think I was any of those things. I’m just the kind of person who learns best by following examples, and when I find someone who seems to have it all together, I latch on to that person like one of those gross sucker fish that cling to sharks.

Metaphorically speaking, I am this bad-ass shark’s bad-ass soul patch.

I’m now a grown man with a family of my own, and I still feel the same way when I meet someone I come to admire. A little praise from them goes a long way. I feel a little conflicted about that. On one hand, it’s awesome to feel like you’ve accomplished something, and recognition of something well-done is an accomplishment. On the other hand, I’m thirty-three effin’ years old! When will I stop reacting to a kind word from a mentor like it’s sunshine parting the clouds?

At the root of things, I think, is my urge to achieve discipleship with someone. I want to learn, but not from a musty old book or an online course – I want to learn from a master. I want there to be someone I can go to with my life’s quandaries when I’m confused, with my embarrassments when I’m a failure, or with my triumphs when I’ve succeeded.

. . . with the bodies of my foes when I’ve finally mastered the death-punch. . .

The funny thing is, it’s not the training that I want from this person, as much as it’s the relationship. Sure, there is training involved – but when I hung out with Mr. Beasley, it wasn’t so that I could learn more about history, but it was more so I could learn more about myself, and more about him. I wanted to see reflected in Mr. Beasley the man that I hoped I would be someday. It wasn’t that I needed a father – I had a pretty good dad already. And I was fairly popular within my crowd, so I wasn’t reacting to a lack of friendship. It was more like I needed a living embodiment of who I should be, of what I should aspire to.

That idea, more than anything else, really helps me with what I’ve often called “the Jesus disconnect.” The Jesus disconnect is what I call my brain’s inability to understand why people say that Jesus and God are the same person. In my pre-Christian days, I would put Jesus in the same category as Mohammed or Buddha – a person tied to a religion with something important to say. When I was calling myself a “theist”, I would argue that I could believe in God without believing that Jesus had anything to do with him. I read C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and followed his logical argument supporting God, nodding here or there in agreement – until he jumped the shark and started talking about Jesus.

“Confound it!” I said in my imagination, not throwing the book across the room but thinking very hard about throwing the book across the room, “why must all these blasted Christians always assume that God and Jesus must go together! Nyahhh!”

In my head, I’m this guy.

I think I get it now. God is too distant – God is too big – for someone to just sit down and chat with God. And while people in the Old Testament seemed to palaver with the Lord all the time, I can’t wrap my brain around that.

But Jesus? People sat with Jesus. People talked with Jesus. He slept in their houses and ate their food, and every now and then he would do something so miraculous that it was like your world had exploded. I can imagine myself in that position – in this day and age – waking up one morning before my wife and kids, and finding Jesus sleeping on the couch. Maybe we’d have a cup of coffee, just the two of us, and I would talk to him about whatever was going on in my life. And while Jesus – who had a habit of speaking very cryptically when he was addressing groups – was listening to my story, I would know that as soon as I was done speaking, he would say something that was absolutely correct. Just the two of us, in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, and with that personal attention he would put my whole life in order. He wouldn’t appear distracted, or constantly check his cell phone, or ask if he could use my computer to browse his email. He would listen to me, think it over for a moment, and then blow my mind.

What better mentor could there be? Is it any wonder that he inspired such fanatical devotion in his disciples? I might’ve cut an ear off for him, too.

“NO! To the PAIN!”

I wonder if that’s really what I’m looking for, what I’ve been trying to find all of my life – a perfect mentor, a man without flaw that I can guide myself after. Maybe he’d be teaching me about carpentry, on the surface, but really he’d be teaching me about everything. If that’s the case, then I have something to look forward to when I die – because I’ve got a lot of questions for the poor dude.

In the meantime, I might just have to settle.

“Girl trouble, eh? Might I recommend. . . the DEATH PUNCH?!?”


Unnamed Post is unnamed

Someone once told me, “The proper response to ‘How are you doing, today?’ should never actually be how you’re doing. No one who asks that really wants to know how you’re doing. Just say ‘fine’ so you can both move on with your lives.”

At the time I heard this, I was well into adulthood, and though I hadn’t put so fine a point on it, I already lived by this mentality for a long time. I have a tendency to be very reserved with things I’m struggling through or fighting with. There are lots of reasons for that, I suppose. I could say that I do it because I don’t like people to see my weakness, I could say I don’t open up because I’m afraid of being hurt in my time of vulnerability, I could say a hundred things – all of them justified. But whatever the reason, if you think something is bothering me and you ask me about it, you’re more likely to get a scowl (or a grin) and a “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?” than an honest answer.

"Dude. I SAID I was alright. What GIVES?"

When Daniel was diagnosed with Lymphoma at 29, I became a pillar of cement. Troubled as I was, no one was the wiser. When our son Teaghan was born 10 weeks early at a stocky 3 lbs, 2 oz – and put on breathing machines, and diagnosed with hydrocephalus and intra-ventricular hemorrhaging – the neonatal therapist decided to spend a lot of time with me, to make sure I was alright. We spent our time discussing good books, Irish culture, and anything else that wasn’t about the situation I was dealing with regarding my son.  I pride myself on being a good liar in this way. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been literally having a fight with Daniel while on a team in City of Heroes, and none of my teammates (except, perhaps, one or two of my closer friends) could even tell anything was amiss.

All in all, it’s very unusual for me to discuss my problems, or things that I’m going through, or – God help me – my feelings, with even my closest of friends. I’ve lived on the mentality that:

a)      I’m a big girl and no one needs to know how effected I am. I can handle it.

and

b)      If you burden your friends, you soon won’t have any.

While I tend to feel that this is true, there seems to be one big flaw in my theory – God does not recommend it. Over and over in the Bible, the writers keep bringing up things like brotherhood, community, and encouragement. We should all have a circle of people that we trust to confide in, cry with, laugh with, and pray with. And that seems pretty attractive on the surface, right?

As a sometimes-cynic, it’s easy for me to feel that people who’ve got all of their shit together don’t need encouragement and uplifting conversations. Why would they? It might be nice to have someone reaffirm you’re doing everything right, but it’s not necessary. So does this really serve a person who isn’t, to some extent, messed-up? On the other hand, nobody has their shit together all the time – and how can you be encouraged in your time of trouble if you don’t tell your friends, your neighbors, or your community, what the crap is going on in your life?

Not surprisingly, the Bible addresses this in several places.

1 Corinthians 14:26 says that when we come together, everyone has something insightful to bring to the table. Everyone has their hymns, lessons, revelations, interpretations and so on, and that all of those things should be used to uplift. This seems to imply that we should share with one another our sufferings and our joys, if for no other reason than to be uplifted and encouraged with external perspective. Also, because it’s kind of a like a talent show, and who doesn’t love a talent show?

First. Effin. Prize.

Proverbs 27:17 says that iron sharpens iron, but one man sharpens another. To me, this seems to imply that our minds and hearts are like blades that can’t be kept in prime condition unless they’re properly treated and maintained – and occasionally see the grinding stone of other people. Now that metaphor really works for me, because the thought of what a blade has to go through to be forged, and later honed, and then eventually maintained doesn’t seem like a “painless” process for the blade.

Also, because we REALLY like swords!!

It seems about as unpleasant as letting people see how vulnerable and. . . soft. . . I can be. Just saying that in this blog makes me cringe, and I know I’m among friends who aren’t going to use that information to start forging their own “blade cutter” now that they know that my mettle has a weak point (or several, in the spirit of complete honesty). And if I’m uncomfortable saying it here, you can imagine how much worse it can get.

The idea that God wants us to open up to people is also supported by Hebrews 3:13. That verse calls us to exhort one another every day, so long as that day is called “today”, so that none of us can become hardened to the deceitfulness of sin. That’s a heady idea, and some people might be put off by the idea of “sin” in general, but it’s not as scary as it sounds. I think that God is saying, here, that we have blind spots on to our own vices, faults, and weaknesses. God says that we need to have people in our lives that love us enough to call us on our crap, preferable before we make asses of ourselves to God and the whole world. How can our friends, our family know when we’re veering off “the path” if we don’t open up to them? Isn’t having a friend give you a “heads-up” better than letting your issue become obvious enough to be seen everybody, close to you or otherwise?

Bro. . .can we talk? It's. . . it's about your hair.

It seems to me that “bad” is like a cancer – you want to catch it early, before the tumor gets all its little roots in everything. In Hebrews, the author (presumably Paul) warns against becoming “hardened” to bad actions – of losing our sensitivity to the point that we no longer know we’re doing anything wrong. That’s why we share our feelings with people we love and trust. Without people you trust acting as our early warning system, it becomes really easy to fall into a place where you can’t even see how hardened you’ve become. Eventually you’ll begin to resent other people for their “judgment”, instead of recognizing their concern. If you’ve haven’t built a circle of friends and family that you can open yourself up to, then it becomes the difference between having a support group of folks trying to help you keep your feet, and being assaulted by a bunch of judgmental nags.

So, I get it. I need to open up to people. Groovy. The only problem with this grand idea is that it’s positively horrifying.

I am not a good person – and while I pretend otherwise, I’m not a strong person. I don’t want people to know this about me, but I want people to love me. Can love come without understanding the good and the bad within a person? I don’t think so. If all you see is the mask of good someone wears, how can you feel anything but betrayed, or lied to, when that mask inevitably slips?

Let’s keep the hard questions coming –

How can someone who is vulnerable, and afraid of being hurt, be expected to take it on faith that the people they are opening up to aren’t going to hurt them further?  How do you reassure them? How do you convince them that it’s safe? “Oh honey, Jesus went through much worse. You’re already sad inside, why not just let it out?” That logic may have appeal to a relatively happy person – who really just wants to help – but not so much appeal when you’re the one on the verge of broken. . . when one more betrayal or stab would be more than you could bear.

This post is getting dark. Look at this kitten snuggling a duck while I find my Cure/Smiths mix-tape.

So am I arguing for or against opening up? The Bible seems to imply you should build -and maintain – close relationships with people so that you can, together, forge a support system, not only for yourself but for them as well. Does that mean that I can just discard my complete phobia of exposing myself, in my good and my bad times, to the people around me? That’s easier said than done – it’s a phobia. How do people like me get over this?

This post has asked lots of questions, and I don’t have any of the answers to them, I’m afraid. I don’t assume you reader-type-peoples out there have any more of the answers than I do. I’m sure we all have masks we wear, things we keep back or prefer to deal with in private. I’m just afraid. Afraid of what people will think, afraid of how bad it will hurt when I break down the wall, afraid that once I open the door I’ll never be able to retreat behind a smarmy grin and a stoic, unaffected, wickedly-awesome demeanor again.

I’d like to leave you, reader-type-peoples, with a quandary to cap off all my vaguely-confession ranting. How do you feel exposing your thoughts and feelings to the people in your life? Do you have a group that makes you feel comfortable exposing yourself, as it were? Have you ever felt that you were doing something wrong – but you were dreadfully afraid of telling people about it, for fear of judgment from your circle? I would very like to hear your thoughts. While you’re writing them I will strive to think of a more clever name for you guys besides “reader-type-peoples”.

My vote is for "the Super Squad," but your call.


I know it’s lame to do this online. . .

Dear Atheism,

Hey there. How’s stuff? Good, I hope.

So, listen, Atheism. I know we haven’t been speaking much lately. And even though you and I were never an “official” thing, after all that time we spent hanging out – at lunch at work, or late at night when my fears were getting me pretty good – you probably thought that it wouldn’t be long before I was telling everyone that I was with you. And to be fair, I thought I probably would, too. Now I haven’t spoken to you in, what? Two months?  So I guess you might be wondering – what’s up with that?

If you don’t get this reference, stop reading and go catch up on SNL RIGHT NOW. I can wait.

I feel kind of bad about the whole thing, to be honest. I mean, I’m sure you never needed me, but I vaguely thought I might need you. People talk about you all the time. You’re always on the news, and all over YouTube – you have a ton of admirers. And there’s a lot about you that it’s easy to admire. After all, you’re so simple. . . I don’t have to worry about what I’m doing all the time, when I’m with you. You make everything seem so simple – even a bit predictable. Not predictable enough to make me gamble, don’t get me wrong. . . but there is some amount of safety knowing that things in this world happen just because. You say that there isn’t anyone above us who has control over what happens, and that frees me from the idea of asking someone above me for anything. It also explains why I got cancer before I was thirty, and why Teaghan was born ten weeks early, and why my metabolism sucks so much. . . the list goes on and on!

Yep. Slow metabolism. That TOTALLY explains the diabetes.

Also, there is something to be said for your rationality. Atheism, you are so logical, and I love that about you. I’ve read C.S. Lewis, and bless his heart, he tries so hard to use reason to make a case for Christianity. Let’s not forget the folks who thought of “intelligent design,” “irreducible complexity,” and other attempts to marry science and Jesus. I’ve followed both, and even when I wanted to believe in intelligent design, I had to admit that you really did have the edge when arguments were laid down. In fact, any time someone who believed in God tried to make science take their side over your side, science was always like, “Girl, why you trippin’?” and he always stayed loyal to you. And you know that everyone wants science on their side.

Sexy, sexy science. . .

Now, in the spirit of honesty, Atheism, you did scare me a little. Not because you were saying that I was basically alone in the universe, which I was more-or-less alright with, but because you basically implied that after I died, my consciousness would just puff out of existence. Some people dig that about you, but it was never really my thing, you know? I mean, I miss my mom, and you were basically saying that I would never see her again.

But isn’t that something that I’ve been suspecting my entire life? Isn’t that something that everyone suspects, at least once in a while? And here is where you shine. Someone will say, “Oh, I’ve read about these near-death experiences, those sound comforting, maybe there is a God!” and you would instantly respond with, “Oh, that’s just a side-effect of having a brain in your head, buddy! Anyone can experience that without dying – in fact, the feeling can be reproduced in a laboratory.” And sure enough, it could.

You know what else I love about you, Atheism? You excuse – nay, encourage – intellectual snobbery. And let’s face it, intellectual snobbery is the only snobbery I can justify! I’m not handsome enough to be vain; I’m not rich enough to be opulent; I’m not popular enough to shun. If there is anything I do better than some people, it’s think. You loved that about me. You told me that the world could be understood, given time. Maybe you didn’t have all the answers to the mysteries of the universe, but you told me that with the powers of my rational, skeptical mind, I could flat-out deny thousands of commonly believed things. Heaven? Something for poor, downtrodden people to believe in. Hell? A way to keep the ignorant in line. Religion? The opiate for the masses. You created a new, higher order of mankind – the Skeptical Man. You promised a world where, some day, the Skeptical Man would rule the Buffoon, would eventually replace it like the Cro-Magnon to the Neanderthal, and you gave me hope that some day I would be part of that elite ruling class – a noble of Reason, a gentleman of the Mind.

Janeane Garofalo would FINALLY answer my emails!

So here we are, me telling you how great you are. . . and by now, you’re clearly wondering why I’m telling you goodbye.

Don’t take this the wrong way – because you know how highly I regard you. But the fact is that you really don’t have much value to me. . . or to anyone who wants to live outside of a life of distant, emotionless speculation. Your arguments are so good, so nearly-perfect, so rationally sound, that the only flaw I can find in them is that they are, turns out, wrong. Inaccurate. See, the difference between theory and fact is that theory never leaves the drawing board, but facts live in reality. The first time I decided to explore my options – to see if you were wrong about God, first and foremost – God responded right away. And thankfully, He didn’t leave much room for misinterpretation. Seriously, He made the heavens and the earth, created light from darkness. . . dude isn’t subtle when He doesn’t feel like being subtle. Now, your friends are going to say that I’ve just given up the use of my rational mind, and that’s fine. I expect that – it’s what I would have said. But when a big old rock falls onto my foot, it seems silly to listen to the crowd of people who are listing off the logical reasons why I would be stupid to believe in that rock. No matter how good their logic is, my toes are still going to hurt.

And yeah, the arguments supporting theism over atheism are weak, but that’s okay. God isn’t an argument. God isn’t a cleverly turned phrase or a well-written theorem. And if God presents an irrational argument, well, that’s alright. I’ve learned that lots of real things are irrational. Check out the platypus. Or the fact that the speed of light is constant, regardless of the speed of the moving object that is giving off the light. Or the comedic stylings of Emo Phillips. God is a conundrum, the universe is a mystery, and like it or not, things don’t always make sense.

Some things make less sense than others.

I guess the easiest answer is that I was willing to hook up with you when I thought that you were the truth. Or better yet, the “Truth.” I was willing to put up with you, and your lack of comfort, and the way you make people give up hope, and how boring you make life, because I always said that I would rather believe in a horrible truth than a comforting lie. And you – prepare yourself, this may sting a little bit – you don’t qualify as either.

So I suppose this is it, Atheism. I appreciate the time you spent with me, and I know that you won’t be lonely. In fact, for every schmuck like me who decides that you just aren’t for him, there are hundreds more waiting to take you to the dance. And while I don’t think that you’re good for those people (truly, I don’t think you’re good for anybody, but I don’t want to take this mean) I’m certainly not going to poo-poo on anyone’s right to hang out with you. So chin up, stiff upper lip, and all that.

Let’s still be friends, okay?

Sincerely,

Me

I think I handled that well.