All posts by Nic Davidson

Nic Davidson and his wife joined the Church in ’08 after growing up in the Assemblies of God. He was a youth minister in Duluth, MN, spent 3 years working as a missionary on the Caribbean island of Dominica while his wife attended Med School, and just finished writing a 3-year youth ministry curriculum for the Diocese of Duluth, MN. While on-island, he and his wife adopted three wonderful siblings. He has returned to the States and blogs at Death Before Death and keeps you updated on his family at The Dynamic Davidson Duo.

Wanted or Unwanted: Desire, Worth, and the Human Person

My mum was 17 when she had me. She had very little help with the pregnancy. She faced rejection, abandonment, and confusion at the onset, and 18 hours of labor, six weeks early, at the outset. She recently told me that, besides praying, she had resorted to telling herself, “Millions of women have done this before and made it through.” She recited the mantra over and over and over for nine months. I’m sure there were countless times that she thought to herself, “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Naturally, getting pregnant meant a drastic change in her life plans. On top of the months of sickness and stress, she now had to figure out how to fend for a scrawny, yet perfectly proportioned and angelic, little boy. Granted, from what I can remember, I was flawless, both in appearance and behavior, but I’m sure it still affected her greatly.

Yes, I started off looking THAT good. No, I don’t know what happened.

To be 17 and to know with utter certainty that your future is now fundamentally and unavoidably altered, no matter how you respond, must’ve been an incredible weight to bear. To be any age and come to that realization is a hefty burden.

I’ve asked myself many times over the years why she did it, why she chose to receive the monkey wrench in all of her plans. Why did she choose to forego any and all of her current life goals to be an unwed mother in a small, fundamentalist church community? Why stomach the whispered gossip? Why fight the feelings of shame, embarrassment, and failure?

The answer is written and explained in every day of my upbringing. In every sacrifice she made, every extra hour worked, and every single time she let me crawl into bed with her in the middle of the night, she eloquently explained her thoughts on that time in her life, back in 1977.

In the swirling midst of emotion and anxiety, my mum sifted it all out and saw the truth of the matter: I was worth it. Somehow, despite everything else, she was able to weigh all the possible futures set out in front of her and saw her unborn child as worth more. Even though she hadn’t wanted the drastic veer “off course” that she was experiencing, even though–to be brutally honest–she hadn’t wanted a child prior to my conception, she didn’t let her wants and desires pull her from what was to what might have been. Want it or not, she was pregnant. Every motherly and loving act ingrained in me one enduring fact:

I wasn’t worthwhile because she wanted me; she wanted me because I was worthwhile.

There is a stark difference between the two approaches. If worth depends on desire or convenience, then an unwanted pregnancy will always fall somewhere between a hiccup and a disaster. However, if worth is intrinsic and essential to each human’s existence, then even the most unforeseen and undesired conception must necessarily fall somewhere between a joyful giggle and staggering “thank you”. When a human life is set on the scales, there is nothing else that can come close to balancing it, let alone weighing more. My mum knew that and taught it to me.

Jump ahead 38 years. I’ve chronicled our adoptions in-depth, and all the joys and priceless anecdotes that have accompanied them, however, I have never taken much time to expound on our struggles with infertility. Apart from the first couple of years of our marriage, we have always been open to life and conception happening at any point. In the months leading up to moving away to the Caribbean, we were even intentionally trying to get pregnant. However, in spite of our efforts, were never able to conceive.

Last summer, my wife and I celebrated our 15-year anniversary. She’d just completed her first year of medical residency. Things were pretty even keeled. Then, after over a decade of waiting and wondering, we found out she was pregnant. We were overjoyed and giddy and excited and all of the synonyms. We gleefully informed the children that the Justice League would be getting a new member. Apparently a bit of clarification was needed, because my 5-year-old said, “We’re getting a dog?”

So began the blur of pregnancy during residency. My wife plodded on, shift after shift. Along the way, there have been countless times we’ve thought to ourselves, “I can’t believe this is happening.” We are, daily, astounded and surprised by the fact that there’s been an extra human tagging along with us for the last 9 months. We’ve had the blessing and benefit of not only having wanted a child for so long, but also of being able to get fully prepared for it’s emersion, for its crawl onto this mortal coil.

The kicker? She’s due today, January 27. Yes, she’s due on the March for Life. As if we couldn’t get any cheesier or heavy-handed or over-the-top. But, that’s how we roll in the Justice League.

I struggled to find a hard-hitting, thought-provoking, hyphen-laden point to this post. Usually, I have something specific to say, and I won’t click “publish” until I at least feel like I’ve said it as coherently as possible. This time, though, I just knew I wanted to say something today. I’ve been excited and eager to post, but I couldn’t figure out what the tie-in would be. It took me a while to put my finger on it. I think what it boils down to today is this.

There is so much dang truth, beauty, and goodness in the world that I don’t just want everyone around me to see and know it; I want them to be ecstatic when there’s one more person in the world who gets to see it and know it! A new kid on the block can never be a bad thing, not objectively, because it means that one more beacon of infinite goodness is now advancing through this life!

From the first embryo, until the moment my mum found out she was pregnant, until the moment I wrote this, until the last breath of the last person, the worth and gorgeous complexity of each human life quietly calls to us, from each stage of development, to revere this life, to protect this life, to polish this life to a sheen.

Cherish each second of human existence, from conception to natural death, because each of those seconds are inextricably linked with each second of yours and mine. Protect our first moments to insure all the subsequent ones. And, please, please, always be willing to toss aside any and every timeline if someone threatens to intrude, regardless of how small and quiet they may be.

 

Two Mothers Teresa: The Art of Leaving

Saying goodbye is difficult. Leaving can be excruciating. Throughout our lives, we face countless moments of what I call “small goodbyes”, moments when we cut a certain type of attachment, regardless of the slight sting, because we’re pretty sure we know the outcome will be better.

We leave home for college, college for a new job, a new job for a new child, etc. We say goodbye to that next episode in our Netflix binge so we can be alert the next day for those who rely on us. We say no to drinking full cans of sweetened condensed milk in order to not get diabetes today. Although, I realize that that might be a problem unique to me.

Then there are the pivotal moments, the ones we know we can’t come back from, even if we wanted and tried to. There are moments when we know that the next move, because of its gravity, is going to hurt us, to crush us one way or another. These are choices such as leaving a bad relationship, regardless of how deep you are in, or letting your adult child make the mistake that will alter their life’s course.

There is an art to that kind of leaving that I’m still woefully inept at.

I have always hated goodbyes. For as long as I can remember, I have laced almost every single goodbye with dramatic music in my head and some massive emotional significance, which I often convey by holding eye contact a bit too long for comfort.

My first sleepover was when I was ten years old. I spent the night at my friend Justin’s house, which was 8.8 miles away. I was excited and terrified. The excitement was because we were going to watch The Neverending Story; the terror was because, for all intents and purposes of a ten-year-old, it seemed like goodbye for good, like I might never return home. For all I knew, something could happen in the night and we’d never see each other again. Some bullies could come by and chase me into a book shop,Darwin;_The_expression_of_the_emotions_in_man_and_animals_Wellcome_L0014839 (1) where I’d be sucked into a book and, well, you get it (Falcor!!!). Needless to say, I called her at least ten times that night.

Because of this dramatic streak in me, I almost always make a point of remembering the last thing someone says to me before we part ways. For instance, when we moved away to China for two years, saying goodbye to my mum was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I think we held our hug for about 35 minutes, drenched in tears, and I made sure that “I love you” was the last thing we said.

Goodbyes with my dad have always been a tad different. I only remember two, actually. On the day he moved out of the house after the divorce, he hugged me and told me he would always love me. That is a moment, one you remember, one that stays with you. The other was when I moved to the Caribbean for three years. He’s a roofer, so we had to meet early for breakfast at a local diner. Food was good, conversation was good, the sun was shining. As we walked out to our cars, he handed me a multi-tool he’d gotten me, which I’ve used almost every day since. Then, we got in our cars and did the Minnesota goodbye, where you each roll down your window and say one last thing. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “I love you, bud.”

And I thought, “There it is. Perfect. Now if he dies while I’m gone, then at the funeral, I can get up and say his last words were of love (silly, morbid Nic). However, true to dad form, he put the car in drive and yelled, “Today’s gonna SUCK!!!” Then he tore out of the parking lot. That’s my dad. Totally ruined the goodbye. Doesn’t he know I’m trying to manufacture memories and scenarios proactively?!?

Point being, I most often try to make the act of leaving hurt as little as possible, mostly because I’m still terrified of it. I try to keep track of last words and glimpses so that I can put myself already way into the future, where things don’t hurt like they do in the present. Otherwise, to be honest, I’d probably never let go of anything in my life.

However, that is not a full life, not a life lived to its greatest and grandest. I’m finding that real life billows and cascades out of the sting and burn and crack of leaving if we let it, if we truly say goodbye to the things we must leave behind. From the cans of Carnation to the Crucifixion, the whole spectrum, the goal is for us to glimpse the glory and goodness that lies farther along, the future that waits past cleaving our present in two.

Perhaps your cascade of severance will rival that of Mother Teresa, whose decision to leave her life and home at the age of 18 opened the doors to an endless parade of chances to leave her current life for one of more comfort. Most of us know multiple stories of her constant, unwavering commitment to God, even in the face of decades of loneliness. Her witness was, for my wife, a foundation, an encouragement, and an impetus in her path to becoming a doctor and a missionary.

Maybe you’ll be like her. Maybe you’ll learn, as the Saints did, that goodbyes can get easier, in the same way that tearing off a band-aid gets easier. There’s always pain, but you know what it’s like now. Perhaps your life will, when it’s all doled out, amount to a prolific library of witness, for the world to see and follow. Essentially, you may get really good at leaving.

Or, perhaps you will encounter one stark moment, with no guarantee of what the other side will be like. Perhaps your moment of decision will look like the terrifying and confusing choice that another Teresa faced.

Teresa is the birth mom of our three adopted miracles.

Teresa faced daily use, neglect, and disregard by many of the people, and much of the culture, around her. Teresa was struggling along in the best way she knew how, given what she knew of life and real love, or the lack thereof. She knew she couldn’t do justice, or even do the bare minimum, to the beautiful children God had given her, but she didn’t know what to do in the face of that realization. She had resigned herself to acting like the failure people said she was and the object that men had forced her to pretend to be. Teresa would break down into tears when told that she was good and lovable and loved.

Then opportunity presented itself. The opportunity to give of herself, to rise above the weakness, to purposefully choose heartbreaking pain for herself, for the good of her children.

Into her life came The Davidsons, an angel and an idiot. Into her fractured and confusing life of limited sustenance and overwhelming odds came a random couple who had said they’d help if she ever felt open to it. Suddenly in front of her stood a way out. Not a way out of responsibility for her, but a way out of unavoidable neglect and need for her children. And, faced with the choice of letting things stay the way they were or leaving that burdened life of struggle behind, this mother, Teresa, chose the way of severance and pain.

Fittingly, there were no memorable last words as we parted ways. I am sure Teresa was afraid, as was I. I didn’t know how things would work out any more than she did. But there was a giddiness in the prospect of hope. Now, when I tuck these little psychos in every night, I look into their eyes and see the grandeur of potential that she must have glimpsed, however thickly it was veiled by hunger and stress. I am sometimes bowled over by how much her one act of leaving has changed our lives forever. I’m glad I wasn’t too much of a wimp to leave free time and financial stability behind and I’m inexpressibly grateful for Teresa’s sacrifice.

In the end, my point is that it’s not for us to determine our life’s circumstances. It is for us to determine what we’ll do when we encounter them. It is also not for us to determine the outcome of our choices. We cannot make circumstances turn out in a specific, pre-determined resolution of our preference. We can, however, know that when these decisions greet us, we can cut every tie, every umbilical, every grasp, and offer ourselves to the equation, regardless of the pain.

You may be the next Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint and inspiration on all fronts. Or, you might currently be the mother, Teresa, scared and confused on all fronts.  Either way, begin your practice of the art of leaving now, in the present, while you still have the chance.

If you pray, when you pray, pray for Teresa.

St. Teresa, pray for us.

 

Princess Esther and Saying Yes to Adoption

The Back Story:

Adoption has always been a hope for me and Jacelyn. We knew we wanted to adopt, regardless of whether we ever had biological children. We always said we wanted to adopt older siblings, since that’s probably the demographic that people seem to desire least.

We got married in 2001, and, apart from the first couple years of marriage, we’ve not used any form of contraception, but have still never conceived. We’ve never found a specific medical reason for not conceiving, so we’ve always chalked it up to it not being God’s timing.

Over the years, we were always keeping an eye out for chances to adopt, but they never seemed to materialize. We lived in China from 2004-2006, where it is very common for Americans to adopt children, but it didn’t seem like it was in God’s timing. We lived in the states from 2007-2011, and even began the foster care process, but it apparently wasn’t the right time then, either.

In 2011, Jacelyn got accepted to a medical school in the Caribbean on the tiny paradise island of Dominica, which, frankly, was a disappointment at the time. There were many other schools that she wanted to get accepted to, but Dominica was the door that opened. So, we packed up all of our belongings, I quit my job, and we moved to an island smaller than my hometown of Duluth, MN.

The Lead-Up:

About two months in, we both began to feel a small tug in our hearts toward adoption. At first, the idea was laughable. After everywhere we’d lived and all the time and resources we’d had in the past, it made no sense for us to even consider taking on multiple children when Jacelyn was studying 14 hours a day and we had zero income (attending medical school is basically the exact opposite of having an income).

However, the feeling grew much stronger and, against our “better” judgement, we decided to proceed. We quickly found that in Dominica, there are no adoption agencies, so we basically had to find a situation that warranted the social welfare department stepping in and go from there. So, we casually put the word out to all my local friends that were interested in adoption and then we waited.

Skip ahead two years.

In the interim, I hosted 4 mission trips to Dom, Jacelyn studied 14 hours a day and kept passing each milestone, we adopted two brothers, ages 1 and 7, and we returned to America. Those two years are a blur of adventure and miracle; however, it’s the subsequent months following our return that I want to draw attention to.

The Pitch:

Upon returning to the States, we were emotionally stretched thin due to the normal rigors of med school, suddenly having two kids, not knowing where in America Jacelyn’s rotations would be, and we had $45 in our bank account. Things were tight. It was in that state of affairs that I began a two-day drive with my boys from Florida to Minnesota to speak at a youth camp in the Diocese of Duluth.

In the middle of Indiana, on July 28, 2013, after being stateside for a mere two-and-a-half months, I received an email from a new acquaintance who’d been inquiring about adopting from Dominica. In a few short sentences, she let me know that she’d found out that the girl she was considering adopting was our boys’ sister, whom we’d been forcefully told would never be up for adoption. She wanted to know if that was okay, or if we wanted to adopt her. I didn’t respond immediately, but inside, I gave a fervent “we absolutely do not!”.

Adopting a third child at that point seemed beyond foolish to me, and as I drove, I mentally worked through all of the reasons why I could say “no” and still look myself in the mirror.

  • “We have even less money than with the first two adoptions!”
  • “I have no job!”
  • “We can’t say yes to every adoption opportunity that comes along!”
  • “We JUST moved back to the States. How can we move back to the island right away again?”
  • “Jacelyn has to do her hospital rotations in order to graduate!”
  • And the clincher: “Someone else is already planning to adopt her, so it’s not like she’ll be left alone in that terrible situation!!!”

I had a bunch of “outs”, if you will. I drove and drove and, as our new boys laughed and played in the back seat, I resolved that I would talk to Jacelyn about it that night. I was certain that after I laid out my case to her, she’d most definitely concur, we’d say no, and all would be well.

When we finally got a chance to talk on the phone about it, to the best of my memory, she said, “Wow. That’s crazy. I am far too taxed and spent to help make the decision with any degree of confidence. So, you pray and then make the decision. Love you. Gotta go.” To clarify, she wasn’t being flippant, she was studying endlessly for her licensing exam. (She wanted that to be clear.)

With that, I had my exit. I was given the green light. We could proceed as I’d planned and I was relieved. What I didn’t know was that my relieved face was much like the peaceful look of someone in a fail video an instant before they’re nailed in the face by a watermelon or a bike or a chair lift.

In my case, it was a garden.

The Contact:

That night, I was supposed to give a talk for about 150 jr. high-ers about what the Holy Spirit wanted to do in their lives. In the hour beforehand, I knelt down with all the youth during Adoration and planned to pray for some last-minute inspiration. The whole time, though, while I was trying to pray and make sure I’d say the things they needed to hear, I felt like my mind and heart were in a fog, unable to focus in on anything. It seemed to me like God was clearing His throat and saying, “Are you really asking me what to say to these kids when you’re considering turning this child away?”

So, on the floor in that chapel, I reluctantly slid my concerns about that night to the side and folded my hands. I laid out my list of “outs” as clearly and succinctly as possible (so God would see my point). I even tried to slip in a couple extras, like “Should I actually deny this other lady the opportunity to experience the great joy of adoption by taking this girl from her?!?!”

Then, without realizing the familiar words I was saying until I was halfway through them, I said, “Lord, if there is ANY way that I can pass this to someone else, please let me do that…”

That darn Gethsemane gets me every time.

Internally, I looked up and it was like Jesus was kneeling there with me, smiling and saying, “Now that’s a bit of what it feels like. Do you remember the rest of the sentence?”

To which I replied, “…but nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done.”

Then something happened that had never happened to me beforehand and has never happened again since. As soon as I gave my nod, my yes, the fog cleared and the only way I can explain it is that I saw how the next few months would play out. I saw us packing up within a couple of weeks moving back to the island. I saw our empty bank account. I saw people close to us tell us not to do it.

I also saw the phone calls, texts, emails, and letters we’d get from around the world. I saw that people whom we’d never met would hear about the adoption and send money. I knew that people from Nova Scotia would choose to skip Christmas presents that year and send us their money. I knew that people in France would get a hold of us and say they wanted to be a part of the family by helping us out financially. I saw that it would all happen within 3 weeks of when we asked people to pray for us.

When the service was over, I walked outside, called my wife, and said, “We’re having a girl!”

She  cried (literally), “YES! I was so worried you’d say no!”

We sent out our email asking for prayers and donations on December 3, 2013,  and sure enough, by Christmas Eve, we had every dime of the thousands and thousands of dollars needed to keep the siblings together. I couldn’t wait to open the multiple emails I’d receive each day of those 3 weeks and blubber like a baby at the miracles.

 

In a blur of little details and huge leaps, we’d gone from “just us” to being parents of three. Sitting here, looking back over the emails and paypals, the photos and forms, I cannot fathom not having this beauty in my life. Of course, there are days when I’d welcome any one of you to come take her (them) for a few hours, but that goes without saying and I’m sure they feel the same way about me.

Please consider adoption.

You may not think you have the strength to do it, but I assure you, if a weak, wimpy whiner like myself can go from reading spy novels in the Caribbean every day to baby bottles and bicycles, then you can do a much better job. You may not think you have the time, but…well…yes you do. You may not think you have the money, but when we re-touched down in America after our third year on the island, Esther triumphantly in-hand, we had $.07 to our name, yet we’ve never missed a meal, never missed a payment, never missed out on the joy family life has to offer.

Your time, treasure, talent, and heart will grow to meet the requirements of the child God has in store for you. If you say yes.

You may not be able to create a life, but you can almost always save one. If you say yes.

Whether you’re doubtful, scared, reluctant, hopeless, or all of the above, there are millions of children in this world, domestically and abroad, who are even more so.

Please consider adoption. Say yes to life. Call me with questions. Read the whole story HERE. Feast your eyes:

Esther 1

 

With People, Philanthropy, Not Investment

Maybe we should stop investing in our children, spouses, country, and Church. An investor is someone who gives with the expectation of gain. They put out, hoping to get back, give while hoping for gain. The problem is that, as far as I can tell, investment mentality has very little place in the life of a Christian. Keep in mind, I’m referring to human interaction. I have no opinion as to the morality of financial investments, nor do I have the money to buy such an opinion. However, I have had quite a bit of human interaction in my life, so let’s start there.

We’ve all met people who’ve lived as investors their whole lives. They’re the ones who’re soured, bitter, and severely disappointed at what life has given back. They keep an Ebenezer eye on the world through squinty twitches. Investors keep close tabs on their investments. They watch intently to see which ones offer the biggest returns and divert their funds accordingly. The best investments are the ones which require the least output and offer the greatest return, so a good investor will focus more efforts on those.

A lifelong investor in people will be quick to say things like, “After all I’ve done…” and “I’m just so disappointed” and–after the worst letdowns–“I expected more”. Parents invest in their children. Spouses invest in their spouses. Christians invest in their “relationship” with God.

There are short-term and long-term investments, and neither have good outlooks.

Short-terms often look like giving someone a compliment in hopes that they’ll say the same about you. Even if they do, you’re not satisfied. Why? Well, first, you wrenched it out of them by dishonest means, like a mini version of a shotgun wedding; so how could that ever pass as genuine? Second, in merely seeing an ATM in front of you, and not a person, you gave no real compliment (you don’t flatter a machine), but instead spouted nonsense as a penny stock investment with a promised immediate return.

Long-terms look like marrying someone now, but hoping they’ll be someone else later. Long-terms are children as a means of happiness at some point. Long-terms hurt worst.

The subtle money changing is often so quiet and innate that we don’t see it happening. How many times do we offer a sacrifice on our part while surreptitiously attaching fees to each transaction?

“I’ll forgo this personal desire for my kids now, but when they’re older I’ll be comfy and taken care of.”

“I’ll give (tolerate) such and such in my spouse for the time being, but they’ve just GOTTA change eventually.”

“Of course I’ll give to God, but He dang well better use it to my liking.”

Those are the easy ones to pick out, the clear investments. What about the sneakier ones?

“I’ve done everything I can as best as I can. Why won’t my child love me back?”

“I’ve put so much time and effort into our relationship; the least she could do is…”

“I’ve worked quite hard for the Church, in service of my fellow man. I’ve been the ‘good Christian’. Why is this happening to me now?”

People who invest in other people will always be let down and inevitably, invariably be bankrupt, because humanity is not a reservoir of multiplication which springs back heaps of blessings on us, thereby completing our self-fulfillment project. Humanity is God’s way of giving us the utmost opportunities to experience real love. JPII said “the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love”, not investment.

Investors see refunds and returns and, since humans are neither of those, they will always come up empty.

One thing investors DO understand, though, is that what they have to give is worthwhile and expensive. Every single human, by virtue of the name, is priceless and worth every penny in the universe. Each of us, regardless of our actions, is worthy of everyone else’s sacrifice. In fact, our ability to give of ourselves, regardless of the cost, is what enables us to truly love.

In the light of such goodness, it would seem best, then, for us to set aside our investments and fees. Taxes and tariffs should fall by the wayside when we turn to face another person. When we interact with humanity, made in God’s image and likeness, we should treat them as such. It seems most logical to treat others in the same way their Progenitor would treat them.

And He’s a Giver. He is, as the un-curtained Wizard of Oz says, a “good deed doer”. God is a philanthropist.

So, when interacting with people, philanthropy, not investment, is the way to go. If you have children, instead of investing in the hopes that they’ll grow up to be ________ or do ______, why not use your every breath to show them time and time again how worthwhile they are–right now, as they are–no matter what they grow up to be or do?

The same goes for marriage. Whether she cheats on you or he never changes one iota, why not hand over the great worth that you are to your spouse so that your spouse might never doubt his or her own worth? Then, instead of ever being tempted to say, “Look at what I’ve given to you all these years!”, you’ll be able to say, “You’re worth every moment of my life!”

In this mechanistic culture of death, made up of people confused as to their dignity, why not “throw ourselves upon the gears” and remind them through our daily, constant sacrifice that no one is expendable or worthless?

On all fronts, in all encounters with people, philanthropy, not investment is the only adequate and proper response. It’s how God has dealt with you, so why not respond in like kind?

Long story short, don’t invest in, give to.

Identity Lies & Where Your Identity Lies

“I am not yet able…to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.” – Plato

Sometimes I’ll go all day without even glancing in a mirror and, when I finally cross paths with one, the reflection can be startling. This partly because I’ve never been what this culture, or any culture, would immediately identify as “attractive”, and it is also because by the end of most days, I have three pieces of spinach in my teeth and my hair has given up. Largely, though, when I’m away from a mirror for a good amount of time, I truly do tend to forget what I look like. So it’s always good to encounter the bathroom mirror at night so I can mutter “Hello, old friend”, and be reminded that I’m not Jason Bourne and I still need extensive dental work.

I suspect it’s like that with all of us. I also suspect that this is true on more levels than the external.

Left unchecked and un-verified, I quickly begin to make some relatively serious assumptions about myself. I assume I’ve read and studied enough to speak authoritatively on any and all subjects. I grant myself every benefit of all doubt. I assume I’m genuine, sincere, and well-intentioned and therefore you should trust my opinion and my clever use of synonyms. I assume my knee-jerk reactions are right, regardless of the topic. Trump as a candidate. Hillary as a candidate. OK Computer as the best album of all time. Caramel as the nectar of the gods. Mushrooms as the complimentary food of the seventh circle of hell.

We all do it. In our homes, in society, and on the internet.

Precisely because we do, there forms a teeming, rolling, swampy ocean of influencing pressure which shoves us back and forth, screaming at us to “be ourselves”, but wanting to decide what we are.

In 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger from the psych department at Cornell conducted a series of experiments investigating the phenomena of over-estimating one’s own competence. They proposed, and generally confirmed, that, “for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  • fail to recognize their own lack of skill
  • fail to recognize the extent of their inadequacy
  • fail to accurately gauge skill in others
  • recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill only after they are exposed to training for that skill.” (Wikipedia, “Dunning–Kruger effect”)

It is of vital importance that we know who we are, however, we can’t just say “be yourself” and expect that to be enough, because, if we are honest, we’ll admit that there’s a whole heap of stuff inside that is off the rails and should in no way be allowed to drift.

The glibly thrown out “you be you” is true, but who defines who you are? Is culture, comprised of fellow meanderers all in the same boat, qualified to inform you as to who you are? Heck, are you even qualified to tell you who you are?

Someone who’d never seen himself in a mirror would be unable to identify himself in a lineup.

When we’re all Dunning-Kruger-ing our way through the most important of questions, who can we trust to inform us? It seems to me that we would benefit from input from someone outside and above the slum. It seems to me that the best bet would be to find out from Whom we originate and seek guidance there.

Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short; some objected to his fatness, some lamented his leanness; some thought him too dark, and some too fair. One explanation…would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape.” -G.K.Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

Allow me to be a traditional Christian for a moment.

I believe, and Christianity professes, that God is your Maker, your Savior, your Beloved, your Spouse, and your every Answer. You are looking for God when you seek friendship. You are looking for God when you seek pleasure. You are looking for God in every mouse click, every compliment you squeeze out of others, every orgasm, and every sunny day. I’m looking for God in every Radiohead track, every laugh shared with my kids, and every time I embrace my wife.

Every moment that is true, good, and beautiful is made to be a delivery service, a messenger of the love that God has for you and of your true identity, but we’re closed off to it because we are too cluttered and muddled by listening either to our own incessant internal monologue or the cacophony of everyone else’s opinions of us. Or both.

Christ, the “exact representation of the nature of God” (Heb 1:3), the One through Whom, with Whom, and in Whom all things were made, longs to joyfully reveal your identity to you. He is the only One without an “angle”. He is the only One Who will tell you exactly who you are, without error, without vested interest, without need for reciprocity, and with a wonderfully disinterested gaze.

Christ is desperate to show us our depth and beauty, but we’re too clamped down on who we think we are to listen. We’ve got a stranglehold on being “us”, because we’re afraid of losing ourselves in the swarm; but the problem with a stranglehold is that, eventually, what we’re holding gets….strangled.

We don’t even know who we are, yet we’re afraid of losing ourselves! What if we’re rubbish? What if we don’t matter? What if we’re not worth keeping? In that case, who cares if we get lost?

“Christ…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself…” – Gaudium et Spes (22)

By revealing the Father’s love for us through His birth, life, death, and resurrection, Jesus systematically erased every lie and misconception as to our worth and goodness. His actions cleared away the grime, the darkness, and the death that encased us all like a coffin. When we search for our identity by looking within, we get an inverted, selfishly skewed view of ourselves. When we search by looking outward, horizontally, we get our feedback from a million other inverted, selfishly skewed opinions.

However, when we fix our eyes (Heb. 12:2) on God, Who can’t desire anything bad for us, Who can only will and work toward what is good for us, we begin to see ourselves reflected more and more clearly. Sure, God is quick and unhesitant to tell us where we’re smudged and crusty, but when He does, you find yourself saying, “Why thank You!” With God, any criticism or discipline is welcome, because, for once, you’ve stopped being afraid that the dirt means you’re horrible. In Him, we see our worth, and suddenly, you don’t want any blemishes or streaks, because you now see how they besmirch and taint the true light shining out of you.

This is at the heart of our news cycles and our politics, our dreams and our nightmares. Not knowing who we are is why the poor aren’t fed. It is why we suicide bomb. It is why we tinker with, and fight about, bathroom designations. It is why we smudge and redefine everything. This is why we move from “confused” to “fluid”. This is why we become doormats and dictators. This is why we scream and abuse.

We are afraid of what others are bellowing, but we’re far more afraid of the silence that results when everyone shuts up.

Be not afraid.

Terrifying as it may be, I encourage you to set down the magnifying glass that you use to look inside and the manifestos of a confused and angry world. They will do you no good. Choose to set down all of the mess, the alphabet soup of everything you’ve allowed to define you. Choose to let the Author of all things expound for a while. Let the most genuine and sincere Lover of your soul and body tell you why He made you. He fashioned you; why not let Him identify you?

“We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our capacity to become the image of His Son.” – St. John Paul II

 

Superman and a 38-Year-Old Boy

I love Superman. I always have. Sometimes I wonder if I love him too much. One Christmas, I received Superman underwear from three different family members. That was in 2014. When I was 35 years old. I’m sure Freud would say that even me attempting to be a writer is just so that I can try to be Clark Kent, too. My kids know it and have embraced it. When they see any image of Superman out in public, be it a mug, poster, cereal box, or bumper sticker, their immediate, unquestioning response is, “Daddy, it’s YOU!” When they do this, I instantly reward them with a small snack and $50.

Seinfeld once said, “…when men are growing up and are reading about Batman, Spiderman, Superman…these aren’t fantasies. These are options.”

So it is with me. I have countless memories from my life where I would feel a surge inside and I’d wonder if that might be it, the moment I’d stretch up to my toes, eyes closed, chest to the sun, and my feet would leave the ground. It’d finally be time to bring something more to the table in this world. If I’m honest, I still assume it’ll happen at some point.

Recently, though, Zack Snyder’s “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” hit the theaters. I will hitherto refer to the film as BVAFM (Batman Versus Angry Flying Man). I am not a film critic. The only time I come close to voicing an opinion on the technical aspects of any film is to declare–although I can’t remember why–that I hated Little Man Tate when I saw it in the theater in 1991. There, that’s my 14 words of film critic fame.

However, when I walked out of BVAFM, I wasn’t mad or disappointed or frustrated or confused, though there’d be cause for all of those emotions. I was sad. I was sad and I couldn’t figure out why. I was going to write an article about it, and then Devin Faraci wrote THIS and Fr. Mike recorded THIS. Taken together, they said everything I was going to say, only better. Go, now. Read and watch them. Revel. I initially asked if I could just post links to those two pieces and let that be that; however, my editor insisted that I might have something unique to say, so, because I try to be an obedient boy, here we are today.

Superman has played a deep, pivotal role in my life since I was a child. I never had a lot of comics, partly because we didn’t have much money, but mostly because we lived in the middle of the woods and the only corner store was the one my sister and I created to sell cattails that we’d mashed up and soaked in water.

IMG_5322However, I do still have the first comic I ever received. Right here, close by, on the bookshelf next to me. It’s Superman, issue #462 from August of 1976, and features an Andromedan semi-villain named Karb-Brak (KB) who, in order to save his own life, sends Supes back to 1776, where he forgets his life in Metropolis and ends up working for an editor named Benjamin Franklin. There’s even a picture in issue #463 of Clark present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Good stuff, I tell ya.

KB’s situation is that the only planet he can stay alive on is Earth, so he shows up and demands that Superman leave. “Will you leave earth and let me live, or stay here and doom me?” This puts our hero in the familiar situation of having to make the difficult choice of whom to save and how. You’re drawn into the puzzle by the first page, which challenges you to figure out how you would “resolve this agonizing life-or-death dilemma” and to “make your decision–and then compare it with Superman’s”.

That’s the thing about Superman. Even when you’re not told to, you’re always doing that anyway: figuring out what you would do and seeing if you measured up to his response. Even in my first comic, though KB is violent and the solution seems cut-and-dried, either kill him or leave, Superman finds a way to cure him of his physical condition so that they can live peaceably on the same planet. Basically, when there’s no visible third way, he finds one anyway. All the time. Even when the dude is trying to kill him, he doesn’t lose sight of what is right and true:

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I was a very small, scrawny child. I got picked on and made fun of a lot. When I was in 11th grade, I was still smaller than most of the 7th graders. I went to an incredibly tiny private Christian school where there were three other guys in my grade all the way through graduation. I got teased by the boys and the girls alike. I was gangly. I was painfully awkward at school or in front of people. I never knew what to say and I blushed like a rose whenever I was on the spot.

IMG_0114So, I endlessly entertained myself by wondering how I’d respond if I were more than what people saw in front of them. While they laughed at my exterior–my thick glasses, my trips-n-falls, my obvious penchant for chewing on wood–what if my interior contained so much of the unexpected that if they knew, they wouldn’t know which emotion to express? What if I possessed more than they could process, so I just held it all in?

When I’d get pushed or hit, what if I could have hit back and hurt them, but I chose not to? When we were all walking back from somewhere and the kids would, as a collective, tell me not to walk with them, what if I could have flown past them on that dirt road, swirling dust in their eyes, but I chose not to? When the girl I liked laughed when the other three boys teased me (because they liked her, too), what if I could’ve quieted them all down by silently floating a foot off the ground and bending a desk into a knot, but I chose not to?

I assume it’s natural to feel that way. It makes sense, because there is always more worth and dignity and strength inside of each of us than can be glanced at or mocked on the outside. However, that’s not what I learned from Superman. It wasn’t that he had all these powers and abilities, yet chose not to harm others with them; it was that even though he was literally light years beyond everyone’s perception, he didn’t want to lord over others or laud himself. In my hypothetical life of hidden identity, that was what I gleaned from the Metropolis Marvel. I didn’t want to react. I didn’t want to hit, kick dust in eyes, or even be impressive. I never wanted to flaunt the super-ness. Truth be told, if I had shown my stuff in any mental scenario, it’d have been because I just wanted people to get past themselves and stop the idiocy.

When I’d listen to my parents argue through the vent in the wall between our bedrooms, I always fantasized about stepping out of my window, hovering in front of theirs, and tap-tapping them out of the argument and in to something else, something bigger, something better. Part of me thought that if I could harness the sun, then I might save their marriage.

IMG_8349Even as an adult, I have something inside that wishes I could be all things to all men. I fantasize that, being faster than a bullet, I could blur the world, helping family, friends, victims, and villains, consistently maintaining a balance that the entire world says is impossible, yet sees with its own eyes. That’s what the hero does. The hero lifts off and touches down in peace, bringing peace, leaving peace, instilling peace. The hero doesn’t leave a second of doubt in people’s hearts as to whether or not good exists in this world. The hero stops explosions. The hero bears everything, believes everything, hopes everything, and endures everything. That’s the hero I’d want to be.

Why?

Because, in that alternate universe, the one where I join the hero, so do you. People change. They follow suit, even if it is made of spandex. From the onset, that’s what I always found in Superman and wanted for myself. No one was left unaffected. In that possible world, the scrawny and the bully, the beautiful and the broken, they all squint upward, crane their necks, and rise. They join the hero in the sun.

And that hero is nowhere to be found in BVAFM.

All plot holes aside, all poor script writing aside, all good and bad aside, I left the theater sad that my hero was absent in this generation. Angry Flying Man always crashes down and sonic booms away. He grimaces, he’s grizzled. He’s pouty, whiney, and distractible. He seriously considers not helping those in need. He’s told by his parents that he should maybe let people die instead of help them. I used to want us to be like him, but now he seems a bit too much like us. I am sad for this generation of youth–bullies and beever-toothed alike–because they don’t have what I had. That is sad. Every kid, even a 38-year-old one, needs an emblem, a symbol, a shield, a hero, not just to look to, but to aspire to be, to follow. Everyone needs a constant reminder that we’re bigger, grander, and stronger that we all give each other credit for. We can’t forget that we come from here and from elsewhere.

There are multiple theological threads and conclusions that could be drawn in this, but Faraci and Schmitz already did that for us. What can you take away from this article? I’d say probably only two things.

  1. Go ahead and see Snyder’s film, but know that Superman is not in it.
  2. Someday, one of these days, you might see me flying by, on to the next thing. When that happens, stop what you’re doing, face the sun, take a breath, and get those toes off the ground.

 

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On Loving More

I love life.

I enjoy being alive. I am not oblivious to the great gifts that God and others have given me. At least once a day, I get a small wave of giddiness at being allowed to receive the next breath or do some mundane act. So, I do love life.

I just wish I loved it more.

I rarely appreciate the magnitude of existing. I have so forgotten what a singular privilege it is to have a heartbeat that I let my heart settle. I settle down, like silt. I settle for less–less than I was made for. I settle scores–scores and scores of wrongdoings. I receive 23,000 breaths a day, all gifts, all miracles of biology, physics, and spirit, and what do I do with them? Occasionally, something true, good, and beautiful, but most often, something drab, gray, and short-tempered, aimed at the ones I’m supposed to love.

I love others.

I love my family, of course, and I also love to encounter a new face on a plane as we’re forced to cram our cramped thighs down next to each other for two hours. I often can’t help but grin like a fool at a random passerby, just because I catch a glimpse of his or her grandeur. So, I do love others.

I just wish I loved them more.

I do love them enough to care about the wrongs and ills that plague them–abortion, euthanasia, war, sex slavery, porn, divorce, refugees, and abuse; but I want to love them more, enough to care about their taxes, best friends, worst enemies, “likes,” and “unfriends.” I want to care about the gas station attendant more than I care about getting home to relax or moving on to the next thing.

I love this point in my life.

I am thankful for the endless times God’s hand–sometimes seen, sometimes unseen–has slalomed me through my days in order to bring me to this moment, complete with a family that loves me and a job that energizes me. I can’t think of any other time in my life that I would want to trade out for this one. So, I do love my “now”.

I just wish I loved it more.

I wish I were sublimely glad that I’m here on this planet, so my weeks and years could avoid boiling down to wishing I were elsewhere. I forget how to receive my minutes as a gift, so I feel cheated and wounded when someone takes an extra second of “my” time. I forget how to give, so everything feels like taking.

All said and done, I wish I were more like Christ. I wish I could encounter each person with the firm care that He does. Jesus, our Lover and our Leader, experienced the entire spectrum of human emotion, intellect, and will, and throughout each second, He loved. Every time he reprimanded someone or pushed their table over or was angry, He was, with each breath and each action, still deeply and eternally in love with that soul, still as compassionate as the times He healed, encouraged, and brought back to life.

I want to love and live like that.

I want to get angry at people in the right way, because I am, first, in love with them like Christ is in love with them. I want to see that they are good beings, so that I can truly look out for their well-being. I want to see the light of God within them to the point that I almost have to squint.

I want to love life so much that I’m willing to die.

I want to hold human existence in high enough esteem that I see the beauty and power in setting it down as a gift for others. I don’t want to be so busy saying “this is mine” that I miss out on the joy in saying “I got this for you.” I want to see and believe that loving someone else will always entail carrying them, but that it’s less like the weight of an unwanted hitchhiker and much and much more like giving a piggyback ride to a child or the weight of a spouse in the marriage bed.

In fact, the weight of human life is always, always good, even if it means nails, thorns, and tombs. Why? Because the pain brings redemption, the wounds turn to scars, and the tomb remains empty!

So, maybe I don’t love enough.

I don’t love the fact that life exists. I don’t love myself or others the way I was made to. I might not, at this moment, be climbing the heights of love that I was created for, but I do know that it was His love that brought me safe thus-far and that if He begins something, He’s faithful to complete it. In fact, that’s the beautiful message of this gospel of life (evangelium vitae)–that our seemingly feeble attempts at love, our lackluster stutter steps not only make Him proud, but that His strength is most evident in my weakness.

I may run slowly, but it will always be His mercy that finishes the race.

Praying “for” Others

My wife, Jacelyn, is a pit bull when it comes to anything she knows is true, right, or necessary. When she looked out the window on a dusty, dirty road in Cambodia and saw–more clearly than she ever had–the vast need in the world, it took less than a minute for her to decide to become a doctor and be part of the solution. When we realized that we should head to China as teachers for a while, she insisted on two years instead of one, so that we could get the fuller experience. Jacelyn doesn’t just adopt, she says, “Let’s look for the ones that won’t get adopted!”. When Jacelyn decided to institute a regimen of prayer, she went full-tilt, getting up for Adoration and morning prayer for an hour every weekday from 6-7am at the Newman Center. Jacelyn is determined, dedicated, and sincere in her commitment to stay intimate with Christ. I don’t know what laurels are, but I’m pretty darn certain Jacelyn would never rest on them.

Then Jacelyn went to med school.

They say that having children changes your whole life, but that’s only true until you compare them to med school. It’s like childbirth versus kidney stones; everybody knows you always choose childbirth. Just prior to Jacelyn starting med school she was expressing her concern about how the rigorous schedule would affect her prayer life and ability to spend dedicated time with God. In a moment that mixed offhanded comment with sincerity, I said, “Well, why don’t I start praying for you?”

“Well, I could always use your prayers…” She said.

“No, why don’t I start doing your prayers? Like, why don’t I do Morning Prayer and Night Prayer in your place?”

“Well…um…can you do that?” She asked.

“I don’t see why not.” I said. “I’m supposed to bear your burdens when I can, right? And for now, you can’t pray as often as you’re used to, so let me pray FOR you. If I’ve learned anything from Samwise Gamgee, it’s that I can’t carry med school, but I can carry you! I mean, I should probably be praying more often anyway.” I should mention that whilst Jacelyn was praying for an hour every morning, I would sleep on a couch at the Newman Center. I should also note, prior to that moment–and I mean from my birth until then–my prayer life was a hit-n-miss hodgepodge of emotion, “feeling it”, and Dave Matthews lyrics. So, it was in even my best interests to make some changes in my prayer life.

Thus began the next 4 years. Jacelyn began learning, listening, and studying a minimum of 14 hours per day and I began specifically and intentionally putting in the hours of prayer that Jacelyn had been doing.

Before you skip to the comment section and unload on me about the necessity of a “personal relationship with Christ”, just pump the brakes and hear me out. I am not saying that one person’s actions can in any way simply be the equivalent of another person’s actions when it comes to relationship with God. If, as Therese of Lisieux famously put it, “…prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love”, then of course there would be no substitute for Jacelyn’s participation the equation.Cheselden_t36_prayer

However, no one’s relationship is ever merely “Jesus and me”. We receive the knowledge of God and His love from others, we learn the depths of that love through the guidance of others, we are encouraged in our own faith by others, and we are told to do the same for others. So, since it is not a solitary faith, merely vertical in nature, we do have it in our power to pick up slack when schedule’s change and be a crutch when someone is weakened. When one part of the body is weak, we are all weak; and if you choose to be strong in someone else’s weak area, they are stronger because of it. We all are, technically.

This is true of spouses to the utmost, in my opinion. My wife is not alone, not in any area of her life, not even in her relationship with God. When I committed myself to her on our wedding day, I vowed to do everything within my feeble abilities not only to strive to provide physically for her needs and to protect her, but also to make sure she is secure in God’s love for her and to act as a blocker in all areas.

Her pre-med schedule afforded her time to be the pit bull, but med school pulled out all of her teeth. So, if our lives are knit together, and we truly are one flesh, then it only made sense that I would be able to run the miles when Jacelyn couldn’t. I can strengthen my grip when hers is yanked free, because I’m not just clinging to God, I’m holding her, too.

Someday, when residency backs off a bit, Jacelyn will most assuredly find ways to re-incorporate disciplined prayer into her life and she won’t need my dedicated efforts in the same way. However, these daily times of prayer have become a fundamental part of my walk with God now, and will remain so until I decide to go to med school. So, they’re not going anywhere.

I can’t express how exciting it was to see her remain strong and steady during what has been the most rigorous and trying time in her life, physically and educationally. Her peace in frustration and grace in discouragement has been inspiring, and it was wonderful to be able to play a part in that.

You can do the same.

Add prayer time to your life for of someone who can’t at the moment.

In this time of Lent, when we trim our lives and prepare our hearts through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, why not pray for someone else, fast for someone else, and give for someone else?

In this Year of Mercy, when we are aiming to make it even clearer to this doubtful world that God is ever merciful and welcoming, why not find ways to stand in the place of the merciless, the ones who, for whatever reason, are currently at a loss as to how to be merciful? Where mercy should be shown, why not step in and show it? Regardless if it’s like paying a mortgage payment on behalf of someone who is in a coma, or more like apologizing for the behavior of a drunk friend, whom you know will be sorry at a later point, why not do it? Do for others what they cannot do for themselves.

And, why not give the breviary a chance, while you’re at it?

 

Making A Murderer, Loving the Guilty

If you haven’t joined the ranks of the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve binge watched Making a Murderer on Netflix since December, then…well…I guess that leaves you still in the ranks of the hundreds of millions of people who haven’t, and that’s fine, so don’t worry about it. Regardless of if you’ve seen it or not, you most likely know that the documentary focuses on the question of Steve Avery’s innocence in the murder of a young woman named Teresa Halbach.

Spanning 10 episodes, the film paints a largely one-sided picture of an innocent man from underprivileged means who, after being wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime and serving 18 years in prison, is, upon release and exoneration, framed by the police and given a patently unfair trial. I admit that I was very drawn in by the series. I took great joy trying not to scream at the screen at 1am whilst I watched an episode on my phone under a pillow next to my sleeping wife. It was fun to be drawn in by a well-told story and also to get to cry “OUTRAGE” for ten hours. It sparked multiple conversations with friends–and one Apple Store worker–as to the nature of innocence and the broken justice system.

At one point, when asked if I liked it, I replied, “It made me want to quit everything in the world and become a lawyer so that I could devote the rest of my life to heroically and single-handedly correcting our broken judicial system.” So, yeah, I liked it. I found myself wanting to somehow get in touch with Steve (yep, the film makes you feel like you’re on a first-name basis with him) and let him know that there are people who care about his plight, isolated as he may feel in there.

However, at some point last week, I began to ask a myself the question lurking in the dark behind the series’ overt message of defending the innocent: what about the guilty ones? So much of the show’s power comes from the unfairness of it all. The tale of the man just trying to live his life combined with the critically wounded mechanism of justice create the perfect storm of righteous anger for us, and it is fine and good that it does so.

As Christians, though, we aren’t supposed to stop at defending the innocent; we’re supposed to press on into the realm of extreme and acknowledged guilt. God has a pretty clear history of approaching the traitors with compassion, welcome, and, honestly, even trust. Just think Judas. Or Peter. Or me.

It’s so simple and affirming to stop at the truth of “well, they got themselves into that situation…”, when we’re actually supposed to move past that into things like “…and so have I, a million times” or “…and I am the chief of sinners”.

If Steve Avery is innocent, then it would be odd for anyone not to be on his side. It doesn’t take Christianity or love to ally yourself with the wrongfully accused. It is the heart of Christianity, though, to leave the safety of innocence and take the pain and suffering of someone else’s guilt upon yourself. It is in the DNA of every Christian to place themselves at the crime scene, to incriminate themselves by our associations, and to glaringly remind the accusers and the accused that nothing can separate them from God’s love.

Yesterday, we celebrated Paul’s encounter with Christ, and subsequent conversion, on the road to Damascus. We know him so well as “The Apostle” Paul that we can very quickly and easily forget that he began as an extremely violent and guilty man. According to the Book of Acts, Paul “…began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3) Paul met Christ when he was guilty. God loved him and reached out to him when he was in his sin. We should strive to do the same in our lives.

This is the Year of Mercy, when we are being exhorted daily to offer God’s startling grace and compassion to the world in an overt and intentional way. Taking Matthew 25 as our springboard, we’re encouraged to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and bury the dead.”

Please note that nowhere in the passage does it specify to do these things to those who are in their situation through no fault of their own. The hungry and thirsty are worthy of food and drink no matter why they’re hungry or thirsty. The naked deserve clothing whether they’re guilty or pure. And on and on.

As Christians in this year of mercy, we’re asked never to rest on our laurels, but instead, to offer up each crevice and compartment of our lives and hearts to the mission of relaying God’s love to the most broken, the hardest hit, and those with the greatest guilt.

The degree and intensity to which we respond should mirror the degree and intensity of the wrongdoing.  If someone tosses a mild slam against you, a mildly loving response would make sense. The response to something more heinous, say a double murder, could look something like Agnes Furey’s:

Even if we are not the ones directly impacted by someone’s fall into sin and guilt, we bear within us the capability to respond with invasive love. Like Mr. Cavins:

I encourage you, starting today–starting right now!– to actively locate the guilty ones in your corner of the world and, instead of reminding them of the guilt they are already assured of, lavish attention, love, service, and sacrifice on them. As Micah 6:8 commands us, “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”.

Fight to preserve the innocent, but fight just as hard to restore the guilty.

As Christ does for you.

Armchair Experts: A Gigabyte Wide and a Kilobyte Deep

I have friends who have PhD’s. I am married to an MD. I am surrounded by people who have been in school for nearly every year of their lives. And I feel so bad for them. In fact, I feel bad for all the poor fools who devote decades of their lives to delving into the depths of knowledge in any one discipline, when all they ever had to do was spend an hour Googling their specific area of interest. All the time and effort expended. All the pride at a job well done. All the meaning behind an official title. All of it, obsolete with the advent of “copy, paste, repeat”.

Obviously, I’m being ironic. Or is it sarcastic? HuffPost says I can use both in this case.

My point is that we’ve devolved into a very frenetic, paradoxical type of people, folks who will outright dismiss a bit of info if it comes from “them”, yet repost/retweet/resnap without a moment’s thought if it comes from “us”. We have a very small knowledge base, and a very huge ego. We’re skeptical and blindly trusting. We have convictions of concrete, but they lack rebar. We’re armchair experts, without the expertise.

I feel worst for the educated and learned because, in today’s world, no matter their level of education in their chosen topic, anyone smart enough to sign up for WordPress can come along, type right up to their face, and say, “Nuh-uh.” Having seen the level of perseverance and intake my wife has had to put in just to become a first year medical resident, it boggles my mind—and is downright offensive—when someone will actually say, “Eh, what do the ‘doctors’ know?” I always want to reply
something like, “Well, 35,770 more hours than you or I do!” (The product of 14-hour days times 7 years provided by Google Calculator)

I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I believe everyone has the responsibility to admit when their opinion is ignorant, based on hearsay, merely reactionary, or all of the above.

One of my closest friends, Mike Phillips, is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. He’s the one I turn to if I’m wondering about the quality of a piece of literature. For the purposes of writing this article, I asked him what his thesis was. His response was:

I researched the ways in which 1800th century British novels address a reader as well as mark moments of fictional omission in the narrative. Both instances establish a fictional entity, a reader, as well as establish a fictional series of events, the narrative, that become both substantial and incomplete and unknowable.”

I don’t understand that sentence. I had to have him repeat it repeatedly in order just to write it down. As much as it pains me to have to defer to someone besides myself, common sense would dictate that I continue to approach him for the formation of my literary opinions. Why? Because he knows what he’s talking about, at least, more than I do. Of course, he regularly turns to me with questions regarding pomade or break-in tools.

We need humility so badly. Only humility can enable us to resist the temptation to conjure up a comment section soapbox and spew. We need humility to admit what’s true and what isn’t. We need humility in order to stop beginning our sentences with, “Well, I’ve always thought…”

To clarify, it’s not just about having a degree; it’s about what the degree signifies, the years and sacrifice. You don’t need a degree to have a wealth of knowledge. However, you do have to input a far greater amount of information than, say, a google search, in order to obtain a degree. It’s why so few people have degrees, for Pete’s sake! It requires a supreme amount of effort and will, whereas Google requires nothing. Google is the internet’s version of an honorary degree. Sure, it makes us feel like rebels to stand up to the establishment, like stickin’ it to the man, but we’ve got to make sure “the man” is wrong first, right? Otherwise, we’re like a car dealership’s inflatable, wobbly-guy, waving endlessly, but filled with air.

Datteln_-_KF2011_-_Hafenbrücke_03_ies

Basically, unless you’ve devoted years upon years to studying a specific topic, then you have to have the humility to at least question whether or not you should be talking about an issue. Any issue. Any belief.

It’s not easy, though. Believe me, I know, firsthand, how difficult it is to stop talking about something specifically because I’m uninformed in that area. You don’t see me spouting off about quantum physics, vaccines, or male modeling anymore, do you? No, because it turns out that I am not qualified to express anything more than a personal opinion about those topics.

Looking something up on Google doesn’t make you even an ounce closer to knowing what you’re talking about. There, I said it.

To think that we can get a firm grasp on any situation from a 140-character tweet is ludicrous.

What comes across your Facebook feed probably has as much in common with the truth as I do with Brad Pitt. Sure, people often confuse me for him when I’m out in public, but even a minute on his wikipedia page will tell you that we’re two very different people, leading very different lives.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: you’re ignorant.

Trust me; you’re ignorant.

No Generation Exists In a Vacuum

My in-laws are moving in. Within 24 hours, they will reside in our residence. The lives of the Davidsons and the Dales are about to take a giant leap in proximity and, hopefully, community. They’re not running from the law (anymore) or destitute and in need of a roof over their heads. They’re moving because we all want to be near each other. They’re selling their Floridian home of 12 years, leaving all of their furniture in storage, and shacking up with the most chaotic incarnation of the Justice League yet.

Justice League 2015

And I couldn’t be more excited about it.

We have become far too sectioned-off and segmented from each other as a culture. We are adept at living nearly completely disentangled lives. I’ve already written on how a life so removed from human interaction can have incredibly negative effects on online dialogue and debate, but our issues with impersonal comments and online wars stem from a far deeper place than just a convenient forum for anonymity.

The more pressing issue is that we live and act like we don’t need anyone else. For anything. Neither their input, nor their outlook. They don’t have anything to offer and we’ve lost the ability to receive. We think that who we are now and what we know at this moment is enough. We think “they” just don’t get it. It’s pervasive, it’s destructive, and it’s not just this generation. Every generation does it, as far as I can tell.

The whippersnappers think the old folks are uninformed. The “greatest generation” thinks the hooligans are undisciplined. Everyone in between thinks everyone outside their parameters is wrong somehow.

The thing is, they are! Uninformed, undisciplined, uneducated, underprivileged, over-taxed. All true in some form or another. However, that should never lead us to the conclusion that we can write each other off. On the contrary, the various inadequacies of each generation should reinforce in us the desire to band together and gain strength. There are weak and strong in every demographic and we all need each other.

I remember the day I realized that maturity didn’t equate age. A car swerved into the parking spot we were waiting for, blinkers and all, so we waited to confront the perp. When he got out, we saw he was around 95-years-old. My grandpa, always the stickler, rolled his window down and said, “Hey, I was waiting for that spot.” The man stopped, twisted a fist at the corner of each eye, pouted out his bottom lip, and said, “Awwwww, too bad!”Singapore_Road_Signs_-_Warning_Sign_-_Elderly_or_Blind_People

It’s not that times don’t change and cause dissonance. Today, I scanned a recipe from a samples lady at the grocery store into my Evernote and I swear she shook her head at me and mentioned walking somewhere uphill both ways.

However, not counting folks like Pouty Old Parking Stealer (POPS), when generations see all the other ones as somehow less important and not as necessary, they cut themselves off from their lifelines, descendants, ancestors, caregivers, and history. We don’t exist in a vacuum. We’re either standing on the shoulders of giants, or holding up the next round of them. For most people, it’s both.

That’s why it’s so silly to discount any demographic. How juvenile for those in their teens and twenties to try to find themselves in the most ignorant of places, namely with those who are doing the same thing. How haughty–and hopeless–of older generations to think humanity hasn’t moved at least an inch forward since they handed over the reins.

I can think of very few lessons learned from my peers growing up, be it high school or college. Positive lessons, that is. I did figure out what not to be, so much so that I once found out that I was being used by a traveling speaker as an example of what not to do when in ministry. Off the bat, I think I learned cynicism, skepticism, and sarcasm from my peers, whilst they were gleaning ego, selfishness, and grandstanding from me.

On the other hand, the greatest examples and lessons in my entire life have come predominantly from my grandpa, who is 81 and is the masculine rock of my existence, and my mother, who lived and breathed unconditional love for me and is “of a certain age”(direct quote).

In fact, if I take stock of the things I consider to be foundational in my life, it’s a surprising list of professors.

  • Any wit I have, I learned from my grandmother. Her hairdresser once asked, “If you could go on any cruise, which one would it be?” And my grandma, without a moment of delay, said, you guessed it, “Tom.”
  • Those in-laws I mentioned, whom I’ve known for 16 years, are a stalwart example of perseverance and grace in the face of setbacks and unforeseen outcomes, among many other desirable traits.
  • I’m learning how to give from my ten-year-old son, Christian, who never had a thing until we adopted him as a 7-year-old, yet will give away any and every toy to anyone who might benefit from it.
  • I’m learning how to tell everyone I love them from my six-year-old daughter, Esther, who, as a man entered our house to check the levels of lead in the walls, ran up and yelled, full-throttle, “I LOVE YOU!!!
  • I’m learning how to rely on my Father for everything from my 4-year-old son, Davey, who instinctively “makes every request known” (Phil 4:6). Ten-thousand times a day. Every day.

However, even though they have a lifetime of lessons to teach me, they’re also not perfect or normal. By any means.

  • My grandpa rubs his right eye nearly raw when he talks about money.
  • To cope with her intense nervousness in public, my mum implements humor. When the bagger at a grocery store asks if she wants paper or plastic, she often replies, “It doesn’t matter; I’m bi-sacks-ual.”
  • My great-grandma Sophie is 101 and regularly complains about being old and feeling like she’s going to die at some point.
  • My father-in-law will most likely spend the next few years following us around to turn off lights and wipe up coffee drops.
  • My mother-in-law once had a clown at Macy’s comment, while honking his horn loudly, that they were wearing the same shoes.
  • Christian is convinced that a t-rex is out to get him in his sleep.
  • Esther thinks hiccups is pronounced “hookups”, which is tough in the Tinder and sexting culture. (“I love hookups, dad!”)
  • Davey…well…he’s 4-years-old.

Bottom line, the “other” generations cannot thrive without our piece of the puzzle, but neither can we without theirs. We need each other. In ministry (more on that next month), in family, in the workplace, in passing conversations at the gas station. And, if we factor in the 2,000-year understanding of the communion of the saints, we should be able to gain us a deeper appreciation for the incredible range of demographics that helped us get where we are today.

My advice to you, as I transition from youthful exuberance to nose hairs and a slowed metabolism, is to learn from those a couple of generations older than you, because they’re probably more stable, and from those younger than you because they’re probably more innocent.

Forget Trust Falls; Try a Game of Throws

As a kid, I always loved it when my dad would throw me up in the air. There was always a hairs-breadth line between uncontrollable giggling from joy and uncontrollable urination from fear. I never really thought about why it was so memorable and enjoyable until I became a father when we adopted three siblings a few years back. Almost by instinct, and probably on the first day we had them at the house, I grabbed little Davey up by the armpits and hurled him into the air. Suddenly, my childhood joy made sense to me as a few things happened.

First, my wife–and everyone around me–gasped and made desperate lunges for the boy. Yes, people seemed to think I was actually capable of hurling him too high into the air, to the point where he’d either get lost in orbit, or at least get hit by a low-flying African Swallow. Apparently, this pic is true:

Throw
Courtesy sycmu.com

Second, the air was filled with the unforgettable sound of involuntary belly laughter, the kind that makes you laugh along with it just as involuntarily. Davey’s eyes shone, his head flew back, and he went completely “rigor risus” (stiffness of laughter). I quickly caught him and held him close just to check in on him and make sure the scales between fear and fun tipped in fun’s direction. They did.

So, I reared up and launched him for another flight, this time with a twist. It goes without saying that I wanted to see how high I could truly get him. And, why not? The more time he’s in the air, the more time I have to get ready to catch him, right? The addition was that I also started trying to see how long I could wait before I caught him, and as soon as I started doing that, the game was out of control.

Davey’s laughter hit new heights (pun!), I was enthralled, and the people around me went into that awkward sniggering people do when they’re not sure if what just happened is okay, like when I insist that my 10-year-old drives home as I leave the grocery store because I’m “just too tired”.

Interestingly, as the game’s intensity increased, Davey made one alteration on his part. He didn’t stop laughing or enjoying himself. He didn’t beg me to stop. He just shifted from the initial head-thrown-back posture to maintaining eye contact with me the entire time. Still the smiles, still the screams, still the glitter in his eyes, just intent on me.

And it’s always like that with the “toss me” game, I’m finding. Give it a shot. Stop reading, go outside, grab a kid, and toss him up in the air a few times. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your own kid, but the game and outcome changes drastically if it isn’t.

I gradually came to realize something about how this activity effected everyone involved. It wasn’t the height that brought enjoyment to me and Davey and concern to those around; it was the time I waited to catch him. That’s when the theology kicked in. In the biz, we call it the “that’ll preach” moment.

So often Christianity, Catholicism in particular, gets the reputation for being dank and daft, more comfortable in the Middle Ages than Modernity. On the contrary, Christianity is not one of servile obedience, where you routinely kill every enjoyment so that your sour and scowling face will get you through the pearly gates. Christians do not punch the religion card so that the God monkey will stay off of their back for the week. This faith is not one of willful ignorance and denial of science and statistics. We don’t hide out inside cold, stone sanctuaries, afraid of what lies outside the church doors.

In my experience, Christianity, including every single tradition, Tradition, doctrine, and dogma providentially accumulated over the course of 2,000 years, serves to adequately prepare and facilitate us for the mystically intimate relationship with God that He offers. At the heart of this faith is the simple act of scurrying up to your “Abba”, saying yes to His offered hands, and then letting Him hurl you into the air.

imageedit_2_8937462944Everything that is true of my “game of throws” with Davey is true of our relationship with God. As the Church as a whole, and we as individuals, progress and endure in divine intimacy, we increasingly find that He not only tosses us into higher, more exhilarating situations, but our eyes increasingly fix on His, as well. The most fun, in my humble opinion, comes from the times He waits a bit longer to catch you than He has before.

Whether it’s been moving to a new country, giving the biggest bill in my wallet when a beggar asks for change, or adopting a third child with only $.07 in our bank account, God has proven time and again that no matter how high and far He tosses me, and no matter how long He seems to wait until He catches me, He won’t drop me. He can’t drop me.

He can’t drop you.

Capable is too chintzy of a word to describe His grasp on the situation. A better term would, of course, be the more biblical one: faithful. If he begins a good work, He is faithful to complete it. When we are unfaithful, when we bungle it and wriggle in the air, even trying to get away, He still catches us. As I’ve said elsewhere, you can trust Him.

None of our minds can fathom, none of our eyes have ever seen, and none of our ears have remotely taken in what He is able to do if we merely look Him in the eye and say, “Let it be done unto me.” When we come to the sanctuary, our place of refuge and safety, we place ourselves in His care and compassion. We receive forgiveness, strength, body, blood, soul, and divinity. Then, in an exhilarating move, our Father tosses us through the doors, out into the world with a simple, “Go, glorifying God by your lives!” And the game of catch begins, with the sanctuary as our gravity, pulling us back each time we reach the arc of our momentum.

And lest we get too proud of ourselves in this journey, the Church consistently reminds us how beautifully small our part in the scenario is. My son does very little when I toss him, besides letting me do so. It is the same with God. Christianity is, in essence, less like an admirable leap of faith, or even a trust fall, and much, much more like a good old game of “toss the kids around”. No matter how long you’re in the air, it’s always worth it to land in His loving, scarred hands.