The Honest Faith: Headline Culture

This week I’ve seen a few things that started this thought.  Why don’t we actually read farther than the headline,  or even,  to use writer jargon, past the fold? Is it because we are weary of the facts that may be presented,  are we afraid of change,  are we looking for a fight,  do we just want to be angry,  are we hurting or helping,  or all of the above?

The things that triggered this thought range from “well that wasn’t cool” to “seriously,  why?!” It began on the news coverage of the latest presidential social media blunders (I’m at a loss at the fact that I’ve used that phrase more than once). Then moved on to a friend posting a status of “social media should have an ‘I’ve read the article before posting this’ tag”. Finally, I saw a headline about an actor whose work I enjoy.  It was obviously click-bait, but the headline made it seem like something much worse than reality had occurred.  So again I ask,  why?

I’ve seen so many writers I respect and admire begin to do this in order to gain readership.  I admit  I’ve done this a few times myself.  Here,  let’s play a game.  Let’s play how many of these headlines have you shared without reading the author’s work Christian blogger edition:

Full disclosure, the last one is mine. How many of you judge an article by its source, its title, how many shares or likes it has, how long it is, who shared it, and so on? How many of these articles are dismissed because of something like that before even opening and reading them? How many of these have had true and honest things to say, but sometimes go unheeded because of one of those things above? How many of you have actually sat down gave your full attention to an author, and read what they had to say? Struggled with it, let their words move you, or find the truth in them?

I could go on about how we’ve become a fast food culture, blah blah blah, but you’ve heard it all before. The thing is we still do it. We still look for those things that may get a rise out of others, or something to entertain us for the 15 minutes we are on break at work. Or the minutes we spend in the bathroom in the morning doing… well you know. What if we stopped? What if we allowed authors to not make up salacious headlines in order to get people to read their work? What if we unfollowed the voices who were just trying to get a rise out of us rather than actually contribute to the conversation (just so you know I’m referring to the social media blunders and others like that, trolls. Not the authors. I respect and admire all of those that I shared above, and more I didn’t share)? What if we decided to do something about those things that don’t add anything to our lives, but anger? What would that look like? Could we even do it? Maybe we’d end up spending much more time looking at “Look at these incredible 25 nerdy room renovations. You’ll never believe what number 10 looks like”. Oh, wait, that follows the salacious headline rule doesn’t it? Shoot…

We’ve been programmed for these things. Seriously, we take our soundbites from our favorite news sources. We take headlines for face value. We take people for face value. We listen to sermons on Sunday mornings and take what we like from them. We listen to our Rabbis, Priests, Pastors, Imams, or whoever and take their soundbites. We do this all without further fact checking. We do it because, well, we are lazy. I admit it. I don’t have the time or energy to look things up. I have a former student that does that for me ;). (Seriously, though, Holli, your work is amazing!) We take what we like for face value, and discard the things we don’t. We don’t let the hard truths that displease us gain any traction because we are afraid. We are afraid of change, being wrong, what it would mean to who we are, actually doing something, or letting go of a long-held belief, I don’t know take your pick.

I struggle to be honest with not just myself, but with you, my readers. I do this not for the fame, but because, like I’ve written so many times before, I want you to know that you are not alone you matter! I want to share what I’m going through, what I’m struggling with in an honest way so that maybe, just maybe, I may find the Divine. I hope to point others in that direction as well. This has become my new ministry, but I struggle with trying to find my own voice when what I have to say doesn’t lend itself to easy, quick soundbites. Granted, I have been making “Motivational” pictures with some of my work because those are some of my favorite things I’ve written (They can be found on the facebook page if you are interested). But, I want to be in conversation.

I think if anything can be learned from the year 2016 and the first half of 2017 as a whole, we have seen some of the worst cases of what our laziness has wrought. Our lack of fact checking, our desire to get easy news, our desire to get news that pleases us, our desire to get a rise out of others, all of these things leads to some rather disastrous consequences. I’m not talking about a certain political candidate or candidates being elected or losing. I’m talking about division. The splits we are making within families, friendships, and the like. We started drawing lines in the sand and saying, “either you agree with me, or you are one of THEM!” We have left each other on the opposite side and have begun pointing fingers so much that I’m surprised that we all haven’t lost eyeballs from the collective amount of finger jabbing. I heard something surprising last week as well. I heard that since 2016 there has been a steady decline in the belief that we, as a country, are civil. I think that’s horrible. I think we so easily dismiss the other without listening to what they have to say. To be honest we have modeled this behavior at all levels of government, churches, and community. Why? Why do we keep doing this?

I believe we need each other. We are not always going to agree on everything. That isn’t possible. We were created differently for a reason. We are supposed to find our common connections and use our different strengths to accomplish wonderful things together. When we take a soundbite, a headline, a sermon, a passing phrase or sentence, or even a person at face value without finding out what the true intentions are, what the truth buried within is, we create division. For some reason, we are happy to do this. I did advocate earlier to remove those voices who do not add anything. I agree with that. I don’t believe you should cause more division, I think you need to remain civil with the other. I think you need to remove whatever it is that is getting a rise out of you time after time. If it means unfollowing them on social media, but still being a friend in real life, so be it. If it means only having coffee with that one person you can’t stand, great! At least you are still trying to hear what they have to say.

I am proposing a new rule. I’m going to call this Miguel’s rule (because I’m making it up, I get to name it alright.): You are not allowed to completely dismiss someone until you have spent at least 12 hours with them, and struggled to see them as complexly as you see yourself. (Granted, there are many exceptions to the rule as there are people that are just toxic and just cannot be around others, that’s a different post for a different day.)

Maybe we need to start engaging more and enraging less. Maybe we need to take on my social experiment from last year and make it another hard rule. This is what I did. When I saw a political post or a headline I didn’t agree with, I forced myself to go and write something I liked about them or some encouragement on the person’s social media feed. I enjoyed it. I got into a lot fewer Facebook arguments while I did so. I encourage you to do the same. Instead of getting mad or automatically sharing due to a headline, go say something nice to the person who shared it first. Then read the article, find the truth, wrestle with the truth, and talk about it with someone. Maybe even learn something new. But always remember reader: You are not alone You matter!

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The Honest Faith: A New Family

Two weeks ago, Cathy and I went to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. The main theme question has stuck with me. It asks the question, “What defines family?”. We explored this a bit in our podcast this week, but yet again that is a topic that I want to further explore in the terms of my faith and my transition into “normalcy” in the church world. What constitutes a family, spiritual or otherwise?

I love my biological family. No, we haven’t always been the best of people toward each other, but what family is? My mother tried her hardest to keep a family together and raise three kids under difficult circumstances. My father worked hard to provide for his family even when things seemed bleak. My brother who was and is still my best friend from birth didn’t always enjoy my company. My sister who, I think, still sees me as her nerdy uncool little brother did her best to try to help me be somewhat presentable to society. We had rough times, but there was an abundance of love there. So much that even though we didn’t have much we welcomed others to share it with us. Now, even though my mom doesn’t find it that funny, my favorite joke is that my family dislikes each other so much that’s why we chose to live in so distant of places from each other. That joke is funny to me because it is so far from the truth. There is love there. Despite our differences, we are blood. We fought with each other, but we also fought for each other.

My non-biological grouping of people I consider to be family comes to mind as well. There is my friend who I’ve known since I was 13 years old. He is and will always be my brother. He was the best man at my wedding. There is the priest who believed in me when it seemed nobody else would, it seemed. He and his family are blood to me as well. There is my friend who had secret plans to set up my wife and me way before we started dating. She was a sister to me. I miss her dearly and still converse with her even though she is now having beers with the Divine on the other side. Those youth who I had the immense pleasure of teaching throughout my career, I still view as family and people I would do anything for.

There is an interpretive art that is commonly accepted as a pattern called soul mates or soul families. There are many different interpretations of this idea. Some believe that you were all connected in a previous lifetime and find each other again in this life. Pretty Idea, but I’m not really a believer in past lives hypothesis’. Another interpretation is that a spirit is re-used in different people. Again, not a concept that I can get behind, but I still see some merit in the thought. But my favorite is that some feel that those whom we feel such a close connection with is that our souls are formed with similar pieces.

There is a saying that is still contested on it’s meaning, “Blood is thicker than water.” It’s commonly known to mean that your family bonds are thicker than those other relationships. Another interpretation is that the bonds formed through “Blood”, such as fighting alongside someone in battle, are thicker than the water of the womb. I can see the truth in both interpretations of the saying. But I want to take the second interpretation a step further.

The Christian and Jewish scriptures often refer to the Divine as being a refiner, or refining. They use terms from metallurgy to describe the process. If you have ever been in a Christian church you have probably heard some person refer to a tough situation as a refining process, maybe even in a sermon. The problem with that is you never want to hear that at the time. It certainly doesn’t help. The thing is, though, I can see it as such now. Those times in our lives when we encounter the fires of life they teach us to get rid of the impurities in our lives. Or if you would rather a different construction metaphor, it sands down the rough edges of our souls so that we may better find connections with each other.

I think that our souls are formed through the experiences in our lives. We find people who have been through some of the same refining processes that we have and we are able to fit together easier because of it. It doesn’t mean that we find a lot of things to connect on, but we do connect with those people especially because of the sanding down of those particular rough edges. We will find others in our lives who we don’t connect with particularly because they still have those rough edges in those areas where we’ve been tempered and refined.

Our biological families connect well because we go through the same fires together, we form non-biological connections because those “others” have gone through similar fires and have similar connection points in their souls. The danger we face as human beings are only examining one aspect of another. We tend to focus on only one part of a person and not see the whole. When we can see other human beings as complex beings like ourselves we can begin to find the similar connection points. We all have connection points though some are a lot harder to find than others. Okay, I realize that this metaphor is getting really double entendre-y really quick. Bear with me though.

I think family is everywhere. Family is ready to happen at a moments notice. You just have to look for it sometimes.  As Peter Quill in the new Guardians movie puts it, “Sometimes, the thing you’ve been looking for your whole life is right there beside you all along.” I think you can make connections with anyone. I think family really is in the eye of the beholder. I will always have my biological family, but there are others I still consider to be family to me. I think that is what the Church is meant to be. It is meant to be that community that we consider to be family. Not just those other people we happen to see at a worship gathering. People who will love, support, and fight with us (even if we fight each other sometimes) no matter what. That is what makes a family to me. What do you think?

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Honest Faith: The Lost Boy

Growing up my biggest fear above anything else was being alone. There were many different reasons for that, and it was also a bit hard to define. Like for instance, I didn’t mind playing in my room by myself if someone else was in the house. I could play on a playground alone if I knew someone else was on the property with me. What I feared was truly being alone. I feel like that has evolved more into a fear of being forgotten. That my life, my work, and the things that I do don’t make a difference. I can point to an episode of “Black Mirror” (Available on Netflix) that would define it rather well. There is an episode of a sort of dystopic future sort of run by a reality talent show. I won’t spoil it but the ending terrified me.

I was reminded of this when I was talking to my wife yesterday. It was the “Hey honey, how was your day?” talk that we usually have at the end of the work day. I was telling her about this podcast that I discovered that day by the pastor who gave up God for a year, and discovered he was an atheist back in 2014. I was telling her about the work that he was doing now and she asked me a question that is stuck in my brain. She asked, rather innocently, “Do you not want to be a Christian anymore?” Still now I don’t know how to respond to that question. I quickly said a “No, that’s not what I was talking about.” But the truth is I don’t know.

The truth is a very tricky thing. I think it takes the right question, phrased in the right way to help you discover what it really is. That question asked of me last night shook me. It helped me to see the truth about some things, and also made things a bit more cloudy. I used to feel God was with me every day. I used to see God in everything. I would be inspired by little things and their relation to the greater divine all around us. I used to. The truth is I’m lost more now than ever. I don’t know if what I was seeing or feeling was truly the divine or something I was just fooling myself into believing.

I look back on my life and wonder if I caused my own isolation. Ministry is a lonely and isolating profession. It is no wonder that many of those who are in ministry suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. While ministers are meant to journey alongside, many are pushed to the front and told to lead, yet few follow. I noticed something while I was in ministry. When I met someone new and told them what I did for a living they would, more often than not, take a step back. As if somehow proximity to me would cause me to add guilt to their life. So as a reflex to that I started walling myself off from people. I would protect myself from getting hurt by people by not letting them inside in the first place. I discovered now in my transition that I don’t have anyone that I feel really sees me for who I am. I feel forgotten, alone, and lost. As if my worst fears have become reality.

There is one place that I still see the divine. Every day I see it. It’s in the smile of my son. That little boy is delighted by all that he sees. There was a song that a friend told me that I should listen to after he was born, primarily because his name is Peter. I keep coming back to this song this year. He is my peter pan, and I am his lost boy.

I think while we have been so busy trying to find ourselves in this society we walled ourselves off from each other. We got so very lost while we trying to grow up. We got caught up in the digital not realizing that it was cutting us off from one another. Is it just me, or are we all lost? Have we forgotten to be human to each other? Have we forgotten how to develop real human connections? I ask because this lost boy is trying to find his place in the world.

I’m trying to find my way back to the place I was before. I still want to see the divine in everything. I want to be inspired by little things again. I hold so tightly to that little piece of the Divine in my life because at times it’s all I have. I think as human beings we are meant to see the divine in each other. I think that is why community is so important. To be honest I don’t know how to find a community that I would feel comfortable being myself in. I don’t know how to do that, but I’m going to try.

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Honest Faith: An Introduction

Audio version

Introduction

My name is Miguel. I’m a human being. I struggle. I fall. Sometimes I think of beautiful things, sometimes my thoughts are bogged down with darkness. I am. I exist. That is all I can claim is true in these moments. Recently I have set out on a quest to rediscover who I am, this is no easy quest. It is one that I’m often reminded has no end as our true selves are constantly in flux. But I wanted to really figure out what makes me, me. Finding the truest me that there is. So here is where I begin.

The Truest me

Recently I’ve been trying to clear myself of fluff. Both metaphorically and literally, I put on a few pounds during the pregnancy and first months of my son’s life. I decided to start cutting things out of my life that didn’t need to be there. I have been trying to very hard to figure out this question for myself “Who do I want to be?”. On the basest level, I discovered a few things that I want to be known of me:

A Loving Man

A few years ago my friend in his best man speech said of me that I was one of the most loyal and loving people he had ever met. Granted, it may have just been flowery language to pep up his speech. But a few years later a teenager who I had been working with at a church said in her goodbye speech to me that I was the embodiment of the love of God I so often taught them about. Both of these instances have told me that even if I’m not those things that I want to be those things. I want to be a loving man. I want it said of me that I loved with my entire being. That the love they saw caused me to be fiercely loyal to my friends and family, if you have met me you are one of the two to me.

A Safe Place

Recently the symbol of the safety pin has gained popularity. Despite it being another form of slacktivism, it is meant to show those who feel oppressed that the person wearing it is a “safe person”. Meaning that they will come to their aid in time of distress. This is another thing that I want to be said of me, that I am a safe place for all people. That no matter your age, race, gender, creed, orientation, mental ability, economic status, history, type of pie you love, or even if you hate pie (but really who hates pie?) that I will be a safe place for you. That when I am around I will come to your aid and defend you, even if you hate pie.

An Encounter With the Divine

More than just coming to the aid and defense a safe person is someone you can talk to without judgment or condemnation. I will talk more about my faith in a moment, but I want to be somebody who embodies the Imago Dei or for you non-latin speakers the image of God. That when you meet me or have a conversation with me that you can somehow through me have an encounter with the Divine, whatever the Divine looks like to you.

Out of everything else in my life I want those three things to be true of me. That in Miguel you will have a loving and safe encounter with the Divine.

Honest Faith

The name comes from a few things. I’ve been told that I was just trying to copy the popularity of the honest trailers on YouTube. But it’s really been something I’ve been considering for a long time. I tried to do some through my writing in here, an odd youtube video there, and all that I did in my career before. But I never was able to sort out what it was I wanted from this.

Honesty

Back in my college days, my theater director gave me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in my life. She said that whenever I was on stage I portrayed the truth. I’ve never forgotten that. I’ve always wanted to be the most honest that I can be with myself and others. I haven’t always succeeded at this, especially when I feel cornered and trapped. Writing and theater are two things that I have been told that I’m good at. I want it said of my art that I’m honest. I want it said of those things that portray me the most are as real as they can be.

Faith

One of my favorite quotes is one from Frederick Buechner:

Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting.

In a talk that I gave to teenagers a few years ago, I likened it to being homesick for a place you have never been. There are so many of those things in our lives. There are so many fandoms nowadays that you can take your pick for a place you are homesick for that you have never been to Hogwarts, A galaxy far far away, the starship enterprise, Narnia, Tamriel, Westeros, Middle-Earth, the fringe division, S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, the hall of Justice, and on and on… I think that’s a form of faith, in fact, there is a wonderfully funny video about how religion is just the biggest nerdom of them all. I have been to many of these worlds through books, movies, tv-shows, and comic books. I’ve brought back many important lessons for life, and I think they are the relics and stories of our times. The divine is revealed to me in these things as well as Scripture, so all of my faith stuff is going to have a bit of a nerdy twist to it. It’s my movement toward the Divine in all things

I want my art to reflect these things both honesty and my own nerdy sense of faith.

My Honest Faith

I am a man that has been kicked by the small “c” church a bunch. Sometimes it was my fault, others it wasn’t. I’m not going to go into specifics because honestly, I think that would do more harm than good. But I have just about given up on the small “c” church because I know what the large “C” church should look like and have encountered it only a select few times. Recently, I haven’t been on the best terms with the small “c” church. I had given up on practicing for a while, but now I’m taking a journey back into faith with a newfound sense of purpose. I’m going to be encountering the small “c” church in a new way than I have before and I will write about that as well. I figure if I’m going to make true art, it would probably best be told from my true to life struggles finding my new place in the small “c” church. I want to share my journey with you, and I hope you will tell me about your own honest faith journeys as well!

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Dear Son, On Thanksgiving

Dear Son,

Right now, your mom is giving you a bath. You like baths. You splash around in the water and smile up at us while we attempt to clean you. You still try to look at everything and end up making it difficult for us to try to get our goals accomplished. This is going to be one of my fondest memories of your early years. Today is a day of memories and taking stock of all we have. We look at what we have to be thankful for. For us, your parents, that is a lot. It may not seem like it to us right now, but we have a lot to be thankful for.

I remember a long time ago when I was little, your Nanna K and Abuelo, would cook together. We lived a long way away from the rest of our family so we often had our thanksgiving meals at our home in south Texas. One of those years I remember being really warm. In fact, I think there is a picture somewhere of your Abuelo in shorts and a t-shirt, standing on the sink opening the bay windows in the kitchen to air it out a bit. I remember that we always had wonderful food for thanksgiving: Turkey, Tamales, shrimp, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, chips and salsa, sometimes guacamole, sometimes that salad your Abuelo would make with jicama and oranges, and pecan pie. We always tried to have  our family with us. Thanksgiving was a time for family. No matter who was around the table at dinner, they were family.

Food has always meant a lot to me and my family. Your Abuelo was a cook for the Navy. That’s probably why he loved those cheesy Steven Segal movies… He loves to cook. Your Nanna K loves to cook. She made experimental dishes. She shows people love through food. That is something that your aunt, uncle, and I  try to carry on in our own homes and families. We show our love to other people through food. You may have noticed by now that I try to do the majority of the cooking at home, it’s because I love you and your mom. That whenever we have people over, I try to make food for them. I want them to know that I love them no matter who they are. Thanksgiving is the time of the year when that idea shines the brightest and boldest!

Son, Your family will change over the years, but one thing I want to impress upon you is that no matter who is around our table at any time they are family. When you are grown and no longer living with us, I want you to continue that tradition. No matter the menu, no matter the meal, no matter the company when you break bread with someone they are family. Especially at Thanksgiving no matter who you bring to our table, or who you invite to your table when you are older, they are loved and family.

Love,

Your Dad

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I may be young, BUT…

More and more I’ve been seeing people accuse us millennials of being whiners or just plain coddled. Oh, and just so we are on the same page here this is what a millennial is. That’s right if you were born 1980-2000 I hate to tell you, but you are a millennial. You may not think you fit into the “mold” of a stereotypical millennial, but since when does anyone fit the stereotypes placed upon them? I’m not going to talk about why we millennials are great, I’ve already done that. I’m going to talk about why we can’t stay silent any longer.

At thirty-three years old, the last word I would use to describe myself is young. I don’t feel young. I’ve been through enough life to last a few lifetimes, and I know that I have a lot more life to go. The word is thrust upon us in an attempt to dismiss us or dismiss the ideas, and ideals we hold dear. The worst thing is those who are thrusting this word upon us are our loved ones, our parents, our teachers, our extended family. Now there is nothing wrong with the word young. In fact, I don’t mind being called young. I just don’t like when people use a word to generalize or dismiss a large group of people because they don’t think the same way. (See the last few weeks and last few years of news stories blaming millennials.)

I get why people want to dismiss us right now. We make up the large block of protesters and people who are upset at the election results in the United States. It’s easy to dismiss us as whiny, or angry. Heck, we are even doing it to each other. Half of Millennials voted democrat while the other half was mostly republican and third party. We’ve been pointing fingers at each other and calling each other names because we happened to vote for the “Hateful” or the “Corrupt” or the “Seriously, Him?” politician. Our nation is deeply divided and one of our favorite things to do as human beings, instead of actually sitting down and talking, is to point the finger and blame someone else. A lot of people, on all sides, are angry right now and somewhat rightly so.

Millennials are a generation that was raised to be accepting, to be tolerant, and try to get along no matter the differences. We grew up with tv-shows like Saved by the Bell, Family Matters, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Doug, Boy meets World, and so on. All shows that tried to be inclusive, some failing miserably and only having token minority characters. We grew up with books that were highly inclusive, Harry Potter (to name the major powerhouse). We were taught to believe in each other. That our differences of culture, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or beliefs didn’t matter that much. We grew up believing that “All men (and women) were created equal.” In fact, the overwhelming majority of the population believe that phrase came from the Bible,  it doesn’t. We were raised to believe that this is what America stood for.

America, the land of the free, and home of the brave. We believed in that freedom, we believed in that inclusivity, we believed in our bravery, and we believed in each other. Until we discovered differently. This election brought to light a lot of horrible things that were already happening in this country. These things didn’t just start happening, they aren’t going to begin happening under the new presidential administration, they already have been happening. Granted, many millennials are upset without knowing why, but I think this is why we are upset. We are angry because the veil has been removed and we can see that the better world we were taught to believe in as children was a false nicety, and now we are called whiny for not realizing it sooner. The problem is we turned on each other and point fingers at each other because of this realization. The truth is it’s always been there. Here take a few minutes and listen to the man that became the most trusted journalist of our generation, despite the fact he’s a comedian:

We voted, great! Our civic duty was done. A lot of us didn’t vote, and yet still complain. Okay, I guess there is that too. But the last thing that we need right now is more division.

Just an aside to millennials now: Shape up! Grow up! A lot of us are in our 20’s and 30’s now. It’s time for us to stop fighting with each other over who’s fault it is that one candidate got elected over the other, the truth is we still would be if it happened the other way around. The truth is the ideas, and ideals we were brought up to believe in, are just that ideals. It is time for us to rise up. We are adults now. Let’s be adults. Let us see the injustices done to our fellow human beings and work to stop them. The hard disgusting truth is that we have never been the home of the free, and land of the brave. We have been the home of the marginally oppressed, and land of the perpetually terrified. So now we rise. We fight. We proclaim as one that we hold this truth to be self-evident that all people are created equal. Stop pointing fingers at each other, start sharing a table. Stop calling each other names, start calling each other on the phone. Stop engaging in arguments about who got us here in social media, start being social in the community and get to know your fellow man.

To the rest of you, non-millennials, stop dismissing us because we are young. We may be young, but we know a thing or two. We may be young, but you were the ones who raised us. We may be young, but we, like you did before us, are now fighting to make our world a better place for our children. We may disagree on how to get there, that’s okay. We may be frightened by different things than you are, that’s okay. We may be angry now, but we are rising soon. We are turning that into action, and if you want to help us in making this world a better place, join us. Get to know why we are angry, don’t dismiss it. Understand our point of view, and help us understand yours. We can’t make the world a better place without you. We need you. You’ve been here longer than we have. You know a thing or two. Help us, let us help you too.

I may be young, I may be upset, I may be many things, but I’m only getting started. I’m going to fight for the ideas and ideals I was raised to believe in. I’m going to continue to believe and fight for a world where we can see our fellow human beings as equals. I’m going to fight to make the world a better place to live in, for myself, my wife, my son, and you. Won’t you join me?

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The Weight of Words

When I was young, my mom took us on a lot of road trips. We lived in the deep south of Texas, so you needed to road trip if you were planning on traveling anywhere. We saw a lot of the country on these road trips. We did a lot of things on these trips: played games, listened to audio-books (Side note: Did you know that you can buy an audio book at any cracker barrel and trade it in at a different cracker barrel for a different audio book for like a dollar?), read, slept, talked, listened to classic rock (Thank you very much for the education in good music, Mom!), and stopped at interesting landmarks. I’m not sure how my mom managed to do these without going completely insane.

On one particular road trip, I remember that we had stopped at a bookstore. I found a book that I really really wanted. It was a blue book with a lot of clip art graphics on the front of it. I’m not quite sure I remember the title of it, but it was a book about the history of words. It was in the style of a dictionary. My mom was not at all convinced that I was going to read this book, but I insisted. She bought it for me. Whether out of spite or actual interest, I honestly can’t recall, I read the book. I remember there were interesting little stories about the origins of each of the words in the book. Ever since that time I’ve been fascinated by words, and how they derived their meaning.

This helped a lot in my theater training and acting projects since. Every word is placed on a page by the author. Those words have meaning. I can remember, more times than I’d like to admit, a director giving me a note to go over my lines because I missed a word. This taught me that every word carries weight. Small, large, complicated, compound, simple, flowery, or grandiose every word mattered.

Our words have weight, they matter, they came from some place, and we meant them in one way or another. This idea was especially significant when I was working with teenagers. I worked with a group of teens who would often lash out at each other “in jest” or sarcasm that they didn’t mean. So we had a discussion one youth group evening about the power of words. We talked about how even if you didn’t fully mean the thing you said about someone you were joking with, that it still kind of hurt that person. We decided that we needed to start holding each other accountable for those things. I admit I offended as much as they did. I never realized how much my jokes were sometimes at the expense of another in an attempt to be endearing.

I was taught a phrase to repeat when I was being bullied as a child. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” No matter how many times I repeated that phrase, the words always hurt me. Maybe it was those experiences that taught me the weight of words. Words have the power to give life or take it away. Words have the power to create worlds. Words can take us on incredible journeys or stop us dead in our tracks. Words have weight.

I could go off and make this another political post about the horrible words used this year by all political candidates, media outlets, social media posts, etc. I could do that, but I won’t. I am not going to rehash all of that bluster because you know it all already. You have heard it, read it, lived it, or tried to ignore it. This isn’t about those words, this is about your words.

I know that many people are tired. We have been worn down by this campaign. No matter the side you backed, you know what I mean. This has made a lot of people irritable and spent. Whether you happen to be victoriously irritable and spent or defeatedly so, I imagine that most are. It makes it very easy for anyone to lash out at another. I have seen a lot of words being thrown around by these spent people on social media, in person, and in other ways. These are not light words either. These are things that carry weight. A lot of weight. The things we say, type, or otherwise put out into the world matter.

I just want to ask this question: Have you thought about your words?  ( Where they came from, what it is you are saying, are you hurting someone else and why, are you giving life or taking it away, are you trying to build something good or bad, what is it you are trying to do with what you are saying, why are you doing that)

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Dear Son, On Pain and Growth

Dear Son,

I’m blown away at getting to know you. You decided to be born three weeks early. It was a little unexpected, but nothing that we couldn’t deal with. After all we have been waiting for you since 2013. This is probably one of the hardest things for you to read, and for me to write. But it’s something that I have thought a lot about. Pain is a catalyst to growth.

Now it certainly is not the only only one, nor is it the easiest. But almost every time there is growth there is pain that goes along with it. Right now you are fussy and don’t like change, especially when it means me having to put a fresh diaper on you. That’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking more about what you go through when you start cutting your first teeth or how your muscles feel after a growth spurt. There is pain, but it’s there for a reason.

In 2013 your mother and I found out that you were to be born. We know it wasn’t exactly you, but one our coping mechanisms has been to think that you just weren’t ready or you didn’t like the original versions of the bodies that were forming. We miscarried our first two pregnancies. This was extraordinarily emotionally painful for us, and in fact there is still a lot of healing the two of us have to do yet. Loss of life is probably one of the most difficult pains we as human beings face. Because there is so much uncertainty that is associated with it. We don’t know what happens after death. There are many religions that make their best guesses at it, and even our own does that as well. The truth is we only know by experiencing it ourselves. Without this pain that we endured, we would never have fully appreciated every single breath you take. Every moment you are alive is a miracle to us. Every diaper change that you fight me on and wail at the top of your lungs through is a joy to me because you are alive. That is the rainbow, the silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel, or whatever someone wants to call it. Without the pain, there would have been no growth.

Of course I’m not saying I’m going to subject you to painful circumstances so that you grow! Certainly not! I’m saying that in life you will go through things that are painful. I’m going to try my best to keep you from those things, and I probably will try to shield you from pain that you should go through as well. But know that when you do encounter pain that it only means growth is coming or is in the process. I know this doesn’t lessen the pain. In fact it may even make it worse. One thing that I have learned as the neurotic paranoid anxiety mess that I am though is that it always helps to hear that someone loves you, and that no matter what they will have your back. I love you and no matter the pain you go through, I will be there for you to help you grow.

I know that some of those painful things may be caused by me. I know I’m going to make mistakes, and as I sit here listening for your cry I’m so incredibly terrified by that fact. I know though that I love you. I know though that I am going to try my hardest to be the best dad I can be. Every boy struggles to either be better than or completely not like their father before them. I know that there will be something that I do along the way that will make you feel that way.  I pray that it will be more inspiring than painful, but you can’t plan things like that. I pray that you will love more, learn more, and reach higher heights than even I can fathom. I know some of these things aren’t possible without hardships, but I hope that you will know that I will be there for you even when you don’t want me to. I love you beyond what words can say. I never fully understood what a father’s love was until you were born. Every single moment of your life that grows more and more.

Son, You will endure pain. I’m sorry that you have to. It’s necessary in life. No good story is born without conflict though. We as human beings try our hardest to avoid it, and in fact many of the stories I will soon share with you begin just that way. I will be here though when you fall. I will pick you up and dust you off. I will bandage your wounds. I will care for you until you can get up and try again. Because son, that’s life. Life is getting up and trying again until we get it right. Then there will be a new thing to try, a new thing to fail at, a new thing to get right. We live, we grow, and sometimes we fail. There will be pain, but I hope, I pray I will be there to help you through all of it. I love you, and no matter what I’ll have your back.

 

Love,

Your dad

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