Tag Archives: Christianity

The Secret Way Sex and Faith Collide to Destroy Your Marriage

secret

(Image/OCD Life)

Before we begin, let’s address three truths everyone should understand:

  • No matter your spiritual beliefs, Christianity’s reach and impact has been enormous through the centuries, and likely affects your life in ways you’ve never even considered. While only 33 percent of people globally identify themselves as Christians, the VAST majority of the English-speaking world (the only language in which I write and speak fluently) are Christian. That’s 83 percent of Americans, 76 percent of Europeans, 80 percent of South Africans, and about half of the population of Australia and New Zealand.
  • You’re probably going to get married or be involved in a long-term relationship which approximates marriage. Humans crave connection and companionship. In the United States, 95 percent of people 18 and over are either married, formerly married, or planning to marry. That’s 9.5 out of 10, which any statistician will tell you is basically everyone.
  • Sex is like, totally a big deal to people. It’s easy to prove. “Sex” and “s e x” are the top two Google searches every day out of the 3.5 BILLION that people type into the world’s top search engine. More than 250 babies are born every minute worldwide. (Sex-ed spoiler alert: Most pregnancies occur from a man and a woman doing the hibbity-dibbity, and most hibbity-dibbity sessions do not result in pregnancy.) Lastly, the pornography industry earns about $100 billion per year globally (if you believe the stats I read on the internet). The Hollywood film industry releases about 600 movies per year, and makes about $10 billion in profit. The porn industry produces 13,000 films per year, and makes about $15 billion in profit, which means the adult film industry makes more money than the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined.

I think Christianity might be negatively affecting young men in ways that has produced generations of guys who hide their sexual desires or activities out of shame, which then leads to relationship-destroying trust issues in marriage.

NOTE: I am NOT saying Christianity is bad. So don’t even, please. I’m saying in its current form culturally, modern Christian teachings might be accidentally creating a human condition that I believe fundamentally harms marriages.

And I think this might lead to a wide-range of commonly occuring marriage-killing conditions, including:

  • Secret pornography use.
  • Sexual anxiety that can adversely affect performance.
  • Discomfort discussing sex with their wives, which can prevent intimacy building, and lead to wives questioning their own desirability and self-worth.
  • A belief that all sexual thoughts and desires and activities are taboo outside of marriage, which can create a psychological condition where forbidden sex becomes a turn-on in a way “approved” sex with one’s spouse never could. The negative implications of which should be obvious.

…..

Is porn messing up your relationship?

If so, I made new friends yesterday who I think can help you. They’re a husband-wife team who I hope to do a lot more work with.

…..

Burn in Hell, Sinners

Let’s start at the beginning.

Me and all of my friends were taught growing up that any sexual thought or action we had was sinful (if we weren’t married, and none of us were because we were little kids).

I don’t mean sinful like “That’s naughty!”

I mean sinful like “If you die—which could literally happen any minute—Jesus is going to be so disappointed in you that he might send you to Hell for eternity!”

Have you guys ever spent a couple of hours in a hospital waiting room? Stood in line at the DMV? Got stuck in bumper-to-bumper vehicular traffic when you were in a huge hurry? That’s just hours.

ETERNITY is FOREVER.

No end. Holy crap. Have you ever contemplated eternity before? You probably haven’t, and you shouldn’t, because I’m pretty sure everyone who does has an aneurysm and dies.

Nobody talks about this, but we need to, because it’s a thing that’s destroying people’s marriages, but the root causes (fear, guilt, and shame) are never dealt with in healthy or productive ways.

A HUGE number of young men are growing up with naturally occurring sexual urges, and believing that if they act on them, there’s the chance they will spend FOREVER experiencing the worst-possible pain and suffering imaginable. Perpetual shitty days. Not regular-shitty. Mega-shitty. Forever.

Sexual desires, thoughts, and certainly actions (the ultimate sign of weakness and low self-control when you consider what’s at stake, right?) produce SHAME. Not a little. A lot.

And profound feelings of shame can cause men to do some very funny things, almost all of which can lead to divorces nobody wants.

English-speaking countries, where Christianity is prevalent, has NOT made it safe for ANYONE to discuss the human activity that MOST people think about, and want to do more than anything else (depending on individual circumstances, of course), every day.

I’m 99 percent sure that isn’t Jesus’ fault. I don’t think the New Testament writers ever quoted him saying the things I was taught.

It’s a condition that crept up organically. No one set out to create generations of sexually dysfunctional men and couples. It’s a consequence of teaching billions of people that they’re doomed to an eternity of fiery torment if they have an orgasm before they’re married, or even think about it too much.

Do Guys, or Their Wives, Understand the Impact of Sexual Shame on Their Marriage?

I grew up like this, and while nobody meant to screw me up, I think that’s what happened anyway.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe I craved it even more than I would have simply because I was a person.

Sex was forbidden, so maybe every time I didn’t succeed at saving myself for marriage, I felt fear that I would be punished for eternity, I felt fear that I contributed to jeopardizing the spiritual health of someone else, I felt ashamed that I wasn’t strong and disciplined enough to do what’s “right” or to be a “good” person, that I’d let down my parents, and the people I used to go to church with, and that I failed to live up to the behavioral standards all the adults around me seemed to demonstrate.

When I get married someday, everything will be okay.

I wouldn’t have to be afraid, or be ashamed. I wouldn’t be “bad” anymore.

But then I got married, but I didn’t feel any different.

I’d already felt guilty thousands of times because of sexual thoughts or activities. I didn’t know how to shut it off.

I didn’t know how to talk about it with my wife. I didn’t want her to know that I was “bad.” That I was “weak.” I didn’t want to poison our marital bed with shame.

I wanted my wife. Lovely woman, she is. But there were so many times I avoided being honest with her about things I thought and felt, either because I was trying to “protect” her from dirty, evil things, or because I was trying to conceal things about me that I was worried she might consider perverse or offensive or otherwise undesirable.

And I’m left with a couple of simple questions:

  1. Did my fear and shame and embarrassment related to sharing my true thoughts and feelings about sex impact my marriage negatively, and was that a major contributor to my eventual divorce?
  2. If I never felt fear or shame or embarrassment while discussing sex with my wife, is it possible we could have built intimacy, and created a relationship-strengthening connection in that way?

I believe the answer to both of those questions is: Yes.

I’m almost 40 and I don’t know things. I just think things.

Today, the only thing I’m sure of is that I don’t know anything for certain.

I know that SOMETHING is true. Something is Absolute Truth. But I also know that I currently don’t know what that Absolute Truth is. Maybe nobody does, even if they believe they do and tell you that they do.

And that’s a scary thing, right? Uncertainty?

Because I used to KNOW things. And there’s comfort in certainty. There’s comfort in a foundational belief system that guides your decision-making and calibrates your moral compass.

I was raised in a small Ohio town, where almost everyone went to church and believed that Jesus wanted you to vote Republican.

We’re not going to debate theology here.

I’m not here to be an advocate for, nor discourage, a faith-based life.

I think Jesus and his core message are all kinds of rad, but I sometimes have doubts about some of the people who claim to follow him.

I don’t claim to know the mysteries of the universe. I’m just pretty sure divorce is bullshit, and messing up all kinds of lives in all kinds of ways.

And sex—or a lack thereof—can be one of the greatest influences on divorce.

And if we continue to heap shame on young men because of their sexual desires in the name of Good and Evil, or Faith and Love; and we never create a safe environment for them to discuss it without being judged, mocked, or rejected, how can we realistically expect the success rate of long-term relationships to improve?

I don’t pretend to know what’s right or wrong.

I don’t pretend to know how to reconcile helping children to not feel fear and shame because of things damn near EVERYONE thinks and feels while trying to impart on them a deeply held spiritual belief.

I don’t pretend to know what God or Yahweh or Jesus or Allah or anyone—all-powerful or otherwise—wants us to actually do, think or feel.

But I do know that if we don’t start having this conversation, nothing is ever going to improve.

So many silent sorrows you’ll never hear from again,
And now that you lost tomorrow, is yesterday still a friend?
All the bridges we built were burned
Not a single lesson was learned
Everything that mattered is just a city of dust covering both of us.

The men who grew up like me may never find the courage to talk to their wives about how it might be negatively affecting their relationship.

And their wives, missing critical pieces of information, may never know WHY something is happening or not happening.

But maybe if he did, and maybe if she did, something amazing would happen.

I don’t know.

I just think.

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Maybe Jesus Was a Lousy Carpenter

bad fence

“Thanks for building our fence, Jesus. We promise to leave you a fair review on the Angie’s List bulletin board next time we’re in town.” (Image/Home Services by Gary)

I don’t know whether things like building inspectors or mechanisms for people to leave positive and negative customer reviews existed in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

But maybe in the Nazareth town square there was a bulletin board of some kind where townspeople could leave reviews.

“Ezekiel the shepherd did an amazing job! He took our goats and pigs from Town A to Town B in just a few weeks’ time and he only ate three of our goats to survive! If you need a shepherd/goat herder for a cross-country flock transfer, Zeke’s totally your guy!”

Or maybe.

“We hired Ishmael to help us harvest figs and grapes. He was the absolute worst. He showed up late every day, collected the fewest figs of any hired farmhands, and he was always walking around the property naked with nothing but fig leaves covering his privates! Gag me. Ishmael is a dirty, fig-stealing nudist, and we will NEVER hire him again!”

And, just maybe, Jesus of Nazareth was a subpar carpenter. Maybe in today’s online-review terms, he had a 2.3-star rating.

“Our family hired Jesus the carpenter to help us build a barn. And we feel morally obligated to say what an absolute gem of a guy he is. Literally, the most kind and patient person we’ve ever met. I was giving him crap about being late half the days he worked here, and Jesus calmly explained how he’d stopped on the way over to help some sick and hungry people, and by the time he finished explaining, I wasn’t even mad anymore! He’s amazing. But, we’d also be doing our neighbors a disservice if we overlooked Jesus’ work. I mean, the guy’s a BRILLIANT philosopher and demonstrates impeccable character… but good God, his miter joints and tongue-and-groove work are about as shoddy as we’ve ever seen. Forty-five-degree angles, Jesus! Amiright? Goodness. We’re going to have to redo half of the barn next year, and when we call Joseph, we’re going to politely request that he not bring Jesus along with him. The entire back-half of the roof is leaking water every time it rains! I’ve got buckets of water everywhere! Anyone know a guy who can turn it into wine? I need a drink!”

No matter what you believe about Jesus, I encourage you to consider that he might not have been an amazing carpenter.

I’m a long-time Jesus guy, so I had a little trouble dealing with the idea when I first considered it. But I think your life will suck more if you run away from discomfort all the time, so I hope even if you’re also a long-time Jesus person, you’ll let the idea roll around your mind a little.

It’s amazing the stuff we don’t think about. REALLY important things.

For many people in the world, Jesus is the focal point of their spiritual lives. PERFECT. SINLESS. DIVINE.

For many people, Jesus = God.

I insist we not have any religious or theological discussions on the matter. Because that’s not the point.

The point is: You’re a human being. And you’re a miracle. And you’re amazing. And you’re capable of doing incredibly beautiful and inspiring things, and I couldn’t believe in you more.

But you know what you also are? Thoughtless. Wrong. Confused. Misinformed. Misremembering. Flawed.

Those aren’t value judgments. Those are simply true things that come along with each and every one of our Welcome to Earth gift packs when we arrive.

And I think this is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for people to understand about themselves—this idea that no matter how intelligent or healthy or functional we are, we get things wrong a lot.

When you KNOW you’re right and are disagreeing with someone else who also KNOWS they’re right, bad things tend to happen—especially when you’re in a romantic relationship or marriage with them.

I don’t think I’m going to blow the minds of anyone in the relationship counseling or family therapy space by identifying THAT as the root cause of the vast majority of relationship dysfunction and human emotional suffering.

And I can only think of two things that might help:

  1. Encouraging smart and healthy communication techniques.
  2. Encouraging people to start questioning their beliefs and holding them to the same level of scrutiny they’re applying to others’.

Every instinct in your body is to avoid doing this. You start rattling your inner Beliefs cage, and your whole world can feel unsteady.

But it’s what we’ve got to do. We must.

Uncomfortable Truths > Comfortable Wrongs

It’s the difference between being a slave in the Matrix, or living free in the Real World.

What Might You Be Wrong About?

I want to be SUPER-clear on something. I am NOT trying to challenge your core beliefs. Never. I promise. Those are for you and no one else.

But I think calling attention to things—VERY serious and sacred things for many of us—and then pointing out how thoughtless and careless we are with some of those beliefs can help illustrate how silly we can be. Ultimately, that silliness can cost us healthy relationships with those we love most, and lead to the most pain we can ever feel. The pain of breaking on the inside after your family or marriage or friendship is torn apart can feel infinitely more uncomfortable than can the process of challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.

NEVER FORGET—the truth will always hold up to intense scrutiny. Truth is truth. It CAN’T be proven false. So rest easy, truth seekers.

Santa Claus is my favorite example for this conversation.

I was wrong about Santa Claus. I believed totally and completely for about five or six years of my life that an overweight, bearded, jolly man in a bright red suit flew through the air in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer, and delivered Christmas presents to every well-behaved child on the planet in one night.

I believed that even though I woke up on various Christmas mornings in Iowa, in Ohio, in Missouri, and in Florida when I was little that Santa magically always knew where I was.

I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but Santa could keep track of things like that. I was too young to realize that’s even more improbable than flying reindeer.

Santa was real. And there wasn’t a damn thing you could do to convince me otherwise.

Finally a holiday season came along where by that time I’d heard enough rumblings from friends via their older siblings enough times to finally have the breakthrough: Ugh. Our parents are playing Santa. That’s not a shot at parents. Nor a call to destroy childhood innocence, or a sense of wonder which we should all demonstrate no matter what.

But I have to deal in reality. I believed in something I felt certain was true. I later discovered it wasn’t.

Want your relationships to be awesome? Be mindful of the fact that you are capable of wholeheartedly believing in things that aren’t true. That realization allows us to demonstrate the humility necessary to experience healthy intimate relationships and cultivate meaningful, unbreakable friendships.

Jesus Might Not Have Even Practiced Carpentry

Thanks to white European artists becoming famous, having their work spread far and wide, and then having Europeans bring their homeland’s artwork across the Atlantic ocean 250 years ago, I grew up only seeing the images of Jesus I imagine most of you think of when you hear the name “Jesus.”

White guy. Long hair. Piercing eyes.

But Jesus was a Nazarene. He was Middle Eastern. I’m not pretending to know what he looked like. But I think we can safely assume it’s NOT like the images we all grew up seeing in the United States.

I had trouble with that at first. That was a little bit like the Santa thing.

Do you ever think about that no one ever even called him Jesus?

His name was Yeshu’a ben Yosef. After all of the translating from Hebrew-Aramaic into Greek, then to English, you end up with a name that’s the equivalent of Joshua or Jesus.

Christians grow up learning about Jesus working as a carpenter. Despite my juvenile jokes about him possibly doing shoddy carpentry, Jesus was likely not a contractor doing a bunch of framing and finishing work.

The original Greek word was “tekton.” Which is more like “craftsman” or “builder.” And when you start digging into all the word stuff, it’s not hard to see that Jesus may have always been more in the philosopher/teacher/Rabbi line of work “crafting” and “building” the following that evolved into Christian faith.

And if the image of a Middle Eastern man named Yeshu’a not practicing actual carpentry, OR maybe so, but not at a high level, can be so radically different from my lifelong image of Christ, ISN’T IT POSSIBLE THAT HUMAN BEINGS WHO DISAGREE WITH ME ON ANY SUBJECT AREN’T WRONG?

I’m not asking you to doubt your beliefs. I’m not asking you to abandon confidence or faith. And I’m NOT suggesting that your most sacred personal beliefs are like childhood beliefs about Santa.

I’m only asking you to allow yourself to be wrong.

About EVERYTHING.

I’m asking you to ask good questions with a curious mind and heart.

Not to create doubt and disconnection. To seek Truth and create lasting connection.

Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. With yourself. With others. With Life that we see and feel on Earth, as well as the Life beyond these bones.

Sometimes there’s Right. Sometimes there’s Wrong.

It’s hard to choose a path when we can’t tell the difference.

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A Crooked Soul Trying to Stay Up Straight

(Image/nature.com)

(Image/nature.com)

I’d like to tell you I’m a man of deep, unshakable faith. I’d like to tell you I know the real, actual truth about the universe and meaning of life so I could share the secret with you.

That’s a big deal when you’re a Christian. Certainty. Certainty wearing a “Hello, my name is Faith” sticker.

Maybe it’s a big deal for Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and Atheists, too. Maybe you’re only a good member of your faith community if you believe everything you’re taught.

Understand something about me: I only saw good, kind, decent versions of Christians growing up—loving and charitable people who I only witnessed doing good things, and never doing bad things. I think that’s why I always felt ashamed when I was younger for wanting to make out with the cute girl in the church pew in front of me, or for questioning whether I’m literally supposed to believe that God once lost His temper and intentionally flooded the entire world killing every man, woman, child, animal, and plant which wasn’t on a giant wooden boat built by Noah and his family large enough to house two of every type of animal on Earth, followed by Noah’s family incestuously repopulating the world.

I nonetheless had mountains of evidence that Christians were good people. And since I knew a bunch of them, and had no reason to doubt them, I grew up believing all of the finer points of Catholic Christianity.

And let me tell you, that’s not an easy thing. I was just a kid. A pretty good and nice one too.

There wasn’t any ambiguity in our rules:

Any orgasm outside of marriage?

Going to Hell.

A hit off a joint or one too many drinks at a party?

You’re gonna burn.

Profane language?

Holy shit! An eternity of torturous fiery terror and torment!

That’s a lot to handle when you’re a 16-year-old boy, and your life revolves around girls, friends, sports, and daydreaming about going off to college, in that order, where you assume you magically become an adult and figure out what you’re going to be for the rest of your life, and maybe stop getting erections for no apparent reason.

Maybe Muslims and Atheists experience it differently. I hope for their sake that they do.

‘You Have an Obligation to Write About Your Faith’

People tell me that, sometimes. I always disagree with them, and then try to explain why.

I usually write about divorce, marriage and sustainable relationships, and I’ve earned some credibility with a group of people who think maybe I have a bunch of it figured out.

Here’s the thing: I can spit out a nice little playbook for how a man can make his wife feel loved, safe, secure and desired, and not want to divorce him as much as most women want to divorce their shitty husbands. I can. I’ve had THOUSANDS of wives, and even some husbands, write me to say so.

That doesn’t make what I believe true.

It just makes me confident.

Certain?

The only path to a good, forever-kind-of marriage is vigilantly practicing love—the verb—every day. It requires a healthy understanding of human psychology—how husbands’ and wives’ minds and bodies operate differently, and having the tools necessary to keep things from breaking.

For years and years, everyone was smoking. Even doctors. A bunch of people were dying from cancer and heart disease and we couldn’t figure out why. Eventually, we did. And now we know smoking invites sickness and death faster than not smoking does.

There are three kinds of people now.

  1. The kind who do not smoke because they want to do what’s best for themselves and the people they love.
  2. The kind who smoke because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who smoke, know it’s bad and want to quit, but struggle with the addiction or habit for a variety of reasons.

On the subject of marriage and relationships, we are—as people—nowhere near as enlightened and educated as we are about the health ramifications of smoking cigarettes. Every day, people are accidentally and carelessly ruining relationships, damaging children, and tearing families apart.

There are three kinds of people who are married or in committed relationships, and unlike with smoking, the largest group has NO IDEA that what they’re doing (metaphorically smoking circa 1960) will invite sickness and death into their relationships.

  1. The kind who get it and do things the right—and frankly, only—way. Actively choosing to love their spouse and family every day, applying information they’ve learned about what makes their partner feel good to their daily lives. Proactively nurturing their marriages.
  2. The kind who abuse and lie and cheat and neglect because they don’t give a shit about themselves or others.
  3. The kind who sometimes fall short, understand that they can do and be more, want to, but struggle in their hearts and minds for a variety of reasons.

Let’s call it doubt. Maybe a person doubts that monogamy can really work. Maybe a person doubts they can trust their partner to not abandon them. Maybe a person GOT EVERYTHING THEY WANTED IN LIFE AND STILL DOESN’T FEEL HAPPY.

That last thing happens to decent, intelligent people all the time. They were certain this was what would finally make them happy, but then it didn’t, and now they want more.

There must be more to life than this.

Life in the Margins

I don’t write about God and/or Jesus because I think it’s an ineffective way to communicate with strangers. People don’t like being judged or preached to.

It automatically divides and makes people feel unwelcome. Not only that, it’s a bullshit thing to do.

And the answer to this question is why I think so: When is the last time you witnessed two human beings with deeply held spiritual, theological, philosophical or political beliefs discuss their differences pleasantly or otherwise, and afterward hear one say: “Gee whiz. You’re right. I reject all my previous beliefs and agree with you now.”?

Even once? Ever?

I mean, yeah. I’m Catholic. Kind of a rogue, miscreant one. I believe many things unique to Catholicism. I’m a regular churchgoer.

But I also have a bunch of stuff I’m not sure about. I used to feel guilty about that but now I don’t.

I don’t murder, because that makes sense. I don’t rape, because that makes sense. Can I really be damned for eternity for using birth control during married sex because money’s a little tight right now?

I’m tired of people acting like they know. No one knows. Zero people.

We know precisely dick.

We’ve had the world’s most-intelligent and thoughtful people trying to get to the root of what’s true about life and the universe since before the words “science” or “philosophy” were ever uttered. And no subatomic-particle physicist, pastor, atheist, teacher, scholar, prophet, rabbi, tribal chief or jungle medicine man has solved it.

Their argument and evidence would be convincing if they had. Like when the doctors proved to us that smoking caused cancer, and we believed them and made new choices.

We all want to feel certain.

I want to feel certain. I don’t want to believe in fairy tales. And I don’t know how to believe in nothing, Lebowski. I need meaning and reason and purpose, or I can’t make sense of anything. If the entire point of living is hedonism before the lights inevitably go off, why aren’t we all shooting heroin, hosting orgies and encouraging everyone we know to do the same?

But I’m NOT certain.

I don’t know.

Not for sure. Is what I feel faith and belief? Or is it just 36 years of habit reinforced by like-minded people within an unchanging faith community?

If no one ever told me the truth about Santa and someone kept sneaking “From Santa” gifts under the Christmas tree every year, might I still believe in him?

If Carl Sagan was my father and nothing bad ever happened to me for believing everything he taught me, would I look at the world completely differently?

If I didn’t have a father, money, education, enough food, or experienced love from family or friends, might I be willing to join a violent group of religious militants intent on spreading mayhem and murdering innocent people who believed a different God story than me?

The Shadow Proves the Sunshine

When you strip away all the bullshit, we’re all just a bunch of people who behave the way we do because of our beliefs and habits.

That’s why we usually believe whatever our parents taught us, so long as no negative consequences came from doing so. When it felt bad, we did something different than them.

I don’t know anything. I never have. I just believe things which make sense to me.

I don’t know that what I write about in terms of love and marriage actually works. I just believe it strongly because I’ve read, discussed, and thought a lot about it and it made sense to me.

Maybe some really good guy out there has been married twice and did everything right both times, but in both marriages, his wife took advantage of him financially and slept with his best friend. Maybe now that guy can’t believe what I believe anymore.

I’m done pretending I know what it’s like to be another person.

Maybe some people can’t believe in God because they watched their mother die of a horrible disease she didn’t deserve to get, or because they lost family on Sept. 11, 2001, or because their parents told them there is no God, and since thousands of children die every day in Africa from asshole warlords and no sanitary water, that story made sense to them.

Something is true, and I don’t know what it is. But I like trying to figure it out.

The only thing I really know is what it’s like being me.

A flawed, broken, uneven human being who can feel joyful and grateful one day, and a little bit sad and empty the next.

A guy who does all kinds of things my faith community warns me could send me straight to Hell.

That might be total bullshit. Or 100-percent true.

I won’t know until I’m dead. That’s when we will all learn the truth OR when the lights go out and our consciousness insta-shuts off, and the book of our life ends, maybe mid-sentence and unresolved.

On the other hand, I can’t tell you I don’t believe in God.

Do I doubt some of the details of thousands-year-old religious texts which include mountains of symbolism and metaphor? Sure!

But do I doubt God’s existence, goodness, or power? How could I? Why would I want to?

Some people don’t like God and religion. But it’s not because of God and religion. It’s because some religious people do heinous, horrible things in the name of their faith, thereby making every sane person on earth despise them and reject their beliefs.

That makes sense to me.

If the only Christians you ever knew screamed “God hates fags!” at your gay friend or family member, or staged protests at the funeral of your neighbor killed in military combat, or bombed women’s health clinics because they’re somehow convinced God’s preferred solution to ending abortion is murdering people with guns and explosives, would you like them or want to practice the same faith?

Isn’t that what many Muslims deal with now? Judgment and squinty-eyed suspicion based on the actions of a few?

Life has clearly demonstrated that one size does not fit all.

I think everyone feels the emptiness sometimes. Every faith. Every walk of life.

Things just feel off, sometimes. We can’t figure out why because when we write it all down on paper, our lives are exactly what we think we want.

I HAVE EVERYTHING I WANT AND STILL DON’T FEEL HAPPY.

I love my wife and I want to be married, but I don’t always feel like sacrificing for her. I don’t always feel like not putting my penis in others I’m attracted to. My marriage didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, so what’s the point?

There will always be that third group. The group too damaged to love themselves or others. Who just want to watch the world burn.

Then there’s the rest of us. With all our doubts. All our ignorance. All our guilt. All our shame.

Crooked souls trying to stay up straight.

The longer we live, the more bad things we experience. We collect more scars. We lose more innocence.

It’s so easy to embrace the cynicism now. To abandon hope while the politicians scream, and the fanatics shoot, and greedy abuse, and our friends fail us, and our marriages burn while we cry.

But here we are. Still trying.

We pray and we hope. We try to be good, for the sake of being good. We do things that are difficult or inconvenient because it’s what’s right.

People keep waiting for a blinding light. For God to speak thunderously from a mountaintop or burning bush. To feel certain again. Like when we were kids and less afraid of everything.

God doesn’t yell. We’d all know if that were true.

He whispers. Whispers are hard to hear.

I think when people have everything they ever wanted and still don’t feel happy, or genuinely love their spouse and family and want to be married, but still feel empty?

I think that might be a whisper.

I think that’s when we’re supposed to cede control. For God to fill the gaps. I think God likes working in the margins.

I’m never going to suggest you need to be saved. That you should believe what I believe. That I have some answer you don’t. I don’t know. And I think most, if not all, people who say they know are mistaken or lying.

I will always try to ask the right questions, though.

When it seems as if all options have been exhausted, is it possible the only thing you’ve never tried is a legitimate leap of faith? Is it possible that could make the pain and fear go away?

I’ll always say what I believe and why and let others form opinions about it. To decide for themselves whether the nagging emptiness we don’t usually talk about might be a whisper. A nudge to wake up inside.

Maybe there’s no love without hate.

Maybe there’s no hot without cold.

Maybe there’s no light without darkness.

What do I believe? That the shadow proves the sunshine.

 

(Thanks to Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman for writing this beautiful song, and inspiring this post.)

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Something About the Gay Marriage Ruling Doesn’t Feel Right

justice-peace

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

Because I grew up in a little Catholic school in a little Ohio town in the 1980s and ‘90s where boys played football and zero people were (openly) gay, the entire concept of homosexuality was foreign to me.

We all used the word “gay” the way you’re not supposed to. As a substitute for “stupid” or “lame.”

I was a little homophobic. I know because when a group of friends took me to my first gay bar in college, I made a big deal of the fact I wanted to stay near the girls because I don’t want anyone to think I’m gay!!! OMG!!! Even though 90 percent of the crowd was.

None of that ever felt mean or cruel to me, though. Stupid and ignorant? Sure. But I can’t think of a single instance when I set out to be either mean or cruel.

Then Matthew Shepard was killed my sophomore year of college. Shepard was a gay 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, and two other kids tied him to their pickup truck and drug him down a road. Head injuries killed him six days later. Signs pointed to homophobia as the motive for the killing. The case gained national (and probably global) attention, and hate crime legislation became a thing.

I thought about all of the openly gay students I’d gotten to know and befriended since moving away from home to a relatively large and diverse public university. Not one of them deserved even a sideways glance, let alone harm.

I liked every gay person I met, without exception, and quickly stopped using that as the thing by which I labeled them.

And I thought back to my conservative, small-town upbringing where most people believe God once destroyed a city with fire from the sky because a bunch of gay people lived there and had lots of gay sex.

What is everyone so afraid of? I wondered.

Time Marches On

Here we are, 17 years later.

And it’s different now, right? Maybe that’s easy for me to say because I’ve never had to be gay in an old-fashioned small town, or as a member of a church that frowned upon such things, or had to deal with anything that felt discriminatory from an equal-rights standpoint.

But from my perspective, it seems most people have slowly pulled the sticks out of their asses. Surprise! People are gay! And until they break into your houses and start having gay sex in your living rooms and making your kids watch, let’s maybe try the live and let live thing!

Of course, there are plenty of people from my conservative past who didn’t like that “progressive” stance.

“It’s just WRONG!!! It says so in the bible!!!” they scream.

Yeah. Maybe. After all, I subscribe to The Purple Shirt Theory. Anything’s possible. I never pretend to know for sure.

But you know what else is wrong, outraged people? Rape and murder and theft and being a hypocritical, bigoted, prickly cock.

Priorities, folks. Honestly.

It generally seemed over the past 10-20 years like the national tone shifted from: Those weirdos who aren’t like us need to just stay in the closet! to Gay people are totally the best at fashion and fun and parties, but I hope they don’t think I want to do gay stuff with them! to Whoa. Gay people are exactly like me except they are attracted to the same gender. *shrug*

And I liked that.

I like it because when I imagine a pie graph to visually represent all of the things that make up who and what a human being is, who they are sexually attracted to represents a very tiny sliver. Sort of like skin color. And gender. And faith.

There’s just a hell of a lot more to being a person than any one of those individual silos.

Who people choose to have sex with SHOULD NOT be the dominant metric by which we evaluate them.

Which brings me to my problem with what happened Friday.

I Didn’t Join the Party

The popular thing on Friday was to jump up and down: “I’m so cool and hip and with the times and love gay people, so I think it’s AWESOME what the Supreme Court did!!! Love wins!!! Equality for all!!!”

And I didn’t do that popular thing.

I didn’t take to Facebook with instant analysis either for or against the verdict. I read a bunch of those and thought every one of them was a little bit bullshit.

The consensus among the pro-gay-marriage crowd seemed to be that the ends justified the means. That because they wanted equal marriage rights for homosexual couples so badly, it didn’t matter how it happened.

There are 50 states in the United States. On Friday morning, gay marriage was legal in 37 of them already. Because people in those states banded together to raise awareness for their cause and convinced enough people to sign petitions to get the gay marriage amendments on ballots, and then drum up the necessary votes to democratically change laws.

I LOVE that. It’s called freedom. And it’s beautiful.

And I’m 100-percent speculating and speaking out of school here, but I believe strongly that if I was gay, and wanted to get married, I would want to do so in a place where the majority of people said: “YES! You are loved, respected and welcome here.”

I’m not an attorney. I can’t make an informed argument for or against what happened Friday from a purely legal standpoint.

I was genuinely happy for every gay man and woman who felt as if this ruling somehow validated their relationships or made them feel more respected. That does matter to me.

But I didn’t just see Love Winning, or Equality for All when the Supreme Court took its action.

I saw five members of a nine-member court force the hands of 13 democratically elected state governments. And THAT concerns me. Because while granting marriage licenses to whomever is fine, I’m not even close to comfortable with sweeping, overnight legal change at the decree of a few people in Washington D.C.

Call me old fashioned, but I like when laws are formed this way.

Because what happens when a future judicial decree isn’t about freedom, liberty or equality, but about taking those things away?

And because I don’t believe the end always justifies the means.

The Accidental Hypocrisy

While societally we have grown more accepting (rightfully so, in my estimation) of homosexuality, we have collectively turned on organized religion and made that the enemy. And I get it! I’ve spent years growing more jaded toward religious organizations, including my own—the Catholic Church.

I think it’s because of people like Sarah Palin, and Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty, and the Duggar kid who diddled his sisters.

Because of the Catholic Church covering up its own sex-abuse scandal.

Because of all of the war and death and destruction as a result of religious-based fighting.

People claiming to love and follow Jesus Christ do and scream vile things to people who disagree with their beliefs.

People see and hear all of this bullshit and think: If those people represent Christianity or any organized religion, then I want nothing to do with them. They’re all stupid and evil!

We look at .000001 percent of the population openly practicing a particular faith, and then apply their regular dumb-ass humanness to everyone else in that same demographic. Sound familiar, equal-rights proponents?

I’ve spent my entire life around small-town conservative Christians, and while I’m going to have a different take on the occasional political or social issue and probably not like the same music or speak similarly (I’ll use way more bad words like “shit” and sometimes even “fuck”—don’t tell my grandma), I will defend them and ride with them on the VAST majority of life matters.

Remember that human pie chart thing? Loving Jesus or voting Republican (which have become VERY ugly things to some people) only make up a tiny sliver of who a person is.

And I care about EVERYTHING. We should all care about everything.

The people I know from my small, conservative town are kind, decent and generous. They don’t hurt others. They NEVER hate. They lift people up. They’re exceedingly charitable.

It now seems like we live in a world where if you go to certain churches that teach certain things you can’t be a good person anymore. It means you’re a “bigot” or a “hypocrite.”

And I think it’s an unfair and bullshit characterization.

Not unlike some people’s mischaracterization of the gay population and about what it REALLY means to love another person.

This may NEVER come up. I’m not psychic and some of the legal nuance escapes me because I forgot to go to law school.

But the question I asked myself when I learned about the ruling Friday was: Do we really want to live in a country where the government can force states and churches and religious organizations to do things the government’s way, and/or be punished if they don’t?

I want gay people to be gay. And I want people to love and accept them, and if they can’t, to at least not cause harm.

And I want religious people to be religious. And I want people to love and accept them, and if they can’t, to at least not cause harm.

Because if BOTH of those things can’t happen simultaneously after Friday’s verdict?

Love and equality most certainly did not win.

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When Life Erodes Faith

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

Maybe it’s different when all you know is hopelessness.

When warlords kidnap your children and force them to murder.

When mosquito bites or severe weather or missile attacks annihilate your village.

When all you ever know is poverty and illness and violence and death.

Maybe then, life is so bleak that you never really care whether you live or die. Maybe death and an eternity of nothingness sounds like sweet relief when nothing good ever happens anyway.

That’s not how it was for me.

Even though my earliest memories are living in a trailer park.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4 and I didn’t get to see my dad very much because he lived 500 miles away.

Even though we never had a lot of money to do a lot of things other kids I knew were doing growing up.

Everything was great. I didn’t just feel loved. I felt special. I think it’s because my mom and grandparents were trying to compensate for my parents’ divorce by telling me how great I was all the time. Over and over again, my family would recount the story to me and anyone who would listen about how I wasn’t even supposed to be here.

The doctors told my parents I wasn’t going to make it on the day of my birth in 1979. The nurses took to calling me “the Miracle Baby.”

The unlikely human.

That’s me, I guess. I can’t remember much before about age 4, so I’ve never been particularly moved by the story.

I was showered with love and affection from my mother’s rather large extended family. There was no shortage of attention.

“Do you know how special you are, Matt?” my grandmother liked to ask me.

When you’re a child, you believe everything you hear, especially from parents and other trusted adults.

They told me things. My parents and other adults. And they could never lie or be wrong because when you’re little, it seems like they’re never wrong.

We believe fantastic stories.

Santa Claus. Delivering presents to every little boy and girl in the world in one night. Magic.

The Easter Bunny. I never imagined an actual bunny. More like a guy in a large bunny outfit. And that somehow didn’t give me nightmares.

The Tooth Fairy. I pictured someone small and Tinkerbell-like. But she had full-size money.

Mythical beings. I believed all of them to exist at varying points in my life.

When you accept these things on faith, and you grow up going to Sunday school classes followed by 12 years of Catholic school, it’s really not that hard to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, or that Jonah survived inside a whale for three days, or that the entire world was once flooded and everyone died except for Noah and his family who survived on a really large hand-built boat with a bunch of animals they rescued.

When you’re a kid, you just think: Sure! Noah and his incestuous family repopulated the Earth! Makes sense to me!

I used to get uncomfortable when I’d hear people ask questions that challenged any of my beliefs. You’re supposed to just BELIEVE! Like me! Trust me! I’m right! My parents told me and they’re never wrong!

Then my uncle died in a hit-and-run car accident and his murderer was never found.

Then I was a student leader on a Christian retreat in high school when total chaos erupted because my friend was accused of raping my other friend in one of the dorm rooms. So, either I’m friends with a rapist, or I’m friends with someone who lies about being raped.

Then my mom left my stepdad after 20 years.

Then we lost my father-in-law and my wife was never the same.

Then she stopped being my wife because I apparently wasn’t THAT special, grandma.

Then I sort of stopped caring whether I died because—honestly? Fuck this.

It’s totally unsettling when all the stories you ever believed about life and yourself turn out to be wrong.

Not lies.

Not fake.

But, wrong.

You find out secrets about people you know and then you can never think of them the same and you wish you didn’t know the secrets.

Your friends get divorced and everything feels a little bit tainted and broken after that.

People die. And you use to think: I’m sad that you’re gone, but I hope you have an amazing time in heaven and that I get to see you someday.

But now, you just think: I hope they’re there, but what if they’re not?

What if this is all there is?, and you scare yourself because now you know that you don’t know. Now, people talk about heaven, and in the back of your mind, you secretly think: I want you to be right, but I don’t want you to know how unsure I feel about that.

The loss of innocence that happens, usually incrementally, between childhood and adulthood is a quandary. Better to have everyone go through the shock-and-awe process? Or maybe, should we be doing a better job of preparing children for some of life’s harsh realities?

Protect and preserve their innocence for as long as possible? Let kids be kids? Or try to make it so the adult transition is less of a brutal mind job?

You have to be an adult before you learn there are no easy answers.

The sun shone through the gorgeous stained-glass window. St. Matthew’s name is at the bottom. There’s a purple flower I can’t identify just above the Star of David.

The priest was speaking from the pulpit. About faith.

Per the Gospel reading, Christ had resurrected from the dead. But Thomas was doubting the story his friends and fellow Christ followers were telling him because people just don’t come back from the dead. Doubting Thomas needed to see for himself.

Per the story, Jesus shows up. Lets Thomas touch him. See his wounds. Hear him speak. And, of course, Thomas believes now. Physical evidence of the greatest miracle ever told.

I use to feel sorry for Thomas because he couldn’t have faith like me. But now, I just totally get him. A sobering and depressing realization.

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,” Jesus said to Thomas and all within earshot.

But now I’m sitting in the pew, no longer knowing what I use to know.

I’m not saying I don’t believe it. I’m saying: I don’t know. And I need it to be okay with everyone that I don’t know because that’s what’s true, and truth shouldn’t need defended.

The priest talked about how when people don’t eat intelligently and don’t take care of their physical bodies, they tend to get sick and die.

When you do eat smartly and build your body up, you tend to feel youthful and vibrant and prolong your life.

Then he transitioned to matters of faith.

“This is why we PRACTICE our faith,” he said. We always get better at things when we practice them.

The only way to have a strong, youthful, vibrant, unwavering faith? To practice it, he said. When you neglect your spiritual health, your faith erodes, he said.

Withers away into nothingness like our dead bodies in the ground.

I was reading a space encyclopedia for kids with my son. A pretty thorough explanation of our solar system and what we currently know about the universe.

As best as science can tell us, everything we know to be physical matter—that is STUFF, like planets and stars and comets; all physical objects—makes up about 5 percent of the known universe. That’s it. Five percent.

“26.8% of matter is ‘dark’, we know it’s there because on large, cosmic, scales stuff moves around faster than it should and because the way that galaxies strew themselves across space is consistent with the existence of vast amounts of slow-moving gravitating ‘stuff’ that never turns into stars or planets or anything, just stays as diffuse, invisible, incredibly antisocial particles,” wrote Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia University’s Astrobiology Center, in Scientific American.

We don’t really know anything about those particles, either.

The largest percentage of stuff in the universe is called “dark energy.”

“Something is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. It didn’t used to. Until about 5 or 6 billion years ago the stretching of space following the Big Bang was in decline, but then something started to counter that, another unseen component, perhaps a type of vacuum energy density that fills up space as space itself grows. What exactly is it? We do not know. We have lots of ideas though, which is great, always good to have ideas about 68.3% of the universe,” Scharf wrote.

It’s possible that life is meaningless and that how we spend our time and how we treat others doesn’t matter.

But it doesn’t feel that way. No matter how right or wrong my parents were, it very much feels to me like our choices matter.

I look around and see an astounding amount of beauty. Spring has sprung where I live. Color and life returning as it does each year. Rebirth.

A cycle that feels entirely too intricate to me to have just happened by chance.

I really look.

I don’t see random chaos.

I see order.

I see creativity.

I see design.

Scharf said it all.

What EXACTLY is it? We don’t know. We have lots of ideas, though. Which is great. It’s always good to have ideas about the universe. About all that stuff we can’t explain.

Hello, God. It’s me, Matt.

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“Be Still and Know that I am God”

Strictly from a faith standpoint, this is my toughest test.

Strictly from a faith standpoint, this is my toughest test.

God talks to me.

Not from a burning bush.

Not from the heavens above.

Not in my dreams.

Not through any voices in my head.

Nothing weird.

But, once in a great while—as in just a few times in my life—He talks to me.

And the message I’ve been getting since Easter weekend—just hours before finding out my wife was leaving—is Psalm 46:10 from the all-time No. 1 bestseller which I’ve still never read all the way through.

Be still and know that I am God.

We Walk by Faith, and Not by Sight

At least, I’ve said that in church before. But I don’t always do it.

I have a little trouble letting go sometimes.

I was raised in the Catholic church. I don’t like to say that to too many people because I don’t want to give Catholics or Christians a bad name.

I don’t Bible thump.

I don’t judge other people’s personal choices.

And I don’t think I’m better than anyone. Ever. Quite the opposite, actually.

I don’t go to church every Sunday, even though I believe I should.

I don’t do a lot of things I believe would be best for my mind, heart and soul.

We’ve all got a little self-destructiveness in us. And I’ve been dabbling in that lately.

Drinking a lot. Even by my proud-to-be-a-social-drinker standards.

Smoking. Even though it’s a disgusting habit I kicked when I found out I was going to be a father six years ago.

And on the spiritual side of things, I’ve been angry and lazy and lax in my prayers.

I pray for my son.

I pray for my friends—particularly those who are going through tough times.

I pray for my family.

But most often these days, I pray for strength and courage. I pray for wisdom. I pray that I can be brave enough to walk the tougher path.

The one with steeper hills. The one that doesn’t have any “easy” shortcuts. The one that promises a real sense of accomplishment upon completion.

God Said it in the Bathroom

It was the Saturday before Easter.

And I was using a restroom in the home of one of my lifelong best friends. He and his wife are my son’s godparents. He is representing both my ex and I in this “amicable” dissolution which will conclude on Wednesday. My son’s godmother is an incredible example of how to do things even when they’re hard and inconvenient. She’s inspiring.

In their bathroom, they have a black-framed photo of a boat dock jutting out into a lake.

Printed on it: Be Still and Know that I am God.

And it stopped me in my tracks. And I just stared at it for a long time, thinking about its meaning. Wondering whether I really obtain the faith to cede control of my life during my most-challenging moments.

I still, in my heart and soul, believed my marriage could survive in that moment. That there was still a chance.

That very day, in fact, while my friend and I were rifling through old football cards like we were in grade school again, his wife—a good friend of my ex—looked me in the eye and said: “She’s not giving up, Matt. She sat right here last week, and I asked her: ‘Are you done?’ And she said no. She said she’s not done. There’s still hope.”

It was hard to believe. She’d grown more distant than ever. But I wanted to believe. I wanted us to make it.

Be still and know that I am God.

God Said it in my Grandmother’s Kitchen

My grandmother is ridiculously kind and sweet.

She is nice to everyone.

She loves her family.

And she loves her God.

She’s not afraid to supply chocolate bunnies, and plastic treat-filled eggs, and large food spreads. But you’re also not walking out without at least one token designed to remind you what Easter is supposed to be about for the faithful.

This year, my grandmother was handing out these little gray plastic fake stones. When they’re upside down they look real enough. Maybe three inches wide, two inches tall, and an inch thick. Faux stone finish.

There was a short Bible verse on the bottom side of these—all of them unique, no repeats—in this huge bucket of fake gray stones.

As people arrived, my grandma would hold out the container and ask us to take one.

It’s the kind of thing I normally would have thought was cute then never looked at again after that day.

But then I flipped it over.

Psalm 46:10.

Be still and know that I am God.

There were a lot of stones in that bowl. But that’s the one I grabbed.

Message received.

Are you There God? It’s me, Matt

Four hours later, after my son and I made the drive back home, I sat on one of the living room couches I no longer possess. It only took me a minute to notice.

She wasn’t wearing her wedding ring.

I’ll never forget that exact moment. It stopped me mid-sentence, and I don’t even remember what I was talking about.

She didn’t want to talk about it in front of our son. I remember dreading that walk downstairs to see her after kissing my son goodnight.

The last night we were a family.

She moved out the next day. My life has felt wrong and surreal ever since.

Most of the things that have happened between then and now have been documented here.

One month at a time. One week at a time. One day at a time.

I keep learning little things. I keep piecing more of the puzzle together. I keep learning things that make it hurt more.

I have just one priority as it pertains to my failed marriage: I want my son Owen to grow up feeling loved, safe, and being able to count on both of his parents to provide a stable, supportive foundation for him.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

I found out yesterday that my ex has officially made plans to co-habitat with Rich Guy. My son told me.

I’ve found out over the course of the past few months, one small nugget of information at a time, what a horrible human being Rich Guy is.

He’s not a man that I can, in good conscience, allow to be part of Team Raising Owen.

He’s a man with no moral code. He’s a man with no ethics. He’s a man who doesn’t value family. Not his own, nor others. He’s a man who liked sex better than his high-paying job. But it doesn’t matter. Because he’s a trust fund baby who has always been able to buy his way out of trouble.

I want to burn this motherfucker down.

But I also want to maintain dignity and discipline.

I want to destroy their bullshit, poisonous, built-on-lies relationship.

But I also want to always take the high road—to be a good person even when it’s inconvenient. Because way too much has been broken already.

I want to expose this fraudulent asshole to my ex and to everyone else. Because, in the deepest recesses of my soul, I believe he’s a bad person.

And I have a real problem with bad people.

And I have a real problem with doing what I should.

And I have a real problem with having faith when life keeps delivering sucker punches.

Be still and know that I am God.

Man, I’m trying, Lord. And I know things happen on your schedule, not mine.

But please. Pretty please. Show me the way on this one.

Because I’m trying to walk the walk.

But I’m fresh out of walking shoes.

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Carrying Crosses

cross

Everyone has their cross to bear.

The phrase comes from the story of Jesus of Nazareth’s death by crucifixion. Regardless of what you may believe about Christ from a theological standpoint, it’s a generally accepted historical fact that there was a man named Jesus, and that in the year 33 A.D., he was sentenced to death by a Roman magistrate at trial.

The historical accounts of Christ’s crucifixion describe a man tortured, beaten, mocked, hit by stones, cursed and heckled by some of those watching as well as the Roman soldiers, and other atrocities.

In every account of this story, it is written that Christ carried his own cross through the city and eventually to the top of a hill where he was nailed to that cross, pierced by a spear, and put on display along with two other convicted criminals to bleed out and die in front of anyone with the stomach to watch.

Forgive the elementary recap. But I think it’s important to understand exactly what “carrying your cross” means.

Not a lot of people know what it feels like to be angry. In your bones.

We all have them. Every one of us. Crosses that need carried.

Some people don’t have access to fresh, clean, safe water. Their children are constantly at risk from violence, disease, starvation, and other dangers I’m too ignorant to think of half a world away.

Others are hungry and homeless. Or addicted and impoverished. They’re the Have Nots living amongst the Haves.

The more fortunate of us have different crosses. We lose jobs, or have medical expenses. We lose a parent or grandparent. We have struggles with family and friends. We have physical, spiritual and emotional struggles.

And there’s no getting out of it.

We’re so blessed to be among the chosen few that get to be alive. For those of us living in wealthy, developed nations, pleasures and luxuries abound. Even for those of us planted firmly in the middle class.

I’m glad I recapped the struggles others have to face. Because I need the reminder. It doesn’t make me feel any better that millions of people have it way worse than I do. But it does help keep my mind focused on the right things.

The cost of being alive is carrying crosses.

When I was a child, my cross was always being far away from one of my two parents at any given time. It was having very few financial resources.

As an adult, my crosses have come in the form of an unexpected layoff and some financial uncertainty, to a distraught wife that lost her father overnight one autumn evening, to now. To my divorce. To my quiet shell of a house. To my son being gone far too often.

I’m embarrassed that I’m about to quote a Batman film, but it’s simply too perfect not to. Because John Blake (played by actor Joseph Gordon Levitt) absolutely nails it:

“Not a lot of people know what it feels like to be angry. In your bones. You gotta learn to hide the anger. Practice smiling in the mirror. It’s like putting on a mask.”

Blake and Batman deliver violent judgment to those intent on hurting them or those they love.

I don’t think vigilante justice is in my future. Nor am I interested in harming anyone. Ever.

But I’m angry. In my bones.

A text message exchange with my soon-to-be ex wife made me shake today. It was the first time I’d ever been so angry that my hands shook. I pray it’s the last.

The most-important aspect of Christ’s crucifixion story is that he never lashed out. He never retaliated. He never spoke ill of those who hit him, and cut him, and screamed at him, and shoved thorns into his head.

He accepted his fate on behalf of all people. Those who loved him as well as those who didn’t.

He begged forgiveness for those who put him to death.

“They know not what they do,” he said.

I want to carry my cross with strength.

I want to exhibit kindness. And class. Forgiveness, even.

You’ve heard it before: Be the change you want to see in the world.

Keep your head up when carrying your crosses. Help others carry their’s and you’ll feel strength you didn’t know you had.

And graciously accept a little help from those who want to help you now and then.

And together, we’ll get to the top of the hill. And God-willing, find salvation.

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