Much to Lose

I’m glad to say that I’m still reeling tonight from the renewed conviction that I’m not living the life I should be after my encounter with Jen Hatmaker’s prophetic writing, life, and witness. I’ve known that there is a deep disconnect between the life I’m called to live and the life I actually do live for many years, of course, and have taken various halting steps at trying to rectify this situation, only to fail each time- sometimes spectacularly- and all too often from lack of really trying. So this is what I said over on Jen Hatmaker’s blog in response to this post:

Jen,

Thank you for these powerful words and for your prophetic witness. I’ve long been grateful for the realization that “prophesy” is much more about truth-telling than it is about foretelling, because I, for one, need to hear that truth- over and over and over again. I’m a native Texan, and when I tell my story I talk about the fact that when I finally got out (of Texas) at 18 (I had to; my family of origin was “Christian,” but also very abusive) and went away to a small “Christian” liberal arts college in New England, I was shocked to discover that “God is not a white, anglo-saxon Protestant (male) who lives in the ‘burbs, shops at the mall, and spends the rest of his time pursuing the American dream like everybody else.” I had the privilege while in college of doing a program then known as Kingdomworks (it morphed some time ago into Mission Year). During my Kingdomworks summer I lived in an inner-city church (building) in Philly with a bunch of other college students, where we ran a day camp, Sunday school, and youth group, hoping to empower that congregation to reach its neighborhood through the kids in ways they couldn’t otherwise. I heard shortly after completing my summer, and have known well ever since, that while whatever we did for those kids that summer was well and good in its own right, the point of it all was as much about reaching me as it was about reaching them. I’m glad, sort of, to say that it worked, sort of, and therein lies (part of) my problem. More about that perhaps later, but suffice it to say I’ve spent the better part of the past 17 years (wow! 17 years!) trying to recreate that experience.

Again, when I tell my story I talk about the fact that it was during that summer that I was able to build a bridge (and no, I didn’t really build that) between my own personal suffering and the suffering that’s out there- in the world. That bridge compelled me to traverse it, to go over it again and again and again, hoping to do something, to reach somebody, to touch somebody, to make a difference in some way come hell or high water. Later on, I was shocked and utterly distressed to find that this “bridge” could be traveled in both directions, that it was possible for my encounter with the suffering other to take me right back to my own personal suffering in ways that were near (and remain so to this day) debilitating. That doesn’t free of my 1%er status, my white male USAmerican privilege and all the responsibilities that pertain thereto, but it makes it damn hard to get out of my own way long enough to be of any good to anyone else.

Along the way, I got married and had kids and have settled into a modest house in a working-class ‘burb (can you hear the apology? the guilt?) where I spend my days in a charter school working with ADHD and Asperger’s kids. I’ve got massive debt thanks to the mortgage and the credit cards and the mortgage-sized student loans courtesy of a short-circuited seminary excursion and a few semesters afterwards as first an MSW student and then a Master’s in Counseling student. Now, we struggle to pay all the bills and raise our seven and one year old boys and deal with opposite work schedules and the like, all the while pining for more- not more stuff (though awfully we probably pine for that too)- but more…more. More community, more purpose (Rick Warren, go away. I’m not talking about or to you;), more sacrifice and tears and love and life and reasons to get up in the morning. We lived in Philly for a while and “knew” Shane Claiborne before he was SHANE CLAIBORNE!!!!!!! We love The Simple Way and Rutba House and all the communities like them, and we were even part of our own little “intentional Christian community” for a little while before it blew up in our faces, perhaps because of our application of a lit match to the large stick of relational dynamite we were all sitting on. We know that the Church is a people, not a place and that following Jesus and taking up our crosses means willfully choosing the instrument of our own death. Yet we stubbornly refuse to do it. We take two steps forward and then eighteen steps back. We make risky, bold faithful moves and then run away with our tail between our legs as soon as we get inevitably hurt in the process. We know that the life we long for, that Jesus calls us to, is one decidedly different from the American dream, that Jesus’ dream looks like nothing like it, and we know; we know, we know, we know, we know, that this life of radical discipleship we were made for is so utterly hard in this rich white, USAmerican context that we can not hope to succeed in even small ways if we undertake it alone. So we long- still- for community, for co-conspirators, but we have struggled mightily to find them where we live now in Northeast Ohio, and it’s taken a big swig of humility and almost-trust to believe that if it really is God behind all this somehow, then surely he must be at work in somebody other than us, right? Surely the community we’re called to participate in- one that is willing to take risks to help one another love and serve our neighbors both right in front of us and around the world- surely such a community is one that God is already creating, that already exists in some fashion, right? RIGHT?!

I know I can’t blame others for my failure to follow Jesus the way I know I should, and I certainly don’t want to. Yet as I think you may well know, “opting out” of the American dream is hard. It takes partners. More than anything, perhaps, it takes imagination and courage, and I find myself in short supply of both. As it stands, I feel utterly trapped. Trapped in a way of life that perpetuates the consumer machine. Trapped in the jobs necessary to pay the bills. Trapped in my own short-circuited (lack of) faith. It really is a lack these days. I have friends who have stopped following Jesus for lots of REALLY good reasons, and every day I’m tempted to join them. Some of them have quit because of a lack of belief in God, and I get that; I really, really do. In fact, I almost envy them. I’d love to just give up, to look at all the problems in the Bible and in the world and finally throw in the towel. But I can’t. I can’t because quite simply I’m too angry. I can’t claim disbelief in someone who makes me SO. COMPLETELY. LIVID. I’m mad at God for what happened to me and my family when I was a kid. I’m mad because of my mother’s abuse and my father’s allowing it to happen because “the Bible said” he couldn’t get divorced. I’m mad because of the kids dying on the streets of Philadelphia and in Haiti and everyplace in between. I’m mad because all this anger once fueled me to overachieve, to get good grades and be a better friend and worker and “church”goer and the like, and I’m mad because I’ve been mad so long that I’m worn out. I’m tired of being mad. I’m tired of trying to make a difference and failing. No, scratch that. I’m tired of trying to try to make a difference and then quitting when I lack the imagination or courage or community or resources to actually do it. C.S. Lewis wrote something along the lines of, I think in The Screwtape Letters, that the real danger to the devil wasn’t those who followed Jesus (I’m paraphrasing) because they believed; rather it was those couldn’t quite believe anymore (again, paraphrasing) and yet followed/obeyed anyway. That brings some small comfort, but I don’t know how long I can go on like this, struggling to think about trying to follow despite all the pain and anger and good reasons not to rattling around in my head, heart, and soul. I’d love to give away seven things a day for a month and reduce our clothes and consumption and carbon footprint and everything else. More than that, I’d love for my life to matter, for it to be “burned up in a holy flame” in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, but again, I feel so utterly stuck, lost, faithless, and (aside from my wife and kids) alone. A wise pastor, responding to inklings of all this in me many years ago, said that it’s better to do something, anything, and perhaps fail spectacularly, trusting God to work it all out, than to be mired in inaction because of fear of making a mistake. I’d like to think though that I’m not afraid of making a mistake anymore. Perhaps I’m afraid of succeeding. I’m afraid that the bills and job and house and the rest will keep me from living the life I’m called to. In any case, I find your story and the life you’re struggling to live inspiring and prophetic. I wish there were more folks like you and yours around here.

Sorry for the rant.

Jen was good enough to reply to my comment, and while I’m so utterly grateful for her gracious response, I’m also even a bit more chastened, because what she told me, in part, was this: “I believe you have exactly identified the reasons why the camel cannot fit through the eye of the needle. Brother, I am stopping to pray for you this morning. And for me. And for all of us who want to live a holy, meaningful life but have come to understand the cost.” So I can not help but feel like the rich young ruler, and rightly so. I know well what it would cost to follow Jesus as I ought, and am given great pause. Complicating factors, however, is that it’s not (only) that I’m unwilling, it’s also that I’m nearly incapable, for rich though I am, I am deeply indebted to much, much richer rulers, and maybe that’s part of why I’m so angry. I’m pissed off that I have to ask “By your leave….” of USBank and Huntington and HSBC in order to leave my boat and become a fisher of people.

More than that, though, I’m just…angry. I’m angry for lots of reasons, many of which are related to my recent C-PTSD diagnosis, but there are some not insignificant and entirely adaptive reasons to be angry too. I’m angry at suffering and the sin that causes it. I’m angry at those who sit idly by allowing it to happen, and I’m angry at myself for being one of them more often than not. God, help me. God, help us all.

Still Playing at Being a “Christian…”

…I am, that is.

So a Facebook friend from college posted a link to Jen Hatmaker’s blog, and I’ve simply been blown away. The post I first read was about the election, and I was moved, I’m not afraid to say, to tears. That post is here. I’ve long been drawn in the direction of the kind of stance she takes, but hadn’t quite put it all together with the courage and insight that she did. I’m glad to say that I couldn’t agree more. My yearning to serve the “least of these” and to see God’s peace-with-justice come about in the world often compels me to lean in one political direction over another and to favor some candidates over others, but after reading her post I was reminded where my hope lies, and to whom my allegiance belongs. In fact, I’ve been a bit contradictory as I’ve railed against the injustices perpetrated by the USAmerican system/way of life while at the same time putting more than just a little hope in a particular candidate/party within that system. So yet again Bono was right:

“God is with the vulnerable and poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”

And I’m with whoever is with them too, whatever political label they happen to wear. Back to Jen, I love it particularly when she says:

“If discipleship means loving the broken, then love the broken.

If following Jesus means abandoning our rights, then abandon them.

If you care about the sanctity of life, then devote yourself to its care – womb to grave.

If you worry about the vulnerable, then give your life away for them.

If Scripture tells us perfect love drives out fear, then it does.

If your trust is in a Servant Savior, then put it there and leave it there.

As children of God, we should be unthreatened by secular power. The Law was never able to bring redemption, and it is still insufficient to make all things new. The healing and hope and goodness we long for is realized fully in Jesus, extended through His people despite hardship or distance or the passage of time or the changing of guards. No political party can see it through or take it away. It was finished on the cross, and the discussion is over.”

Again, I couldn’t even hope to say it any better. Jen and her family have done some amazing things. They adopted two kids from abroad, adding to the three they already had, because it was the right thing to do. Her husband helped start what looks like an awesome faith community. She wrote a book about a seven month journey in which she and her family “…identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.” She and other bloggers/writers went to Haiti to partner with a relief agency and write about their efforts and how we all can pitch in. I look at people like Jen Hatmaker and the college Facebook friend who first linked to her blog, Jennifer Jukanovich, and am filled with awe. The latter Jen and her husband also adopted children from abroad and then moved (moved!) to Rwanda (Rwanda!) to help start small businesses there. Again, I am filled with awe.

Jen Hatmaker’s latest post talks a bit more about her Haiti trip and her resolve to live in light of it as if nothing mattered but following Jesus to the ends of the earth in loving service to the least of these, whatever the cost. I can only hope for the courage for me and my family to be so resolved again some day too.

Whistling Into The Wind

I’m not sure why I bother with this. Why do I write? I know I have a blog reader or two, but historically my blogging is too inconsistent to maintain an audience, which only begs the question of why I would have an audience in the first place. A few friends and/or family members have checked in over the years, but beyond that I know I’m just spewing my thoughts into the void, whistling into the wind. Why? What purpose does it serve? I know that said purpose is mostly self-serving. The self-reflection that writing affords has given me insight, and that surely counts for something, but I could do that just as well, and probably better, by keeping a private journal. Why, then, do I blog? I suspect that this, like so many other things, can be tied to my C-PTSD. I know now that C-PTSD sufferers often have issues with attachment and feel an intense need to be known, loved, and accepted. I certainly do. As Pete Walker, whose tireless work in the area of C-PTSD has suddenly become an invaluable resource to me, says: “When a child is consistently abandoned, her developing superego eventually assumes totalitarian control of her psyche and carcinogenically morphs into a toxic Inner Critic. She is then driven to desperately seek connection and acceptance through the numerous processes of perfectionism and endangerment.” Walker writes a lot about childhood emotional abandonment as a function of the experience of many adult C-PTSD sufferers.

Of course my mother didn’t just emotionally abandon me; she emotionally abused me, but while I’ve always thought of my father as being loving, I’ve also spoken of having not one, but TWO unreliable parents. I’ve described my dad as being unreliable because so much (that is, all) of his energy went into dealing with my mom- responding to her impossible needs or tantrums and all the while trying to shield me from the worst of her abuse while steadfastly refusing to take the only real logical or effective step available, that is, to remove me from the abusive environment. Any attempt on his part to spend meaningful time with me when he wasn’t exhausted or otherwise occupied by dealing with her was instantly met with some action on her part that would thwart his investment in me. She simply couldn’t allow any show of love that wasn’t directed at her, and couldn’t receive the ones that were. All of that, then, is simply to say that my mother emotionally abused/abandoned me, but my father emotionally abandoned me too. My mother might have had a lot to do with it, but my dad still made plenty of choices along the way. Hence, I can relate to that “desperate seeking of connection and acceptance through…numerous processes of perfectionism and endangerment.” Look, I’m doing it now.

In my case, I experience that desperate need for connection and acceptance in part through a desire to be known as someone who has been through everything I’ve been through. I’ve spoken before about the cathartic release I used to get from telling my story. Like any drug, that effect has waned over time, and the repeated traumas in my life that led to my C-PTSD diagnosis have made for a story that I now grow weary of telling, let alone living. Still, part of me still so very desperately wants to be known, to be accepted and validated as a resilient survivor. Sadly, I know now, or at least think I do, that I want this so badly in part because I believe I can never be “good enough,” though maybe I would be if my efforts just to survive were known. It’s why the old Keith Green song with the lyrics, “My son, my son, why are you striving? You can’t add one thing to what’s been done for you…” have always been so meaningful for me, because I’m ALWAYS striving, always trying to add to what’s been done for me in the hope that some day I might be good enough, good enough to be, to exist, to live in my own skin and in the world without having to justify my presence.

“Justify my presence…” As I wrote those words, I wondered, “What good am I?” “Why am I here?” “What right do I have to be here?” All of these are questions that haunt me, that drive so much of what I do. Lately I would say that I’m not much good at all, that I have little right to be here, that my presence serves little purpose. Oh, sure, I know I have a wife and sons that love me and need me, that depend on me for so many things, but then again I don’t really “know” it, and I wonder if even that would be enough if I did, especially since I’m currently so spectacularly failing to be the good father and husband I want and need to be (ah, the perfectionism of a C-PTSD sufferer). I’m equally failing to be the kind of employee, or runner, or citizen, or homeowner, or friend, or family member, or- God forbid- (ha!) “Christian” I know I need to be too, and I can give you legitimate, concrete reasons for each and every one of those assertions. I struggle to get enough sleep or sleep too much. I respond to my fourteen-month-old’s waking up at least eight times last night with anger, not the love I want and need to give (and so risk perpetuating the cycle of abuse I’m mired in). Speaking of anger, it sits there, boiling, just under the surface of my daily experience, ready to explode at the nearest driver who tries to pass me or coffee shop barista who grabs my nearly-filled-up-over-more-than-a-year’s-time frequent drinker card and summarily throws it out because it’s now expired. I’m not just angry, though. I’m stuck, inextricably mired in this pattern of not taking care of myself, not brushing and flossing as often as I should, again not sleeping or sleeping too much, not preparing my lunch or getting up on time for work, not running every day, eating terribly and overmuch, not reaching out and cultivating the relationships I know I need, etc.

The daily discipline of simply doing what I know I need to do every day feels so completely and impossibly overwhelming and unattainable that I am loathe to even try. If I was living the life I should be I would get up each day no later than 4 am. I would spend half an hour doing Daily (morning) Prayer from the Common Prayer book I so appreciate. I would then do my sit-ups and push-ups and then run at least 3 miles, all by 5:30 or so. That leaves time to eat, shower, make sure Samuel is ready for school, and then be on my way. At work I would be focused and perfectly caught up with everything, which right now during the “Special Ed crunch” is a nearly impossible task in and of itself. I would come home on time each day having already run and ready to assist Kirsten with whatever is needed, including making sure she can get out the door on time for work on any given evening without feeling harried or rushed. After she’s gone, I’d do the dishes faithfully every night since she so faithfully cooks such wonderfully healthy and often vegan and organic meals for us every single night. I’d likewise clean up around the house and care for the boys, perhaps taking Samuel to running practice if it’s a Tuesday or Thursday. I’d get the kids in bed making sure I faithfully read to Nathan so that he becomes as advanced a reader as Samuel is, not to mention singing and otherwise bonding with Nathan and getting him in bed. Then I’d do evening prayer with Samuel and go through his routine including the therapeutic stretching he needs for his Cerebral Palsy and practicing tying his shoes, etc. Only then could I turn to whatever work I’ve brought home with me and too often leave in the car. After that I should turn to whatever tasks are left undone (filing things, keeping up with bills, yard work, etc.) around the house before getting in at least a solid 90 minutes of reading and writing before going to bed. And I ought to go to bed by 10 if I intend to get up at 4 and start all over.

Now, look. I know most people could give a similar list of all their responsibilities and it would be equally- if not much more- overwhelming. Some of this is a function of the kind of lives we lead in our society. I wouldn’t dare to think I’m overly special in this way. I’m merely trying to relate my experience of my own life and describe why I currently find it debilitatingly daunting. The fact is I’m struggling to do a bare minimum of that stuff and I continue to feel desperately abandoned. As I thought/said when my Dad finally died, “Well, now I guess I really am alone.” I had always suspected I was, after all. One part of me “knows” that I’m not, but I guess this just gives credence to my diagnosis. What to do with it all is the task I’m confronted with now. I just wish it didn’t feel like yet another task. I’ve got too many of those as it is.

Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama – The Atlantic

I like the President, a LOT, and was so glad to be part of history. I wanted hope and change, and still do. But I hoped for changes that would go much farther- a single payer health system, more wealth redistribution from top to bottom, and so much more. In the meantime, sadly, I think the author has a point:

Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama – The Atlantic.