Be Encouraged, You’re Doing Better Than You Think

Yesterday a stranger left a very sweet comment on a piece I’d written, saying, “I wish I was half as good a person as you seem to be.”

My reply to her was, “I wish I was too.”

Her kind words revealed the universal flaw of humanity: we are chronically oblivious to our own goodness.

We all suffer from comparison sickness; forever measuring the reality of ourselves against what we imagine about everyone else. We view our lives with an unforgiving microscope of hyper-proximity and the rest of the world through a filtered telescope of manipulated distance. We see what people choose to reveal to us, whatever we can glean from our brief interactions with them, and given what we know about ourselves—this is a competition we can never, ever win.

As a result, we go through much of our lives believing that everyone else has achieved a level of success we can never quite manage; in our careers, our relationships, our finances, our sex lives, our sense of self, our experience of joy. We all feel perpetually less-than. All of us.

And trust me, it doesn’t matter if the object of your gaze at any given moment is a public figure whose words you admire, that endlessly cheerful acquaintance on social media, the well-dressed neighbor you wave to in the morning, the effervescent guy you work with: none of them have their shit together in the way you imagine they do, and every one of them is far less okay than you think they are. The followers they have, the thinness of their waist, the cars in their driveway, and the kudos they achieve don’t make them impervious to disappointment and rejection. 

That isn’t to demean them, it’s to remind you that people are always in more pain than you realize, and to caution you against comparing your ugly truth with another’s carefully crafted facade. Measuring your goodness by anyone else is a really bad idea because you’re always working with incomplete information.

Today I re-shared this family portrait from a few years ago on social media.

Now as then, it garnered all sorts of lovely responses, with many commenting that we were the “perfect family”—and on the surface we were exactly that. But the truth was that we were a walking disaster. I’d lost my father suddenly 5 weeks earlier, and we were in the middle of packing up to move to a new city, leaving behind a community and careers we’d loved and the only home our kids had ever known. We were grieving and exhausted and terrified. If we could have picked a worse time to do this, I can’t think of it. But we were a family and we loved each other, and so we soldiered on while a photographer captured moments that magically erased any evidence of our sadness. And it is these moments, not our grief and exhaustion, that we chose to broadcast for public consumption.

And this is the great irony; that in the middle of our worst days we all put on our bravest faces and radiate okay-ness, all the while people around us are aspiring to who they believe we are, envious of what it looks like we have, desiring the apparent greenness of our respective grass. 

We’re all seeing other people through a small and very selective window, and that window usually doesn’t allow us to see how much people are hurting, the insecurities they’re carrying, the hell they’ve gone through or may be going through.

All this to say that we’re all a mess and no one is as together, happy, or confident as we want ourselves to appear, so go easy on yourself when you feel you’re not measuring up.

Don’t aspire to be as good as anyone else. They’re not that good either.

Be encouraged friend—you’re better than you think.

The Church of Not Being Horrible

I’m tired.

I’m tired of professed Christians preaching a Jesus that they seem to have no interest at all in emulating; of religious people being a loud, loveless noise in the world while claiming to speak for a God who is supposedly love.

I know the world is tired of such people.

I’m fairly certain that God is too.

I’m starting a new church: the Church of Not Being Horrible.

Our mission statement is simply this—Don’t be horrible to people:

Don’t treat them as less worthy of love, respect, dignity, joy, and opportunity than you are.
Don’t create caricatures out of them based on their skin color, their religion, their sexual orientation, the amount of money they have, the circumstances they find themselves in.
Don’t seek to take away things from them that you already enjoy in abundance: civil rights, clean water, education, marriage, access to healthcare.
Don’t tell someone’s story for them about why they are poor, depressed, addicted, victimized, alone. Let them tell their story and believe they know it better than you do.
Don’t imagine that your experience of the world is everyone’s experience of the world; that the ease, comfort, support, affection you have received are universal.
Don’t be preoccupied with how someone experiences God, how they define family, who they love. Cultivate your faith, family, and marriage alone.

The central question at any given moment in the church is: Am I being horrible right now? If one concludes that they are, they endeavor to not do so. If they are unsure, they allow other people to help them see their horrible blind spots of privilege, prejudice, and ignorance—and then they respond.

In other words, our sacred calling is to be decent, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be whatever it is that we believe the world is lacking: to be the kind of person the world needs—and it definitely needs people being less horrible these days. 

The Church of Not Being Horrible will gather every week to celebrate the inherent goodness of people. We’ll share stories of the ways we succeeded in being less than horrible to our families, coworkers, and strangers, and we’ll challenge ourselves to be even less horrible in the coming week. We’ll do this faithfully, repeatedly, and passionately, and hopefully we’ll begin to watch the world around us gradually become less angry, less bitter, less painful—less horrible.

I’m not sure such religion will catch on, as being horrible seems to be trending these days but I think it’s worth a shot. I think it might alter the homes, marriages, and communities we’re living in, if not the planet we’re standing on. It might renovate our very hearts, themselves so prone to being horrible. It might help us become the best version of ourselves that we are able to be.

If you’re interested in joining the church, you don’t need to pray a magic prayer. You don’t have to attend a membership class or recite any creeds or take a test or promise to give financially. There are no theological or bureaucratic hoops to jump through.

There is no conversion, there is only commencement. You simply begin, right where you are, in this very moment—seeking to be less horrible to the people you live with, work with, come across in the street, interact with online, see from a distance. That’s it. 

It may seem like a low bar to set, but it’s actually a beautiful aspiration: making the world less cruel, less violent, less insulting—less horrible.

If you feel like that might be a religion worthy of your days: let’s have some church, friends.

 

 

Hey America, are We “Great” Yet?

Are we great yet, America?

I’ve been wondering if we’re here; if this is the supposed greatness he was talking about, the kind his supporters were forecasting, the kind their hashtags refer to. It hasn’t seemed particularly great to me lately, but hey I’ve been wrong before so I started asking around.

I asked a young Syrian couple, handcuffed at the airport next to their 5-year old son. They weren’t so sure.

I asked a Standing Rock grandmother, as a stranger flushed pepper spray from her eyes. It was difficult for her to say for certain.

I asked a Transgender middle school girl who has to wait until she gets home from school to use the bathroom. She had her doubts.

I asked an exhausted single father whose 8-year old son will soon be losing his reduced price lunch. He didn’t look convinced.

I asked a Muslim family in a Detroit suburb, while they scrubbed the spray painted profanity from their front door. They were less than certain.

I asked the public high school Science teacher who has been told that she is overpaid and that the earth is not warming. She is less than enthusiastic.

I asked the wounded Veteran whose benefits aren’t likely going to be enough to sustain him as he becomes a grandfather. He was fighting to stay optimistic.

I asked the black teenager, as he watched the KKK parade past family’s Virginia row home. He had no reply.

I asked a teacher at a Jewish day school as she and her students huddled outside while waiting on the bomb squad to sweep their classroom. She was noncommittal.

I asked the gay couple, wondering if they’ll get to have the wedding their families have been dreaming of for years. They couldn’t answer.

I asked the Alabama family whose taxes and health insurance costs will climb next year, eliminating the already razor-thin breathing room they had. They didn’t think so.

I asked the Rust Belt factory worker who is now realizing that his job isn’t ever coming back and that coal isn’t either. He looked unsure.

I asked the fourth grade students in an inner city Philadelphia theatre program, whose coming semesters are in doubt. They weren’t able to answer.

I asked the undocumented woman being separated from her husband and 5 children who are all citizens. She looked skeptical.

I asked the elderly couple in a public housing neighborhood in New York City, whose ceiling is still leaking and will keep leaking. They didn’t believe so. 

I asked the exhausted parents of an adult daughter with severe depression who will soon be losing the healthcare that keeps her illness at bay. They had their doubts.

I asked the victim of a campus sexual assault, who feels less able to come forward than ever. She had no answer.

Then I asked a wealthy, white, straight, Christian Republican Congressman, whose salary, family, healthcare, job security, emotional well-being, and daily life are unaffected. He’s sure it is.

Maybe he’s right and we’re all wrong. Maybe the rest of us need to get with the program. Maybe we all need to stop complaining. Maybe we all need to shut up and embrace America’s present, glorious greatness.

All we need to do now, is to all become wealthy, white, straight, Christian Republican Congressmen—and we’ll be set.

Or maybe those of us who are not—need to make our voices heard.

Get on with it, America.

 

 

 

 

Non-Republican Christians Exist. I am One.

I am a Christian.

I am a Christian and I am not a Republican.

Contrary to some reports, I am not a mythical creature relegated to story books and fanciful campfire tales. I do exist. I am not a leprechaun or a unicorn, I am flawed, failing flesh and blood working out a working religion here alongside you with fear and great trembling. I am a person of deep and abiding faith—and I do not vote Red.

I grew-up believing that the GOP owned Jesus; that no one could come to him except through the Party. This often caused me to soften or conceal my religious convictions or to dismiss them inside my own head whenever they deviated from the platform. When seeing the disconnect between the compassionate, sacrificial, loving Christ and the bitter, fearful, territorial religion being practiced in his name—I was made to feel wrong. I was made to assume mine was the moral flaw. 

It took me a while to rewrite this false story, to realize that someone could indeed be Christian and:

support women in leadership  
bless marriage equality
embrace the LGBTQ community
not dismiss other faith traditions
not believe the Bible was directly dictated by God
affirm a woman’s right to choose
oppose the Death Penalty
not worship America
not vote Republican

It’s taken me decades to walk fully into the simple reality that Jesus was not a Republican, that his platform transcended any and all containers we might fashion for him, that he was and is calling people to a narrower road, to a bigger table. Ironically the further I distance Jesus from any political affiliation or religious institution trying to tell me what he looked like, the more clearly I am able to see him.

I’ve wasted a lot of time being shamed into silence and apologizing for my faith conclusions, and yet that isn’t the greatest regret I have of this journey. The saddest truth of all, is realizing that this shame and silence have allowed a distorted Christianity to flourish, one that has propagated the idea that Jesus is something not revealed in his actual words and in his life as depicted in the Scriptures. It has yielded a white, angry Messiah who loves America more than the world; one who fears the outsider, resents the different, and exploits the vulnerable. It turns out that when politics tries to commandeer religion, it never goes well. It is not going well right now.

In a year when Christianity has been more entwined with a political party than ever—I am a proud conscientious objector. I stand simultaneously both in faith and in opposition to this bastardized, bully version of Jesus’s message, because it is not worthy of walking in and aspiring to.

The faith I come with is one that is trying to be marked by gentleness and grace, one that bends low to love the least, one that is not preoccupied with fear. It is a religion seeking to replicate the life of Jesus as best it can in this jagged, quivering bit of imperfect humanity. I am going to continue this journey, speaking clearly and loudly, and following the path wherever it takes me.

I don’t need you to share my convictions but I demand that you respect my road and I hope you’ll hear the contents of my heart. No politician speaks for me and no system represents me. I am striving toward something more deeply personal and far greater than a political party—and I’m not apologizing for it any more.