Dancing With My Daughter

I was really busy last night.

As usual, I’d piled far too much on my plate and found myself at the end of another day; hovering over a screen and keyboard, feverishly typing, furrowing my brow—and feeling annoyed at the seemingly insurmountable, important things still unfinished. 

My 8-year old came bounding into the room (which in itself felt like an interruption at first). I answered her succession of rapid fire questions abruptly without looking up—hoping she’d get the hint that I was preoccupied and stop asking.

She didn’t.

Then she said that she’d set up a light show in her room and asked if I’d have a dance party with her.

For a split second I considered declining and excusing myself; telling her how much work I had to do and how tired I was, and promising her we could do it another time.

Then it occurred to me that she didn’t want to dance another time. She wanted to dance with me now. 

I realized that there are a finite number of times I’ll get such an invitation—and I’d never again get this one.

I knew I’d never be face to face with this specific version of my daughter; at this precise age, in this exact moment, offering this once-in-History chance to dance with her.

And boy did we dance.

There in the rainbow strobe lights of her room we twirled and giggled and spun; each taking turns prompting the other to follow. We banged on drums and tossed stuffed animals and jumped off the bed. I felt my brow unfurrow and my jaw soften and my anxiety subside in the presence of this deniable joy. 

I looked into my daughter’s eyes as she bounced wildly in front of me, her face beaming. I could see that this was all she wanted in the world right now; to dance with her Daddy—and I was grateful that I stopped the world so that I was there with her. I was glad I didn’t get fooled into believing there was anything else more pressing, more urgent, more important than that moment. I’m glad I didn’t miss this chance to dance.

This morning my daughter is different. She is a day older today, imperceptibly changed.

There’s no guarantee she’ll ever ask me to dance again. This is how the lasts times with our kids are (the last tuck-ins, the last fort builds, the last dance parties, the last throw and catch.) You only realize they were the lasts, as you look back and miss them and wish you had one more chance to say yes.

I really hope my daughter asks me to dance again, but even if she doesn’t—I said yes this time.

Parents, our days with our kids are rainbow strobe light flashes: blink and they’re gone. They are beautiful dance parties that we get one chance to show up for.

This moment is a singular gift, so do you best not to waste it. Build every fort, read every story, throw every ball, accept every dance party invitation. You’ll never regret such things.

There is nothing more pressing or urgent or important than being with the version of your child that you’ll never get to be with again.

I was really busy last tonight.

I’m glad I wasn’t too busy to say yes to my daughter.

Don’t miss your chance to dance.


The Sinful Silence of Mainline Christian Pastors

Christianity in America is being radicalized.

As it further aligns with this Presidency, under the leadership of opportunistic Conservative preachers and evangelists—it is jettisoning the compassion, love, and commitment to the poor and disenfranchised of its namesake; quickly becoming a bitter tribe of angry, white nationalists who have no need for the open-hearted Jesus of the Gospels, when it can live off the closed borders of America First.

Growing in malevolence and more and more prone to violence, the American Church is becoming a safe haven for those who have contempt for the very people Jesus spent his life caring and advocating for; the poor, the invisible, the outsiders, the marginalized. It is no longer sanctuary for disparate souls looking for refuge—but a hospitable greenhouse for white supremacy and isolationism.

Yet, it isn’t the radical fringes of the Christian Right alone that have been responsible for this commandeering of the tradition of Jesus of Nazareth here in America.

They’ve had lots of help from the Center and the Left.

Right now the message of Jesus is being hijacked by extremist Evangelicals—and too many progressive Christian leaders are complicit in the crime; inwardly horrified but increasingly silent bystanders.

The shameless volume of Bible Belt Evangelical Pastors, combined with the fearful silence of their Mainline Protestant counterparts, is perpetuating the fake news narrative that to be Christian is to support this President. 

The absence of loud, clear, persistent, opposing moderate voices of faith, is giving millions of people in the middle, no choice but secession from the Church.

I hear their stories every day as I travel around this country. An army of Blue Christians in America, sharing Jesus’ heart for the marginalized, his burden for the poor, his barrier-transcending expansion of the table—are leaving their churches because they see leaders developing feet of clay. They’re watching ministers avoiding the turbulence of speaking with clarity into the injustices of the moment, choosing to hide behind vague and unassuming words they hope will be enough.

They aren’t enough.

The reasons for Mainline Protestant pastor silence are legion;
a genuine desire to be a more measured, more polite voice of faith that easily drifts into lukewarm religion,
a theology less prone to absolutes and less driven by the threat of damnation—and the urgency it generates on the other side,
a subtle, unseen privilege that feels insulated from the damage being done,
a fear of the pushback explicitly speaking into the political environment will bring from more Conservative people in their local congregations,
the simple self-preservation of keeping the peace and avoiding controversy.

The results though, are terrifyingly similar:

Christianity is becoming more and more characterized by fear and bigotry and anger—and it is driving away those who want no part of such things. Millions of people of deep faith, are choosing to join political and civic organizations in order to do the bold, resistance work that they wish their churches were doing—and as a result, they are hastening the radicalizing of the Church being formed elsewhere.

I talked to a Presbyterian minister recently while visiting Alabama. “I so appreciate you saying what you’re saying” he said. “I wish I could say it.” I asked him why he couldn’t. He didn’t respond with words, but I saw in his face an expression I’ve seen many times before: terror.

We need courageous Christians in this moment.

Right now, Protestant pastors, ministers, and the people in their communities—need to find their outside voices.
They need to free themselves from decorum and niceness, and most of all from the fear of conflict that comes when you name and directly confront injustice.
They need to read the Sermon on the Mount again, and to realize that they are charged with stewarding these words and this work, at this place and time in the history of the planet.
They need to call out evil as evil, wrong as wrong, hatred as hatred.
They need to welcome the trouble that being prophetic voices brings—because that is the holy ground on which Jesus stood while here.

There is another story and another expression of Christianity; one that isn’t marked by exclusion and hatred and discrimination. People want it and they need to see it.
There are churches all over this country doing beautiful, diversity-welcoming, equality-championing work. They need to tell people why they do that work and call out those contesting such work.
Hateful people are loudly claiming they speak for Jesus as they cause injury. We need people who will counter as loudly with his actual words. 

In a time when the story of Christianity in America is being written by those with no desire to incarnate the compassionate heart of Jesus, silence isn’t just cowardly and dangerous and irresponsible—it’s sinful.


Gun Lover, This Isn’t About the Constitution

Gun lover,

Can we just be honest, here?

This isn’t about the Constitution.

I know you say that it is, and admittedly you sure do name-drop it an awful lot in our interactions.

On the surface, you seem really passionate about the document—at least while you’re trying to somehow connect the dots between well-regulated Militias and muskets—and the present proliferation of high-powered, military grade weapons specifically designed to expediently kill lots of people.

That in itself would be an absurd correlation to try and make, which seems obvious to the rest of us:

As they drafted the 2nd Amendment, the Founding Fathers certainly would have never dreamed of tools of such quick carnage, so easily attainable by the mentally ill, the unstable, the young, and the angry.

They couldn’t have foreseen one of our political parties fully beholden to a fringe group of violent radicals like the NRA; contributing millions upon millions to our elected officials in exchange for legislative protections and bully pulpits.

The architects of our laws weren’t imaging the likes of Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch, perpetually harassing shooting survivors and dismissing grieving parents and vilifying the media and taunting gun reform activists on Town Hall stages, over social media platforms, and in incendiary videos.

There would have been no way for them to anticipate the culture of wanton weapon lust we’d have cultivated here; the gun shows and trade expos and merchandising—or a secondary market where any pissed-off person with enough cash can accumulate enough ammo to level a city block.

Invoking the 2nd Amendment in light of such things is a fairly nonsensical tactic, if you really think about it—and we have.

But even if we agreed on what the document says you’re allowed as far as firepower, I’ve noticed that you don’t really love the Constitution—at least not for everybody and not all the time:

You have little regard for freedom of the Press (at least for non-Fox News outlets). In that case, you’re normally fine with a President using his platform and office to discredit, malign, and make an enemy out of it. The Bill of Rights, in these moments is far less pressing for you.

As fond as you claim to be about the Second Amendment, your love for the First, doesn’t seem quite as unconditional or fervent. You tend not to want people to speak freely if they’re not white, anti-abortion, Christian Republicans. If they claim that Black Lives Matter or they’re LGBTQ-affirming or they acknowledge climate change or they favor sensible gun reform—the last thing you want is for them is the freedom to say so.

From what I’ve seen, you also really aren’t that big on religious freedom either (Conservative Evangelical Christianity excluded). I don’t see you rushing to the defense of Muslims being persecuted and marginalized here as a result of the open hostility created by this President. In fact, you usually applaud it.

And I can’t help noticing that you’re decidedly against the Constitutional rights of people to protest, if they’re black or professional athletes or teenage shooting survivors or women with pink hats. No, in those cases you’re pretty quick to shut that sh*t down—Constitution and inalienable rights be damned!

You’re dead set against illegal searches, and of people’s rights not to be harassed in their homes and at their workplaces and in their cars—unless of course they fit the profile of the kind of people you’re okay enduring such things. (You know the ones I mean.)

In other words, you have a lot to say about the sanctity of the rule of law—unless the people you voted for disregard it for whatever reason. (And they do quite often these days.)

In the end, all your flag-waving fervor and your constant Constitution name-dropping and your America First rhetoric—that’s not what this is about at all.

This is about you and your guns.
It’s about how much you love them; about how big and strong they make you feel.
It’s about the cowboy fantasies you have in your head and the mythology you’ve created about “good guys with guns”—and you think you’re the good guy.

It’s about your idolatry of the weapons themselves; about you not being willing to suppress your passion or reconsider the status quo or bend an inch—even to save the lives of millions of other Americans also trying to cash in on that Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness stuff you want for your self.

If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t be so strident in opposing sensible gun reform, you wouldn’t be ignoring the NRA’s influence on our political system, and you’d be a lot more zealous regarding the rights of people now living in a country awash with weapons.

If you were all-in on an America where the freedoms and opportunities our forebears had in mind, were indeed fully available to all who come and reside here, we’d be able to have a productive conversation about what the 2nd Amendment should mean at this place and time. (And it doesn’t include AR-15s.)

We could find a place of compromise that would make everyone here safer.

But I don’t think that America is the one you claim to love and value and defend—or have that much interest in.

I don’t believe that sprawling, diversity-protecting, equality-defending Constitution is all that vital to you.

I think you just really love your guns, far more than any of the human collateral damage crested by them.

Just a shot in the dark.



The Last Time I Hugged My Father

It was a bright, brilliant Thursday afternoon in June outside the Syracuse airport.

As the car came to rest next to the curb, my wife and my kids and I all spilled out of the car and began hurriedly collecting our things. I clicked up the handle on my suitcase and turned to my father, and he wrapped his arms around me and said he loved me. After a final round of warm goodbyes, my family and I headed into the terminal as he stood by the car waving. Eventually he disappeared from view.

That was the last time I saw my father.  

A few months later he died very suddenly, and when I traveled back to the airport for his funeral a couple of weeks later, it hit me like a sledgehammer, breaking through the sedative haze of my grief: This was the very spot where he and I last had physical contact. We would never hug again.

I fell against a wall and wept, as it had now become holy ground. There, in front of dozens of people saying their ordinary goodbyes, I sobbed and trembled.

I rewound through a lifetime of memories of our physical connection: sitting on his lap at family gatherings, him tossing an 8-year old me in the air in our backyard pool, him rubbing my head as a teenager as he asked me how my day was, him grabbing my face and beaming with pride on the day I got married—and that final embrace there on that piece of concrete.

I’d been fortunate to have had 44 years of these moments, but I still felt robbed. I didn’t want that to be the end. 

The last moments with people we love, almost never tell us they’re the last moments while they’re happening. They rarely broadcast their gravity and finality at the time; usually disguising themselves as ordinary exchanges in the kitchen or at the bus stop or at the airport.

Maybe that’s a good thing, as our hearts probably couldn’t bear the weight of such moments in real-time. The desire to freeze life or to hold on or to change the story, would likely be too much to bear. Still, I wish I’d known at the time that this airport farewell hug our last one. I’d have held on a little longer.

Death always comes as an interruption. It always leaves things unfinished. It always creates too many lasts that we’re not ready for: last embraces, last kisses, last head strokes, last tickle fights, last airport hugs.

We can’t prepare for these abrupt and permanent disconnections, all we can do is to try and be as present as we can in every moment with the people we love; to give affection lavishly, to do it without reservation or embarrassment, to say our hellos and our goodbyes well.

As I looked up through tear-swollen eyes, at all the dozens of strangers hugging each other another outside their cars, I wanted to run up to them all and make sure they said goodbye well; that they understood just how fragile life is and how this patch of concrete could easily become for them, an unlikely memorial.

But I knew that would be jarring and awkward and weird—and I knew they probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.

Hugging my father that day beside his car, now four years ago—I wouldn’t have believed it either.

Embrace and touch and kiss and fiercely hug the people you love while you can.

You’ll never be ready for the moment that you can’t.