“D” is for depressed. (That’s good enough for me)

Since my birthday, I have been incredibly depressed. If you’ve not read Allie Brosh’s description of depression in “Hyperbole and a Half, then you should go here and read it immediately. She does as good a job as anyone describing what it’s like to live chronically with depression.

I’ve had a hard time over the last couple of years coming to terms with the “d” word. A couple of years ago a therapist I was seeing asked me if I was depressed. I felt like he should know that. Isn’t that why I was seeing him? Looking back I realize that depression is not that simple. Depression for me, and many others isn’t necessarily “sad”. I have a friend who likes to remind me that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness, it’s vitality.

So on days when I’m feeling like I have been the last couple of weeks, the smallest things feel like big wins. Getting out of bed? Amazing! Feeding myself? Epic! Going to work? Downright heroic! Every interaction with another human is a herculean feat of strength and endurance. This week, I have slept an incredible amount. And I feel exhausted. I constantly feel like curling up and taking a nap would be a good next step. I have inexplicable body pains. Maybe they’re just bed sores.

I also don’t enjoy much. That’s one of the really frustrating things about depression. You’re natural tendency is to do the things that make you happy, in hopes that they will snap you out of your funk. But you begin to build up a resistance to those things you once enjoyed, if you can find the motivation to do them at all. So I spend a lot of time seeking entertainment without actually being entertained.

Depression steals your sense of self worth in really fundamental ways. One of the indicators that my depression is on an upswing is the level to which I am taking care of myself. Well, the level to which I am not taking care of myself. I don’t eat unless other people are around. Who do I think I am eating alone? Like I deserve food or something! I’ve probably been drinking a tad too much. I haven’t been exercising. I have books with daily reading that I do in the morning to get myself focused. I haven’t been doing those. I’m not doing much to improve my financial prospects right now. I have paper work that I need to tend to. My room is a mess.

None of these things are evident to be around me. I invest a lot of time in making other people laugh. As my depression has gotten worse, I’ve become a bit of a class clown at work. It’s actually what allows me to do my job and it’s probably making me better at work. I’m just not taking much very seriously. I post funny things on Facebook. There is a validation in making other people laugh. I feel like shit. You shouldn’t have to. I don’t want people to feel like I feel. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy… I don’t have one of those, by the way. I like to make people happy. Somehow I got it in my head that if people like me I wouldn’t be so depressed. This is, of course, not true. Lots of people like me. Quite a few people love me. That’s not really doing much for me these days.  I know intellectually that I am loved. I feel like I’m supposed to “feel” loved…

… and that’s one of the truly devastating things about depression; the numbness. I often feel like I’m supposed to a certain emotion. Kitten? Happy! Dead kitten? Sad! Kitten dead from gunshot wound? Righteously indignant about the state of our country’s gun laws! I tend to not actually feel any of those things, but I know my scripts:

“Damn you, kitten-shooting gun nuts! The second amendment was not intended for you to defend yourself from every black cat that stirs up your superstitions! He was just a kitten!”

Numbness is fine at first. Being numb to your sadness or anger, that’s fantastic. Who wants to feel that shit? But when you find yourself feeling indifferent about the things that are supposed to bring you joy and fulfillment? That’s less than ideal. “Numb” sometimes feels like the price of survival. If I let the feels in, when I let the feels in on rare occasion, they threaten to take me over and take me to a dark place I fear from which I will not return.

Picture 54

A therapist I was seeing last year suggested that I try personifying the depression. I didn’t have much luck with that. I’ve been depressed for so long without knowing it, the only face that I can attach to depression is my own. We even have the same first initial. She was trying to help me see the depression as something “other”. I struggle with that. It feels intrinsic. It wasn’t that big a leap from accepting that I am depressed to accepting that depression is me.

Being with the kids snaps me out of my depression. Part of that is that they’re super demanding. They force me outside of myself. They make me sing and dance and play games and cook meals and change diapers and give baths and read books. People will often say that the best way to snap out of depression is to serve others. I think that’s true to a point. It’s a slippery slope from getting over yourself and seeing the needs of others down to “I only have worth if I’m doing something for others”. Depression is a tricky bastard because it can reinterpret even the positive things that you’re doing into self loathing. I’ve had friends who suffered with depression. While I was outwardly sympathetic, I secretly thought of them as selfish. This was during my (self) righteous phase when I was serving God with energy and enthusiasm! It’s funny how a desire to serve can turn into being overwhelmed by the vastness of the world’s problems and being fully aware of how meager your efforts are… which is depressing. I should apologize to those friends. I realize now how much energy they were expending just getting out of bed each morning.

I have some very real factors contributing to my depression: divorce, under-employment, displacement, career disruption, financial insecurity… these things aren’t imagined. Many people have said to me that “anyone would be depressed going through what you are right now”. That’s probably true. But there was a time when I didn’t have these factors in my life and I was still emotionally numb, where I couldn’t recognize the good around me. I don’t think my depression is worse than anyone else’s. In fact, I think it’s pretty mild. But it is real and I can’t pretend that it’s not a factor in my daily living.

“It won’t always be this way”. Friends and therapist alike have used this phrase with me. I believe it to be true and I suppose that’s what keeps me going. Although circumstances will change, my depression will always be there to some degree. The awareness of it is a good start. I’m hoping that soon I will care enough about myself to get back to managing it. Today, all I can do is write about it…

…and maybe take a nap…

Resistance is (not) futile: Some thoughts on Marcus Borg (see what I did there?)

I join with many of my friends in mourning the loss of Marcus Borg. Borg was a new testament scholar, an author, a prominent figure in the Jesus Seminars and the movement for the study of the historical Jesus. For many, he gave us a version of Christianity that we could hold on to when it seemed that the faith of our childhoods refused to grow up and mature with us.

I encountered Borg early in my seminary career. We read the book he co-authored with N.T. Wright entitled The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions in my theology class. The book is a conversation between two biblical scholars, one from the liberal side of the spectrum (Borg) and the other more conservative (Wright). Despite the reputation my school had for being liberal, it felt as if we were being challenged to side with Wright wherever possible. Maybe that was just an internal pressure that I felt. I was fighting hard to keep this liberal mumbo jumbo from diluting my faith. Borg seemed too “out there”. Too far from orthodoxy. Too far from what we would be comfortable preaching from the pulpit.

And that was the real sticking point. You can believe whatever the hell you want, but what are you actually going to preach? What will stop you from getting ordained? What will stop you from getting a job? What will stop you from keeping a job?

I guess that brings me to a thought about orthodoxy: orthodoxy is a byproduct of privilege. Or… it is a manifestation of privilege. I’m not sure how to say that best, but orthodoxy is linked to power. If I can draw the lines, then I can punish you for drawing outside of the lines. CAnd I can withhold certain privileges (i.e. ordination, gainful employment, etc…) from you if you do decide to color outside the lines. Or color in the wrong shades. The idea of creating and maintaining an orthodoxy is a way of excluding people from communities based on belief. That’s no new thought, but the implications of it, particularly in a creedal denomination like mine, are significant.

Part of what it means to be Christian, in my estimation, is to have an uncomfortable relationship with power. Any kind of power. We’re to pray for those with power, but we’re not to strive for it for ourselves. Ours is to be the power of a weed growing in the direction of compassion, the power of a virus spreading in love and justice from person to person.

This brings me to my most recent encounter with Borg’s writing. At the last church that I served, we read one of Borg’s collaborations with John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week. The book uses the Gospel of Mark to give a very different interpretation of Jesus’ final days than what most of us grew up with. Borg and Crossan see Jesus’ final march to Jerusalem as an assault against the “domination system” of the Roman empire. For them, domination systems have three components: 1) Political oppression where the many are ruled by the few 2) economic exploitation where the work of the many benefits the wealthy few and 3) religious legitimation of the place of the wealthy and powerful. Sound familiar? Borg and Crossan also call domination systems the “normalcy of civilization”/ Depressing, right? Jesus was preaching the Kingdom of God over and against this domination system.

As much as I appreciated Borg’s willingness to be in conversation with Wright, I prefer the consistent message that comes from the Borg/Crossan collaboration: the role of Christ, and therefore the role of the church both then and now, is to be a force of resistance against the domination systems of our day. Our resistance is a pledge of allegiance to something greater than the powers of this world of ours. It requires “.., loyalty and commitment to God’s passion as disclosed in Jesus, a passion for compassion, justice and nonviolence. Compassion – love – is utterly central to the message and life of Jesus, and justice is the social form of compassion… love is the soul of justice, and justice is the body, the flesh of love”.

Borg’s willingness to understand what Jesus’ life meant in his context and to his early followers has had an enormous impact on many people’s faith and lives. Borg’s Jesus is a three-dimensional character, not simply a cardboard cutout or bumper sticker material. I hope that those of us who count Borg as one of our spiritual influences will have the courage to preach the Jesus that Borg taught and wrote of, the radical Jesus who faced down the powers of Rome through compassion and selfless love. Those are, in fact, the only weapons we have against empire.

What broke me

I’ve been stuck in suspended animation since the end of 2011. In significant ways, everything that has happened since, the personal and professional failures, feel rooted in the events of that year. I feel like I have written and spoken ad nauseum about that time of my life. At the same time, digging into this time feels like the key to my movin forward. So here goes…

I graduated from seminary in 2007. After finishing my MDiv I went back to Pittsburgh to be the mission advancement manager of The Pittsburgh Project. In hindsight, that was the “successful” season of my professional career. The Project’s service camp enrollment was the highest it has ever been. We were poised for growth and expansion. We had a robust staff. My work was being noticed. I was being considered, strongly, to become associate executive director of the organization. All good things…

… except, I had just spent 3 years being trained to see myself as a pastor in a congregation. My seminary at the time was pretty laser focused on preparing its students for traditional pastoral ministry. I had always thought I might return to a non-profit like the Pittsburgh Project… well, exactly like the Pittsburgh Project, but when I got there I discovered that I had been programmed with the thought of myself as a congregational pastor and I couldn’t shake that image. It didn’t help that I had two excellent internships where I got to wear the role of pastor with full support from excellent supervisors. So I wasn’t content with where I was at the Project. I started serving a congregation part time in a Pittsburgh community. I got into the rhythm of preaching every week and moderating a session, but I felt like I could do more if I was there full time. That wasn’t a possibility in that congregation and I wanted to have that experience.

And then we got pregnant. And by “we” I mean my wife. I helped, but she did the hard work. We didn’t think we could, so we were pretty excited. Also somewhat terrified. I started looking for full time pastoral jobs across the country. I was offered jobs at five different congregations, which is pretty exciting for someone seeking their first call. We narrowed it down to two churches; one was a small village congregation in upper New York right on Lake Superior. The other was an urban congregation in Springfield, Ohio, a declining former factory town of about 60,000 people. I’ll admit here that my ego was very much at play in this decision. I felt like the village church would be less of challenge. It seemed like any warm body could go in there as a full time pastoral presence in a town that had only one protestant church, and make that congregation healthy. The Ohio church, on the other hand, well… the chair of the search committee told me straight up that in three years the church would either be something different or it would be dead. Challenge accepted! I guess I also felt like the church was already failing and that if it closed it wouldn’t be my fault per se.

Being the new pastor in a small city is big news. Front page news, to be exact. The headline read something to the effect that the Presbyterian church was hiring their first black pastor. There was nice article with a couple of quotes about change and nice headshots. The honeymoon at Oakland was pretty amazing. My son was born three weeks after I started. My first baptism, that of my boy, was the first the church had had in years. It seemed like every day I was meeting someone else in the community who was expressing a desire to work with me. During that early period I tuned out my doom and gloom clerk of session who was constantly talking about our perilous financial situation. I was confident that we would find ways of righting the ship.

During the summer of that first year my wife went back to work. We never planned for her to be a stay-at-home mom. Her career was important to us. She’s a bilingual social worker, so it was easy for her to find work. My schedule was more flexible, so I figured I could help out some with childcare. Sometimes the boy would hang out in the office in the pack and play. We did pay a woman to watch him in her home. She was a wonderfully nice woman, but she was wildly inconsistent. More days than not, the boy hung out with me. That’s when some of the negativity started. People whisper. Church people whisper in passive aggressive tones. I heard older church ladies complain about my not being available because I was with my son. They would question why my wife wasn’t doing “her job”. The funny thing was that people complained about my not doing enough visits, but that summer I did visits with baby in tow. You know what cheers up sick people? Adorable six month olds! It was never those in need of a visit who complained. That summer was also when I became hyper-aware of how different the folks in the pews looked from the folks in the neighborhood. The pews were filled with white senior citizens while the streets were filled with a diverse group of young families. This struck me as problematic. Even more so, I found it problematic that the growth strategy seemed to be get back the people who have left. Some of those who had “left” did so through death. There was no thought of reaching new people, especially not if those people were different in anyway.

The new school year started and I had made some connections with some other organizations in town who were working with youth. Every effort I made to think through ways of inviting new youth into the church or to develop programming for young people was met with either indifference or outright hostility. To make it worse, the loyal young people we did have in the church were treated very poorly. They were critiqued for what they wore to church. Their behavior when they stayed in worship was analyzed. They were looked down upon when they didn’t stay in worship. It was frustrating. How were we supposed to bring in new young people when we treated the young people we did have like they were a nuisance? And these were good kids! Really good kids! It pisses me off to think about some of the things that were said to and about them…

A few months into the school year and all of the connections I was attempting to make were coming up short. Worse, the church was hemorrhaging money. For a church our size, we had a lot of staff. Plus our building was old with quite a bit of deferred maintenance. We needed to care for some of those neglected projects if we were going to take advantage of the space that we had to offer the community. The November session meeting was the beginning of the “come to Jesus” time. I had been told in seminary that you don’t make changes during your first year in a new call because you are the change. That was bad advice for my circumstance. In hindsight, I should have been turning over tables from the door. The doom and gloom clerk, suddenly seemed like the only realistic person in the room. During that meeting, I told the session that I would develop a process that would engage the entire church in thinking through how we would turn things around. We would celebrate Advent and Christmas and then we would get to work.

I wrote quite a bit about our discernment process at the time. You can read that on my other blog.  It was a five month process where we met as an entire church every other week to discuss six different options for moving forward. We talked about my going to part time, sharing our space, merging with another church, starting another ministry within our own, thinking through a parish model with other congregations, and closing the church well. They were hard conversations. Perhaps the best part of the process was that the church was getting together for prayer and food. Nearly every meeting ended with someone expressing why that week’s idea wouldn’t work for us. It was an incredibly disheartening process.

I should say that it was a this point that I got on twitter. I started connecting with other like minded pastors who became an incredible support for me. I got connected with my UNCO community. They were an amazing sounding board for me. They cheered me on through the process.

I should also say that my wife was getting increasingly disgusted with the church. She could see that I was getting beaten up in the process. I would come home from session meetings and pour myself a glass of scotch and sit in silence. I would come home from our discernment meetings and take a nap. She and the boy definitely weren’t getting the best of me.

I do hope that you’ll read my posts on the other blog. I don’t want to rewrite everything I wrote there. When the discernment process ended the church chose the seventh option, the option to do nothing. I felt like I had to give them that option. It was, after all their church, not mine. I railed against it. I told them it was the least faithful option. I told them we would have to go through the process again. I told them they would be flushing their own work and time down the toilet. It didn’t matter. After the congregational meeting where they decided to do nothing, a visitor who sat in on the meeting came up to me with a concerned look on her face. “Derrick, I heard something really disturbing. I was sitting behind two ladies. I heard them say they voted to do nothing because someone would die and leave the church money and everything would be fine”. There you have it, folks. Our sustainability plan was to kill off a few folks in hopes that they would leave their life savings to the church for sentimental reasons.

There was another thing that made the last few months hostile. My thirtieth birthday was January 12th 2010. It was the day of the massive earthquake that killed thousands in Haiti. From that day on, I heard a small voice telling me to go to Haiti. I got a chance offered to me at the beginning 2011. One of my ministry colleagues went down there regularly and invited me to come with her. I first offered that if anyone wanted to come with us, I would welcome their presence. I then asked if they would be willing to support me financially as I went. Finally I asked if they would donate toothpaste, crayons, or anything I could take with me to help out the orphanage I was going down there to serve. Nothing. They did nothing. In fact, they were pretty angry that I went. Haiti changed me. It was my first experience of poverty on that level. It’s hard to tolerate the bullshit we complain about when you see both the conditions that some people live in and the ways that our government affects the lives of people in other countries. The Sunday I was back in worship after going to Haiti, I preached what was, and maybe still is, one of my favorite sermons entitled “Citizens of a heavenly kingdom”. It was not well received. I talked about our primary allegiance being to the Kingdom of God and that we should be critical of the ways that American power is used to hurt others in the world. Did I mention that this was on July 3rd and most of our hymns were of the patriotic variety? Maybe the timing wasn’t great. I stand by the message though.

After months of going back and forth, I decided that I could not be a part of whatever the next steps would be for the congregation. Whatever goodwill I had was completely spent. There was the exhaustion from the discernment process, my Haiti trip, my July 3rd sermon, plus Amendment 10-A passed that May which allowed for the ordination of LGBT ministers. I spent much of the summer defending that. We lost several prominent (read: “wealthy”) members of the congregation over that. My race, age, and politics were used against me. Certain members of the congregation would leave notes for me in the pulpit contradicting a position of mine in the pulpit on Sunday mornings. It was taking a toll on me.

On Easter of that year, I had a panic attack. It took awhile for me to realize that that is what it was. I couldn’t breathe. My chest tightened. I lost my balance. This was before worship began and continued into the start of the service. I was carrying the pressure that this might be this church’s last Easter service on me and it was devastating. I should have known then that my mental health was too heavily invested in what was happening with the church. I should have begun my exit then and there.

I remember a few things about the Sunday I resigned. My friend Mary Charlotte preached a great sermon. One member of the church cried and embraced me. “What’s going to happen to us now,” she asked. Devastating. Several folks didn’t make eye contact with me again after that point. Later that day, The Steelers got blown out by the Ravens in the season opener. I grilled portabella mushrooms. And my wife wasn’t feeling well. Two days later we would find out that she was pregnant. I’ve never had good timing.

I say this in all humility, I preached some great sermons the final two months I was at Oakland. I called it being a professional. The truth is that I loved these folks, I deeply loved them and I still wanted them to know that they were worthy of God’s best. Attendance plummeted. Our financial worries were exacerbated. I was balancing that anxiety with that of trying to find a new job to care for my growing family. I had several interviews where there was zero follow up. I got rejection letters for positions for which I did not apply. I turned down two positions on the West Coast because of distance.

My last Sunday at Oakland was Christ the King Sunday, the week before the start of Advent. They had a little reception for me afterwards, but I couldn’t get out of there quickly enough. Two years earlier I had come in with such hopes. I felt like I let them down. I felt like I was bailing because I wasn’t going down with the ship. One of the members who had been my biggest supporter called me a rat jumping off the boat.

I failed.

Intellectually, I can tell you I did all that I could. I can tell you that there was a part of the bargain that the church didn’t live up to. I can tell you that first calls are always hard and that I was young and on and on and on. I can do all of that in my head. In my heart, I felt like a failure. The message in my head wasn’t getting to my heart and I cracked. I sunk into a deep depression. Depression, I have discovered, isn’t so much about happy or sad. It is about vitality. I had none. I couldn’t feel joy. I couldn’t feel the love that surrounded me. I couldn’t enjoy much in life. I felt that everyone looked at me as a failure.

Oakland closed nearly a year to the date that I resigned. The news of its closing retriggered my depression, as did driving past the boarded up building. The summation of my time there is that the people had reached a point where they feared change more than they feared death. They wanted the place they knew to be there so that, when their number got called, someone would be there to bury them and mourn their passing. That isn’t bad. It’s just fundamentally different from how I was defining church.

I should have taken some time between Oakland and my next church job. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t recovered. I needed to work. I should have gone to Barnes and Noble then! I did foolish, self destructive things that could have hurt my church more than they ultimately did. Thank God for the pastor who came in after me. Don’t get me wrong, I did some good things at that church, but I was in bad shape.

I feel like I could go on and on. Maybe I’ll do something more with this at some point. I write this for pastors. We need to care for ourselves better. We need to know our limits. We need to manage both our expectations and those of the people that we serve. I write this for churches. Your pastors are human, frail and vulnerable, trying to balance the logistics of keeping a community of people afloat with a sense of Divine calling. I write this for the depressed. Know your triggers. Get help. Back away when you must. I write this for those who love the depressed. We don’t always know what we’re feeling in the moment nor do we have the ability to control it. Love us anyway. I write this for all of us. We need each other.

A street fit for a King

Have you been to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd? Or Court? Or Place? Or Street? Or Avenue? Most cities have one. Have you been there?

Probably not. There’s a good chance that it is the worst street in your city. It is more likely than not the epicenter of drug activity and violence. It is probably run down. Maybe it’s abandoned. Maybe you can no longer read the sign that says “MLK Way”. Maybe it has boarded up buildings from when idealistic entrepreneurs attempted to revitalize the street with a small business but soon ran out of capital or customers who were willing to make the perilous jaunt. Revitalization takes time and patience.

I have joked many times about the MLK streets in communities around the city. Once I was going to a convention in Cincinnati. It was my first time in the city. I got lost on my way to my destination and felt fine until I saw a sign that said Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. That’s when I panicked! I’ve said facetiously “what a tribute it is to a great man that we have named all of the worst streets in our country after him?”

Indeed… there could be no better tribute.

What better tribute could there be for a man who called us to repave the Jericho roads so that people were no longer beaten and left on the side of the road there? What better tribute could there be for a man who said that faith was taking the first step even when you cannot see the entire staircase? What better tribute could there be for a man who reminded us that the arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice? My guess is that Dr. King would be thrilled to see his name associated with the aspirational, the hopeful… the faithful.

I compare Dr. King to Jesus a lot. Not so much because he was a saintly, virtuous man. We know enough about him to know that he had some serious warts. No, it’s the fact that we worry so much about their identities that we miss their messages. In some ways their messages were very much the same; compassion, equality, uplift for those who need it, challenge to those who would wield power in oppressive ways. I don’t think either man is best celebrated through pageantry or parade. I think both are remembered best by remembering the substance of their message, a world moving, sometimes at a snails pace, but in the direction of the justice.

If you want to celebrate Dr. King this year, visit the street in your city that bears his name. Or streets like it. Meet the people. Learn the history. Ask questions and listen to the answers. You’ll hear hurt and abandonment. You may hear resignation. But you may also hear hope. You may hear hope that that street can begin to live into its name, that it can become a place of reconciliation and peace. That it can be the epicenter of the beloved community that was, in fact, the heart of Dr. King’s message. Walk down the street. And ask what your role is in making Dr. King’s dream a reality. Not in the safe confines of your home, but on the street that bears the martyr’s name.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King!

martin_luther_king_125_street

I’m always angry

One of my favorite parts of the movie The Avengers is right before the climactic battle scene that levels New York. Our heroes gather, including Dr. Bruce Banner. Captain America urges Dr. Banner to get angry for the battle. In other words, turn into the Hulk and start kicking ass. Banner, replies in his very cool way “That’s my secret… I’m always angry”.

You know what? You should just watch it.

Awesome, right? Here’s the thing, I totally identify with that. My older siblings and I have had this conversation. All of us identify with the feeling of always being angry, but I think people are more surprised to hear that coming from me. My brother is big and loud. I’m small and quiet. That he would be angry seems in character. People would not think to characterize me as angry. My sister has been through a lot. She has every right to be angry.

But there you have it. I’m always angry. Sometimes I can’t even identify a focus for my anger. I’m angry at my father for not being there. I’m angry at my stepfather… for being there. I’m angry at my mother. We’re talking through that and I love her very much. I’m angry at my ex. She’ll be angry with me for mentioning her again. I’m angry at that. I’m angry at all of the people who never gave me a chance, either in relationships or professionally. I’m angry at all of the people who I’ve felt have abandoned me or quit on me. I’m angry at all of the people who have dismissed me because of the color of my skin. Or because of what I didn’t have in my bank account. I’m angry at the people around me who don’t recognize their privilege. I’m angry at injustice. I’m angry at violence. I’m angry at terrorists who think that their religion or race make them superior. I’m angry at the fearful response that say that we fight fire with fire. I’m angry that we continue to support the lie that some people deserve to be obscenely wealthy while others can’t afford the basics of life. I’m angry at all of the ways that humans dehumanize each other.

And yet, gentle readers, your humble narrator would be remiss if he did not admit that he is most angry at himself. For those things that I find deficient in others I find in abundance in myself. I’m angry at the ways that I have failed people. I am angry at the ways that I dehumanize people. I am angry for all of the ways that I came up short. I am angry for all of the times that I quit instead of trying harder. I am angry at all of my defects and imperfections. I am angry that I am struggling with many of the same things with which I struggled a decade ago. I’m angry that I have yet to be perfected.

And this, friends is the root of my self loathing. I have a deep desire to be good… or at least better. In many ways I see the same broken and confused person that I have been for years. In some ways, I have taken steps backwards. I have a hard time seeing the places where I’ve progressed.

My anger at myself has at times turned me into a monster, lashing out with intent to destroy. At other times it has turned me into a robot, cold and unfeeling. And still other times it has turned me into a turtle, hiding in his shell. Depression, I keep being told, is anger turned inwards. I’m starting to believe it.

I think one of the reasons the movie “Frozen” has resonated with so many people is that we can identify with Elsa. We feel like we have been constrained and if we could just unleash all of the things buried inside of us then we would be free. But the truth is that when we “let it go” it has unintended consequences on those around us. Elsa

 

Tangentially, I believe that Elsa is the “villain” in Frozen, but that’s another blog post for another time.

I’m struggling to come to terms with my anger in a way that keeps me from harming others and that keeps me from devaluing myself. It’s not easy. Most days I have to convince myself that I’m worthy of food. It’s why I hate to eat alone.

I don’t know how to end this post. I don’t have an answer for my anger. I wish that I could turn it on like Dr. Banner does at the end, with complete control and focused on the evils threatening the world. Even if I can’t do good with my anger I want to do no harm. In any event, my secret is out: I’m always angry.

There has been an awakening…

 

10805812_10152443711430222_7993691297506344308_n

 

Have you seen this? Of course you have!

Wait, you haven’t? How are we even friends?!

In October of 2013 it was announced that Disney had purchased Lucasfilms and that a new Star Wars trilogy would be produced without the Maker, George Lucas, at the helm. I immediately texted my best friend who was in the process of texting me. I was thrilled. I was immediately transported back to 1997, reading Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, the first of an amazing trilogy of novels that take place five years after Return of the Jedi. Then the announcement of the special editions of the original trilogy, much maligned for tinkering with the sacred texts, but an opportunity to see my favorite films in the theater nonetheless. Around the same time was the announcement of the prequel trilogy.

Ahhh… the prequel trilogy. For those of us who grew up with Star Wars, we were always fascinated by the questions of what came before “Episode 4”. Yes, George Lucas had decided to begin his story en media res and now we were going to get to the beginning. And special effects were so much better now. And, oh my God, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor! And Samuel L. Motherfuckin’ Jackson!!!

Remember that first trailer? Here ya go.

Okay, in hindsight we should have known. We figured Jar Jar would be a side character, not a recurring nuisance. Why is there such an age difference between Obi Wan and Anakin? Who looks like a more realistic puppet, Yoda or Natalie Portman?

Full disclosure, I saw the Phantom Menace in the theater nine times. I saw Attack of the Clones, 5. Revenge of the Sith, 3. I fully embrace that they are flawed films. I have frequent daydreams about being sought after to remake them. I would even use the same characters, I’d just use them better. That’s a tangent. My point is this: it didn’t matter how flawed they were, they were Star Wars!

My first memory of going to the movie theater was me, my siblings, and pretty much all of my cousins going to see Return of the Jedi. I had to have been 3 or 4. I remember the guy dressed like Vader hanging outside of the theater and being a little scared of him. I don’t think I took away any plot points from the film. I remembered Ewoks and Jabba and the magic of a big screen. I remember saving up proofs of purchase, mailing them off in an envelope, waiting six to eight weeks, and then getting a small white box that had an action figure of the Emperor in the mail. Mail! With my name on it. I was like 6! That was amazing!

I had a hodge podge of action figures. In my world, the Ewoks were under constant threat from the Rancor. Incidentally, the rancor had been in some kind of accident (I blame my little sister) and had one of his arms being held on by one of my sister’s hair twisties. He would later lose the arm for good. The Ewoks were then terrorized by a disembodied arm.  After the fighting, the characters all went to sleep in the Darth Vader head carrying case I had for them. A peaceful co-existence, until I ended the ceasefire. I had far more villains than good guys, fortunately the heroes were aided by frequent interventions from Optimus Prime. That’s the awesome thing about kids at play, no boundaries!

I have memories of watching The Empire Strikes Back at my grandparents house. My favorite film at my favorite place… I can’t think of it without smiling.

Star Wars is huge to me. It was my frequent childhood escape. It is the reason I wanted to study film. And, as an adult, it connects me to my childhood. The good parts. The parts that make me smile. It connects me to play and imagination. It connects me to wonder and adventure. It connects me to good vs. evil and rebellion against empire, things I still very much believe in.

The Christian myth (sorry if that word is problematic for you) has been the dominant world defining truth in my life. The American myth is in there somewhere. Star Wars is definitely top five. It has shaped the ways I think about narrative and story. It has shaped my perception of what is and is not heroic. And it has shaped my thoughts on the marriage of business and art. George Lucas may be so-so as a filmmaker, but he’s a genius of a businessman. And say what you will about his filmmaking talents, he has had the humility to let other artists play with his characters and stories. And he has adopted the notion that art is never a finished product. Agree with it or not, it’s a fascinating concept.

So when I see this trailer, the one at the beginning of this post, all of this comes back. I’m an excited little kid again. My love for Star Wars is strong enough to weather a few missteps. And let’s face it, Episode 3 isn’t bad at all. I am a fan. I am a geeky super fan. Decebember 18th can’t get here quickly enough. Or at least May 1st when I’ll get to see the next trailer before Avengers: Age of Ultron (I love you Disney!!!). Next Christmas I’ll sit in a dark theater with my almost six year old son and he’ll see that his daddy is a big kid. And the circle will be complete. (see what I did there? No? Seriously, how are we friends?)

I don’t know what it is for you, that thing that connects you to your childhood, that thing that makes you giddy and playful and imaginative, and passionate. Star Wars is just one of those things for me, but whatever it is for you, let it wake you up. Let it wake up that part of you that dreams and laughs and speculates wildly. Let it awaken that child inside of you that can’t wait to see what happens next.

There has been an awakening. Can you feel it?

 

 

Haunted

This is another contribution to the UNCO synchroblog. You can read other posts in the UnResolved series here. In typical UNCO fashion, I wasn’t sure if our theme was about things in our life that are left unresolved or making an UnResolution to start the new year. So, in typical Derrick fashion, I chose to do both. This post comes with a tigger warning, particularly for those who have experienced domestic violence or abuse. 

I occasionally have very violent dreams. They are, I guess, revenge fantasy dreams. They have often had my stepfather at the center of them and they usually involve me overpowering him in some sort of confrontation, sometimes just verbally, but oftentimes more than that. I had one the other night that was probably the most violent I have ever had, only the subject of the violence was not my stepfather. It was my ex-wife. In the dream I was hitting her, I was choking her… I had no regard for her life and no real remorse about the pain I was inflicting.

It’s hard to even type those words. I am not a violent person. At least, I try to not be a violent person. I was horrified by the dream when I awoke from it. I’ve never laid a hand on my wife in anger. Sorry if I sound defensive… it’s just that I want you to know that that’s not me… except it is.

At some level, these images are at the core of me. Like I said, these are revenge fantasy images. They are my angry self, the self I keep from public consumption. And they are striking back at the people who I imagine have hurt me. They are the powerless me exerting power over those who I feel have used power against me. They are the manifestations of desires.

If you’ve been keeping up with my writing as of late, you know that the undoing of my marriage was largely my fault. I won’t go into detail here, but use your imagination. Ask if you’re curious. So why would I want revenge? Why would I strike out at my wife? Shouldn’t she be the one having revenge dreams about me? Maybe she is. How do I have any right to be angry with her?

I didn’t want the divorce. Some would say my actions say otherwise, but I truly didn’t. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to be understood. I wanted to be loved and accepted. I wanted to feel wanted and needed. I didn’t feel like I was finding that. I totally own that that may have been much more to my not paying attention to my surroundings than to anything my wife did, but perception is reality. I didn’t want to be a part from her, I just didn’t know how to ask for what I needed.

What makes me angry is the feeling that one bad season, admittedly one very bad season, nullifies the entirety of our relationship. The trips. The dates. The long talks about big important things. The long talks about silly things. The laughs on the couch. The kisses. There were times when I was a damn good husband and I became so without a whole lot of role models to follow. I am a good father. I was building a career and a life for us. I finally had a family and I wanted to keep it. Doesn’t that count for anything?

When we first got married I had a difficulty with expressing anger. I would go silent for long periods of time when I was angry. People who talk to me now would say “hey, you still do that!” Not like I used to. We’re talking days of not talking, not minutes. Over time, with counseling and wanting to be a better person in my marriage, I was learning how to express my anger in better ways. I’m an internal processor and so my anger is more likely to seep into my subconscious than come out of my mouth. So I struggle with insomnia and night terrors. I was working on these things. I am working on these things. I had finally gotten to a point where, in a dark moment I felt like I could talk about what was hurting me and I felt like it fell on deaf ears. I don’t mean to paint my wife in a bad light. She’s an amazing person and I can’t say that enough! I love her dearly. But I felt unheard in my darkness and that was hard.  This is my side of the story. I can’t speak for her. I know she loved me. I know she was worried about our growing family. Nothing justifies my actions. It’s all so messy…

I keep hoping that there will be some magical moment of closure, that I’ll be able to move on and leave the past in the past. I don’t think that’s going to happen. There won’t be reconciliation. There won’t be a kiss and make-up moment. There won’t be bloody retribution for either of us. Just a lot of unresolved hurt, anger, and pain…

So my UnResolution – to live with the anger. I commit to being angry. I commit to being sad. I commit to grieving my loss. I commit to wallowing. I commit to genuinely feeling these feelings that I have because they are real. I’m not committing to being ruled by them or to letting them take over my life. But I do commit to being honest.

I’m not okay. And that’s okay.