Don’t Look Away


Dr. Ford

I’m struggling to concentrate today. For most of the last week, I was on vacation and limited my social media intake. This morning, I fully re-engaged…

…and it is hard.

This morning, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford is testifying before the Senate Judicial Committee about the sexual assault she experienced at the hands of Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. This morning, many of my female friends are expressing how they are being re-traumatized by a system that either doesn’t believe women or, more likely, believes women but don’t care. This morning, the aftermath of “America’s Dad” being sentenced to 3-10 years for drugging and sexually assaulting numerous women is still reverberating. This morning is two days out from the President of the United States being laughed at by world leaders at the United Nations and half a day removed from The Mad King giving a press conference that was bizarre even by his standards.

I miss being on break from social media. I hate all of the hard.

I was tempted during my break to think about taking a longer hiatus from social media. That statement must floor people who know me well. I love social media and have always been an “enthusiast”. But lately, it’s been hard. It’s been hard since the election. It got harder with the inauguration and the almost daily fear of whose civil rights will be stripped away next or of which former allied nation we’ve now alienated. All of that has been exhausting.

But the hardest thing has been the stories. Stories like Dr. Ford’s. Stories like my wife’s. Stories like those of so many of my friends, family, and colleagues of men forcing themselves upon them. Those stories have flooded my social media, especially Twitter, and it’s hard. It’s hard because I feel complicit by my own bad behavior. It’s hard because I hate to imagine the fear and humiliation that so many who are so dear to me have faced. It’s hard because I am raising daughters. It’s hard because I am raising sons.

It’s hard and I want to look away.

And while there are many reasons for me to re-examine my relationship with social media, the echo chamber effect, the time wasted, the constant sense of being “on”, the tedium of everybody’s “hot takes”, etc…, I don’t want the reason I separate myself from it to be because I don’t what to look at what’s happening in the world.

One of the frustrations in my current work is that people don’t seem to want to talk about HIV anymore. I believe that is largely because, as a society, we can afford to look away. With a disease that affects largely the most marginalized of the marginalized and is fully manageable for those with resources, it is easy to avert your eyes. And yet to do so is another form of privilege. Privilege is the freedom to look away from another’s suffering. It is a privilege we exercise all too freely.

This morning, I decided to sit with my discomfort. I decided to read the harrowing stories. I forced myself to read things that made my stomach turn. I can’t look away. Not if I want to be a part of the solution. Not if I want to teach my sons right from wrong. Not if I want my daughters to know their own strength and dignity. Love says that I can’t look away. As a man, I could choose to look away from the pain of women, just as white people often choose to look away from the pain of people of color. It’s not what I believe God would have of me.

Don’t get me wrong, in the current environment, we can’t stay plugged in 24/7. I’m getting to a place where I need more breaks than I did before. I feel too deeply and I get overwhelmed. I need to make the space to do what I am doing now; processing and regrouping. But as much as I want to, I can’t numb myself to the pain of others. I’d be no good to anyone. Sometimes, I have to sit with all of the misery, if only to utter “Lord, have mercy!”. At the end of the day, it is compassion that I believe to be the highest of virtues. And we can’t suffer with someone unless we’re willing to look at them and see them until their pain becomes our own. I pray for Dr. Ford that she is seen today. I pray that everyone who has a story like her’s has someone in their life who will see them. And I pray that we as a nation will not look away and choose to be a better people.

Are You Ready For Some Football?



Last year, my wife and I joined many others across the country in boycotting the NFL. There were a lot of competing hashtags out there, always a bad sign for a “movement”, but the one that we used was #NoKaepNoNFL. I did a whole series of blog posts last season under that title. You can look them up if you feel so inclined.

The conversation around whether or not we would resume watching the NFL in the 2018 season was fairly short.

“I don’t know if I can do another season without the NFL”

“Me neither”


Who said which line depended on the day. At the end of the day, what is bringing us back to watching is not some high-minded set of principles. No, we’re watching because we really, really, really want to.

That said, I have given this a lot of thought. Were I forced to rationalize, knowing that for some no rationalization would be enough, I would say the following:

*Last year’s boycott was largely ineffective. It was ineffective because it was co-opted by the president. It was ineffective because it was supported by people who had no skin in the game, namely liberals who didn’t watch the game to begin with. It was ineffective because the conversation was dominated by those who insisted the issue was about respect for the flag, country, military, and anthem. It was ineffective because it lost sight of its real goals.

Effective boycotts have organization behind them. Someone creates a cohesive message, disseminates that message through the proper channels and people are disciplined enough to stay on message. There was never any of that here. The fact of the matter is that Colin Kaepernick was trying to send a message, not start a movement. The message was missed willfully by many. And it seems that Mr. Kaepernick has largely moved on to other means of communicating his message.

* The ineffectiveness of the boycott may be my headiest reason, but it’s not my deepest felt. I am, to no insignificant degree, resuming my consumption of the NFL for my son. Thomas has become fanatical in his fandom. I sit back, like Dr. Frankenstein, during most of our conversations wondering what kind of monster I have created. His joy of the game reminds me that it is just that, a game. He’s so fun to watch games with. I love breaking down the games with him afterwards and predicting winners and losers of upcoming games. His childhood enthusiasm for the game brings me to a childlike state. Of course, we talk about why I didn’t watch last year.I remind him that players are real people, a thing he needs little reminder of because he has seen Ben Roethlisberger at church and went to a VBS with his son. We talk about sportsmanship, selfishness, being a good winner, being a good loser, discipline, and teamwork. As someone who doesn’t get to see their kids as often as they like, I’m not throwing away the easiest entry point for relationship with my son. That matters to me more than any protest.

* Moving to even shallower waters, there is another, more basic reason that I am watching the NFL this year: life sucks. To be fair, my life is actually pretty great right now, but every morning I wake and remember that Toupee Fiasco is still in the White House, and my existential dread returns. When I see influential “Christian leaders” get in bed with the politics of the right and set the tone for what is and what is not “Christian”, my heart breaks. The gulf between the rich and the rest of us gets larger. Our country is rolling back environmental protections and human rights in the name of profit. Half the country doesn’t care that this is happening and actually supports it. It’s sad and overwhelming and I want to escape. Last year, having my favorite sport so heavily politicized added to the general feeling of despair that current affairs produced. I got all the politics, none of the fun. It was draining. It became yet another thing to mourn.

A theme that is developing in our house is reclaiming joy (I’ll have more to say about that at a later date). This year, I am reclaiming the joy of watching the NFL. I’m going to a bar this afternoon where I’ll be able to watch the Steelers, Shannon will be able to watch the Ravens, and our friend will be able to watch his beloved 49ers. We’ll drink and eat, we’ll yell at the TV and cheer, we’ll be around like-minded folks who love the sport. I have a fantasy team going. We’re called the Space Force Chaplains. And Shannon, Thomas, and I have each chosen one team from each division that we’re going to root for besides our primary teams. I want to squeeze as much enjoyment out of this season as possible.

I’m sure some of my friends are disappointed in this decision. I know that some people, former fans, have decided not to watch again this season. I support them if that’s what their conscience dictates for them. I hope they won’t judge me too harshly. I guess that brings me to a final reason I’m watching this year: I’m pretty tired of the purity culture of the left. I’m tired of the “Woke Olympics”, where we all compete to be more socially aware than each other. I’m aware of the issues that Colin Kaepernick was trying to bring into the social conscience. I am a black man. I know the issues very well. The culture of the left cancels people who do not achieve a certain level of awareness. It is tiresome to watch. If my watching football disqualifies me from competing for wokeness, then Thank God! I didn’t want to participate in these games in the first place. There is no non-problematic way to participate in American culture. There is no pure way to be a part of a consumerist culture. Most everybody I know is doing their best to get by and who am I to judge what another person needs to add a small piece of joy into their lives. Our litmus testing each other is really destructive and counter-productive.

There’s a piece of me that feels like part of being okay with myself is admitting that I am a flawed, complex person with vices and moral gray areas all over the place. The NFL has always been one of those areas and I’m excited to welcome it back into my life.

Go Steelers!

Small Things, Great Love

Luke 13:18-21

 He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’

 And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

“Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love” – Mother Teresa


I don’t know when it started. I have some ideas of how it started, but that’s a different story for a different time. At some point, I convinced myself (or allowed myself to be convinced) that I had to save the world. I didn’t necessarily have to do it alone. And of course there was the tacit theological understanding that it was Jesus who had already saved the world… whatever that means…

None of that mattered.

My job was to save the world. Or as much of it as I could.

My definition of “saving” changed over time. At one point, it looked more like evangelism. Everyone must get saved!  At a later point, it looked more like service. Serve everyone and the world will be saved.

I’ve always imagined that I would work myself out of a job. Isn’t that funny? I’ve always imagined the world’s problems were solvable by the right mixture of logic and compassion. The plan, unspoken and unwritten as it was? Save the world. Retire. Write about how I saved the world.

It’s laughable, right? Absolutely hysterical.

And yet, these thoughts have been a driving factor in my work for more than a decade and a half. And as I look around the landscape of 21st century American Christianity, I don’t think that I was alone. We’ve created a culture around the church where talented individuals are given platforms just like in the rest of the dominant culture. The goal many of us had/have is that if the right people (or right number of people) hear our sermons, read our books, support our non-profits, listen to our podcasts, or yes, read our blogs, then our ideas will change the world. Technology means that we have the capacity to broadcast the right theology, share the best practices, and ultimately create the beloved community in a digital realm… thus saving the world. We all bought into it, to some extent, but I’ll admit that perhaps my ambitions were more grandiose than others. I wanted to be a hero.

Yesterday in therapy I uttered three statements that my therapist then had me repeat. They came out of mouth, having been buried in a place so deep inside of me that it’s taken the better part of four years to unearth.

“I can’t save the world”

“nobody expects me to save the world”

“these things are okay”

It doesn’t seem like much. Three pretty simple, and incredibly obvious statements. Saying them aloud, however, revealed that I have believed the opposites of these statements to be true.

“I could save the world”

“Everybody expects me to save the world”

“The fact that I haven’t yet saved it is not okay”

Imagine walking around with that inside of you. I don’t have to imagine. Let me tell ya’. It sucks! No wonder I have suffered with anxiety and depression for so long. No wonder I’ve had difficulty feeling like I have a place in the world. No wonder why I’ve constantly felt like I’m letting everybody down. It’s amazing that I’ve stayed as sane as I have.

The supreme irony of all of this is that I have always preached the opposite of this to everyone else. The parables of the mustard seed and yeast are among my favorite passages in scripture. They speak to the Kingdom of God being about small things that have multiplying and positive effect. Our goal is to steward and nurture the seed, to cultivate and distribute the yeast.

Mother Teresa says it best. Our job is to do small things with great love.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s not an easier task. Doing small things means putting aside pride and ego. Doing small things means there may be no gratitude or validation coming your way. Doing small things means going unnoticed and unappreciated. You can’t brand small things. You can’t capitalize on small things. You may get lost in the shuffle. Does the yeast ever know when it’s bread? You may get broken apart. The actual mustard seed doesn’t fair so well in the mustard-making process. (let’s leave aside, for the moment, the fact that mustard seeds don’t actually grow into trees, okay?). There’s no glory in small things.

But there is peace. Ridding myself of the burden of saving the world helps me to have gratitude at the small acts of love of which I do get to be a part. It helps me to rest, knowing that the world is not my responsibility. It helps me to be more present, looking more attentively at where the small things that need doing might be found.

I can’t save the world. I don’t have the capacity. Never did. I have neither the abilities nor the patience. I not wise enough, brave enough, or strong enough.

No one expected me to save the world. Well, maybe some did, but they were as misguided as I was. Most people, those who think about me at all, just think I’m alright, a nice guy capable of what nice guys are capable of. Which ain’t much.

And it’s okay. If I do the little bit that I can do, that will be enough. And I can rest. And I don’t always need to be “on”. And the world will continue spinning on its axis. And, with any luck, the people around me will know I love them. And that’s enough.

small things great love.jpg


Why Didn’t We Talk About HIV?

HIV word cloud


I spent fourteen years, off and on, at a faith-based non-profit.

I spent three years in seminary.

I’ve served four different congregations.

All of this, not to mention that I was raised in the church.

In none of those places did we talk about HIV. Not substantially, anyway.

Some of that is my fault. In some of those places, I called the shots and set the tone for what was discussed. In other places, we talked about AIDS, but mostly as a problem being dealt with in Africa.

And there were occasional whispers. A man who was prominent in a church I was once associated became sick but it was never really discussed. After he died, I remember the hushed mentions of AIDS. I believe there were also mentions of God having “healed” him of his former lifestyle. Yeah…

Last week I began working at HopeSprings. Our organization works with faith communities to educate them about HIV in order that we might overcome the health disparities in our community and eliminate the stigma that is often associated with the virus. The last ten days has been about filling my head with stats and stories. It has been sobering, to say the least.

1 in every 41 people in Baltimore is living with HIV. In certain neighborhoods, it is 1 in every 20 people. The latter communities are predominantly African American and largely impoverished. The face of the average person with HIV in this city and most of the country is a black man under 40 who has sex with other men.

And there, I think, is the issue. For a long time, the public face of HIV/AIDS in this country was a gay white man. That lead many of the leaders in the African American community to dismiss it as not their problem. It lead many in the church to dismiss it as a byproduct of a sinful lifestyle. Over time, treatment for HIV progressed to the point where living with it was no longer a death sentence. Here, the disparity in access to health care between black and white communities began to rear its ugly head. Transmission of the virus gradually morphed into a problem of poverty and access. White LGBT community largely turned its focus from AIDS awareness and prevention to issues of marriage and civil rights. Good things, of course, but it left behind those without the resources or education to stop the spread in their communities. The spread of HIV now is another stark reminder of systemic oppression and age old inequalities.

To talk about HIV in any of those places that I mentioned at the top would have meant needing to talk about sex, something the church does incredibly poorly. It means talking open and honestly about issues like homosexuality, STI’s, and safe sex. It would have meant talking at length about the injustices inherent in our health care system. It would have meant talking about sex work and the fact that are many in our communities that trade sex for basic necessities or drugs. Church is rarely a place where we talk about any of these things well. That’s one of the things that HopeSprings seeks to address.

As HIV moves more into the margins of our society, any church that wants to do the work of eradicating the virus, not an unrealistic goal, has to be willing to move into the margins itself. It may mean providing condoms or clean needles at church. it may mean opening up our fellowship halls as testing sites. It may mean sitting with someone as they await the results of their test. It means putting aside judgment and affirming the image of God in the faces of the infected or those at risk of infection.

I’ll admit, the last week and half has exposed some major blind spots in my education. It’s exposed some prejudices, but more places where I was simply ignorant. I’ve stepped into this new position trying to maintain beginner’s mind, the Zen Buddhist principle of being open and eager to learn. I have a lot to learn and what I have learned already is making me rethink what it means to follow Christ here and now. It is scary and exciting. I look forward to sharing the stories I encounter along the way in this new part of my journey…

Whatever Happened to Compassion?

Maybe it’s just because I’m from Pittsburgh, but I’ve been following the case of Antwon Rose Jr. pretty closely. Rose, 17,  was gunned down by a rookie police officer as he and another young man fled from a jitney (look it up!). This morning, the other young man was arrested and there is reason to believe that the two young men may have been involved in an attempted drive-by shooting. All of the facts have yet to emerge.


Last week, KDKA, Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate released on a story on Facebook saying that there was video of Rose’s involvement in the nearby shooting in question and that gun shot residue was found on his body. KDKA would go on to share a report from the police that there was no such video and that no residue was found on Rose’s body. Still, the damage was done. This was the justification that people needed to say that the boy had it coming. Actual quotes from KDKA’s Facebook page included:

“If he was innocent, he wouldn’t have been running”

“He got what he deserved!”

“Why keep showing his 14 year old picture? He was a 17 year old criminal!”

Ummm… 17 year olds are, last I heard, still minors. A 17 year old is a kid. Antwon Rose Jr., all accounts, was a good kid. And maybe in recent months he fell in with a bad crowd, facts aren’t all in, but does that mean he deserves to be dead?

I have a pretty solid “don’t read the comments” policy, but I couldn’t look away from the inhumanity I was seeing. It was mean-spirited. it was racist. It was dehumanizing.

And at the end of the day, a 17 year old boy is still dead.

It’s not just that I have been a 17 year old who did stupid things. I did. It’s also that I am raising people who will be 17 one day and might eventually do stupid things. They will. A mother, a family, and a community are grieving. What gives people the gall to go online and call this young man a criminal? How does a 17 year old deserve to be executed at the hands of the state for something they are suspected of having done? How is “the cop was just doing his job” justification for the loss of a life full of potential?

Where is the compassion?

Without getting too deep into etymology, “compassion” literally means “to suffer with”. In our culture, we go to great lengths to avoid suffering, let alone suffering alongside another. It is so much easier to vilify, demean, and dehumanize. We don’t want to sit in the same space as the heartbroken family or the enraged community that is tired of watching boys be snuffed out before they reach manhood. It’s easier to be hardhearted. The pain of others is inconvenient. I have enough of my own suffering. Besides, who even cares about “those people”.

Have you noticed lately how our administration has been doubling down on dehumanizing language when it comes to immigration? The members of the gang MS-13 have repeatedly been referred to as “animals”. It’s an old tactic. Black people have been continually compared to beasts in this country to ensure that we are kept in our proper place. But dehumanizing actions follow dehumanizing language. Always. Children being separated from their parents mimics the practices of factory farming. Children being herded into cages is fairly self explanatory. We see them as less than and therefore can justify our treatment of them.


And yet…

What atrocity would make me feel my home country? Don’t get wrong, I think more and more about leaving all the time, but what horror would I have to experience to actually pack up my children and move to an unknown land? How desperate would I have to be? How could that be seen as anything but a last resort? We have lumped all immigrants together with the criminal element represented by the few. The idea of the United States as a place where people could come in search of a better life is one of our foundational myths, and yet, more and more, we have decided that there is no longer enough of what this country has to offer to share with everyone.

Where is our compassion?

The Supreme Court decided this morning to uphold the administration’s travel ban from predominantly Muslim countries. In the name of national security, we’ve closed the door on people from nations that our policies helped to destabilize. It’s beyond compassion-less, it is cruel.

When it’s all said and done, I believe compassion to be the most Christ-like of virtues. I don’t know how a nation calls itself “Christian” without a base level of empathy and understanding for both those who suffer within and those who suffer beyond our borders. The recent calls for “civility” in our public life ring hollow in the ears of people tired of watching those in power use what they have to make the lives of the weak even more miserable. Civility is not a Christian value. Compassion most certainly is.

We can not continue on like this. The pain of grieving mothers, detained children, and separated families must become our pain. There is no room for apathy, no space to turn a blind eye. We must continue to cultivate warm, pliable hearts that break at those things that break God’s heart, namely the mistreatment and abuse of our fellow human beings. Daily we need to choose to soft hearted in a world designed to make our hearts hard. Daily we need to choose to be open in a world that tries to close us off from one another. Daily we need to choose to suffer with our brothers and sisters in a world that encourages looking out for “me and mine”.

Daily, we need to choose compassion.


What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?

Can I admit something?

I’m not doing well.

The last couple of months have taken their toll on me and it’s all just beginning to hit me.

My therapist once famously told me, “You don’t have the infrastructure for emotions”. That was early in our therapeutic relationship. Since then, I think I’ve at least developed a dirt road and perhaps an aqueduct for my emotions. But what she was getting at is that I’m really bad at feeling things. I’m bad at feeling good things like love and happiness. I’m bad at feeling “bad” things like anger and sadness. Because of that, the “bad” things often turn into depression and the good into… well… seeming underwhelmed.

On the receiving end of my denomination not restoring me to good standing, my job “accepting my resignation” (a euphemism that I’m really growing to hate), and wrestling with the realities of job hunting including being rejected for things for which I am overqualified and realizing that I don’t have another paycheck coming my way anytime soon, I’m starting to realize that I have gone back into my old survival mode of numbing. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some outbursts. I cried violently on the night my “resignation was accepted”. But my general mode of operation in the world right now is numbness. Numb enough to survive. Numb enough to make the kids lunch or dinner. Numb enough to water plants without really taking care of the garden. Numb enough to submit resumes without writing cover letters.

Numb isn’t my best look.

The thing is, I’m choosing numb over anger. Because the truth is, I’m furious right now. I’m mad at people, mad at God, and of course, mad at myself. Really mad at myself for letting my life get to this point. Again.

And I’m bad with anger. Really bad. I’ve never wanted to be the “angry black guy”, despite the fact that I often am and with every right. I push anger down until explodes. I’ve gotten better at that, but the last couple of months have been so extreme that a lot of my old bad habits have picked in like auxiliary batteries. Default settings: suppress emotions.

My wife is doing a sermon series on Mr. Rogers and as I was thinking about what I wanted to write, this song came into my head:

I wish I knew what to do with the mad that I feel. In the past, I’ve dealt with my anger in some really unhealthy ways. I know I need to do something, but I’m not really sure what that is. I know I can’t keep it bottled inside of me. I see what that’s doing and it’s not good. Maybe the answer is just to throw myself more into my garden. Maybe I need to be writing more. Maybe I need a more physical outlet. I don’t know.

What I do know is… I’m not doing well. And I need to do something with all of this mad…

Really, NFL???



To read it on the NFL’s website, the league made a grand compromise in creating their 2018 national anthem policy? The agreement? Any player who kneels during the anthem will cost their team a fine. Not the player, the team! And what did the players get? Well if they really want to protest, they can just stay off the field while the anthem is being played.


To be sure, this is no compromise. This is the NFL ownership reminder the players that they sign their paychecks. The only person who can really make a difference on this issue now is an owner with integrity enough to pay the fine incurred by a protesting player without punishing said player…

… yeah, you won’t catch me holding my breath waiting for that one!

In sports, there is no greater insult that can hurled than that you’re “hurting the team”. That’s the psychology being used here. A player’s actions will now reflect as a mark on the team instead of being an individual act of free speech. Players who violate the policy will be labeled as “selfish”. It’s the one thing no one wants to be called in the ultimate team sport.

What really pisses me off about this is that Trump will play this as a win. And he’ll be right. His interference was likely the catalyst that got this issue to move. In reality, this should make everyone angry. It should anger those of us who care about free speech, speaking truth to power, and protest, and it should anger those pro-business folks that the highest office in the nation can be used to manipulate a private company’s policy. Sure, that kind of thing is okay in Mother Russia, but… I’ve said too much…

So that’s it, sports fans! The NFL has likely succeeded in silencing their players in this particular way. I doubt we’ll see much kneeling this season and the players who decide to stay off of the field will be ignored.

But players are smarter than they are given credit for. The ones who care about what is happening on our streets and in their communities will continue to set up foundations and non-profits, speak up in interviews, and find other ways to make their presence felt.

And Colin Kaepernick is still out there. This latest move by the NFL functionally ends his career. To many in the NFL, he is a martyr and the symbolism of his martyrdom shouldn’t be overlooked. There will be others who strike out from within the league to speak for justice. There will be others willing to face career suicide because he went before them.

And let’s not forget the fans. The assumption that the NFL was made was that their ratings were down because of players protesting. This ignored the downward trend that ratings had been on several years before Kaepernick became a household name for what he did off the field. I think the league is in for a rude awakening. This move will ostracize far more fans than kneeling players did and they aren’t the type of fans who are likely to come back. They’re the type who are tired of being silenced and seeing others silenced. They’re the type who will find their entertainment elsewhere. They’re the type whose values go beyond paying lip service respect to country and service. The league may soon learn how costly it is to double down on intolerance…

Update: Well, I’ll be damned! The chairman of the New York Jets has come out publicly and said that he will pay his player’s fines if they decide to protest. Christopher Johson had this to say: “If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players. I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players. Do I prefer that they stand? Of course. But I understand if they felt the need to protest. There are some big, complicated issues that we’re all struggling with, and our players are on the front lines. I don’t want to come down on them like a ton of bricks, and I won’t. There will be no club fines or suspensions or any sort of repercussions. If the team gets fined, that’s just something I’ll have to bear.”

I am shocked! I’m not pleasantly surprised very often, but this definitely counts. Good for Mr. Johnson. I hope that other team officials will follow suit.

What’s wrong with me?


I’ve been asking myself that question since Saturday…

“What’s wrong with me?”

On Saturday I resigned from my position. I won’t here go in to detail as to what made it feel necessary. I didn’t actually think it would come to this. I was as surprised as anyone.

I cried on Saturday night. It was the long, ugly cry that I had been waiting for since finding out that I would not be renewed to good standing. I’ll confess that it was an alcohol-fueled cry. I thought finally crying would be cathartic. It wasn’t. All it did was bring all the layers of pain that I have been feeling to the surface. I felt rejected and abandoned. I felt worthless and replaceable. I felt a little crazy. I still do.

I don’t actually feel like I know how to be in the world right now. I don’t know what if anything I have to offer. I know I have family and friends who love me. I know have kids who need me and that keeps me from doing anything rash… but I don’t know what my place is. I don’t know if I have a place.

Why can’t I just get my shit together?

Why did I have to fuck everything up in the first place?

When do I get to stop feeling like such a failure?

I ask all of those questions rhetorically. They don’t have real answers, not ones that would satisfy me anyway. What I have right now is a deep sense of my own inadequacy. There are some who will say “that’s a good thing”. Such a person might go on to tell me how God’s strength is perfected in my weakness. Such a person can go kick rocks! I don’t believe in a God who wants me to feel what I am feeling right now.

I feel lost and I have for a solid month now. I feel completely disoriented. My whole world has been built around the church for so long. I see people having milestones in their ministries and I hate them for it. I can’t be around church talk for long before I get agitated. I want to rage at the systems and people that are making me feel this way.

But then… I come back to my original question.

See, no one is “making” me feel this way. I feel this way. Because I’m not spiritually mature enough? Because I’m not integrated enough? Whatever… it’s because I’m deficient. That has been the clear message of the last month. I am not enough.

Of course, I don’t believe that. Not fully, anyway. It’s taken so much work to differentiate myself from my professional identity, to realize that my worth is not in what I do. But that gets harder to believe when no one seems to want you to do what you do around them.

And yes, maybe that means I need to find a new thing to do. But I used to be really good at what I did. Or at least I felt like I was. People told me I was. I’ve lost that too.

Please don’t read this as wallowing. I will pick myself up. I have to. I have four little people that need me to do so. In some ways, I am stronger than I have ever been. One day these feelings will be distant images in the rearview.

Right now? Right now I’m tired. I’m angry. I’m sad…

…and I’m wondering what’s wrong with me…

What Do I Do Now?

The first thing I ever wanted to be was a pastor.

That’s weird, right?

Not a fireman, not an astronaut, not a kangaroo.

A pastor.

Though that ambition changed over time, when I came back to it in my twenties, it was in one of those moments when I audibly heard the voice of God asking me “what was the first thing you ever wanted to do?”. From that point on, a path seemed clear.

Yesterday, Pittsburgh Presbytery decided that they would not restore me to good standing. While not outright stripping me of my ordination, it returns me to a state of limbo where I could one day seek restoration again if I so chose to subject myself to this process again.

I know what I did was wrong. I had a relationship with a parishioner, one of the cardinal no-no’s in ministry. And it cost me. It cost me my family, my dream job, my reputation. And it hurt lots of people. People in the church, my family, people at my work.

But from the time I self reported until yesterday there was always talk about grace, restoration, “God’s not done with you yet”-language. There was always hope. Yesterday that hope was dashed. Even my ex-wife, the person hurt most by my actions, was saddened by the news.

I’m glad that I don’t believe the things about myself that were written in the discernment committee’s report. They painted this picture of this unrepentant monster, who lives blissfully unaware of the lives impacted by his decisions. They took shots at my character and my family. They used my honesty against me and questioned my spiritual maturity. Most importantly, they ignored the recommendations of people who know me best and made decisions based on their subjective impressions instead of on the objective steps I’ve taken to get my life back in order. It was among the most hurtful experiences of my life. I don’t understand how this presbytery, which at the last GA made a public stand on doing ministry to black men could so callously throw me away. I mean… I do understand… it just hurts.

I don’t know what to do now. My life as a Presbyterian minister is likely over. I could switch denominations, but that’s not a move I consider lightly. Also, I’m disgusted with the institution right now, and I don’t know how I feel about exchanging one set of hypocrites for another. I don’t know what I’m gonna do…

The first thing I ever wanted to be was a pastor.

I spent most of the last two decades working toward that end in some form or another.

Now it’s all gone.

What am I supposed to do now?

Is this fast sustainable?: Seven things I observed this Lent.


This year for Lent I knew I wanted to do something revolving around food. A few years back I gave up meat for Lent and I considered doing that again. I also considered giving up, sugar, alcohol. processed food, and fast food. After careful consideration, I decided that I wasn’t so much seeking a discipline of what I eat, but of how I eat. i wanted to think more deeply about the sources of my food and the impact that my eating had on the community that surrounds me. So, I did a Lenten discipline of eating locally sourced food when I could and when not possible, to make sure that what I was eating was organic.

  1. Fast food is out! Most major chains were eliminated as well. Chipotle was the only big chain that has much reliable information about how they source their food. Baja Fresh and Panera Bread were also reasonable options, but I virtually had no options with a drive thru window. Though not surprising, it did give me pause to think about where these chains that serve millions of people get their produce and meat and the scale of agricultural businesses required to provide for that kind of demand. It’s frightening to think about.
  2. Cha-ching! My options were primarily limited by what I was willing to pay for. I suppose that’s always true, but it was interesting to note that very few things were off the table. Locally, we have MOM’s organic market. Not only is it a great source of local vegetables and meats, it has a wide range of organic, fair trade, and locally sourced snacks, frozen foods, and value added items. The major difference between shopping at MOM’s and any other grocery store was the price tag. Everything was just a bit more expensive which added up when you finally got to the cash register. Still, I can’t really argue that I was deprived of anything.
  3. Drink up! During Lent I also endeavored to keep my beverages local and/or organic. For coffee, seeing as how Baltimore is in no way tropical, that meant going organic. Again, only a hardship at the cash register. But for my adult beverages, I can’t say that I made much of a sacrifice. It seems like there are hundreds of breweries within a fifty mile radius of me and more than a few distilleries. I probably could have done a bit more sleuthing about how my local booze providers sourced their ingredients, but I contented myself with keeping money circulating in the local economy on my end.
  4. Alienation. There were two moments early in Lent that were more than a little isolating. The first was when I made a pot of spaghetti for the kids then a second pot of “organic” spaghetti for me. By the time mine was finished, the kids were ready to run away from the dinner table. Organic spaghetti for one, please! The second was similar, a taco night when I had different shells, meat, and cheese than the rest off the tribe. As Lent went on, more and more of the family’s everyday products became organic and I didn’t have to feel like I was on a “special” diet, but it did make me think of how lonely it can feel to not eat what everyone else is eating.
  5. Finding Farmers. When Lent began, I had grand aspirations about going to visit farms, getting to know the animals I was going to eat, and making lifetime friendships with the people who work so hard to food on our tables. It didn’t seem all that ambitious at the time, but it never materialized. In part, I blame the weather. Our Lenten weeks were among our coldest and grayest of the year. I confess to losing motivation to visit farms during the wind and snow. The other thing is that farmers are generally invisible when it’s not farmers’ market season. Now “invisible” is often more about what you choose to see, but in my normal day to day, I don’t pass many farms. Now that we are actually entering farmers’ market season (THANK GOD!!!!), I do plan on being a bit more diligent about my grand ambitions to make friends with farmers.
  6. Pretentious? More often than feeling like I was making a sacrifice, I often just felt like I was being bougee. (boujee? bougie? whatever). Let’s face it, the food I ate during this period was better quality, more expensive, and harder to find. There is an air of class superiority in places like MOM’s that I think goes unspoken but is very real. Again, this is part of why I want to see the healthier side of our food system more democratized. You shouldn’t have to pay extra to make sure your beef isn’t pumped with antibiotics or that your broccoli hasn’t been doused in pesticides.
  7. Read the signs. The final thing I will say about eating “organic” is that not all organic is created equal. The USDA is continually easing the restrictions on what is considered “organic”, so much so that Wal-Mart is the largest supplier of organic meat and vegetables in the country. At the same time, many local farmers who use organic and sustainable practices aren’t willing to pay the expense for the official USDA certification. If given the chance, I would rather buy from a farmer I know than to buy a certified organic tomato that had to be transported 2000 miles to get to me, especially since transportation is where most of the fossil fuels are used in industrial agriculture.

As Americans, we’re addicted to cheap food. We spend the smallest percentage of our income on food of any developed country in the world. And, generally speaking, we get what we’ve paid for: diabetes, obesity, hypertension, bland strawberries flown in from South America, and pineapples in places where they are not native. The bottom line for me is that we could eat in ways that are better for our health, better for our communities, and better for the planet if we were just willing to pay a bit more. My faith asks me to love my neighbor, and if loving my neighbor means paying a bit extra for produce, isn’t that worth it?