Embracing Awkward

  • Road Trippin'

    Wednesday morning our family will all climb into our 2007 Honda Odyssey where we will spend the next 28 days driving across 23 states as we make our way out west to Los Angeles. Well, first we will accuse each other of being the reason we're leaving an hour later than we said we would, then we'll climb into our minivan (it's always more painful when you put "our" in front of "minivan"). This minivan will practically be our home for the next month, a sad burrito on wheels, stuffed with passive aggressive adults and restless children. 

    We've never done a trip like this. Lots of things had to be purchased. Auto BINGO books for the kids (nothing keeps the kids nice and calm like a raging sibling competition), a car top carrier (the minivan version of carrying a backpack with wheels), snacks on snacks on snacks (healthy versions of the good kind so basically the not good kind), and we could go on. 

    The word we've chosen for our trip is "memorable," a purposely broad word to capture both the good times, as well as the times where we wish we could pray each other out of existence. Memorable in the same way meeting your favorite football team at their hotel in Orlando, fresh from practice, just before the Citrus Bowl is memorable. But also memorable in the same way almost drowing in the Rocky Broad River at Chimney Rock on your first (and only) family camping trip is memorable. Think I'll watch Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Family Vacation one more time tonight to prepare. 

    To help keep my sanity, I plan on writing a little something every day (if possible) to vent, share, connect, keep myself from becoming a casual alcoholic. I would love to share those thoughts with you, not because I think they will be great thoughts, but because I hope they'll be fun to read. You can find them right here, but if you want to make sure you don't miss that stirring post about the best donut I've ever had in Cool Town, USA, etc., you can sign up below and they'll come straight to your mailbox. Not the literal one. The interwebs one. Wish us luck...

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  • DC Talk or Girl Talk, What's a Christian to Do?

    In the fall of 1996 two tragic events occurred. D3: Mighty Ducks went from being an idea to an actual movie, and I sold an incredible CD collection. 200 some quality CD’s that included everything from Siamese Dream to The Chronic, all for a measly couple hundred bucks which I used to buy their depressing Christian counterparts. Bands like Plankeye, MxPx, The Supertones, and DC Talk, which if you’ve never heard of them think the Beastie Boys if they had been home schooled. 

    Back in those days my friends and I often made trips to a bookstore an hour away that carried this warmed-over, newish Christian sound (I like to imagine Chuck Berry saying that like in Back to the Future). Just above the CD racks was a chart comparing Christian bands to the secular bands they sounded most similar too. That’s like having a chart that compares different vegetables to your favorite donuts. In the end there’s no way around being really disappointed.

    I remember telling a non-Christian friend about how I’d sold all my “secular” CD’s to follow Jesus, and him looking at me with equal parts confusion and eagerness to get over to CD Switch to gain from my loss. One man’s misguided discipleship is another man’s treasure. But he brought up a fair point. Was this something Jesus really wanted me to do? 

    On the one hand I think my heart was in the right place. I wanted to “put Jesus first,” however misguided the application. The sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and believe me my heart was broken when I listened to DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” for the first time. Christian rock feels like the musical equivalent of shotgunning a six pack of O’Doul’s.

    On the other hand, there was a huge, faulty presupposition at work. The one that says everything neatly divides into the sacred and the secular. If people are genuinely made in God’s image, then the things those same people create have to reflect that image on some level, however poorly. Nothing is “secular.” Everything is sacred, which means there is beauty and brokenness running through every square inch. The temptation for Christians is to miss the beauty in mashup artists like Girl Talk, or rappers like Lil Wayne, and the brokenness in Christian artists like DC Talk.

    I don’t want to put words in John Calvin’s mouth, but I think he might have enjoyed some Lil Wayne, or at least appreciated him. He wrote about enjoying the gifts of “secular” culture: “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. As it is, much of the evangelical world is in serious danger of ingratitude to God for his good gifts.”

    Yes, there’s brokenness in Lil Wayne’s music. But there’s beauty too. Very few artists can put words together in a way that not only delights the ears, but the mind too. If good art causes the mind to quietly beam in inaudible delight, then Lil Wayne is a great artist. 

    And, yes, there’s beauty in DC Talk’s music. But there’s brokenness too. Not just with DC Talk but with lots of “Christian” music. Sometimes it’s musically or lyrically broken (just Google The Newsboy’s “Breakfast in Hell”). Most of the time it’s broken in that it misses the brokenness of life. Good art always captures what life in a broken world feels like. That’s often why movies like Fireproof or Facing the Giants ring hollow.

    Russell Moore, a pastor with a passion for country music, was once asked how he justified listening to certain songs around his children. This is what he said: “I know there are some who would tell you the way to avoid the problem is to do away with “secular” music. But what is secular music? Does the Bible anywhere command us to limit artistic expression only to “spiritual” things? There are songs and poems in the Scripture itself that speak of things ranging from murder to marital sex to the beauty of nature, and so forth. Moreover, the “Christian” music industry is often, I think, more damaging to children than some secular forms of musical expression. Much of what plays on commercial Christian radio presents an antiseptic view of life, and often as well a trivialized vision of Jesus and the gospel. Too often, what people want is not a more Christian vision of life but a happier, sanitized vision of life. These are the people who would think the Song of Solomon to be obscene, if it weren’t safely sequestered in the pages of the canon where they can’t get to it. And they’re the people who complain to the pastor that his David and Goliath message was “too violent” for little Connor’s sensibilities.”

    Saying only music made by Christians glorifies God is like saying only food made by Christians glorifies God (which would explain why we eat so much Chick-fil-A actually). It reminds me of the time my friend requested Derek Webb’s “Wedding Dress” on their local Christian radio station. The DJ said they couldn’t play that song because it had the word “whore” in it, and that wasn’t very “family friendly.” I wish with all my heart they had said, “You know who else isn’t very family friendly? Jesus. Because he said he came to divide them.” Besides, isn’t there an entire book in the Bible about a prophet marrying a prostitute? Hosea was the original Pretty Woman.

    Of all the things that now me wishes I could say to then me, the biggest is to let then me in on a secret: life will never be as black and white as you want it to be. But grey is a beautiful color because it means we actually have to search our hearts, seek wise counsel, and prayerfully follow Jesus. 

    The reason I wanted Jesus to say, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself Dr. Dre, and take up his Jars of Clay and follow me,” is because it made my life easier. Jesus’ whole problem with the Pharisees wasn’t that they didn’t take his laws seriously. It was that they reduced them to something much more manageable than what they actually required. It made them feel like they were keeping the law, instead of knowing they hadn’t and feeling their need for a Savior. 

    And that’s the point. We want to sell some CD’s, but Jesus wants us to rend our hearts. We want 12 Simple Steps, but Jesus wants us to grow in wisdom. We want self-control to mean fewer margaritas, but Jesus wants it to mean a growing refusal to let anything or anyone define us but Him. We want life to be easy, but Jesus keeps trying to tell us it’s going to be hard, something Lil Wayne can perhaps teach us more about than DC Talk. Out of the mouths of babes comes strength and praise. Yes. And rappers too.

  • What's Up, Instagram! I'm Kelvin!

    Have we met? Nah I’m just playing! Of course we have. I’m the guy who brought his acoustic guitar to the party of Instagram. It’s covered in Dave Matthews Band stickers. Know why? Cause I’d like to Crash into you. What?! I know. I’m crazy like that. Listen, I know what Walden has been saying about me, that Willow "got herpes" from me, and I want you to know it’s not true at all. Do you think the guy who makes all your pictures of clouds look like they sharted their pants after drinking too much Smirnoff Ice is capable of that? I might not be the brightest tool in the shed, but I know a thing or two about herpes. How do you think I can make every one of your pictures look like they have a life-threatening STD? It's a gift. And honestly, it's my life's work. I honed my craft slinging graphic tees at Abercrombie in the summers. In fact, I like to think of myself as a stylist. My signature move? Putting a layer of camou cargo shorts on those snooze fests you call pics. You see a sweet photo of you and your mom at dinner. I see a cougar who can’t wait to hit the bar at Chili’s with her son’s single friends. Order the Triple Dipper. It’s on me. I know your friends have told you things about me like I’m “douchey, and "if a jello shot were a filter it'd be Kelvin.” Don’t listen to them. I’m just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking you to hold these Entourage DVD’s while I put a little more Axe in my hair. Ok there, that’s good. Where were we? Oh yeah. I was about to take that picture of your dog and make him look like he just fetched Jack Johnson’s shoes. 

  • Sunday Confessions of a Tired Parent/Pastor/Person

    Sometimes you're having one of those days and feel guilty about it but don't really talk to anyone about it much less share it on Facebook. Today has been one of those days. And as I was writing about it to clear my own head and calm my own heart I thought, "Why not share this?"

    A lot of reasons probably. Like not wanting to come arcoss as a narcissistic Jonathan Edwards writing his "Complaints" instead of his "Resolutions," for example.

    But I also know how powerful the words "Me too" are to my own heart. My friend Ricky Jones recently tweeted, "Me too" may be the most powerful 2 words in the English language. "You struggle? Me too." It's in that spirit that I share a lot of the thoughts running through my head today: 

    1. Daylight savings time makes me long for the days when I didn't have kids. Or secretly drug them when my wife isn't watching.

    2. This morning I cussed at my wife over donuts. DONUTS. I wanted to pick them up for breakfast because we didn't have anything in the house. She wanted me to get something healthier from Trader Joe's. I got Trader Joe's because sometimes it's just better to let your wife win.

    3. I hate the guilt it seems like most moms carry over food. I totally get that we are what we eat, and that food can totally affect our moods and overall health. But I genuinely believe no parent will be
    on their deathbed and say to their kids through tears, "My biggest regret is letting you eat McDonald's for lunch when you were 3." 

    4. I dropped powdered donuts in Trader Joe's this morning. I was rushing because I hadn't showered and didn't want anyone I knew to see me. Also I was trying to hold way too much in my hands. There's a sermon illustration here somewhere. An important life lesson too: never listen to yourself when you think "I probably don't need a basket."

    5. Walking out of Trader Joe's I envied people who do whatever they want on Sundays. It's a Psalm 73 thing I guess. Sometimes I still think freedom is the ability to do what I want instead of the power to do what I should. This makes me feel guilty and wonder how I can even be a Christian much less a pastor.

    6. I had to spank one of my kids at church this morning. I'm not sure what they did was even worth a spanking. I do this way more than I'd like to admit. Sometimes I'm not even sure we should spank at all. Sometimes I think we should spank more. The worst is trying not to spank in anger. 

    7. I'm often at my angriest with the kids at church not because they're being that bad but because I'm being that fake. I'm embarrassed when my kids act like kids. I also feel lots of shame for failing to teach my kids to be more respectful and obedient. 

    8. I don't really know how to talk to my kids about Jesus. It's easier for me to do that with 18-22 year olds who I'm still getting to know. I think this is because it's harder to not be or feel like a hypocrite around my kids because they've seen me at my worst.

    9. My wife & I got in one of those fights where I needed to leave the house for a little while today. I went to the gas station to get a fountain Coke. I mixed it with a little Diet Coke to make me feel better. I'm 33 not 13. I feel 13.

    10. I think about my weight at least 5-10 times a day. In the words of Fat Bastard from Austin Powers, "I eat because I'm unhappy. And I'm unhappy because I eat." This makes me feel the exact opposite of manly.

    11. I don't really know how to love or lead my wife very well. We've been married almost 10 years and I still can't cry or dream with her like I should. I used to think marriage would solve all my problems and make them go away instead of reveal them. That's like thinking you should trade in your car for a unicorn. 

    12. When I meet other pastors I feel more inadequate than encouraged. Brene Brown tells me "I am enough," but I rarely feel that way. I'm not sure I've ever really looked at myself without shame. I feel like a shame bomb constantly waiting to go off. 

    13. I'm watching NFL Red Zone. I don't really even like the NFL. I think I'm just looking to escape. Also I'm pretty sure the online channel from Europe I'm watching it on isn't entirely legal in the US. Shhhh. 

    14. I hate Dave Ramsey for telling me to act my wage. All I want to do tonight is to eat out at Casa Linda but there isn't enough cash in the "eating out" envelope. Also it's November 3rd. Reality is the worst.

    15. I posted something on Facebook today that only got 2 likes. 2. My cat could get more than that. I feel dumb for posting it, and desperate for caring so much about it. It's like I haven't learned anything from the whole Twitter debacle.

    16. I'm afraid to post this because of what people will think, especially friends. I want to post this because in some ways it's easier than actually talking to friends.

    Come Lord Jesus! But not before this blog post gets a thousand likes. 

  • Growing Up Is Harder Than It Looks

    When I was 22 years old two things happened to me that forever changed my life. The first was that I graduated from college, which was a small miracle considering somewhere in my junior year I simply stopped going to a class. I didn’t drop it like a normal person. That would have been too much work. And I hated work. Unless you count sleep as work. Then I would have been a workaholic. I typically slept most of my days, and ate Wendy’s most of my nights, like some kind of chubby vampire.  

    The second was that my mom kicked me out of her house. Upon barely graduating with a GPA lower than the number of divas in Destiny’s Child, I moved home. I loved going home more than Jason Derulo loves saying his own name. Home was like my Narnia. I visited it as often as I could and wanted to live there forever. Also my mom is a lion. Not really. But how incredible would that be? “Steaks for dinner again?! You’re the best mom!” 

    Don’t worry. I wasn’t doing drugs, or stealing from my mom or stepdad (unless you count eating all of their Pillsbury Orange Danish rolls in the middle of the night). It was more that I was content to simply not grow up. I was what some sociologists call a Peter Pan. Not in the cool hipster way, where you wear fedoras, skinny jeans and moccasin boots that look like you just bartered for them in a teepee. But in the way where your heart quietly yet defiantly sings with Peter, “I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up. Not me!” 

    22 year old me would probably like to remind 33 year old me that’s a little unfair. Not wanting to grow up was part of it. But not knowing how to grow up was too. How do you choose what to do with your life when choosing a major was hard enough? A friend once told me about a line in the Talmud that says Jewish fathers should teach their children two things: the law and a trade. How to live well, and how to make a living. That’s what dads are supposed to teach you. That sounds nice. Unfortunately a lot of us were at a disadvantage because we grew up without a Jewish dad. Or in my case a dad at all. Basically what I’m saying is I wish Woody Allen was my dad. 

    In reality my mom was my mom and my dad. So mom (dad) kicked me out to help me grow up. But not before I spent almost all of my graduation money to buy 3 brand new suits. Let me remind you that I didn’t have a job at this point. Most people get a job, then buy suits. I did the exact opposite. 33 year old me would like to travel back in time to punch 22 year old me in the throat. The only time I ever needed a suit was for all the weddings and funerals I didn’t go to. I was literally all dressed up with nowhere to go. One of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, likes to say that “the temptation of the age is too look good without actually being good.” The struggle to become a real, live adult is just the opposite: to be good without having to look good. 

    Maybe you saw the article from BBC a few weeks ago that asked the question, “Is 25 the new cut-off point for adulthood?” There are some child psychologists who think it should be. Child psychologist Laverne Antrobus explains: “The idea that suddenly at 18 you're an adult just doesn't quite ring true...my experience of young people is that they still need quite a considerable amount of support and help beyond that age.” Some were bewildered by the article, including Mark Driscoll who responded to it, saying, “Legitimizing extended adolescence with clinical categories will be of no help to a generation of boys who can shave.” I relate to that. But mainly because more often than not I feel like “a boy who can shave.” Also I look like a boy when I shave. The problem is my beard has more holes than the plot in Hangovers 2 & 3.

    How do you know when you’re an adult? Is it landing your first real job? Getting married? Having your first child? I can tell you that I have done all of those things, some of them more than once, and still don’t feel like an adult (easy, Pat Robertson, I was talking about the children). Maybe shopping at Eddie Bauer is the secret. A few pairs of their triple-pleated khakis and a dad hat or two just might do the trick. 

    Growing up is harder than it looks. No one tells you that exactly. You wake up one day next to a wife in a house full of children, but secretly still feel like that 17 year old kid who wanted video games for your birthday but got monogrammed luggage instead (never letting go of that one, mom). And you may find yourself kind of understanding a Talking Heads’s song for the first time. In the words of Josh Radnor’s character in Liberal Arts, “Nobody feels like an adult. That’s the world’s dirty secret.” Boys and girls who still feel weird shaving. That’s what we all are. 

  • Exclamation Points Make Me Feel Awkward

    Was the guy who invented the exclamation point related to Guy Fieri? Did he have whatever the 1600’s version of frosted tips was? Is that even when exclamation points were invented? I don’t know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t even know how many exclamation points that was, because that’s how gangster my punctuation is. Ok that’s a lie. I haven’t used an exclamation point unironically since 1992. Mainly because they make me deeply uncomfortable. Like a Phish fan at a Jos. A Bank sale. My problem with exclamation points isn’t that people use them. My problem is that people are losing the 60-90 second debate that goes on in your head before you use them. People are losing that internal battle to the annoying part of themselves that loves to come out when say, you're on a boat, or wearing a cowboy hat. Normally you’re Mr. Bud Light, keeping your punctation nice and boring. Then suddenly out of nowhere, you’re Bud Light Lime. Your punctuations went clubbing and wound up doing coke backstage with Pitbull (which explains why he always sounds like he’s reading a map as fast as he can). Listen, the reason I prefer texts and emails, even Facebook messages, is that they are what you call a flat medium. As someone who recently learned I have what they call a “flat affect" (I had to Google it too because state school), I love flat mediums. A place where you can be your best depressed self and never have to pretend to have emotions again? That sounds incredible. So quit ruining it, old seminary friend who can’t seem to post anything on Facebook without using at least 3 exclamation points. No one's life is always three exclamation points exciting. Have you ever noticed that exclamation points look like upside down Dementors? You know why? Because they are. Reverse Dementors, trying to breathe deathly excitement into our beautiful safe haven of dullness.  So next time you go to use an exclamation point, and you’re having that old debate in your head, ask yourself “WPWJU.” What Punctuation Would Jesus Use? Not an exclamation point. They didn’t have those in Hebrew/Aramaic.

  • Tweeting Myself to Death: Things That Start With "P" (Part 3)

    “Looking foolish does the spirit good. The need not to look foolish is one of youth’s many burdens; as we get older we are exempted from more and more, and float upward in our heedlessness, singing Gratia Dei sum quod sum.” - John Updike, Self-Consciousness: Memoirs

    “Will my mom be able to read this and still be proud of me?” That was the only question I had for the reporter from our local newspaper as he called to let me know he’d put the finishing touches on his story. A few weeks earlier we had spent an hour or so sipping coffee, him jotting down notes as he listened to my story. It hadn’t dawned on me then that he might not actually believe what I was saying. Now it seemed disappointingly obvious. Like a twist in a M. Night Shyamalan movie. Somewhere M. Night Shyamalan is eating pretzels as I write this. He loves twists.

    They say that there are two sides to every story. More like three. Four even. This is the point Sarah Polley makes in her brilliant documentary, Stories We Tell. The film tries to piece together the tragic, mysterious story of her family, filtered through the lens of her siblings as they remember it. It opens with her father reading from Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace: When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion, dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you're telling it, to yourself or to someone else." Our stories aren’t often as neat as we’d like them to be because we ourselves are messy.

    It’s a funny thing to read articles written about you, all by people who have never met you or talked to you. It feels a little bit like being robbed, except instead of your wallet being stolen, it’s your chance to tell your story. One of the most profoundly human things you can do is talk to someone instead of about them; to listen to them tell their story instead of telling your own about them. This is my attempt to tell a story that I feel rightfully belongs to me. It’s kind of like a burrito from Taco Bell in that it has 5 layers and made me a little sick to my stomach. As a pastor, naturally I love alliteration, thus the title, “Things that Start with P.” My apologies in advance that it sounds like it was written by a depressed Dr. Seuss. 

    1. Plagiarism. There is only one thing comedians hate more than other more successful comedians: plagiarists. Take it from Dane Cook, or Carlos Mencia, who both faced serious accusations of plagiarism in the course of their careers. This was an accusation leveled against me as well, that I was purposely stealing other peoples’ jokes and repackaging them as my own. Even though my initial reaction to these accusations was to be hurt by them, the more I’ve thought about it the more I think there was fair criticism in the accusations. To me, plagiarism has always been about a person’s intentions. While I can honestly say in my mind I never purposely ripped off another writer or comedian (lots of people I supposedly stole from actually followed me at the time), I do think it’s fair to say I repackaged jokes. At the time I thought I made them enough my own that it didn’t qualify as plagiarism. I know better now. I never should have repurposed a joke without first checking with the comedian or writer who originally wrote it. This was foolish and selfish on my part, and not the first time in my life I’ve been both of those things. Just ask my wife. 

    2. Parallel thought. A friend once described twitter as “3 million people all trying to make the same joke.” I was one of those 3 million. I felt like many critics minimized the possibility of parallel thought, or a common joke premise, leading me and other writers to a similar joke. This was exactly Rainn Wilson’s point when he came to my defense. Most people don’t know that whenever someone pointed out that a tweet I had done had been done by someone else before, I almost always took it down. The mistake I made was to apologize for it, which looking back people took as an admission of guilt, instead of a polite way of saying “we both had the same thought, but because you had it first you win.” When critics say people approached me time and time again about plagiarism, I assume this is what they mean. But to me this was always about parallel thought, never about plagiarism. As an introvert there are few things I hate more than being misunderstood, which is a problem since introverts typically hate talking, especially to human beings.

    3. Patton Oswalt. What Batman is to Gotham City criminals, Patton Oswalt is to comedy plagiarists. He has very little patience for anyone attempting to advance their own career based upon the work of others, especially his friends. I actually love this about him, that he has a strong sense of justice and honor. But I think when it came to me there were two major assumptions he made. One was to assume what everyone was saying about me was true. In reality, if you followed the chain of accusations all the way to the bottom, you would find a couple of peers doing everything they could to discredit me, to prove that I was a thief and a fraud. But some of those peers were Patton’s friends, and typically we trust what our friends say about someone. The other was to assume that non-comedians can’t be funny. Part of Patton’s critique felt like him basically saying, “leave comedy to the professionals,” which is similar to what @briangaar, the comedian behind the Borrowing Sam tumblr, tweeted the night he launched it: “I don’t care about Twitter but @prodigalsam is starting to f**k with my money and needs to be stopped.” All of this was in response to rumors that I was getting into stand-up comedy and had a book deal in the works, when in reality I’ve done stand-up once and am nowhere close to having a book deal (although if there are any publishers reading this, text me). Patton Oswalt is a hilarious, successful, and beautiful human being. I just wish he had treated me more like one. 

    4. Pastor. Did it matter that I was a pastor? Yes and no. No in the sense that it was more about the allegations than it was about my vocation. Yes in the sense that being a Christian pastor in the comedy world is like being a muggle at Hogwarts. People either hate you or are just generally confused and suspicious about why you’re there. It also mattered in the sense that the creative approach is vastly different in both worlds. In ministry the last thing you want to be is original. You want to see yourself as building upon the work of those who’ve gone before you. And you’re not afraid to take a thought or idea and put it into your own words. Not so with comedy. I think I brought what Kirby Ferguson calls “Embrace the Remix” into writing jokes. For me the tension was “Thou shall not steal” versus “There’s nothing new under the sun.” But I now realize very few, if any, comedians hold this same position. And I understand that if my living depended on my jokes, I probably would feel much more protective of them too. 

    5. Pride. I also think I was proud. Too proud to receive fair criticism. Too proud to not respond to unfair, or false criticism. Too proud to admit when I had been careless. Too proud to give up a platform that had become too much of an identity. As a pastor who loves to quote, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” I should have known better. But I didn’t. And for that I am truly sorry and ask forgiveness from family and friends, fans and critics. I am super thankful to know and serve a God of second chances. But I am also not naive enough to think the world works in the same way. And that’s ok. Because my life is much, much better than I deserve. 

    If you went back to Facebook around the time we found out the hard news about our youngest daughter, and when I started finding comedic solace in Twitter, you would find the following quote from Marilynne Robinson on my wall: “That is how life goes--we send our children into the wilderness. Some of them on the day they are born, it seems, for all the help we can give them. Some of them seem to be a kind of wilderness unto themselves. But there must be angels there, too, and springs of water. Even that wilderness, the very habitation of jackals, is the Lord's.” It was a line I desperately clung to for her. Now it’s become a line I desperately cling to for me. By the way, my mom read the article. She told me she has always been so proud to be my mom. The wilderness is still the Lord’s.

    This is the last post of a multiple post series called "Tweeting Myself to Death: The Rise & Fall of @prodigalsam."

  • Tweeting Myself to Death: Almost (Internet) Famous (Part 2)

    “The central mistake of recent digital culture is to chop up a network of individuals so finely that you end up with a mush. You then start to care about the abstraction of the network more than the real people who are networked, even though the network by itself is meaningless. Only the people were ever meaningful.” - Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

    I thought I knew what awkward was until a Sharpie handed girl asked me to autograph her tank top at the beach one day. No one ever tells you what the other side of this creepy exchange feels like, a tornado of flattery and embarrassment. Do you sign it, or respectfully decline? If you choose to sign it, what can you write to seem as less douchey as possible? All I know is somewhere in Texas a girl woke up today with a tank top tucked away in her drawer that reads “@prodigalsam” in all caps on the back. This is as close to feeling like Drake I’ll ever get. Unless you count that time I bought a pair of Wallabees with cash. Thanks Dave Ramsey. 

    This is the part of the story that could come across a little arrogant. So to keep it in perspective think of it as that party in Titanic before they all die. They’re dancing and drinking, doing whatever the 1912 version of grinding was, and they have no idea what’s about to happen. That was me. Minus the making out with Kate Winslet part. 

    In my wildest dreams I never thought I'd have as many followers on Twitter as I did. 130,427 to be exact. But who’s counting? I was. It was my self-worth stock market, and I followed it hard. Counting your followers on Twitter is like counting your money in Monopoly: you know it’s not ultimately worth anything, yet in that moment it feels like everything. Your card may have just been declined at Chipotle, but guess who owns Boardwalk and runs that town like Rihanna and Jay-Z?

    Becoming internet famous did buy some cool things. Brunch with Flynn Rider in LA. Texting with the Bachelor. Disney’s Jessie sending a birthday message to my girls. Dwight from The Office giving me a shout out. These are moments I will work into as many conversations as possible for years to come. "This rain is really coming down. Speaking of rain, did I ever tell you about that time Rainn Wilson defended me on Twitter?” 

    But it also cost me some things too. Namely my integrity and identity. Sometimes people ask, “How did you do it?” and I typically shrug my shoulders, give some important tipping points and say, “I honestly don’t know it just sort of happened.” What I should say is that all you have to do to get a lot of followers on Twitter is figure out who’s cool and desperately align yourself with them. Because it’s about perception, not reality. It’s the “he’s with us” of the internet.

    Jonathan Franzen warns about this danger in his recent essay “What’s Wrong with the Modern World.” He writes, “One of the worst things about the internet is that it tempts everyone to be a sophisticate – to take positions on what is hip and to consider, under pain of being considered unhip, the positions that everyone else is taking.” Integrity is about being the same person, with the same convictions, in any and every situation, with any and every crowd. But it’s hard to have convictions when you’re constantly wondering if they’re cool. 

    The other danger is looking to the internet for your identity, instead of the other way around. That's why Jaron Lanier likes to say, “You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.” The internet cannot hold the weight of your identity; only reality can. Twitter became a place for me to be someone else, someone I struggled to be in real life. It’s what I call pulling a sad Batman. You change into your alter-ego at night, but instead of fighting crime you’re fighting for retweets. Also you don’t wake up in a mansion with an amazing car and a butler. 

    A wise person I know once said, “Fame is a great consequence but a terrible goal.” The problem of fame, even the internet kind, is that you sacrifice knowing yourself for being known. In turn you sacrifice friends for fans. And the reality is all the love in the world means almost nothing when it comes from people who know who you are but don’t really know you.

    This is the second post of a multiple post series called "Tweeting Myself to Death: The Rise & Fall of @prodigalsam."

  • Tweeting Myself to Death: Early Beginnings (Part 1)

    “What is failure? Failure is what people do ninety-nine percent of the time. Even in the movies: ninety-nine outtakes for one print. But in the movies they don’t show the failures. What you see are the takes that work. So it looks as if every action, even going crazy, is carried off in a proper, rounded-off way. It looks as if real failure is unspeakable. TV has screwed up millions of people with their little rounded-off stories. Because that is not the way life is. Life is fits and starts, mostly fits. Life doesn’t have to stop with failure.” - Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome

    One of my friends is fond of saying that every person you meet is like a book: they have a spine and a story. If that’s true then the last three months of my life would make for an incredibly interesting chapter. Not everyone can say that the lead voice actor of Ratatouille called you a “piece of sh*t.” But I can. And I hope with all my heart that makes it into my eulogy somewhere. 

    I joined Twitter in March of 2009 (in my head I sound just like Morgan Freeman right now). My first two tweets ever were as follows: “Heading to [some friends' house] for our bible study cookout...hope the potato salad turns out alright. Good times hopefully to be had by all...” followed up by “Had a great time at the cookout. thankful for friends. good times had...” Slow down Ernest Hemingway! The Pulitzer committee isn’t ready for your gripping descriptions of bringing potato salad to a cookout.

    I quickly moved on from tweeting the mundane parts of life in painfully boring ways to set my sights on becoming the next big “gospel tweeter.” If you don’t know what that is, then you are a normal human being. Don’t get me wrong, I still love and follow a lot of guys who mainly use Twitter to share quotes and articles about grace. I love grace. I just sucked at tweeting about it, mainly because I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. Nothing betrays a genuine resting in grace like a desire to be widely known and heavily retweeted. Pretty glad Google hasn’t come out with a Hidden Motives Translator yet because all of those tweets would simply read, “Listen Jesus is great, but I really need this guys.”  

    Then something strange happened. Three things really. The first was a good friend straight up told me one day, “You should stop being so serious on Twitter and just try to be funny.” By this point I had found @JonAcuff (I think he was still going by @prodigaljohn at the time, the inspiration behind @prodigalsam in the first place). He was the first Christian I ever met on Twitter who was really funny; not “church youth group” funny, but “could write jokes for SNL” funny. So I listened to my friend and started trying my hand at writing funny tweets. I still remember my first attempt at a joke: “I’d trust a drunken Gary Busey before trusting someone who buys cheap toilet paper.” Probably should have just called it quits there, but I kept going, just like that jogging scene in Forrest Gump

    The second thing that happened is that we found out our youngest daughter was diagnosed with a rare condition called Dandy-Walker. You should know that she’s doing great now. She’s 2.5, and to quote Shakespeare, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” I will never forget the day my wife came home in tears from a routine ultrasound, though. They told her that something was seriously wrong with our little girl's cerebellum. Then there were tests, visits to out of town doctors, and more tests. All they could tell us was that something was deeply wrong with the way our little girl’s brain was developing, and there were no guarantees how it would all turn out. 

    One of my favorite comics, Tig Notaro, likes to say that “comedy = tragedy + time.” I love that because that’s what comedy became for me, a way of holding on to a pocketful of light in a sea of darkness; a way of laughing at the (hard) days to come. It’s the conversation between Gandalf and Sam in The Return of the King: “A great shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.”  Twitter became an outlet for laughter. And if you listen to laughter closely enough you can hear the echoes of hope.

    The third thing that happened, and easily the most embarrassing, is I paid money to join this website called Favstar.fm. They should change the name to Internetcrack.fm, because I was irrepressibly and obssessively hooked. The short version is you pay $30 for a 6 month membership so you can give people a virtual trophy for the “Tweet of the Day.” It’s not as sad as it sounds; it’s way sadder. It’s the most successful World of Warcraft gamers in the world purposely throwing a party to make fun of you sad. But it was a great way to meet other funny people on Twitter, and I eventually ended up making it to the “Most Popular of Favstar” page, which, in the words of another funny person on Twitter, is “like being a best selling author in Narnia.” 

    The great thing about Twitter is that it's a safe place to say those things you often think, but rarely feel comfortable saying out loud. This is also the terrible thing about Twitter. Which is why one of the most profound parts of Louis CK’s most recent appearance on Conan is when he talks about the difference between calling someone fat to their face vs. online. When it’s face to face you’re forced to watch what it does to the other person. But when it’s online you're solely concerned about what it does to you. And it feels so, so good. It’s porn but with words.

    And even though he never mentions Twitter by name, part of his broader point is that the danger of being constantly connected is that we lose the ability to connect. This was the dark side of Twitter for me, being so connected that I gradually stopped connecting with the most important people in my life. Or to quote Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, “First we lived on farms. Then we lived in cities. Now we live on the internet.” The problem with living on the internet is that it’s not where your family lives, or most of your friends. They're at home. Waiting for you to come sit down, look them in the eyes and connect with them.

    This is the first post of a multiple post series called "Tweeting Myself to Death: The Rise & Fall of @prodigalsam."

  • Voices of Fall: Pumpkin Spice Lattes

    Hey girl. Guess who’s back in town for a while and ready to do some cuddling with your mouth? Me, better known as the Justin Timberlake of espresso drinks. Where have I been? Where have you been. I’ve missed relaxing by your side as you finish up that Economics homework, Ray Lamontagne softly stroking our ears with his buttery voice. And all those times when work had you flustered, so you’d pick me up and we’d stare into each other’s eyes, softly kissing in the front seat of your Jetta. Got plans tonight? No? Cause I do. And they include you, me, a couple episodes of New Girl, and the couch from IKEA. You know the one. I might even have to wear the Venti cup you bought me, cause things just got so real the Housewives of Orange County are blushing. I’m kidding. But seriously. Sometimes I get lonely, sitting in Starbucks all by myself, waiting for you to come by after the gym, looking cute as Zooey Deschanel in those work out clothes, bangs just the right amount of messy. There’s a latte love between us. Who are those other girls you saw me with? Pssh. Friends from work. I barely know them. Why do they keep texting me? We’re working on a project together. And so are we: it’s called project I think I’m in love with you and want to have your babies. That came out wrong. Yet so, so right. The Spice Girls called and they want me to be your lover. So go ahead and fall for me. Because spicing up your life is exactly what this Spice Boy came to do. 

  • Depression: "Like a Bruise in Your Mind"

    Let’s talk about depression. Or in the words of an older, more seasoned Salt-n-Pepa, “Let’s talk about depression, baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.” Mainly bad things if you’re depressed. 

    How did we get here? This is the question I’ve often asked myself over the years. Am I depressed because I’ve made poor choices? Or do I make poor choices because I’m depressed? Which came first the chicken, or the egg? Did they both end up dying sad, lonely deaths at a dirty KFC in a small Georgia town you’d feel dumber for even trying to pronounce? Probably. But try not to let your depressed little mind think about that. 

    The reality is the answer to the above question is probably “Yes.” Yes, you’re depressed because you’ve made poor choices. And yes, you’ve made bad choices because you’re depressed. Some of these bad choices may or may not have included a late night visit to KFC in which you ordered a “family meal” for one. Unless you consider their biscuits your family. And then you ate your family. Your delicious, delicious, family. 

    The best description of depression I've ever read is from Darlene Withers, a character in Jeffrey Eugenides’ recent novel, The Marriage Plot. She’s at an AA meeting describing the difference between addiction and depression: “One thing I learned, between addiction and depression? Depression a lot worse. Depression ain’t something you just get off of. You can’t get clean from depression. Depression be like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise in your mind. You just got to be careful not to touch where it hurts. It always be there, though.”

    The thing about bruises is sometimes you know how they got there, and sometimes you genuinely don’t. I once had a counselor tell me that depression always has its roots in sin, and he found that hopeful because it meant you could always do something to make it go away. I sat across the booth from him at Ruby Tuesday, quietly listening over my chicken finger platter, thinking maybe my depression has its roots in the fact that I’m eating at Ruby Tuesday, the Crocs with khakis of the restaurant world. 

    What if depression isn’t so much a choice as it is a condition that both includes AND influences our choices? That’s why David Foster Wallace imagined depression as “The Bad Thing,” a dark monster that “tears you open and gets in there and squirms around...[and] not only attacks you and makes you feel bad and puts you out of commission, it especially attacks and makes you feel bad and puts out of commission precisely those things that are necessary in order for you to fight the Bad Thing, to maybe get better, to stay alive.” Kind of like the Smoke Monster from Lost, but worse because it’s inside you, installing the viral softwares of hopelessness and shame into the operating system that is your mind. On second thought, maybe we’re all depressed because of how disappointing the Lost finale was. I think David Foster Wallace would have agreed.        

    The other thing about bruises is that even though they have to heal from the inside out, there are some things you can do to help that healing process. Like ice. And massages. Hopefully not at the same time. At least that’s what Wikipedia tells me, and I pretty much trust Wikipedia like I trust our cat: implicitly/not at all.  

    The point is that there are some things that we can do to not only break the cycle of depression but also help the healing process (which typically lasts a lifetime). For me those things have included eating less fast food/more whole foods, jogging, getting out of my head, drinking pitchers of IPA with friends, watching lots of Netflix with my wife, counseling, counseling, and counseling. Did I mention counseling? Ok good. Cause that’s important. Picking a counselor is like buying a good pair of jeans: they should fit comfortably and not make you hate yourself more.

    None of these things will fix you of course. After all you’re a human being, not a laptop. You can fix laptops, but you can’t fix human beings. Instead you have to do the hard work of loving them, which includes learning to love yourself the way God loves you. You have a heart, not a hard drive. If you had to be a laptop though, hopefully you’d be a Mac and not a PC. Unfortunately judging by your jeans you’re probably a PC. 

    The good news for depressed people is that God is gentle with us in the very places where we are often hardest on ourselves. In fact, He promises not to break a reed that is badly bruised (Isa 42:3), but instead to gently restore it until it is strong enough to stand again. If depression is like a bruise, then God’s love is like a balm, which soothes and restores. It’s not a quick fix, but something you gently apply over the course of a lifetime.  

    The bad news is that most times our depression won't ever just go away. The good news is that no matter how bad our depression gets we're in the care of a Great Physician who promises to never go away. And if you remember anything I’ve said, remember that I basically just compared Jesus‘ love to Icy Hot. Now let’s go eat our family at KFC.

  • Things I Hate: Talking on the Phone

    Talking on the phone in 2013 feels a lot like talking on MySpace in 2013. You can do it, but you shouldn’t. Why talk on the phone when you can send a perfectly good text, or email? Because talking on the phone helps you accomplish things more quickly? You know what else helps you accomplish things more quickly? Riding a segway instead of walking. Just riding around like some kind of drunk Scrooge McDuck. But you don’t. Partly because your exercise routine doesn't involve swimming in gold, thus don't actually own a segway. But mainly because you don't want to look like a jerk. You know what else makes you look like a jerk? Calling someone on the phone like it’s 1989. Unless you just finished an episode of Saved by the Bell live on NBC (ironically on Netflix doesn’t count), don’t pick up that phone.  Who do you think we are, 911? Nope. We’re your friends who are perfectly capable of reading a text. Unless you’re friends with Stevie Wonder. Then you have a point. Were you trying to call Stevie Wonder and dialed us instead? No? Then put down the phone. I had a dream I talked on the phone last night. It was a nightmare. The way characters in horror movies feel when the phone rings is the way I always feel when the phone rings. Slightly panicked and like I’m about to die. Do you know who loves talking on the phone? Killers in horror movies. Do you know who has never talked on the phone? Ryan Gosling in The Notebook. But judging by that stack of letters he would have been an incredible texter. Still not convinced talking on the phone is the worst? In the words of Marvin Gaye, it’s time for some textual healing. Hang up, hang up, hang up, hang up and let's not leave a message at the beep tonight. Let your friends know you love them, and leave an iMessage instead.