There are some characters you meet online and never forget.
Such was the case with Wayne_in_Maine, who could come off as a sort of cranky or cantankerous old man and yet seemed (even then) to have a golden heart under the bluster. There is a way or an intuition I have, that can cut through the harshness on the surface. I can just know when someone is full of themselves and cruel despite their nice-sounding words or truly compassionate despite their surface-level unpleasantness.
Wayne was the latter kind.
The first thing notable about Wayne was that he was intelligent, he had been a nuclear engineer, could articulate his arguments well, and clearly was not going to be backed into a corner. The second thing was that he had a very unique journey and a different perspective from the other ethnic cultural inhabitants of the MennoDiscuss forum. He had gone from a hippy leftist to a conservative-minded neo-Anabaptist and could speak with authority on matters of science unlike the religiously indoctrinated parroting their fundamentalist teachers.
Initially, I saw him as a sort of threat to my worldview, another person compromised by secular influence trying to get Mennonites to shift to his views, and yet later his perspective would actually strengthen my faith when it faltered against the scientific evidence clearly pointing to the appearance of age in the universe.
Because of Wayne, I learned that young-Earth Creationism (or YEC) is not necessary to have a sincere and grounded faith in Jesus Christ.
In fact, it might actually be a liability and cause many to fall into a serious crisis of faith when they go to university, study biology or almost any science and find out the case for YEC is not as clear as it was presented. That Wayne, a rational mind and well-educated, could both reconcile modern scientific theory and his faith was more useful to me (a critical thinker) than some Hammy tourist attraction put there to feed the confirmation bias of fundamentalist midwits. I came around to his position and haven’t looked back.
I have long respected Wayne despite our sometimes clashing and my occasionally coming away feeling unappreciated by him.
He was a man a conviction. He gave up lucrative career paths, actually tried communal living, literally sold all from what I recall, and had come much further in developing his own perspective than most do.
However, despite my respect, Wayne’s version of Christianity didn’t appeal to me. He had, inadvertently, pushed a friend of mine away from Anabaptism with one of his responses. I still believe his take on the rich young ruler account misses the mark, where he read the response of Jesus as a sort of legalistic prescription rather the same as we understand Luke 14:26 where Jesus says if someone “does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
I know, for a fact, that he did not take that literally. He came across, from my limited ability to see, as a very loving father and committed husband. I can’t imagine him hating his family to prove his commitment to Christ. Nevertheless, he was adamant about being completely Anabaptist in his perspective about wealth or warfare, an inconsistency of thought that bothers me about him and others of that fold. It did annoy me too when he characterized the Orthodox tradition as “smells and bells” as if worship was supposed to be something other than a beautiful or full sensory experience.
The Cancer and Change
After I heard about Wayne’s cancer diagnosis, none of our previous sparrings mattered much to me. Wayne, despite our differences, was a true friend and someone that mattered to me. It was especially important to me, given my mourning of Uriah, to talk to someone coming to terms with their poor prognosis and yet not giving up hope.
When I reached out on Facebook Messenger, mentioning Uriah and my desire to meet with him, he replied quickly and with more warmth than I had expected. There was no standoffishness, as had kind of been a feature of his personality, he reciprocated the desire to meet and we talked about various matters of faith.
I took a look at some of the MennoNet discussions he was involved in and got a laugh together about the various bad arguments being used. That’s one thing about him, his humor was dry and always fun, or at least fun when you were on the same side.
It was a sort of therapy, talking to this different side of the pragmatic engineer. Truly, it was special, the man that I saw emerge in this final trial was different. My own thought was that this was the Wayne that was always there under the snide comment and cynicism. Men can put up their walls, to not appear vulnerable, and that was no longer there. We were just two old keyboard warriors with nothing left to prove to the other.
And that’s not to take away from anything he said as far as the grace he was given to endure to the end. It was definitely something spiritual. His testimony of faith was clear. As a friend described him, in this transformed version, “It was like he became a totally different person. Happy, cheerful, optimistic.” He would not be defeated in death and I wanted to hear more about how a rational man, such as himself, given my own struggles, could continue in hope of the eternal.
I had to think of this Scriptural passage:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:3-9)
More important than all of his intellectual endeavors and Christian apologetics, theory or theology, is Wayne’s undying faith through trial is of the greatest comfort to those still in the fight. I never did get to have that face-to-face meeting that we had committed to upon his planned move to Pennsylvania to be closer to his daughter and grandchild. We had planned to meet in order to give us both something to look forward to when he did.
Now that meeting will have to change locations. Wayne took his final breaths yesterday evening, on August 12th, a couple of days after his 65 birthday. By God’s grace, in triumph, we’ll see each other on that other side.
I’m sad that Wayne remains a man that I’ve never met, in the flesh, despite our interactions over the years. However, in his terminal illness, there was also a man that I never met, that softer side, and feel blessed have finally met this man. I loved him and believe that he loved me too. I’ll remember our last interactions for much more fondly than our first. It was beautiful to see his golden heart revealed.
Some might wonder why I have such a visceral reaction to wokeism. I have written a few no holds barred blogs trying to warn people of what this is and where it invariably leads. But each time I write it feels as if my concern is not well-explained. I mean, I know some probably read and ask, “why is Joel attacking these well-intentioned people?”
However, I’m having a moment of clarity and therefore will try to expound on why it is absolutely necessary to shock people out of their stupor. The reality is that wokeism (or grievance culture) and religious purity culture are two branches off of the same tree. Both patriarchal conservative men and those angry pink-haired feminists are trying to create a world without suffering. Both, tragically, create more problems than they solve.
First, what is purity culture?
As I experienced it, in the conservative Mennonite context, it was a branch of Biblical fundamentalism (Protestantism) that had been grafted in to the Anabaptist tree. It was a legalistic perspective. The pure life was to avoid vice (no drinking, dancing, going to movies, etc) and remain completely a virgin until marriage. It is not that the aim is entirely bad, but there was also a lack of grace accompanying this perspective.
In other words, there was no room for failure. It a hellscape of unchecked perfectionist tendencies. People who should be diagnosed as having obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), along with other mental illness, viewed as being virtuous. And the rest of us struggling to meet an unreasonable standard without the actual spiritual help we needed.
For example, girls who thought they were ‘defiled’ for simply talking to a guy that they didn’t intend to marry. And heaven forbid you did date and break-up. Then you were damaged goods. Cursed to walk the earth, like Cain, a stigma tattooed to your chest, a scarlet letter.
To those steeped in this religious purity culture it was about saving the next generation. It was a reaction to a world of promiscuity and failed commitments have produced far-reaching consequences. And yet, while it does work for some, those who check all the right boxes, it permanently marginalize others and gives them no real road to redemption. Divorced and remarried? Tough luck, you’ll need to break up that successful loving family to become a Mennonite.
That’s the purity culture I know all too well and, for reasons I’ll get to later, have fully rejected as being unChrist-like and spiritually void.
Wokeism, despite the vast difference in appearance to what I’ve described above, is another subset of purity culture. It is a reaction to the ‘privilege’ of those who better represent the cultural ideal. It is another form of utopian idealism.
Whereas the latter religious variety of purity culture believes that if their children only kiss one person, never experience the pain or disappointment of a break-up, then heaven will come to earth—the ‘woke, by contrast, believe that if everyone was forced to tolerate their ugliness and embrace their toxic grievance; if they could live free of further offense, then they would be fulfilled.
Both forms of purity culture are offshoots of Western values. They both see suffering as a flaw in the system and try to eradicate it through their own means. And they do have their valid points. No, the girl, the victim of sexual abuse, who (because of her loss of self-worth) goes from one guy to the next, should not be called a slut. But, that said, nor should her unhealthy coping behavior be normalized. Instead, we should stop seeing people as damaged goods because they failed to reach some sort of phony cultural ideal.
The truth is, the woke, as much as they attack whiteness. Or the feminist who acts aggressively and looks to a career as being freedom. The patriarchal father, as much as he claims to be protecting. Are all the thing that they despise most. Religious purity culture, sadly, is hypersexual in focus and produces conflicted men like Bill Gothard, Doug Philips and Josh Duggar. Feminism amounts to a form of female self-loathing that unwittingly idealizes the male role. And so-called social justice is simply a means to manipulate and enslave another group of people.
All of them assume that if a person could simply avoid pain and bad experience they would find their completeness. All seek a kind of perfection outside of Christ and very quickly, despite their wonderful intentions, turn into a dystopian hell.
What is wrong is this idea that pain us is less for our good than pleasure. The religious, ignoring the lesson of Job, neglecting what Jesus said about the tower tower of Siloam or the man blind from birth, see suffering as a sign of God’s displeasure and a punishment. Likewise, the woke want to be embraced without repentance, if they would simply be called clean then they could finally escape their terrible anguish, right?
The truth is, bad experience is part of life and as beneficial as the good. Growing up in a single parent home can be an excuse or a motivation to do better.
This is what makes the story of Jesus so compelling. Unlike us, he was completely innocent, his intentions were pure and should have been loved by all. But, instead of embrace him, his own people saw him as a threat, he would undermine their system and perspective, show them for what they were, thus had to be eliminated. That he was executed with criminals would seem like a humiliating defeat. He suffered and died for what?
However, it was in this suffering that salvation came. Sure, the burden of the cross comes with anguish. We would rather seek pleasure and avoid pain. However, in Jesus, the cross is transformed from being a brutal instrument of death into a well of eternal life. How? It is in the same way that a seed falls to the ground, is buried and leads to new life.
Why would we cling to the seed or refuse to let it be buried and prevent the tree?
The overprotectiveness of religious purity culture, the refusal to acknowledge our brokenness and need of transformation of wokeism, both try to find salvation by human means. One seeks to impress God, like the rich young ruler or proud Pharisee, whereas the other (like Cain) demands that God accept their unworthy sacrifice and then murders their righteous brothers. Both need Jesus.
In conclusion. We’re all damaged goods and can be made more beautiful than ever through repentance. Jesus can make our pain as much a joy as our pleasure.
Adam is a friend of mine. We have gone out to eat on multiple occasions since being introduced. He’s a bit eccentric, he carries a notebook everywhere, has humor that doesn’t quite hit the mark, spiritual rather than religious, dresses a little like an old-school hippie and is sort of alt-right conspiracy-minded.
Adam is also depressed and a broken record. Time and time again he goes back to his relationship with his father and wants some sort of validation that he never does receive. His father, his opposite politically, left when he was a child, seems to have some mental issues of his own and can be very degrading when things don’t go his way. It is quite evident that the sins of the father have visited upon the son.
I have urged Adam to move on, told him that his biological father will never give him what he so desperately wants, and have suggested that he do as I have done when let down. Namely, I have told him to come to Holy Cross. The Orthodox have fatherly figures who represent the Heavenly Father for the fatherless.
Unfortunately, Adam, despite his desperation, is stuck on doing things his own way. From the first time we met until now there is a wall of resistance that goes up against Christian religion and even what seems like an inability to understand simple explanations. For example, I used the illustration of Naaman having to dip in the river Jordan to be healed, thought I had explained well, and got nothing but a blank look of his being genuinely perplexed.
There’s truly not much hope for Adam until he is able to let go of his disappointments and hope of some sort of resolution on his own terms. And, quite frankly, even if his dad would miraculously transform into the father he envisions as ideal, that would not fix what broken in Adam. He will try drugs, he asks for my “fellowship” with him, but absolutely refuses to dip in those healing waters of the Church.
It’s sad because his repeatedly going back to this makes me feel as if I’m wasting time on a lost cause. I mean, it’s hard not to do that inner “here we go again” eye roll when there seems to be no progress. And it does certainly work on my patience too. But there’s one big reason why I do not write him off entirely. What is that reason? Well, maybe because I’m not all that different from him.
My Own Skipping Record
In the days of vinyl records there was nothing more annoying than the skip. It was what happened when the record had been mishandled and the surface grooves scratched. The needle would travel down the groove, reach the scratched area, and jump back into the prior groove. The result is that the music abruptly stops and makes an unpleasant transition over and over again.
Being stuck in a rut is not fun. Ending up in the same place no matter how hard you try will exhaust the strongest person. Worse, when others try to help pull a mired soul out, and the stuck person goes sideways rather than forward, many will leave concluding that they do not want to be helped. And sometimes that is indeed the case. Some do enjoy the pity party attention and are simply a drain of resources that could be used for those who truly want out.
Those who have read my blogs over the past few years have probably started (long ago) to wonder if any progress has been truly made. And, believe me, some days I do wonder myself as I give a slightly different angle on the same themes over and over again. I mean, you get it. I had some really big expectations and ended up really disappointed at the end. So move on already, right?
And the truth is, I have in many regards. I’m not the same person as I was a year ago. I have gained confidence, continue to attend to my responsibilities, and the feelings of loss grow less intense with each repeat cycle. That said, the recent setbacks, the physical pain, along with the unresolved situation with Charlotte, can very quickly lead to that spiral back into those past hurts. There was no real resolution or closure there, to survive I simply pivoted to new hopes.
Completing the transition, out of the wilderness of broken glass to my new promised land, means seeing a fulfilment of the impossibly. That means Charlotte being here. Until that moment when we meet in the airport terminal, her safely on US soil, there will be that cloud of uncertainty hanging over me. It does cause me to skip at times, to go back to those feelings of helplessness and worries that my hopes are still entirely delusion.
I choose to believe. But not because it is easy to believe.
As the man with the sick son who came to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Do You Want To Be Healed?
A year or two ago, this was the text for the Homily one Sunday morning:
One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
(John 5:5-8 NIV)
It really struck me, more than ever before while hearing this passage, that Jesus asks the man if he wants to be healed. Imagine that, a man, waiting for nearly forty years, nobody helping this unfortunate man into this healing pool. He, like Adam, like myself before the pursuit of the impossibly, had been waiting on rescue by the means that he could understand. His days must’ve passed an increasing nightmare of his own paralysis and being surrounded by other hurting people more concerned with their own needs.
Jesus asks, almost as if knowing the man’s will to be healed is permission. And the incredible part? After hearing the man’s complaint about no help, simply commands him “get up” and the man does. His faith set him free.
That in contrast with this:
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
(Mark 6:1-5 NIV)
The disbelief of those who knew Jesus as merely a man, the carpenters son, limited what he was able to do. Spiritual healing is, and has always been, a matter of our own choice. So many of us insist on doing things our own way, we refuse to dip in our muddy Jordan rivers because of pride, we wait on rescue believing that our salvation comes from other people, yet all we need is to look up in faith and then healing is possible.
No, this does not mean we will be spared physical ailment or live forever in our current form. Even Lazarus, raised from the dead, passed from this life. But we can be made spiritually whole. That is why I keep writing, maybe I sound like a broken record, maybe this is too much for many people who stopped reading this blog long ago, still I write so that my most faithful friends may someday also share in my joy having known of my sorrows.
Simone Biles, arguably the best female US gymnast ever, decided to quit the competition at the Tokyo Olympics. This decision was as celebrated as if she had won gold and that caused some conservative friends to protest. The bulk of the criticism having to do with the glowing coverage of this choice. But then there was a lot that was aimed at her personally, calling her a deserter, “an entitled, weak, brat,” and part of the “participation trophy” behavior.
While I won’t call what she did stunning or brave, I will also withhold any sort of hard judgment concerning her. Maybe it was the right decision? If she isn’t feeling up to the task then it might be good to allow the next one up to fill the spot on the team?
Given that it was leaked, back in 2016, that Biles uses Adderall, a common stimulant used to treat ADHD, and banned by the Olympics, it is little wonder she is out of sorts. That’s a strong drug, in the methylamphetamine class, and going off of it could severely hamper a person mentally. Many people (conservatives, in particular) do not understand how much their mood and level of ambition are predetermined. During my brief stint using Adderall, I learned a lot about how easy it is to get things done when you have complete focus The withdrawal is something fierce too. For me it left a dead inside, can’t get out of my own way, feeling when in withdrawal.
So, rather than an indictment of Biles, this may be a concern about how we deal with life in the United States. Whereas previous generations and most people in the world cope without drugs, the US is very drug dependent. The US, in fact, is the world leader in prescription drug usage. The US produces and uses about 85% of the world’s methylphenidate. Rather than overcome by internal means, learning coping skills, or building mental strength by simply getting up and after it, we are relying on the take a little pill solution to problems.
Then again, we can’t know if Biles would ever be competing at this level without Adderall. But we do know that she has had many things to overcome. She has worked very hard to get to where she is. She has endured a childhood of hunger and sexual abuse too. This is why I’m not going to join anyone in calling her weak or anything else. Unless someone has competed at the highest levels of gymnastics and knows a little of the commitment and strength it takes, then it may be best to leave judgment to those who have been there and done that.
That said, the question of whether we are getting mentally weaker is worth looking into, but first another athlete’s story…
A hard-hitting and short career
Joey Julius stormed onto the college football scene with his big boot and his hit stick tackles.
Kickers are not generally known for their toughness. It is typical that they hang back and play safety on the kick coverage. It is expected that they might try to run the play out of bounds or go for a feeble attempt at the runner’s ankles.
But that wasn’t Julius. He was a big boy, 260lbs, and very quickly became a Penn State fan favorite with his ferocious coverage team collusions. He was a walk-on and seemed to be ready to entertain for years to come. Yet, right as his fame rose, he disappeared.
It certainly was disappointing for me, as a fan, to see this exciting and unique player off of the roster. And, of course, I had to ask why. For me being able to start for a college football team would be an amazing privilege and never something I would pass up. However, as one who saw my own cousin, a 6′-8″ 320lb lineman, confident as he was going in, get bogged down with injuries and the pressure of college life, end up off the team after one season, I understood that it isn’t an easy thing to be an athlete at that level.
As it turns out, Julius, despite his new celebrity, still struggled with body image issues and binge eating disorder. For all his success on the field, and the acceptance it brought, he felt he was not as he was supposed to be, was overcome by anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.
As for toughness?
I know for certain, at least at my own size and strength, I wouldn’t run full speed into a division one athlete. So it would be hard to call Julius a weakling. As with Biles dropping out, their fame and athletic pursuits, our want of entertainment, all come secondary to their well-being and only they know what is right for them.
I wish him well.
My own story of quitting early…
I was picked to be on the church council late last year. My congregation is small, yet a serious responsibility and, in my mind, an honor. I had planned to serve out my full-term and was even a little excited. It was the first time I would serve in a leadership position. I had not been so much as a youth officer in my old denomination and it did bother me a little. That said, I’ve never sought out mundane administrative duties, so being overlooked for the role wasn’t that big of a deal either. Nevertheless, I took the reminders of Father Seraphim to heart, that we were to be an example to the rest of the church, and that would eventually lead to me resigning my post.
I would love to see myself as being mentally strong and might be in some regards. However, the death of Uriah had taken an emotional toll and I really was not feeling up to the task of being a council member. I was simply not putting in the kind of energy that I thought would be right for the position and started to have second thoughts after the first couple of meetings. So I shared these thoughts privately with sub-deacon Anthony, who graciously responded, but then decided to continue the course. However, that resolve did not last long. The next meeting, for whatever reason, I was just feeling very discombobulated and even angry, it didn’t make any sense. It was at that point that I decided to send Father a message to ask if it was okay to resign and he accepted.
It was embarrassing to me.
As Jesus said, concerning discipleship:
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
(Luke 14:28-33 NIV)
Yes, perhaps the death, after a year hoping for a miracle, presented an extenuating circumstance. But then everyone on the council has their own crap to deal with and some of them possibly more than me. With a combination of perfectionism with some laziness, I had taken the easy way out. Sure, it was good that I took my job seriously enough that underperformance was an issue. And I knew when I agreed to the position that I wasn’t going to be a flawless participant. Furthermore, I don’t quit my day job because of a bad day or even months of struggle. So maybe it was all simply an excuse as soon as things got tough?
I do know this, my replacement on council is an elderly fellow who probably should be enjoying his retirement rather than pick up the pieces for this me-first generation.
Is weakness a choice?
There is a character issue to be considered. I’m the guy who can show up to work, in absolute agony, head ready to explode from an infected tooth, because someone has to do the job.
Diminished capabilities or not, I understand that my participation in the group effort makes a difference and also that my paycheck depends on showing up. In other words, maybe my quitting council was a sort of self-indulgence, or willing fragility, rather than an absolute reflection of my true ability to complete the task?
But then it is part and parcel of my generation’s ‘authenticity’ at all costs mindset. We cast this as being strength, the “you do you” mantra is repeated often. Still, it is also likely costing our greater potential when we choose to quit because of feelings of inadequacy or our lack of mental fortitude. The idea of “fake it until you make it” does not exist because other generations had it easier than we do. This learned helplessness, while comfortable, is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy and keeps many people from ever reaching their full potential.
The name Jim Thorpe comes to mind. This Olympic athlete, the first of Native American heritage to win gold, was an incredible story of mental toughness. While in competition, having had his shoes stolen, he found a mismatched pair of shoes in the garbage—used an extra sock on one foot to make it work—and went on to win a couple of gold metals in this hasty arrangement. This is a man who had every excuse to give up. Have you ever try to run, let alone compete at the highest level, in shoes that don’t fit?
It would be worthwhile to read up on Thorpe, compare what he endured to the stories of Biles, Julius, and my own, then draw some conclusions. Perhaps the reality is that we could and we simply didn’t? In other words, we made a choice, picked an easier path, and missed an opportunity for growth?
My grittier moments…
I’ve had many setbacks in my life. I started struggling for breath, as a preemie, was a slow developer physically and late bloomer otherwise. Opportunities were often behind me before I even realized I should be seeking them.
I don’t recall, it was relayed to me, but apparently an elementary school teacher had told my mom about an incident, during a math test, where I jumped up beside my desk and screamed. Why that shy child would make such an outburst? Well, probably because I was so frustrated, trying so hard to focus, full of anxiety, and was barely able to do the work.
Obviously, like my eldest sister who blazed her path, I was driven. But, unlike my sibling, who could put her mind to something and do it, I would be overcome with my perfectionism and eventually defeated in various pursuits by my fear and doubt. The most crushing of those being my inability to pull myself together when things became uncertain in romantic hopes.
That’s not to say that my sheer will and determination gained me nothing. As a 112lb senior, I started and finished a season of football. I’ve comeback, on a couple of occasions, from injuries that might have caused some to put an end to their fitness regime. I had even walked in faith, against the odds, to pursue the impossibly, to the point that I became mentally ill and had nothing left to give. I’m still here.
At times I hated whatever made me want to keep going despite these setbacks. My mind, like Job’s wife, telling me “curse God and die.”
Fortunately, unlike many in this age that loves victimhood, I had a mom who would not let me slack off or quit. Sure, she could never do the work for me. But she could have easily nurtured me to death by catering to her poor Joel. I was a trouble child, especially as a teen, a tortured soul, someone always stuck in the mud, spinning his wheels as dreams sped away and vanished over the horizon. I didn’t actually know how to grow up or be independent. I would still be living at home had my mom allowed it. She didn’t.
The idea of a home mortgage had terrified me. Could I make the payments? What if I could not pay it back? It was too much for me to do voluntarily, without that push, because I didn’t have the mental strength. And yet, when the time came, when I finally did sign the papers, not only did I pay off the loan, I actually paid it off in half of the time!
Incidentally, it was this that made me more confident when facing the impossibly, that Mennonite female interest to end all, and also totally upended me when she said, “you’re thirty years old living in Milton.” In one sentence she had destroyed the meaning of the entire struggle up to that point.
Nevertheless, even then, when I stopped eating and holed up in that cracker box house, wishing to die. It was my parents, especially my mom, who continued to push. Yes, there was comfort and consolation, time given for me to grieve, rest and collect myself again, yet never coddling or agreement with my despair.
It is absolutely terrifying for me to imagine what I may have become had I quit the first time things required digging deeper. I mean, I would have likely died in that plexiglass box—the isolette—had I not been a fighter, had my physician uncle given up, etc.
Not to mention had my mom decided pregnancy was too much for her or my grandparents lacked the commitment of marriage.
Life is tough.
We would not get very far if we make quitting when things don’t go our way into a habit. That is why we should be concerned about the new turn towards making heroes out of those who do not finish. Sure, there are reasons to quit, to avoid injury or whatever, but when it is simply an excuse for not putting forth effort? That’s a problem.
Build strength—Do not coddle weakness
Our culture, sadly, is coddling many to their own detriment. Many young adults live as overgrown children, unfulfilled, because they’re encouraged to be mentally weak and their needs are being provided. By contrast, I’ve seen an Amish toddler herd cows, Chinese toddlers can cook meals, and humans have an amazing ability to rise to the challenge.
It is a sad day when we go from honoring strength, that hard work it requires to achieve greatness, to celebration of weakness. It is basically a suicide pact, a death spiral, and makes thriving impossible. By telling people that they’re unable, that quitting is okay, we are doing them a lifetime of harm. We are currently at a crisis point it is not sustainable to go the direction we are going.
We need more heroes like Jim Thorpe now more than ever. The future of our species depends on it. However, this mental toughness, it doesn’t start (or end) with elite athletes on the world stage. It means having the courage to get up and go again, despite our feelings, and repeat as many times as necessary until we’re able to overcome. There is no pill, no magic solution, only learning not to make excuses and push on.
Many of us are defined by the hurts we have experienced. Truly, how we interact today, the anxieties we have, are often a product of something in our past, injustice or injury, that has warped our perceptions.
For many years of my life, I felt unloveable.
I had gotten off to a bad start in the romantic realm. After some failed efforts, stinging rejections, my confidence fell off a cliff, I would self-sabotage even when I had chances and spiraled even further into fear and doubt. With every “not interested” answer came increased feelings of shame and the stigma of being someone not good enough for even a first date.
I still apologize, sometimes, or actually more all the time, when asking to have dinner with a woman.
Well, not because I’m a terrible person. I’ve always been a good friend and respectful of boundaries. I have much to offer even in terms of platonic relationships and have proven myself in this regard over and over again. But still, because of the value others have assigned to me, I look at myself as possibly being a burden to the person I’m asking and that hesitancy can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because it makes the person being asked uncomfortable.
If you see yourself as being worthless it shouldn’t be a big surprise when other people agree.
Breaking free of these cycles can feel impossible when stuck in them. The most frustrating advice I’ve ever received was “be confident” as if I was simply choosing to see myself as garbage for no reason whatsoever. I mean, I had been confident enough to express interest, even overcome the oppression of my social anxieties, only to be swatted down one more time by young women who had their eyes set on 5′-10″ or over.
Of course my plight, as a shy person on the shorter end of male stature, was not at all helped by the conservative Mennonite culture that had been overcome by purity culture teachings. Young people had it drilled into them that dating that didn’t lead to marriage equated to defilement. So, if you didn’t have the superficial tools, there was really no means of building a relationship or mutual respect that could lead to a deeper commitment.
The Letters We Are Forced To Wear
The Scarlet Letter, a novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850, is set in the 1600s, in the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, and follows a woman, named Hester Prynne, who—through an out of wedlock pregnancy—was found guilty of adultery and is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” for her sin. It contrasts her plight to that of the child’s father, the town’s minister, whom she protects with her silence and lives in constant fear of being exposed for his concealed sin.
Like Hester, some of us wear our shortcomings more visibly than others. Those who obviously lack something according to the prevailing social standard, whether exposed to public scorn and ridicule or simply excluded from institutions and driven to the margins, are forced to deal with feelings of humiliation. Of course, that’s not to say that those who appear to be outwardly pure and undefiled are free of pain, those with less visible faults often live with a tremendous fear of being discovered and guilt.
We all want to be accepted and yet have those letters to wear. It could be that we’re typecasted, “oh, that’s George, always big talker!” We have heard the labels, the declarations, “she’s a flirt” or “he’s desperate,” and sometimes it is hard to know if it is that person or the group making that reality what it is. It is not all completely negative, it could be “they’re meant to be” or any statement that builds an expectation, but it certainly can keep a person confined and limits potential.
Once you fill a particular role, in the minds of the group, it is often difficult to break beyond it.
For example, my biggest fear, when I took a job driving truck, was that I would be branded a “truck driver” and thus not eligible for other work. My concerns were fulfilled, years later, when I talked to a business owner friend about my desire to get off the road and they offered that maybe I could drive a truck for them.
These kinds of things aren’t necessarily even spoken. But we know there are those individuals or that don’t quite live up to the ideal of the group, who have a blemish visible or invisible, and are tolerated more than embraced. In some ways, it would be better if our chests could be emblazoned with these symbols of shame, that we could be told exactly you get told by an eligible young woman “you’ll make a great husband someday” and yet nobody (including her) seems to want that greatness.
However, not all of this is imposed. Some of this punishment, if not most of it, is self-inflicted.
Shamed No More
The most brilliant theme of The Scarlet Letter is that that this symbol of shame is transformed over the course of the novel. This letter intended to stigmatize eventually becomes a badge of honor for the protagonist and something she wears willingly rather than because she must. The letter “A” because of Hester’s diligent work, her charity, and listening to those lower social status, comes to mean “able” or “angel” as the story progresses. She, for her proven virtue, becomes well-respected as humble and wise.
My own life journey, with the investment of love and care of a few, has begun to take that turn as well.
I have begun to realize that my romantic failures were a reflection of a broken courtship culture and not my own lacking. Because of the drip drip drip of Charlotte’s confidence in me, I have become stronger. Not only that, but as a result of my struggle, I also have deep compassion for those who suffer and a desire to free them from the bonds of their insecurities. Now, even when snubbed, because I know who I am and don’t depend on this external definition of what I am for security, I barely care. It is on them, not me. I know I’m a good friend and focus my effort on those who appreciate what I offer.
The reality is that I’ve become a different person. I behave differently than I did when ruled by my anxieties and thus have become more attractive.
No, that doesn’t make what others did to push a person down a dead-end road any more right. The love of Christ should compel us to invest in the salvation of others and especially to help those who want to be helped. Things like slavery and denial of rights to people on the basis of outward appearance certainly do hurt and hinder. And yet, there’s also a way to live beyond our typecasting. to not be confined by the expectations of others, and transcend our circumstances.
For me, there was never that final triumph nor day of reckoning with those who hurt me. My hopes were shattered. My identity crushed. Those who caused my torment continued along their merry way and probably not with a second thought of how their attitudes impacted me. They never did listen to me when I tried to escape from the box they had put me in. But, nonetheless, I did emerge.
The Scarlet Letters others forced us to wear may remain emblazoned on our chest. However, we do not need to accept the meaning others have created for the symbol. In the novel, Hester’s daughter, Pearl, became upset when her mother didn’t wear the letter. For Pearl, the letter represented something other than shame. It represented her loving mother, not sin. That was a seed and very likely helped Hester to see her value beyond the opinions of the judgmental townsfolk. And, eventually, what Hester became changed the meaning of the symbol even for those around her.
Our Perfection Is Not Purity
One of the inspirations for writing this blog was a conversation about matters of sexuality and shame. My contention that the suffering of sexual abuse victims is a product of social expectations, as much as it is about the violation itself, and would be far less painful if we put less weight on perfection in terms of being ‘pure’ in a physical manner.
That’s where the shame comes in. It comes from this idea that by being physically violated, or even touched consentingly by another person, we have somehow become worth less as a person than we were prior. Of course, this is nonsense. Our value does not come from physical purity, a person who was raped is no less beautiful or virtuous even if she does now feel differently about themselves as result. It is this, this change in belief about oneself, that lingers long after the assault and is the real cause of suffering. We are conditioned to see those who have been through this as damaged or defiled.
And that’s not to say that the assault does not do real lasting harm beyond what is physical either. No, rather that a rape survivor is going to be re-traumatized hearing a sermon about saving yourself for marriage. It is going to add to their fears of being disadvantaged and may actually stigmatize them when they really should be loved and treasured. That’s what purity culture does, it heaps shame on those who themselves may have done nothing wrong and often forgives those who should be held accountable.
While holding sexual abusers accountable, like we would anyone who takes what isn’t theirs to take, maybe we should also take on this idea that someone is forever tainted because of sexual intercourse and therefore a perpetual victim?
It isn’t the abusers that define the worth of a person as being their virginity nor is it the abuser who assigns the value to what happened. No, we do that. And one of the reasons why sexual abuse is so painful for those who were raised in a purity culture is because they are convinced that their own value is somehow decreased because of something that happened to them.
Jesus, even in dealing with those who had willfully sinned sexually, was completely gentle.
Well, it is because Jesus valued the individual for more than their physical ‘purity’ and past behavior. Yes, he told the woman at the well, “go and sin no more,” but he did that for her sake. Her lifestyle was not good for her and, unlike the proud religious elites who can admit no wrong, she was already humble enough to know her own shortcomings and want the change.
So, if Jesus could forgive those who sinned of their own volition, why should those who were violated by the sin of another feel as if they are somehow damaged goods?
If we actually believe that our righteousness comes from being clothed in Christ, made perfect in him, then why do we place so much value on the physical and the past?
To be clothed in Christ means that our negative experiences can be redefined. No longer should the sins of the past (our own or by others) define who we are. Instead, we are new creatures. No, these things we have gone through are not removed, yet they can be redeemed and no longer a burden of shame that we carry, no longer a cause for self-pity or self-loathing, because our perfection does not come from our own abilities. Our purity comes from the inside, through spiritual transformation, and no longer by the reputation others give us or regrets we have.
The Symbolism of the Cross
When Jesus was stripped naked, his flesh cruelly shredded by scourgings, battered and bruised, finally mocked under a sign “king of the Jews” while he suffered unimaginable anguish, the whole process was intended to humiliate and shame.
He did not deserve the mistreatment nor was it a pleasant experience. It was the sin of others that put him there. It was a cross and a horrendous image of despair and death. There nothing worthy of celebration in that. But even this, intended to destroy him, could not.
Most of us, put through similar abuse, may curse God or at the very least we would not be in the mood to forgive those who torment us.
Jesus, by contrast, did not let the circumstances define his character. What they did to him was not a reflection of him nor could it be to his shame. And, most importantly, they could not keep him in the grave as much as they tried.
As a result, the cross, this symbol of their hatred and abuse, has now become something we can look to for healing. It is in the cross of Christ that we can see our worth as being more than what the crowd yells, more even than our broken physical body, and to have faith in God’s perfect justice.
Those ensnared in the world of sin and death, whether victims of abuse, self-declared advocates for victims or the abuser, cannot accept the message of the cross. It is foolishness to them. They are slaves of their twisted passions, prisoners of the past and bound to their own reasonings. And, for the victims who harbor grievance, their answer to being mistreated is always the same as what they feel was done to them. They want to take the marker of shame off of themselves and place it on those who harmed them.
But the message of the cross is that even shame itself can be defeated by the grace of God. Those clothed in His righteousness no longer have need to rank above their peers, no longer live for the acceptance of other people, and live for something altogether different from what many others strive for. No, rather than shrink in fear or fall into self-pity, they see their cross as something that is purifying, as the proving ground of their faith, and opportunity to serve.
If something as awful as the cross can be redefined to become a story of salvation, those letters we wear can also be changed in meaning and redeemed. We can be the Hester, in our own story, the one who proved that her character was about more than that one act those many years ago. In the end she was the better person, for what she went through, than those who had looked at her in judgment.
Remember that viral video, from a few years ago, that has a bunch of young people lined up in a field?
As the music plays, we hear an announcer tell participants this is a race for a $100 bill and then proceeds to list off statements that will allow some to advance. If both parents married, if they had a father figure, if they had access to private education, if they never had their cell phone shut off or had to help their parents with bills, and the list goes on.
However it seems many of my former religious peers, raised in conservative Mennonite cloisters, prior to watching this video, had been completely unaware of this ‘privilege’ of family structure. Suddenly their ignorance had been revealed. But, some, rather than simply ponder and reflect, used this new knowledge to bludgeon others and suggest that anything less than feeling deep shame equal to their own is somehow sinful.
One problem with being raised in a religious culture where indoctrination and conformity is preferred to open discussion is that many coming from this background are nearly incapable of critical thought. A media presentation like this dazzles them and there’s no reason they can imagine to question the conclusions. They see what they’re supposed to see, what was carefully edited and prepared for them to see, and what the lecturer tells them to believe.
The video, unfortunately, frames things in terms of race. The one announcing even explicitly saying “if this was a fair race…some of these black dudes would smoke all of you.”
It’s ironic that this man plays on racial stereotype, the perceived athletic advantage that some have, while simultaneously making the case that privilege is about getting the money at the end of a race. He undermines his own thesis. If some young people, as a result of their athleticism, can get into a prestigious university, how is that not also privilege?
More importantly, where does that leave those of us who neither had the athletic prowess nor the academic chops nor wealthy parents to provide for our education?
My father was absent, out on the road weeks at a time, I went to public school because my parents couldn’t afford the Mennonite school tuition, I never had a cell phone growing up and also eventually had to pay rent to my parents for the privilege of living under their roof, is that unfair?
Who is to say that a person raised in single parent home is truly at a disadvantage to someone with a learning disability?
And is it actually true that those with non-athletic scholarships didn’t earn any of that reward through their own hard work?
A big problem with the presentation is how it frames privilege in a very narrow and misleading way. The list of factors is extremely selective. He never mentioned the many other disadvantages (or advantages) that can shape outcomes, things like physical stature or gender, affirmative action and health. There is also no attempt to explain why these factors should be weighted as they are. Ask different questions and the completion of the results may completely change.
Breaking Down Privilege
The problem with the privilege narrative is not that it highlights the advantages that some have over others. We all know that an athletic tall guy is more likely to dunk a basketball, and have a girlfriend, than the 5′-5″ tall perpetually last-picked dude. All of the things listed in the video may very well have an impact on outcomes and yet there are so many other things people overcome that never got mentioned.
The message is right, in that we should be aware of the disadvantages others face, but does a disservice in framing privilege almost entirely in terms of race. And, with that, feeds insecurities, builds upon division, encourages animosity or guilt—all without providing any actual solutions.
To get to solutions we need to break down the framing:
1) Not About Race
The irony of the “white privilege” claim is that, when we get to specifics, the advantages some have are often not actually about race.
Fatherless homes, for example, have nothing to do with race and everything to do with the choices of a prior generation. My dad took responsibility, he provided for his children, my mom remained loyal to him despite his shortcomings, and us children benefited.
Do you know who else had that privilege?
The daughters of Michelle and Barack Obama.
Not only that, Sasha and Malia, had access to private school, prestigious universities, and other opportunities that a working-class child (such as myself) could only ever dream about. Sure, they may have similar skin color to Trayvon Martin, but that’s where the similarities end and to say otherwise is to be absurd. The average blue collar white person has more in common with racial minorities than anyone in the ruling class.
My school friend, Adam Bartlett, the one who eventually killed himself and another man, was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. Not only that, but he wasn’t all that athletic, wasn’t a great student, had nothing given to him by his parents, yet we’re supposed to believe that he had this thing called “white privilege” and was actually better off than the daughters of the President?
This idea that privilege is about color, that fatherless homes and poverty is a matter of race, is the very definition of prejudice. It is a message bad for the racial minorities whom it both disempowers and discourages. It is also wrong, an injustice, to the many people deemed privileged who face the exact same challenges and never get as much sympathy or help.
The truth is that statistics never tell us about individuals. There are many born into poverty and poor conditions who do overcome their circumstances. It has as much to do with attitude, the things we believe and are told to believe about ourselves, as anything else. The very things that can be a disadvantage in one case can be motivation in the next.
2) Let’s Address Culture, Not Color!
If we’re truly interested in changing results then we need to talk about the elephant in the room. Why do some children grow up in single parent homes, in poverty, while others do not? More importantly, what can we do to prevent this from repeating?
Woke nationalism, a far-left Marxist political movement adjacent to this sort of privilege propaganda, would have people believe that more money (in form of reparations or government programs) is the solution to disparities in outcomes. Rather than address the root cause of disparities, they blame-shift and promote acceptance of toxic behavior.
Black Lives Matter, for example, doesn’t support the reestablishment of traditional families. And, worse, many promoters of the “white privilege” narrative would have us believe that things like work ethic are somehow related to skin color. They are explicitly encouraging the very things that the video would have us believe hold people back from success.
Just today, while writing this, a BLM leader in London, was shot in the head. Her story not all that uncommon in the inner-city, where gang warfare and honor culture, a criminal underground, leads to many violent ends.
Are we truly supposed to believe this is black culture?
Should I celebrate that the majority of shootings in my little corner of the world are perpetrated by a rather small minority?
My answer is a hard N-O to both questions.
No, we should not accept fatherless homes as normal nor be an apologist for the honor culture that so often leads to violent outcomes.
No, skin color does not, should not, should NEVER determine our behavior.
It is culture, not color, that is shaping outcomes. And to conflate color with culture is the very epitome of racial prejudice. Seriously, saying that black people must act differently, must be more expressive, must prefer particular kinds of music, must talk a certain way, is the same kind of ridiculous thinking behind minstrel shows. We should be beyond this, we should be judging by content of character rather than color of skin, stop promoting foolishness!
3) Life Is Not Competition
The most egregious presumption in the video is that life is a competition and ending up with more money is the goal. Talk about spiritual rot posing as enlightenment!
Sure, your bank account may be somewhat a product of the home, community and culture that you were raised in. Hunter Biden certainly has an advantage over me in terms of earning potential given his father’s high political profile. And, trust me, it has very little to do with anything he’s done. For sure, if he were the average Joe, if the 1994 Crime Bill applied to him, he might be in jail for a long list of crimes. But that ‘privilege’ doesn’t mean he’s a success compared to me, does it?
Some extremely wealthy and visibly successful people are extremely unhappy with their lives. No amount of access to private education, cell phones, health care, or whatever, is going to solve a feeling of inferiority or self-loathing. And, if anything, more wealth in the hands of a disgruntled person will only enable them to do more evil. I mean, was Hitler, a struggling artist and disenfranchised military veteran, improved by the power eventually given to him?
No, not at all.
This idea, in the video, that life is a competition, that more material wealth equates to success, is completely wrong and deserving of the severest rebuke. What is truly shameful is that those religious folks sharing this message never once stopped to consider the metrics of success presented. So much for the first being last and last being first, as Jesus taught, apparently to them life is all about the accumulation of stuff and political power.
Maybe if we would, instead of pitying and patronizing people, start preaching the truth, start telling dead beat parents, or anyone making excuses for themselves, to repent—then we would see positive change?
But that would require us to see others as being our equals, capable of choosing good behavior. It would require being unpopular and to stand at odds with the virtue signaling of the social elites. Those who are honest about matters of culture, who confront woke nationalism and racist lies, they are the only people systemically oppressed.
Jesus Defies Privilege Narrative
No, matters of bad character and toxic culture are not fixed by more money, consider this parable:
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “ ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
(Matthew 25:14-30 NIV)
Of the parables that Jesus told, this one has to be one of the most harsh and counterintuitive. I mean, who can blame this servant, given so little, for burying his talent?
Was it fair that, before the investment phase even began, the “wicked” and “lazy” servant was already at a severe disadvantage?
While this parable affirms the idea that what we’re born with has little to do with what we’ve done. However, it departs radically from the central notion of the video that success at the end of life is “nothing to do with what you’ve done.”
This flies completely in the face of the social justice gospel and, frankly, everything that comes naturally to me. As one who always felt like the servant given little and thus was fearful of God, this parable confounded me. Didn’t the initial disadvantage, the unequal distribution of wealth, shape the outcome?
Are we now going to say that Jesus lacked understanding, compassion or sensitivity?
Should we cancel Jesus?
We could replace the wealth or talents of the parable with “privilege points” and not change the message. Jesus who said, “to those much is given much will be required,” also said those who are given less by God should be appreciative and invest well rather than make excuses.
In other words, if you have no father, you can wallow in the disadvantage or choose to invest in the next generation so they do not suffer as you did. If you were excluded, as I was, on the basis of lacking stature and athletic abilities or other things not within your control, you can harbor the grievance, let it take over your life, or you can use it as motivation to do unto others what wasn’t done for you.
The reality is that Jesus was being far more compassionate in addressing the spiritual matter at the heart of many negative outcomes and ignoring questions of fairness. Furthermore, life is not a competition for material gain, it is not about the rank we attain in society either, and to frame it in such a way only shows a complete lack of discernment. The privilege narrative is not only racist to the core, it is also at odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Instead of chastising innocent people for their alleged color privilege, trying to burden them down with guilt. Instead of telling some people that they lack the ability to be successful simply on the basis of their outward appearance or place they were born, which is a total lie. We should love our neighbors, rebuke this notion that life is a competition for money, and call all to repentance.
There was a time, many years ago, when I had a particularly severe struggle with insecurities, it was likely related to a recent romantic rejection and this mess of anxieties being part of the aftermath. I had walked into a youth volleyball event and, observed, a couple of girls across the room laughing.
I had known how cruel young women could be about guys who didn’t meet their standards, overheard their giggles and comments related to that slightly awkward and unfashionable older guy who was the constant butt of their jokes. So my fears of this sort of ridicule were not entirely unfounded.
But, after a quick self-assessment, making sure I wasn’t wearing my underwear on the outside or anything too obviously wrong, I did my best to ignore that nagging voice and find another explanation. They could have been laughing about anything, there was absolutely no reason to conclude it related to me and yet the unpleasant knot remained in my stomach.
Had I run with this conclusion, based upon my hallucination of their reason for laughing and not reality, this incident would be added to my existing grievance with the female gender. I was already aware that many girls have a 5′-10″ cutoff for guys they will date, the guy that did end up dating the one I had asked was a six-footer, it could be that they were laughing at my expense?
However, had I went with that, even if I didn’t match across the room and command them, “do better!” Something that most definitely would have branded me as a weirdo even if they were guilty and did apologize. Even if I had simply allowed my own explanation of their actions to metastasize, it would be the root of a very toxic attitude which would further marginalize me.
My initial interpretation, born of my anxieties, not their laughter across the room, was the real problem. Even if we banned all laughter or every snickering teenager girl were reprimanded for their feeding of male insecurities, had a plan been devised to force all girls to date short men as reparations for discrimination and height privilege be excoriated by leaders, the actual issue would never be solved.
No, I’m not saying that genuine acceptance doesn’t go a long way towards healing old wounds. Becoming part of the Orthodox world, where I didn’t have a reputation to proceed (and limit) me, where it was possible to talk to the opposite gender comfortably, did certainly help. And there’s no denying that my being in a relationship has lowered the stakes and helped me to relax around other women.
Still, all that only happened once I stopped caring what other people thought and subsequently became comfortable in my own skin. Today, unless it was a really bad day, I would be more likely to laugh with those laughing and then ask them what they were laughing about. Slinking around, making accusations, might gain you a following on social media and earn the meaningless sympathies of those only hearing one side. But it will do nothing to improve self-image.
Painful as it was, I’m glad that things didn’t work out for me because someone swooped in for the rescue. Had this happened I may never have found my internal spiritual footing and, after briefly appreciating the charitable effort, remained as lacking in confidence. Pity the woman who marries a man looking for her to bolster his self-image and mend his brokenness, that relationship is probably going to be hell in a few years.
My physical stature hasn’t changed since my days of paralyzing approach anxieties and there remains plenty of reason that one may laugh in my direction. But my life improved vastly when those voices of self-pity and doubt were muted. At this point it would not matter if those girls had been truly laughing at me, I wouldn’t take them so seriously anymore. I’m a different man.
The other day I was filling out a survey and came to the questions about my race and gender. I paused for a second, “what am I today?” And decided to select what applied to me in that moment, which is the answer that I would typically use when asked those questions, and yet continued to ponder this question of identities.
I understand why these categories exist, we do have tendencies and traits as a part of a demographic group. Generalities and stereotypes certainly do have some basis in reality and I won’t deny that. However, what makes me bristle a bit is what this grouping too often does to relationships across category lines. It is divisive, it robs us our uniqueness as individuals and also puts us at odds with those deemed to be different from us.
It is too black and white. Too simplistic and encourages a distorted picture of reality in emphasizing that one similarity we share in common (or one difference we have) over everything else. The labels themselves are even dumb. I’m not actually white. My skin is a shade of brown. Furthermore, I probably only ever started identifying as white because someone told me to fill in that box as a child and I mindlessly complied.
The idea of “whiteness” is a social construct and has come to mean much more than it ever did before. Now some claim that everything from work ethic and politeness to mathematics is somehow a part of being white. Which is appalling ignorance, unexcusable, given the contributions of people of all skin shades and cultural backgrounds to civilization as we know it. All people should be offended by that nonsense.
I had a classmate, a Jamaican immigrant, brilliant at math, well-spoken, very polite, the son of an engineer or university professor as I recall. And, by the current color obsessed paradigm, he’s more ‘white’ than I am. It is a backhanded insult to the many, like him, who have natural talents that don’t fit within the narrow categories or grievance culture narratives of the racially prejudiced left.
Which is the crux of the matter. I hate these categories because they lie. As Mark Twain quipped, “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Sure one color group may, collectively, produce more elite athletes, another more classical musicians, and another mathematicians. But those group statistics tell you absolutely nothing about individuals nor why some individuals achieved these outcomes.
Much being attributed to color is actually culture. In Europe, in Africa, in Asia, and America, there are as many cultures as their are shades of skin color. Some European regions are known for their industriousness and superior engineering, others for their laid-back attitude and art. The same is true of Asian cultures. The same is true of African people. So how do we know color has anything to do with these differences?
The two biggest lies of our time…
1) The myth that skin color is synonymous with culture.
2) The myth that group statistics determine individual outcomes.
Yes, there may be some statistical correlations between certain behaviors and skin color categories. But that doesn’t mean that what applies to one of a certain category applies to all. For example, many women love pink, but that doesn’t mean the most or even many women are fond of that color. My younger sister defies many of those sort of feminine associated things, she’s not afraid of any critter, has reptiles for pets, and that does not make her less of a woman than those who freak out at the sight of a spider.
It is a complete farce that a coal cracker kid, raised in rural West Virginia, is advantaged over a college educated “person of color” working as a Wall Street broker. Nah, I’ve been around, I know how the cultural elites sneer at ‘deplorables’ and work overtime to make sure that they know their place. Class privilege is often misidentified as color privilege and misidentified by the very people who benefit most from spreading out the blame for their own sins.
The son or daughter of an immigrant wage-slave has more in common with the ‘black’ category than the trust fund babies of any color pointing the crooked finger. This is what grates me the most. In the real world blacks and whites work together. Out on the road, hauling commodities for the man, I swung the sledgehammer as much as that ‘black’ fellow beside me.
So do I really need my prissy, Che Guevara T-shirt wearing sociology professor cousin, son of a doctor, who could somehow afford to travel the world taking photos while I worked for $7.50 an hour, lecturing me on things that I don’t understand as a white male?
No, no I do not!
Those who associate certain outcomes or behaviors with certain colors of skin, who only ever see skin color in their analysis, are the true racists. There is a stronger correlation between fatherless homes and negative outcomes than there is between skin color and negative outcomes. In other words, things commonly categorized as a color privilege is more strongly correlated with family structure.
Think about that when discussion of privilege comes up.
Unfortunately, there is not much to be gained as far as political power in a “the fatherless unite!” campaign. Racial division, by contrast, is an easy sell. Skin color, indeed, is the low hanging fruit of human difference. Tribalism comes naturally, all you need to do is convince people that they are somehow fundamentally different because of something superficial and their confirmation bias will do the rest of the work for you.
Breaking the Bonds of Designated Identities
I’m not going to minimize the importance of life experience and family inheritance in shaping our identities. I was born into a conservative Mennonite home and that identity was very important to me. In public school it made me a religious minority, subjected me to many inquiries, what would now be called micro-aggressions, and some bullying later in life too.
The strange part is that, while being the Mennonite kid amongst my school peers, I never really felt like I fit in with my ethic church peers either. After years of rejections, both in romantic endeavors and even as far as filling offices or missionary opportunities. Finding my place, complete acceptance, within the Mennonite culture had eventually become an obsession. I desperately wanted to be the good Mennonite for reasons that I can’t fully explain.
That pursuit came to an end with a young woman who declared, “I can’t love you the way that you want to be loved.”
Mercifully, over the same time, a truly fatherly figure, Fr. Anthony, an Antiochian priest and college professor, took me under his wing to help me through this collapse of my Mennonite identity that had left me with a meaningless existence and suicidal.
I had to break from my ethnic and religious identity because I had no other choice. It was not pleasant. I loved, and still do love, many parts of the Mennonite culture. My parents are wonderful. My church was not one of those Pharisaical nightmares all too common in that denomination. But, as Fr Anthony offered, maybe I had simply “outgrown” the tradition.
And, truly, in Christ, we are all called to a higher common identity:
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
(Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
St. Paul, in the context of the tumultuous days of the early church, spent much time addressing the many competing identities within the church. He took on the religious elitists, bluntly telling them to castrate themselves in one letter, and spoke up for those being excluded on a class or ethnic basis. That’s what he’s doing in the passage above, emphasizing that in Christ we can all be “children of God” and share one identity together.
The astounding part is that the church then, like the church now, still struggles on this point. Even in the conservative Mennonite church, where we were basically all from the same ethic and cultural background, there were definitely tiers of acceptance. Some simply check more of the ‘right’ boxes, are more popular, find the beautiful adoring wife, have all the opportunities, work their way up the ranks quickly and others not so much. In short, the words to the Galatians are as relevant now as were then.
Christian Identity Makes Difference Beautiful
One of Mennonite cultural distinctives that I had rejected early on is that of uniformity as a part of Anabaptist non-conformity teaching. My own church wasn’t nearly as strict as some. But there is an undercurrent, undeniably, that if a girl talks more than average she’s a “flirt” or a motorhead guy with a nice car was somehow materialistic compared to a wealthy business owner with three farms. Pity the artistic types in those churches more traditional than mine.
By contrast, an Orthodox Christian friend, gave this wonderful description: The church is like a garden, full of different plants and plants, all watered by the same source.
That is the ideal.
Unity in Christ is not about erasing all differences. Galatians 3:28 is not turning us into an androgynous ‘multi-cultural’ blob of completely equal outcomes. Jesus was not a Communist. Having “all things in common” was not about forced wealth redistribution or reparations. Certainly not about getting mine. Rather it was about bringing our diversity of talents and abilities, bonded together as the body and blood of Christ, to the church.
Diversity can be a strength. Not talking about superficial skin deep token ‘diversity’ achieved through quotas either. Instead, what I love is those of many colors, many backgrounds and classes, working voluntarily towards a common goal, having found a shared identity that transcends all others and allows the entire group to reach full potential. Competing identities keep us in conflict, but through Christ we could create the most beautiful harmonies.
In the end we must free ourselves from identities that keep us at war with each other. However, that is not something we do ourselves. There are many misguided efforts. Many are embracing divisive political ideologies, like critical race theory, that will only produce more hate and mistrust. Condemning “whiteness” or heaping praise on “people of color” and otherwise playing favorites on those currently deemed to be victims is never going to do anything besides add to the confusion.
Only in Christ, in repentance, in faith, can our differences in gender, culture, color or class be something beautiful.
Problem: Small scale Filipino farmers plant not knowing what the price will be by the time the crop is ready for harvest. When the price drops due to oversupply of vegetables the farmers barely make enough and sometimes even end up dumping their crops because the cost of transportation is greater than the value of the vegetables.
The problem is three-fold. First, it is the inability of farmers to see the whole picture of who is planting what crops, which results in overproduction and then drives market prices down. Second, it is a problem of markets being mostly local, with little to no access to other markets, this keeps prices lower. Third, there is not enough coordination between domestic farmers and government agencies that control the importation of agricultural goods.
Solution: The Department of Agriculture (Philippines) needs to study the market to find out what amount of vegetable production is needed. Once they establish a baseline, then they should come up with a voluntary program that will aid farmers in deciding what crops to plant today based on their projections of future demand.
The Department of Agriculture (Philippines) could issue a quota voucher to farmers, who had enrolled in the program, to plant crops based on the projections and granting them certain protections for if the market price does drop. In other words, if there is a market need for a particular amount of green beans then the agency could issue a proportional number of vouchers. This, assuming import controls, would stabilize the markets and prices. And, if the market price dropped anyways, abiding by the voucher system would entitle the farmer to some compensation.
Another way to get better prices for isolated farmers is to facilitate the connection to a broader market. Access to markets beyond the local region is one way to increase the value of crops produced and also to stabilize price fluctuations. Government contracted transportation and distribution could be a part of this or it could be entirely put out to bids with private contractors. The transportation costs to be offset by the better prices in the destination market, the farmer would get the voucher guarantee price and the rest would go to the transportation contractor.
This sort of analysis and organization could also be done independently of the government. But it would take a significant investment. The national government would be in a better position to facilitate this than a private entity of limited resources. That said, universities could help to develop the models of the agricultural markets necessary to determine how many vouchers should be issued for each kind of crop. It would need to be a collaborative effort. Maybe with the help of transportation cooperatives between these small-scale farmers?
And one key is to incorporate the local ‘grassroots’ input, as well, as a strictly top-down central planning agency would likely fail. Central planning generally doesn’t work and especially not when it removes the autonomy of individuals to act in their own self-interest or allow choice. Participantion would need to be voluntary and incentives market-based rather than artificial. Ideally it would be self-sustaining and entirely funded by the beneficiaries.
Finally, yes, protectionism may be bad in excess, as in North Korea. However, any country that wishes to maintain domestic industry and jobs must moderate foreign imports. Haitian farmers learned this lesson the hard way when cheap, subsidized, rice exports from the United States destroyed their already meager profits and forced more of them to compete for the limited opportunities for employment in the cities. So it is incumbent, on the government of the Philippines, to control agricultural imports for the benefit of domestic producers.
Recently a business page erupted over an earlier post that had offended some. The post, a rather mild meme suggesting that we not judge anyone on the basis of outward appearance, was removed and the owner immediately apologized. They claimed that they had not intended to post the meme, that they did not agree with the content, and this explanation was plausible given that the account doesn’t usually post anything besides menu items.
And yet this did not please the mob. These hate-filled individuals continued to assail the business even in response to the post expressing solidarity with their particular cause. There was blood in the water, the sharks circled with merciless indifference to the pleas and the appeasement strategy clearly was not going to ward off the continuing attacks. They were going to be branded as a horrible and insensitive person no matter what they said. No explanation good enough. Nothing they did prior mattered and there was no way to atone. Last I saw they were open talking about closing up shop as the verbal onslaught carried into a second day after another vain attempt to explain.
The perpetually offended can only ever see through the lens of their victimization and can’t ever be pleased. The mistake many people make, like this hapless small business owner, is that they assume they are dealing with someone like them, someone who can be reasoned with, who wants stability and peace. But I knew a few of the characters in this mob. These weren’t all good people trying to make the world a better place. No, not at all. Some, despite growing up in the same community as me and given every opportunity for success, had made a career out of conniving and seem to thrive on creating chaos for good people. They force others to tiptoe around them while themselves being totally uncaring about the suffering they cause others.
Of course, if you call these clingers to grievance out on their hypocrisy they will suddenly find religion and retreat to “only God can judge me!”
Grievance, in the case of this type of person, is a manipulation tool. It is exploitive of a cultural propensity towards compassion. Those who ply the grievance trade are not interested in solidarity or equal treatment, they are miserable people who want supremacy over others and thrive on creating conflict for their own gain. The only way to win is not to play their game.
The Victim Gambit
Years ago I had been invited to join an online discussion forum. I signed up with a sort of naive optimism, thinking it would be a place for intelligent conversation about things pertaining to theology and my religious sect. But my delusion did not last for long. The site was a lightning rod for the damaged and disgruntled, many of them ex-Mennonites or sexual abuse victims, some of them back for their revenge and others to commiserate.
Of course, I had a great amount of compassion for those who had bad experiences. There was no excuse for what they had gone through and I would gladly stand with them against the abuse they had experienced. However, their experience did not reflect my own nor the values I had been taught and I refused to be the whipping boy for things that had nothing to do with me. I’ll take the weight of the world upon my shoulders sometimes, but I’m not one to allow myself to be bullied.
It was in this encounter with grievance personified that I learned an important lesson. You cannot negotiate with those clinging to and defined by their grievance. Even goodwill gestures will eventually be reinterpreted in ways that a normal and healthy mind could hardly even imagine.
Case and point?
There was a woman on the site, maybe ten years my senior, with a slow burning hatred towards men. She had been sexually assaulted years ago and was completely devastated by the experience. But despite this pity me presentation, they struck most people as being a somewhat reasonable voice and who, along with me, had been given moderator powers. Of course it was important to me to have a positive working experience with them for this and other reasons. I did some outreach and very soon learned of her unfortunate experience many years ago and deduced that it still played an outsized role in defining her worldview.
One Sunday afternoon this chronically depressed individual was expressing their misery and woe, again, and I decided I would do something to try to cheer them up. I drove a little over an hour to where they were to chat face to face and had some vague hope that this would help our communication online as well where my voice or intent was frequently misunderstood by them. The afternoon didn’t go badly, as I recall, and she invited me to McDonald’s nearby for a snack. I had thought about paying, but was slow to the draw as I considered how that would be interpreted and decided we should both pay for our own so this would not be misconstrued.
This kind gesture would come back to haunt me. A few years later I did begin to date and things online began to deteriorate. My moderator counterpart had started to act like a jealous lover and I was too dense, at the time, to figure it out. It all culminated with a bizarre accusation from my girlfriend’s mother (also in a very abusive relationship) using the unique semantics of my moderator counterpart. I knew the source and confronted the source. But I was met with denials, they straight up lied to me about their attempt to sabotage my relationship and claimed to not know what I was talking about. However, eventually, keeping up the pressure, they did confess to the nasty gossip they spread and that could have been the end of it.
Unfortunately, that I had caught them did not improve our relationship. If anything, it made them more determined to undermine me. They had the ear of the site founder (someone who was not frequently on the forum and missed much of the ebbs and flows of things) and, over a moderation technicality, playing the victim, petitioned to have me removed. He obliged the request and I was livid. Had I kept my wits and been a bit more coniving or even just explained my side in more measured tones, I would likely have done better. Still, she had far more practice at her gambit and had been behind the scenes undermining me as well.
Now I had a grievance too. I had always taken the role of feeding controversy to help keep up traffic to the forum. It was all harmless fun for the most part, bantering back and forth. But this time I was not in a playing mood, this person had attempted (and failed) to destroy my new relationship, now they retaliated against me for exposing them (in private) by “having my head” as a moderator and so I took it up with the newly minted replacements. It was in this discussion where an accusation came out, from her, that left me completely aghast.
She accused me, on the basis of my goodwill visit to her years ago, of being a “cheap date” because, out of an abundance of caution and as not to mislead about my intentions, I did not pay for her Big Mac!!!
The insane part is that none of these new moderators called her out for this insanity and it would not have gone over well if I too directly explained why she had absolutely no appeal to me. The designated victim always gets special protection. I suppose it would be cruel to say that this bitter, self-pity consumed and misandristic woman was one of the least attractive people I’ve ever met and had absolutely zero chance of a romantic relationship with me? However, with my help, she was able to successfully poison my relationships there and had me flailing without recourse. Little did I know that even a sincere act of kindness could be weaponized against me.
Good Faith Vs Everlasting Grievance
Good faith refers to the foundational assumptions one must make about their counterpart in a negotiation. All relationships are, to a certain extent, a negotiation and we must trust the intentions of the other person or a productive relationship is impossible. If a person always interprets everything you say or do in the most negative light possible there is no way to effectively communicate. If you express sincere intentions or do something friendly, a poisoned person will see this as an attempt to manipulate and essentially bribe them.
Most go along with the victim gambit out of misguided compassion or for fear that they may become the next target of hate if they were to speak honestly against the ‘victims’ own abuses. Many believe that if they continue to give in to demands, if they keep giving special deference to those possessed by their grievance, that over time this special niceness will somehow heal this wounded individual. But the reality is that those looking the other way and excusing the abuses of the abused are not helpful. No, in fact, they are enablers of abuse, they are allowing others to be harmed.
A grievance should always be heard. We should always be willing to address the conditions that lead to abuse and give those harmed by abuse a chance to express themselves. However, there are some with a grievance who are sincerely looking for answers and others who are merely using their bad experience as political leverage and a means to gain power over others. This latter group is faithless and cannot be satisfied.
Those in the grievance industry may claim to be interested in conversation, but are truly out for blood and the conversation is only a means to gain entry, a foot in the door tactic or Trojan horse. Whether they are trying to sell you a bill of goods or lay waste to your city, there is no good faith in their effort. When you refuse to give in to every demand, if you stand up to their abuses, the faithless aggrieved person will lash out in anger, they will make nasty and absurd personal accusations, then blame you for their hatred. You are not dealing with the person, you are dealing with their demon that will never be satiated and must be exorcized.
When even good faith efforts to bridge a gap in understanding, when the perpetually offended person refuses to see that the problem (which was set in motion by something external) is actually originating with them and how they subjectivity process, they cannot be helped before they are able to acknowledge this and there is no option left besides distance. Those who continue to dwell in their grievance, even after being heard over and over again, should be ignored.
What Would Jesus Do?
Let’s talk about Jesus. But not the milquetoast happy hippie Jesus that many superimpose over him. Let’s talk about the real Jesus who made no apologies, who spoke critically about those who harbored resentment in their hearts and are consumed by blinding hate. There is a time to test the spirits and put some distance between ourselves and those who who absolutely refuse to hear truth:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
Matthew 10:14 NIV
This idea that love means infinite niceness and refusal to walk away from anyone is wrong. It is because so many coddled those with a grievance, allow them to continue in their self-deception, that these people learn to use pity and guilt as a means to get what they want. As long as there is incentive to use their grievance in this way they will never reach the end of themselves and get the help they truly need.
Again, not everyone is worth our time trying to understand:
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Matthew 7:6 NIV
Incidentally, that is preceded by this:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Matthew 7:1-5 NIV
Those who are blinded by grievance are always righteous in their own mind. They are so focused on the sins against them (real or otherwise) that they cannot see that they are the same or worse than those whom they accuse. As justified, without introspection, they are free to heap condemnation on others. They, more often than not, project their own cancerous attitudes onto the imperfect actions of others and can twist even the best-intended goodwill gesture into a terrible transgression. If you open the door for them they will see it as a form of abuse.
It takes wisdom to discern between the person lashing out who can be helped with just a bit of love and those who will only use your concern for their well-being as a means to try to enslave you to their putrid grievance demon. Those who mercilessly assail a small business owner for an errant social media post even after the owner apologized and completely disavowed the message, are beyond what normal compassion can help. Don’t allow them to win, do not play their game, their aim is only to destroy you and are only using your mercy as a means to draw you in close enough to plunge their crooked grievance knife.
Leaving those absent of faith, especially those who claim to be Christian yet are unrepentant about their toxic and hateful attitudes, is sometimes the most loving thing we can do. It can be the only way that finally do reflect on their own true spiritual darkness and reach for the light and love of salvation. Or, at the very least, the distance we keep between us and them prevents us from being poisoned by them. Love never means enabling sin.
Good faith begins with living out, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and all people acknowledging their culpability in the mess as a starting point. Those clinging to an oppression narrative, enveloped in grievance culture, cannot truthfully pray that prayer and should not be considered part of the community of faith until they do. Good faith means understanding “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and forgiving our enemies.