Please, Complain Some More

A funny thing happened over on facebook the other day.

I posted a status that was somewhat serious, but also a little playful.

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I ended with, “Asking for a friend,” because I was wanting to use humor as an outlet for the stress and anxiety I was experiencing.

Because life is funny. I know I am not in control. I know I have a large group of people to go to when I am feeling afraid or sad or stressed. I have a good prayer life. My wife and I (usually) talk about things when we are feeling overwhelmed.

Yet in spite of all of that, I still feel the stress and fear that everyday life can bring. And although one facebook post to my friends does not qualify as a scientific study, I think I can safely say you do, too.

I was blown away at the response my status received. Not because I was surprised at the number of people who were encouraging me and praying for me. But I was mostly surprised at how many people acknowledged feeling the same way.

Added to that was the wide variety of people commenting on my status. We have lived in three states over the past 10 years. People from all of those places commented. Some are friends from childhood. Some are past co-workers of my wife. Some are my past co-workers. Some are friends I was in college with. Some are family members. Some are friends I have known for less than a year. Some attend the same church we do. Some are shepherds (elders) of that church. Some have had similar experiences. Some have had similar emotional experiences but triggered by different life circumstances.

We all know what it is like to deal with difficulty. With stress. With anxiety. With fear. We all know the inner turmoil of wanting to give up completely while at the same time wanting to fix every single problem.

Yet still I was astounded at the response my simple little facebook status received.

And then my friend, Sean (read his great blog here), posted a facebook status: “Many churches I know have a praise band. No church I know has a lament band…and the world is worse for it.”

And then it clicked. Most people have the experience that I described in my post. But most people have been trained to suck it up. We have been told not to complain. We believe we need to get over it.

We think lamenting is wrong.

But it’s not. I lamented and received strength. I cried out and was heard. I groaned and others groaned with me; and gave me the opportunity to groan with them.

So today, I give you permission:

Complain. Groan. Whine. Bitch. Moan. Let it out. Do not get over it. Do not keep it to yourself until you feel better.

Let’s hear it. What’s going on? What do you need to lament about?

You can even tell me you’re asking for a friend.

That One Time I Attended a Same-Sex Wedding

I attended a same sex wedding for the first time last weekend.

I was honored that I was invited. Because I have had multiple conversations with one of the partners, who is my cousin, about the sin of homosexuality. I told him why I thought he and his partner should not adopt children. I told him I was glad when he was not in any relationship (at least, none that I knew of).

But I also have stayed close to him. When other family members stopped talking to him, I kept an open ear. When he entered into a new relationship (with the man he married on Saturday), I went to visit them. In fact, my wife, children, and I have stayed with them when we visited family on vacation.

My cousin chose love for me over our disagreement.

Over the past few years, I have been challenged in the assumptions I have held regarding same sex attraction. First of all, I had to accept the fact that the vast majority of scholarly research indicates a spectrum of sexuality and attraction that everyone is born with. Many people still want to deny this and research will continue happening, but biologically speaking it appears same sex attraction is indeed something you are born with. (I think environment and nurture play a role, as well, but biology plays a larger role.)

Second, it is clear that a lot of Christian theology has been lazy regarding same sex attraction. I grew up believing the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was about same sex behavior. In actuality, it is about domination, abuse, and lack of hospitality. The same sex behavior that takes place in the story has nothing to do with homosexuality, and everything to do with rape.

But Paul the Apostle does seem to say some pretty definite things about same sex behavior. So the bulk of my theological wandering has centered on Romans 1. But that particular struggle will need to be addressed in a different post. Suffice it to say that Paul had no concept of orientation, only behavior.

Third, I have really been wondering what it means to live in a democratically free nation. Although I think we get hung up on the separation of church and state argument in all sorts of distorted ways, it seems this country was founded on the ability for each person to choose his or her own religious experience. In other words, we were never a Christian nation, but we have always been a religiously free nation (dominated by Christians).

If that is the case, I cannot expect the entire nation to live according to my understanding of Judeo-Christian beliefs. Therefore, I cannot deny the right of marriage to a group of people because they have a sexual preference that I might disagree with.

So for me, these three challenges led me to the point where regardless of what I believed regarding same sex attraction or behavior, there is no legitimate, civic basis for denying the right of same sex couples to get married. Regardless of what God’s judgment will be, the government must recognize the right of its citizens to marry.

Throughout this wandering, I have talked with my cousin on several occasions. He has patiently answered my questions and been a willing conversation partner. We have been more than just cousins, we have remained friends.

We both have chosen our love for each other over our position.

And this is important to me because I still don’t entirely know where I stand. But I do know this: I stood on a porch and hugged my cousin and his husband last weekend. I know that my family and I will be back out to visit them again.

This is important to me because I interact with many people who are still mistreated and abused because of their sexuality, their orientation, or their gender. While we talk and research and discuss biology, environment, and theology, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about people. More than people, we are talking about sons and daughters of God.

This is important to me because when my cousin asked my son to be the ring-bearer, he did so with the intent of speaking a blessing to my son. As my son took the rings forward, my cousin and his husband looked at him and promised to be there for him as he continues to grow, mature, and experience life as a gay man.

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This is important to me because even though I cannot tell you my “Theology of Sexuality,” I can tell you my theology of God. It’s quite simple:

He always chooses people over positions.

My Name Is Paul And I’m An Alcoholic…Continuing Family Story

I am continuing my monthly series on the 12 Steps, addiction, and recovery. I hope you will read, comment, and share! Let’s continue walking this journey together!

Now and then the family will be plagued by spectres from the past, for the drinking career of almost every alcoholic has been marked by escapades, funny, humiliating, shameful or tragic. The first impulse will be to bury these skeletons in a dark closet and padlock the door. The family may be possessed by the idea that future happiness can be based only upon forgetfulness of the past. We think that such a view is self-centered and in direct conflict with the new way of living….This painful past may be of infinite value to other families still struggling with their problem. We think each family who has been relieved owes something to those who have not, and when the occasion requires, each member of it should be only too willing to bring former mistakes, no matter how grievous, out of their hiding places. Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seem so worth while to us now (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 123-124).

For the past year, my 12 Step posts have focused on the individual recovering from addiction. As I wrote last month, there are more people who suffer than just the addict: life is never the same for the family, either. Spouses or partners have been hurt. Children have been humiliated. Parents and siblings often feel betrayed.

And now the addict is getting better. Now things are the way families had wished they had always been. So the best thing to do is ignore the past, right?

Well, probably not. For a few reasons:

Forgetting the past robs us of our successes. “Rock bottom” is a phrase used a lot in 12 step recovery. If I try to forget or ignore my rock bottom, I run the risk of forgetting how hard I had to work to get to where I am. As a family, we need to remember that we walked through some dark times together and came out of it. This looks different for each family: some stay together, some break apart but find reconciliation, others break apart and all that can be found is peace and acceptance of the new reality. But whatever our family looks like afterward, it is different. In most cases, it is better. We should remember, and in some ways even celebrate, the journey we have walked—through all the muck and mire.

Ignoring our past robs us of the opportunity to help others. For most people, addiction is a condition that leads to suffering in silence. The drunkenness is often public, the suffering is usually private. The same is true for the family. If the addict’s behavior can be hidden, then the family can put on a collective smiley-face for the world to see.

This is especially, and unfortunately, true in churches. We hide our crap as best we can. So if a family that has overcome the issues caused by addiction will be open and freely share their struggles, trials, and triumphs, other families may gain the confidence needed to reach out for help.

Ignoring our past robs the individual family members of the opportunity to completely heal. It took a long time for my children to be able to hear my wife and I joke about my alcoholism and recovery. For my wife and me, humor is a salve. For my children, humor seemed to make light of a serious problem. As they grow older, that is changing. Their healing process is not the same as mine.

If we ignored as a family the fact that I am in recovery, they may not feel comfortable talking about the healing they still need to go through. Ignorance of the reality of my alcoholism covertly teaches my children they cannot talk about it anymore; they need to get over it. There are some days when I remember what it was like to drink and wonder if I could do it again and be safe. When that happens, I talk to somebody. Because I do not ignore that I had a problem. Some days, my children may remember friends they do not see anymore because we moved a couple of times after I was fired due to my alcoholism. They need to be able to talk to somebody. When we remember and discuss freely, it is easier for them to do so.

Finally, it is okay for you to ask families in recovery about their journey. For some reason, we often feel the need to tiptoe around these difficult memories. When a family has reached a place of healing and recovery, we are afraid to ever bring up the past again. But let me say this: I want families or individuals who have questions to come to me and ask them. A couple of years ago, my wife and I were asked to share our story as a communion thought. We agreed because, as my wife said, “If our journey can’t help other people, what was the use?” I caused a lot of pain. I did a lot of really stupid things. But my family has overcome all of that. And if we can play a small part in healing (or even preventing!), then we want to do that!

Many of us have experienced hurt and heartache. Many of us are still in the midst of those painful times and many of us have reached a place of healing, comfort, and rest. The best way to make it through this life is by doing it together.

Reach out and talk.

Ask questions and share stories.

Recognize hurt exists and healing is still taking place.

Just don’t ignore the past. Learn from it. Celebrate the victories over it. And let’s do it all together.

Overcoming Loneliness?

Sometimes, I am a really bad person.

Especially when it comes to dates: birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions. Now, there are some I always remember. My wife’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, our children’s birthdays are among those dates I always remember and do something special.

But I have four older brothers. I know all of their birthdays. But I often forget to call and rarely send a card. I know that my Mom’s birthday is one of two days in October; I can just never remember which one. My Dad’s birthday is so close to Father’s Day that I always just say, “Happy Birthday,” on that Sunday in June and figure I am covered.

My nieces, nephews, cousins, and other relatives all have birthdays. One every year. I think my wife remembers them. If I am friends with them on facebook I get the reminder on the actual date.

Now, my ability to remember special days for my family members is in no way related to the amount of time I spend thinking about them. I think of them often. When I see certain pictures or hear certain phrases or smell certain aromas memories come flooding back. I think about and love my family and my friends.

But I suck when it comes to actually telling them that.

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This past weekend, I was among a group of adults who spent some time with 18 high school students. We gave them the opportunity to share some of their struggles as well as important milestones in their lives. When it came to the struggles, one word popped up in almost everyone’s story: lonely.

As a parent, I observe the groups my children spend time with. At church, we are involved with the youth group. I am constantly amazed at the intelligence, wisdom, service, and maturity of this group. They are not perfect, but they are probably the greatest group of teenagers I have ever been around.

And some of them are more popular than others. Some always have a smile on their face. Some are always involved in all the activities and always have friends around them doing the same things.

And these were the ones who were saying they felt lonely.

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Loneliness is hard because it causes us to isolate from the very people who can help us the most because they relate to us so well.

Lonely people need to know other people are experiencing loneliness, too. Lonely people need to know they are not, well, alone.

Lonely has nothing to do with popularity.

Lonely can’t be overcome by continually asking, “Is everything okay?”

Lonely is not remedied with a formula; a one-size-fits-all cure; a uniform procedure.

Overcoming lonely starts with the admission, “I am lonely.” And it’s a long road from that admission to feeling better. But every journey, no matter how long, has a starting point.

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So what does my shortcoming as a relative have to do with loneliness?

How often am I around people I care for deeply but fail to say something?

How often do I look at somebody in the same room as me but do not take time to check in with them because I figure I will see them next week?

How often do I see someone with a smile on their face and just assume that everything is okay?

How often do I see someone in a crowd and assume they are doing all right since they have so many friends?

I have experienced loneliness before. I know that it is a jumbled mix of wanting to be left alone and wanting everyone to care enough to notice and say something. I know that people who are lonely want to find that one person they can talk to but they are afraid to speak up to anybody. I know that lonely people can find themselves in the midst of a large group of people and hide how they are feeling on the inside.

And I know that in my darkest moments of loneliness, I can approach the one or two people who have consistently expressed care and concern without seeming pushy.

So maybe, just maybe, if I want to be that type of person who can help others overcome their loneliness, I need to show some care and concern and interest in their lives.

It’s great that I think about how much I love my brothers. Maybe it would be better if I told them.

It’s great that when I look at people in the church auditorium I say a prayer for them. Maybe it would be better if voiced the prayer over them so they heard it.

It’s great that I genuinely care for people. Maybe it would be better if I showed it by remembering the things that are important to them.

As I said, the remedy for loneliness is not going to be the same for everyone. And in large part, the lonely person has to make a huge first step in reaching out and asking for help. But there must be people available to hear that call. We must make ourselves available to people so they will know who they can turn to when life is at its darkest.

And we can’t wait until people are in the grips of loneliness and despair before we begin to act. We help overcome (and prevent) loneliness by being people who genuinely care for and are interested in other people. We help lonely people by our willingness to consistently speak truth and encouragement into the lives of others.

It makes me sad to think that people I care for deeply may experience loneliness and ask themselves if anyone actually cares. It also makes me sad to acknowledge that I have not done enough to speak my love and care into their lives.

But that can change. I will do my part. I hope you will, too.

Open Letter of Apology to Teenagers

I shared this last year after a weekend retreat with the male high school students. I learned a lot that weekend. Mostly, I learned that we as adults are not doing a good job of listening to our kids. Let’s make a commitment to listen. And change.

Dear teenagers,

On behalf of adults everywhere, I want to apologize.

We have made your lives too busy. We remember our high school experience and the experiences of all of our friends and family members. And we want you to live all of it. We want you to be involved in sports, theater, afterschool programs, volunteer projects, church groups, and get certified in CPR. We have pushed and pushed and pushed until your schedules are way too full. We have made you feel like failures when you cannot keep up. We have encouraged you to choose activities over your spiritual life. We think your commitment to your sports team is more important than your commitment to your spiritual development.

We have made you so busy, you are not sleeping well and you are not eating well. We encourage you to eat quickly so you microwave a dinner or grab a value meal from a fast food restaurant. If you eat at all. You are tired and unhealthy and we push you even harder. We are pushing too hard and we are sorry.

We are also sorry that we have cared more about test scores and college admission than we have about education. We have grown up and become teachers and administrators. We have looked for more bottom line results to show that we are doing an effective job. We have been emphasizing the importance of getting high scores on achievement tests, SATs, and ACTs. We have failed to realize how stressed out you are about taking these tests.

We are in the position of voting people in, campaigning for what is important, and being involved in your education. We have become lazy and done little more than complain. And as we have stood by you have been falling deeper and deeper into your anxiety. We are sorry.

We are sorry that we have underestimated you. You are intelligent, caring, and passionate for justice in the world. But we treat you like you are little more than wound up balls of hormones. Yes, you are struggling with temptation and yes, you are struggling with physical, mental, and emotional development. But you also know that you want people to be treated fairly. You want people to be treated with respect and equality.

You may face the temptation to look at pornography, but deep down you know how terrible it is for people, especially women, to be degraded that way. And you feel you cannot talk to us about it because we have hidden all of our struggles from you. We pretend we have it all together and we hold you to such unimaginably high expectations that we have left no space for you to feel like you can ask for help.

You have been fighting and fighting and fighting to do the right things, but we have not supported you the way we should have. Now, you are self-harming, using drugs, and being medicated for anxiety or depression in astronomical numbers.

And it is our fault.

We are sorry. We want to start listening. We want to start helping. So please keep talking. Please talk to us even when it seems like we aren’t listening. Because we probably aren’t. But we need to. So talk to us until we listen.

Tell us how tired you are. Tell us how committed you are to fighting for justice. Tell us how much you thirst for knowledge. Tell us how much you want to explore and question spirituality.

Tell us what we need to hear.

Tell us until we listen.

Because listening is the best way we can show you we are sorry.

Signed,

Adults