Texas has enjoyed the national spotlight in recent weeks thanks to a Senate race between an incumbent who recently ran for president and a challenger who broke fund-raising records. Election Day was yesterday, and the incumbent Ted Cruz won by a close margin (slightly more than the population of Amarillo, at least as of the time of this writing, with 99% reporting).

Looking more broadly, the Senate is held by Republicans by a slight majority, and the House is held by Democrats by a similarly narrow delta.

Interestingly, in my social media feeds over the past few weeks, I’ve seen “blue wave” and “red wave” nonstop. Both sides seemed to be expecting a landslide.

I don’t see a landslide. I see a house divided.

Red vs. Blue vs. Gray

The news and my social media feeds seemed determined to align in the recent weeks: extreme intolerance, threats, and violence.

The last time our nation was so vehemently divided, it wasn’t blue and red. It was blue and gray.

Thankfully, unlike in the 1860s, the two colors that dominate the United States are geographically dispersed. A recurrence of those events would be far more unlikely, especially given the predominance of cultural passive aggressiveness.

Still, to say the current state of affairs is unproductive might just be the understatement of the year.

A Difference of Perspective

Let’s be clear. Americans have never seen eye to eye.

As much as we can note racial, socioeconomic, or other similar correlations with political parties, this divide is more human than anything. Long ago, the only residents in the United States who were allowed to vote were, functionally, of a narrow demographic by today’s metrics:

  • wealthy
  • white
  • straight
  • male

Yet even with that profile, our forefathers found plenty to oppose each other on. The Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party might not be familiar names to many modern Americans, but (thanks largely to Lin Manuel Miranda) I’d say a lot of people know about the Hamilton-Jefferson ideological conflicts that started it.

Whigs, New Deals, banking conspiracies, and countless wealthy, white, straight males in power later, we’re still a nation of differing opinions. And that’s largely what’s made us great. Different thoughts, brought together in a room, and wrestled with until common ground or meaningful compromise happens. As Aaron Burr can tell you, you want to have (and ideally be in) the room where it happened.

Ideological Dogma

Today, though, we seem incapable of working together. As constituents, we’re electing officials who stand on what we tell them is the moral high ground, and we (and the media, of course) sing hymns of protection from the evils of compromise.

And that’s a real problem, regardless of which side of any given party, philosophy, or issue you fall on.

Why? Look at the numbers.

There is no blue wave.

There is no red wave.

There’s only other people, fellow Americans, who disagree with you, and they have as many friends as you do.

Our last president was elected by an electoral college and yet lost the popular vote. This isn’t even the only time this has happened in recent memory. We are a nation that is pretty evenly split, and that is nothing new to this country. In fact, that’s how our nation was founded.

But unlike then, we’ve largely abandoned the idea of working with those across the aisle, dismissing their perspectives.

And that’s a problem. If we fail to work together, we fail to work.

Whether you’re red or blue, there’s just too many people on the other side of the room to refuse to work together.

Jesus said it well: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”

Lincoln repeated it: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Something is threatening our very nation.

Everything’s Bigger in this Microcosm

Ted Cruz won here in Texas, but not due to some massive red wave that reminded the rest of the nation where Texas stands. Republican constituents (and elected officials) need to look closely at the numbers.

With 99% of votes counted, only 50.9% of votes went for the Republican Senator. 48.3% supported Beto O’Rourke.

This morning, I awoke to a social media version of “I told you so”. I see #KeepTexasRed and #RedTexas posts on Twitter. Lots of comments about how people outside of Texas need to leave their kooky leftist ideas out of the hard-right borders of the Lone Star State.

Come on, Texans. Are we really that obtuse? Look at the numbers. Texas ain’t Red anymore. We elected a Republican Senator. Barely. Maybe not next time. Maybe so.

Either way, this might be a good time to stop pretending like half the voters out there don’t exist.

And the same goes for folks on the other side. Blue isn’t less blue for working with Red. And Red isn’t less red for working with Blue. But both sides are stupid if they think they can arbitrarily be effective without the other side, regardless of who controls which part of the government at any given time.

A Shaken Patriot

My dad dedicated two decades of his life to the United States Navy, and I’m immensely grateful for his service. This all took place almost completely before I was born, but it shaped who he is to a profound degree. And, naturally, that influenced me.

I grew up going to air shows at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas. I wanted to be a fighter pilot.

I grew up going to Boy Scouts and proudly saluting the American flag, and cherishing the opportunity to occasionally serve in color guard.

I grew up in rural Texas as a big fan of Lee Greenwood.

I grew up safe in the awareness that despite its flaws, America was chosen by God to be the greatest damn nation on the face of the earth.

I grew up a patriot.

Then, life happened.

I found myself on the receiving end of the very flaws I minimized and excused before. I was disenfranchised (literally), marginalized, and betrayed by the very nation I’d grown up in love with.

Emerging back into the free world, I couldn’t shake the sense that I’d visited the wizard and seen behind the curtain. When I watch political divides turn bitter (and occasionally violent), I’m disgusted. When I see friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens disregard and marginalize others because of their political persuasion, I choke up.

I was treated as less than human in prison. I’m still working through the impact that had on me. Seeing people treat others the same out in the free world? It’s like a gut punch to my patriotism every time.

Today, I strive to keep the jaded cynicism buried inside myself. When I take my son to his Cub Scout meetings, I hold my hand over my heart during the pledge. But honestly, I don’t always find myself saying the words. In his vehement patriotism, my own father might disown me if he ever even reads that sentence, but the words often taste false in my mouth.

I just can’t find myself believing in the country I live in these days. I believe in the country it once was. I believe in the country it could yet be again.

I look at the nation around me, and something shakes me to my core. The nation I grew up in, the nation I loved, is under threat.

Purple People Eaters

I don’t think I’m alone, either. Maybe folks aren’t as individually impacted by this nation’s flaws as I am, but I think a lot of people find themselves often somewhere between the extreme red and extreme blue. Somewhere purple.

And both the left and right, in all their vim and vigor, eat us purple people alive. The thing is, we’re a purple nation these days, at least if we look at it from enough distance. We’re just not self-aware enough to see that.

As long as the United States has a Red nation and a Blue nation, we’re not a nation. We’re not United. We must become, as a nation, purple.

We Must Listen

In short, we need to learn to listen.

Whether we’re red or blue, we need to truly understand the other side.

Republicans want guns. Why? It’s not largely because they’re redneck idiots who are fine with children being murdered. But as long as Blue doesn’t listen, they won’t understand why Red wants guns.

Democrats want gun control. Why? It’s not largely because they’re irrational snowflakes yearning to dismantle the Constitution. But as long as Red doesn’t listen, they won’t understand why Blue wants gun control.

The sort of listening we need is the kind we’ve lost touch with. It’s not building a counterargument. It’s not grabbing sound bites. It’s not preparing material with which we can return to our own people and demonize the other side.

It’s seeking to understand. It’s treating others with the common decency of general respect. In Christian terms, it’s treating fellow image-bearers of God with the love that He shows us.

I believe we spend too much time in our own echo chambers. These days, they take many forms. Surely most of us are objective enough to recognize the bias of our preferred news networks, late night TV hosts, and other components of our media diet. But what about social media, digital ad networks, and other algorithm-based digital platforms that are literally designed to identify our tastes and reinforce them so they can be commercialized?

I believe that if we spent less time in our own echo chambers and more time with people (Americans) with different beliefs, we’ll learn some things.

Perhaps, we’ll even find compromises we all can tolerate.

And maybe, just maybe, we can find shared common ground: small things we actually all agree on.

The Alternative

Or, our divisions can become more well-entrenched.

We can spew venom on our fellow human in the name of politics. We can demonize the villainous assholes on the other side of whatever idealogical line we’ve drawn for ourselves. We can embrace our own ideology so lovingly that we can’t even acknowledge that someone else’s ideas might have merit, too. Or, irrationally, we remain so embedded in our own silo that we forget that the other side even exists.

Personally, I don’t think the biggest threat to America is a socialist-leaning, snowflake-enabling Blue who wants to impeach a Red president and excuses those who disrespect the flag and all the troops it represents all while undermining our very way of life.

I also don’t think the biggest threat to America is a racist womanizer Red who panders to right-wing political groups, ostracizes our allies, or takes joy in severing families and building wasteful walls.

That’s all about 25% policy mixed with 25% ad hominem, 35% hyperbole, and 15% utter BS. Both sides do it. Don’t pretend you don’t.

I think the biggest threat to America is when a “red wave” and a “blue wave” come together, rigidly frozen in their dogmas, forgetting that water is naturally mutable, flexible, and able to change and intermingle.

I think the biggest threat to America is two neighbors who despise each other’s ideals so much that they despise the person who holds them.

Over the past several years, I’ve heard so many people on both sides compare our last two presidents to Hitler, claiming either Obama or Trump was leading us down the path of evil, and all that entails.

Let’s be perfectly clear: Hitler did not create World War 2 Germany.

Hate did.

Hate is the biggest threat to America.

Hate is what I felt as a marginalized criminal.

Hate is what I hear in all the gloating.

Hate is what I see in all the 2020 strategies.

Hate is the darkness we accidentally welcome in our souls.

Our Inner Light

This week, on the other side of the world, people are celebrating Diwali, a massive festival that has much of India coming together to cherish shared ideals.

Keep in mind India’s religious and cultural diversity. Diwali has origin stories in multiple faiths, yet countless members of these and other faiths celebrate the holy day together because there’s something about the idea of what Diwali represents that supersedes dogma:

Good and higher knowledge should triumph over evil and ignorance.

Hate is foreign to goodness. Hate is alien to higher knowledge.

We could use the spirit of Diwali stateside.

We might just find some room for love and respect. We might just find something other than more of the same red/blue crap. We might just find that civility and collaboration does not always mean abandoning principles, and that sometimes the other side has a good point every once in a while.

And I might just find a lifeline for my anemic sense of patriotism.

When I was growing up, I had two very different moms.

My biological mother (“Mother”) was an aggressive, no-nonsense chick with zero tolerance for anyone who got in her way and a fair amount of engine grease under her nails.

My stepmother (“Mom”) was an ambitious career-oriented go-getter who could develop skills faster than the drug store developed photos.

They both had their flaws, but you know what wasn’t included in a list of their flaws? Being a woman.

So when I cracked open Heir to the Empire and embarked on my first “big book” in elementary school, I didn’t think twice about Timothy Zahn’s depiction of a butt-kicking woman leading the reconstruction of an entire galaxy. This Leia character I’d seen in the Star Wars movies was no less formidable as the story continued.

When the cool diplomat showed the backbone of a once wartime general, I saw my Mom yanking the scruff of my neck and putting me in my place.

When Princess Leia Organa Solo fearlessly faced assassins, I saw my Mother defending me from a vicious dog.

When “Lady Vader” freed a planet full of resistant Noghri through patience and cunning, I saw my Mom leading a small town into drawing actual tourism.

When the sister of Skywalker learned the ways of the Force, I saw my Mother disassembling a transmission to discover how to repair it.

When Leia leaned on soul-deep camaraderie with Winter, I saw my Mom’s many visits with her lifelong childhood friend.

Hero and Princess

It’s been said before that when Disney bought the Star Wars franchise, they got more hero than princess in Leia.

Oh, some people think of her as objectified thanks to her iconic metal bikini, but let’s not forget that when she was armed only with the chains of that very objectification, she single-handedly strangled the very life out of one of the biggest crime lords in the galaxy.

Leia wasn’t the only hero in the saga, but she wasn’t a secondary, supporting role either. Her opening line in the 1977 classic had her simultaneously insulting two of the most powerful men in the galaxy. No one ever told this woman to grow a pair.

As a parent, she was protective. As a diplomat, she was uncanny. As a general, she was wise. As a wife, she was loyal but no doormat. And she failed, made mistakes, and stood in the background at times. But she didn’t shy away from difficulty, and she handled the limelight with poise and competence. She was epic.

But while Leia was all fiction, Carrie Fisher was as real as they come.

Loss and Joy

Today, this galaxy lost a star, but she wasn’t a mere cultural icon. She was a hero. A flawed one, much like her on-screen persona, but no less a hero for it.

After battling addiction, Carrie Fisher became an advocate for one of the most underrepresented segments of society: those with mental health challenges.

After her own battle, my Mother slowly collapsed into dementia and chemical dependence until eventually succumbing to (of all things) a Tylenol overdose.

When my Mother’s voice wavered, people like Carrie Fisher did not. And now, both are gone too soon.

My tears of loss are real tonight. But there are tears of joy, too. My Mom continues to fight on, and her smile warms my heart even more than she warmed my backside on more occasions than I could count (and less than I had coming). She faces health challenges that have caused concerns even tonight (thankfully my sister lives close by and is able to help, but prayers are very much appreciated), but she faces them with more courage than I could in her shoes.

It is this tenacity, this strength of spirit that informed my childhood perception of women long before any marketers steered me toward objectification, any religion aimed me at subjugation, or any southern subculture taught me that feminism is a bad word.

Feminine and Powerful

I appreciate Snow White, Marilyn Monroe, and Barbie dolls. They have their place, and they contribute something valuable to femininity. Every night I pray over my daughter Jade, I include (among other things) that she would know that she is loved and beautiful. I’m beyond okay with that. Leia was a princess, after all.

However, Jade’s walls are painted with bigger-than-life Powerpuff Girls. Her Christmas presents this year included a Zelda plush, a Wonder Woman doll, two dragons, and — of course — Princess Leia.

With such depictions of feminine strength saturating her childhood imagination, with more and more role models like Princess Leia in movies and literature, and with our unrelenting love and support at home, what a woman she might become!

She might just grow to have the fire seen in my Mother, the competence wielded by my Mom, and the love for the underprivileged as championed by Carrie Fisher.

Not a second-class citizen, defined by her future husband and shaped by cultural expectations. A hero in her own story. A hero in God’s story. A beacon of love, strength, passion, and grace. In short, a woman.

woman alone

First of all, let’s set politics aside. This conversation is much bigger than the current political climate. Let’s agree to table our unwavering loyalty to or hatred of Donald Trump and talk about human beings in general. At least for the moment, mmkay?

Gag Orders

Let’s start with this:

Anyone who wonders if real people bury their tales of sexual assault has never been a victim.

I know that’s a broad generalization, and there are exceptions to every rule, but it’s the only explanation I see.

As a victim of both rape and assault, I speak from experience: horror, shame, and an irrational self-loathing provide one’s only consolation for years (if not decades) to come.

In some of my experiences, I was so young that confusion and bewilderment were the orders of the day. In others, I was more than old enough to know what was happening. Interestingly, the result was the same for both: cold, nauseating dread at the very notion of telling the tale.

Eventually, I shared my childhood experiences with counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists, but I only opened up in those private, safe settings after a great deal of coaxing and/or misdirection by the professional. Still, I kept the gag order in place for my older experiences, even there.

Many years later, inspired by the brave openness I witnessed in others, I began to end the silence. I’m fortunate in this. Many victims never open up. Many never experience that freedom.

Seeing others share their experience often enables one to open up. It’s less about opportunistic bandwagoning and more about overcoming fear through modeled bravery.

The Ignorance of Man

I’ve got all the privileged labels: white, male, young(ish), cis, hetero, Christian, middle class. I’m sure readers who share one or more of these labels might debate my claim of privilege (which is to say, we’re not as privileged as we used to be), so let’s simplify all this with a cliche: I’m a man’s man. I enjoy football, working with tools, and I currently rock a decent beard.

With those qualifications, please understand this: I won’t pretend that every accusation is valid, but I’ve learned that far more things make women feel victimized that most men realize.

It’s not always about the action. It’s the words chosen, the tone of voice, the authority figure, the body language, the hungry eyes, the solitude. There is an inherent, deep-seated, frequently-tended fear that resides inside many (if not most) women that says, “I am vulnerable.” It’s a prey mindset, and it is drilled into them and from childhood and reinforced by experience throughout their lives.

We men usually don’t understand. We assume a mountains out of molehills posture and claim the problem is them. We tend to each have a scale; some men don’t understand that eyes alone can be predatory, and some men don’t see any problem with taking advantage of extremely drunk women. To many men, consent is ambiguous enough to require tea metaphors, and it goes way beyond sex vs rape.

I’m no different. I have unintentionally hurt women thanks in large part to my one-dimensional ignorance. I wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt; therefore there is no reason for her to feel hurt. Because, in my self-absorbed male privilege, I assumed that’s how the world worked. I grieve for the pain I’ve caused.

I’m horrified to look back on my younger self interacting with my future wife. I did nothing that wasn’t accepted (even encouraged) by the culture and my peers; it was pursuit, not pressure. It was harmless, I thought. Just part of the game.

Today, I know better. It’s solely by the grace of God (and the grace of my beautiful wife) that we’re not more messed up than we are.

Terms of Avoidance

The real shame is that we men have enabled a culture that not only victimizes these women (and girls) but also responds to their occasional claims with suspicion or disregard at best and malicious contempt or character attacks at worst. This culture encourages phrases like this to exist:

What’s fascinating is that we even accept “locker-room talk” in the first place. It’s common, so it’s okay to degrade other human beings. We’re ignorant.

Making it Real

Based on that same logic, it’s okay that assault happens if it’s common. And I don’t think guys fully comprehend how common assault and rape actually are. So let’s make this real based on real data. Let’s get personal.

What About Justice?

Many who haven’t had the experience might ask, “Why don’t you tell someone? Then this predator can go to jail, and you’ll have saved countless others.”

In a callous, logical way, there’s some sense to this. But a victim isn’t usually thinking in rational terms; remember, they’re being plagued by horror, shame, and self-loathing. That final one is the real trick here.

Imagine that you hate yourself because you’ve convinced yourself you invited this assault, or because you’re now human trash. You’re less than, either because you’re used or because you were worthless in the first place and deserved the assault.

Immediately after the assault, you don’t tell anyone what happened because of simple fear. But as the self-loathing mindset settles in to join the fear, you realize your predator may have done this to other people or may yet do it to others. How do you respond to these insights?

  • He has hurt others before. – You should be terrified. He’s untouchable.
  • He’ll do it again. – And you’ve done nothing to stop him. You’re a horrible person. You’re basically a rapist now.

Yes, it’s irrational. But one shouldn’t fault a victim for not being completely rational. The violence, the lack of control, and the fear of consequences both from the act itself and the consequences of speaking out (and remaining unbelieved) have a devastating, compounding effect.

The justice factor actually works against confession.

Not that it would matter, really.

Out of every 1000 rapes, 344 do get reported to the authorities, but only 6 of the 1000 will spend time behind bars.

In case you didn’t catch that, let’s restate it. Less than 2% of reported rapes lead to any jail time.

I don’t think some of you get it yet. Let’s try our previous approach…

  • If your daughter gets raped by 56 men and reports every one of them, each rapist could very well get away with it.

Justice can’t be a motivation.

Not for the terrified victim

Not for the coldly logical.

Improving Public Perception

Based on my experience, one can’t dismiss the significance of the assumptions associated with peer perception on this.

My rapist was another male, and among my many deterrents to going public, I believed my teenage friends would “call me gay” if they found out I’d been raped. And before you dismiss this, ask yourself if the teenage boys you knew growing up revered consent to the point of being beyond jokes and teasing. Consent wasn’t even on their radar, and nothing was beyond teasing. Remember dead baby jokes?

Every silent victim has their own story about why they retain their silence. But it nearly always involves the perception of peers, and how they’re likely to dismiss them (or worse, further victimize them). Watch the Netflix documentary Audrie and Daisy for insights into the teenage girl’s mind and societal resistance to believing young girls.

This is the greatest shame of all.


There’s no guarantee that an allegation is true or false. That’s why it’s an allegation.

Based on our innocent until proven guilty idea, we should be wise about condemning the accused based solely on the fact that they’re accused. They could indeed be victims rather than victimizers.

Yet we should apply that same idea to the accuser: they, too, are innocent until proven guilty. They, too, could be victims. And research overwhelmingly shows they likely are.

Instead, we throw the accuser under the bus as often (or more often) than the accused.

The very existence of such a double standard has the fingerprints of misogyny all over it if you ask me. What else could it be?

As individuals, we can’t always prevent an assault, but as a society, we can respond to allegations better. We can at least respond with empathy. We can respond with love.

Jesus calls us to nothing less. Humanity calls us to nothing less.

Photo by Heather Graves

Hillary Clinton

At this very moment, I’m rocking my beautiful baby girl to sleep in one arm while I write this on my phone with the other. I treasure this moment each and every night because I know what it’s like to miss out.

I don’t normally write about politics, and I try to avoid being too public about my legal history for fear of growing bitter. But today is challenging me.

Two years and four days ago, my wife picked me up from Texarkana, and I began rebuilding the life I’d left behind in 2012. I missed two years of rocking my son to sleep.

You see, I’d made some honest but careless mistakes in business born out of the youthful naivete that comes with trusting employers in your early twenties. The context revealed no evidence of guilt (“no smoking gun” according to two FBI agents on the case) on my part. Just a long series of “You should have known better” situations. According to one agent (and, unfortunately, a prosecutor), I “had to have known better.”

Learning Lessons

Between April 2009 and July 2012, I gained a whole new perspective on the federal legal system. For example, I learned that motive is hard to prove but no less hard to disprove in complicated cases. My attorney told me a trial would be basically a coin toss, that a jury would ultimately decide with one of two criteria:

  • “This case is so complicated, there’s no way he could have known what was going on.” …or…
  • “This case is so complicated, there’s no way he didn’t know what was going on.”

The difference, he said, was apt to be very emotional and could be swayed on a whim. Circumstance and context wouldn’t have much influence. Character witnesses (the only sort I would have been able to provide when “proving” innocence) would be summarily accepted or rejected based on the aforementioned whim. Basically, I’d be gambling with 30 years of my life.

I also learned that plea deals are often the way to go. When choosing between a 50/50 chance at 30 years in prison and a near certainty of 30 months, the math is pretty simple. Even for a guy who sucks at algebra. The trick, at least for someone adhering to some measure of integrity, is finding a plea that is honest. And it took a long time before I was offered one that was.

When I accepted this plea, I learned a third thing about the federal legal system. I learned that the legal hurdle of intent gets fuzzy around “conspiracy to commit fraud” charges. Turns out my day-to-day job was fraud, without me knowing it, because someone above my pay grade didn’t have their paperwork in order. I trusted the wrong people, and I was too young and foolish to “trust but verify”. However, a man with integrity has to own his actions. After all, the law says an honest mistake is a fraud, and no one is above the law.

Admittedly, I felt bullied by the threat of a massive sentence and a suspiciously timely lifeline, but I trusted that my circumstance was the exception, not the rule.

Much to my chagrin, the next few years would teach me another unfortunate lesson in reality. My plea wasn’t the exception. Over 95% of federal cases end with plea bargains. I mean, it’s such a high number that it sounds like a made-up statistic. But it’s a cruel reality. Honest and even innocent people frequently take pleas due to the threat of something far worse should a trial go wrong. Sure, lots of guilty people take pleas, too, but you’re kidding yourself if you think prosecutors are so flawless in their judgment that they should wield such power 95% of the time. It’s not an indicator of frequently flawless investigations. It’s an indicator of a broken system.

I had trusted in a broken employer. When he failed me, I trusted in a broken legal system. It failed me, too. A few times. Yet though my faith in the Department of Justice took another blow, I at least trusted that my circumstance was just an unavoidable situation. Everyone in business frequently commits felonies without realizing it, and I was unfortunate enough to be one of the few who got caught. And when someone gets caught, I trusted they would face the same reality as me.

It may be unfortunate that the law is written as it is, but at least no one is above it.

Above the Law

And then this statement came out of the freaking FBI’s mouth today.

To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.

Full disclosure: I’m no Hillary Clinton fan. My attitude toward a Clinton presidency has been a blend of “the devil you know” and a consolation prize of a small feminist victory in having a woman in the Oval Office. So, in the grand scheme of things, I’d call my position “intentional indifference”. In 2016, I’ll likely be voting third party because I can’t in good conscience cast a vote for a “lesser of two evils”, no matter which side that arrives on.

However, my trust that no one is above the law, that the law is at least applied consistently, has been struck a fatal blow.

I won’t make statements about the intent of Mrs. Clinton. Maybe there’s a coverup; maybe there’s not. For my purposes, intent is irrelevant. And frankly, unless I’m on a jury of her peers, it’s not my place to judge her intent anyway.

I was inexperienced in business. I sent emails to a vendor containing requests for changes to our phone number. A $200 billion-dollar company lost around $80,000 over a few years. I cooperated from the literal first moment of the investigation, hoping to see justice done, but I went to prison because carelessness is criminal.

A former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State was experienced in matters of state (or at least she’d better be). She sent emails to people containing top secret information using a system that is possibly compromised by enemy agents and certainly inappropriate for such use. Her cooperation is debatable, but she’ll face no consequences because “no charges are appropriate in this case”.

Higher stakes. No consequences. I hate to ask the obvious question, but why is she so different from me? FBI Director Comey stated today:

Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.

The evidence wasn’t strong in my case. In general, it was circumstantial at best. As it pertained to intent, it was absent entirely. Context actually supported my case, though I can’t speak to similar past cases. So why was mine different?


If I’m honest, I’m jealous.

My daughter is smiling up at me, causing the baby formula to dribble out in a most unattractive way. But she’s beautiful because she loves me so much that my smile makes her smile. Which makes me smile. And so the cycle begins. She loves me, and it’s amazing. Her first word was “dada” and happened just a few days ago. It’s awesome.

Meanwhile, I have a five-year-old son who loves me in his own way but still acts as if I’m superimposed on the family as often as not. Some of that is his age talking. Some of it is a mild personality conflict. But if I’m honest with myself, some of it is because, for his second and third years of life, I was just a guy he went to visit once a month. He was still attached to me, but he couldn’t tell why. My reintroduction into the home has faced challenges, and I aggressively and prayerfully fight to recover the lost relationship.

I face ongoing consequences, too. I’ve served my time, but I owe millions of dollars of restitution that place additional burdens on my family. I can never own a gun, and if I ever move out of the state of Texas, I may lose my right to vote. Any career path I face will be haunted by a felony conviction, and I frequently face judgment from peers who learn about my past (felons, you see, are bad people). This will never end, short of a presidential pardon.

And that makes me jealous. In prison, I met many people who lost far more than me, and I don’t mean to diminish what they faced. But I lost a great deal and should have lost far more were it not for the grace of God. And yet Mrs. Clinton won’t face any consequences for her carelessness.

I don’t wish for anyone to go to prison who doesn’t deserve to be there. And it’s not my place to decide if Mrs. Clinton deserves to be there. Put me on a jury, and I’ll listen to trial proceedings and make that decision with integrity, but it is neither my place nor my privilege to send her there otherwise, even in my own heart. However, based on the criteria of my experience, she should at least face indictment.

Let’s skip the menacing one-two punch of a massive threat and a disproportionately small plea. That’s not justice for anyone. Director Comey closed with statements like “only facts matter” and “opinions are irrelevant”, yet the facts of my case were irrelevant and only the opinions of an FBI agent and prosecutor mattered for me.

I don’t fault them. I don’t believe justice was served in my case, but those involved were, near as I can tell, merely doing their job to the best of their abilities. But it hurts me more than it should to see this inconsistency at such a high level with so much at stake.

Mrs. Clinton may not face any consequences, yet my son continues to face the consequences for my grievous sin of carelessness.

Update: The Next Morning

After I went to bed last night last night, a good friend questioned my motivation for writing such a commentary. A valid question.

As he was typing that question out, I was immersed in one of my many “going back to prison” dreams. Like they usually go, some clerical error found my original sentence incorrectly served and (despite my layperson’s understanding of double jeopardy rules) I must re-serve my time.

And as always, this dream was an exercise in impotent rage as I watched my family and friends suffer through more torment and doubt at my recrimination.

Impotent Rage

Obviously, this wasn’t a reality. It was an irrational dream.

But the impotent rage was real. And all too familiar. And not just because similar dreams haunt me with some regularity.

These dreams are born out of fear, yes. But they are fueled by the frustration of helplessness that comes from being on the receiving end of our criminal justice system.

Those feelings resurface occasionally, usually on a subconscious level, prompting dreams like last night’s, but they remind me of their presence any time I interact with a legal authority.

Like when I got a speeding ticket a few weeks ago. My interactions with legal authorities used to be casual and trusting. Now I can’t even get pulled over without getting the shakes, often to the point of nausea.

Why I Shake

What prompted this post? Not unchecked bitterness, nor a desire to strategically resolve issues in our system, nor even annoyance at the current political climate. Nothing quite so obvious. It was impotent rage.

Quite simply, I’m still shaking inside, and this was the first time I’ve decided to be vocal about it. It was therapeutic. Cathartic, even.

It would be different if I could “learn a lesson” from my punishment, if I could walk away knowing how to avoid repeating my criminal past. But my sins were sins of carelessness, of honest mistakes — i.e. exactly the sort of thing I’ll spend the rest of my life doing without realizing it.

So I operate each day knowing that any day, for a reason I can neither foresee nor prevent with authentic efforts to live as a law-abiding citizen, I could get arrested, charged, and face prison time as a repeat offender.

In such a case, I will have next to no influence on its prevention or proceedings because, for better or worse, the law doesn’t distinguish between people, intent, or character. It’s objective.

But it’s still subjectively applied. Hence the rage.

And it’s still an immovable force. Hence the impotence.

And hence the shakes.

A Study in Contrasts

From my perspective, this story highlights that subjectivity and immobility, which has served to amplify the impotent rage.

Mrs. Clinton indeed made careless workplace choices. So did I.

Mrs. Clinton faced an investigation into her choices. So did I.

Mrs. Clinton intended to obey the law, per the FBI statement. So did I.

The difference was that her apparent intent exonerated her where mine was an irrelevance at best. In an arena where she was negligent and negligence is criminal (according to my rudimentary understanding), the FBI cannot recommend charges.

To be fair, an FBI recommendation may or may not influence a prosecutor in her case. In mine, it sent me to prison.

That’s why I wrote this post. In response to that discrepancy, I felt jealous, frustrated, and weak. Impotent rage, my friends. Impotent rage.


Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Hillary Clinton) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Barbie with Blue Hair and Curves

Barbie with Blue Hair and CurvesYesterday, Mattel announced a long-overdue expansion of their Barbie line to include a wider variety of silhouettes and skintones.

…Barbie is announcing the expansion of its Fashionistas® line with the addition of three new body types – tall, curvy and petite – and a variety of skin tones, hair styles and outfits…

Those that know me and my soapboxes were undoubtedly unsurprised when I shared a link to Time’s cover story about the announcement, explaining that I’d actually consider buying a Barbie for my daughter for the first time. A friend responded with the classic Barbie vs. He-Man comparison, an oft-cited example of feminist double standards.

Barbie vs. He-Man

I couldn’t resist the bait, and so a rant ensued. I thought I’d record it here for posterity:

No doubt. Even GI Joe has biceps almost as big as his waist. Boys’ toys portray a body image that is usually physically impossible to most (if not all), just like girls’ toys.

There’s a difference though. If a boy grows up not looking like He-Man, he generally shrugs off a mild disappointment and focuses on his skills, talents, and other potential contributions to society, his circles of influence, and his wife. He looks at his body and says, “this is not ideal, but I can work with it.” And he then has to specifically think about it to be reminded of this unfortunate circumstance.

If a girl grows up not looking like the former Barbie, she generally believes it a deeply personal failure and is sabotaged by insecurities that hinder the discovery and development of skills, talents, and other contributions. She looks at her body and says, “I am not ideal, and who would want me?” And she never has to bring to mind this insufficiency because there’s an entire culture bombarding her with reminders of her own lack of beauty every second of every day.

I believe there’s something built in to a female that needs to be found beautiful by someone else, ideally with beauty recognized both inside and out.

A male, on the other hand, generally sees being handsome as a simple convenience factor at most, an admittedly well-built leg up on the competition, as it were.

A woman’s options are (1) to accept the burden of her lack of beauty, doggedly pursuing a standard that forever remains out of reach and eeking out an existence defined by those who would prey on and profit off her insecurities, (2) to attempt to turn off that psychological need to be found beautiful and forfeit a God-crafted aspect of her individuality on the grounds of its mere vanity and superficiality, or (3) to buck the system and embrace her own beauty for the individualized gift it is, only to face the unrelenting venomous backlash of an ignorant culture architected by misogynist men and funded by deceived women too caught up in their own brutal race for arbitrary “perfection” to understand how someone could contentedly and unabashedly opt out.

Obviously, there are exceptions to these generalizations, but I’d bet good money that those exceptions are rooted in the psychological trauma and/or defense mechanisms of a fallen world more than in-born wiring. I’ve yet to meet a woman who doesn’t struggle with insecurities rooted in body image, and I’ve yet to meet a man whose career, relationships, and personal development are paralyzed by body image (we men have other vices).

I look at my lack of He-Man body like I look at my lack of He-Man super powers: it’d be cool to have them, but I do just fine without them.

While I would love to see this new line of Barbie carry the torch even further (a wider variety in waist-to-hip ratios, bust sizes, facial features, and physical handicaps), the shift of this long-established icon of female “ideals” toward a more inclusive image may be indicative of a broader cultural shift I find most welcome. I applaud Mattel for resisting the gravity of the status quo and pray this is only the beginning for them and other influencers on our nation’s daughters.

Without another identity already entrenched, we often tend to define ourselves by mistakes. I don’t know if that’s just built into the human psyche, industrialized society, or just general American culture, but I see it all around me. And I see it in all forms around me.

Take my dad, for example. He’s the epitome of responsibility; he will do what he says he will do, and he will suffer great personal inconvenience to fulfill his responsibilities. I find that to be one of his most admirable traits (and one of the ones I most appreciate inheriting). He can easily be identified as the guy who you can count on, and that could sum up the entirety of the identity he upholds. He’s not the retired chief petty officer. He’s not the Lions Club district governor. He’s not the supportive husband or providing father. He is the guy who can be counted on; the rest of those are just roles he’s been counted on to fill.

I can’t begin to know what made my dad that way, but I believe it’s a mix of his past mistakes as a father (effectively losing two sons) and as a man (a long-term alcoholic, though quite recovered now) combined with the mistakes he saw his father making with failing to provide for his family. My dad was one of the rare men who learned from his own mistakes and the mistakes of those closest to him, and I imagine a day (probably around the time I was born) when he said to himself, “this has to change, and I have to change.” Fast forward nearly thirty years, and here he is.

Like father, like son, though. I see his mistakes and tell myself, “I’ll never make those mistakes.” All too often, however, his flesh and his sin is revealed in me. It nearly destroyed me in ways he, and most others, do not even know. But, thankfully, God intervened…

Nonetheless, I’ve authored so many of my own mistakes. Sure, certain dynamics of male sin nature I inherited from my father like so many of my fellow men, but so many of my other past mistakes are purely my own. From my high school drug use to my shortly-after-high-school “holier-than-thou” condemnation of my father; from my lack of patience with my now-deceased mother to my gross naivety that has me facing down a possible terrible future I never thought possible; from one business failed due to lack of time investment from me to another business stripped from me by my choices in friends; from my nearly-destroyed marriage to my nearly-never-born son… It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the weight of my own mistakes.

It’s at times like this when I have to forcibly remind myself of my True Source of identity. I can’t just look at my own mistakes and say, “here I am, the sum of my mistakes.” Likewise, I can’t look at my father, his father, my former associates, or wife and see their mistakes and say, “here I am, the avoidance of their mistakes.”

I have to remember that I do not identify or indemnify myself. It is only God who calls me by my true name, and it is only God who can make me blameless. Thankfully, it is through Christ that both are achieved. This is my prayer:

Help me, Father, to remember who I am.
Help me to not lose sight of You.
Help me to never fail to hear You call my name.
Help me to face the road ahead without resentment.
Help me by forgiving me.
Help me to forgive myself.

The Project Triangle is something we use frequently in communicating project constraints to clients. I’m not sure who originally came up with it, but it’s brilliant due to its accuracy, simplicity, and universality. It doesn’t matter whether you’re building software or skyscrapers; pretty much any project is subject, in some degree, to the Project Triangle.

While it’s been tweaked and adjusted, reworded and redesigned, the core message of the Project Triangle has remained the same. Any product owner likely wants his/her product delivered cheap, fast, and with all the quality/quantity envisioned. In reality, however, one of those three items always has to be compromised.

Simply stated: cheap, fast, good… pick two.

So what does that have to do with the Christian walk? Let’s talk about the life change that walking with Christ should bring about. But first, I want to make sure we’re on the same page about a couple key foundations to my point…

Foundation 1: Christ Changes Lives

First off, you must understand one core principle: a relationship with Christ changes lives. If you consider yourself a Christian and He doesn’t govern your day-to-day decisions (and I’m not talking about letting your “faith” temper your selection at your local Redbox in some guilt-driven or legalistic manner), you should seriously and prayerfully examine the nature of your relationship with Jesus.

In other words, if you’re considering entering a marriage, having children, buying a house, taking a job, or even changing churches without praying and seeking God on the decision, you’re dropping the ball. But guess what? If He has anything short of “final say” in your dating relationships, monthly budget, parenting methods, friendships, or volunteer activities, you’re still missing the point of Lordship. I know, because I’ve done it for most of my adult life.

Don’t kid yourself. Repeating words with your eyes closed is not the same as making Him Lord of your life. And Christ demands (and deserves) no less than being Lord.

Foundation 2: The Microwave Society

With that disclaimer settled, let’s now look at modern Western society. We are frequently accused of having a “microwave mentality” due to our incessant need to have everything now. While impatience is certainly a factor, there’s more to the convenience of microwave usage that holds additional truth for this metaphor.

A second facet of this metaphor is that most food heated in the microwave requires very little effort. Sure, you could spend 12 hours preparing a meal and use a microwave to reheat its leftovers two days later, but the effort involved in the preparation for the second meal is generally insignificant.

Interestingly enough, there’s a third element that reveals something significant about our society. Few people reasonably expect their microwave meal to be as good as a genuine, home-cooked meal. The prominence of microwaves in America clearly represents the fact that we, as a culture, have already made our compromise on the Project Triangle as it pertains to our meals. We are willing to sacrifice some quality to end up with fast, cheap (in effort, as time = money) food.

The Concept

Now that we’re all seeing eye-to-eye, let’s build up this concept. First, identifying the three elements we’re working with, as they pertain to the Christian walk. Essentially, this is all about life change. Life change can happen quickly (see Paul’s instant conversion). It can happen without much effort (see Solomon’s simple prayer). It can happen without really sticking (see Judas Iscariot’s walk with Christ and subsequent betrayal).

Paul‘s change was instantaneous, but he had to work for it. He sacrificed years of his life after his conversion before really launching his ministry. And throughout that ministry, he was more than inconvenienced on more than one occasion. Despite that, though, he remains to this day one of the most respected individuals in Christian history due to the impact he had on the early church. He had it fast and good, but it wasn’t cheap. Today, we might call these sacrificial Christians.

Solomon had a good father who instilled moral code and a heart for God’s will. His father did the work that prepared him for making a smart decision one day. Then, when his Father offered him any one thing, he chose wisdom. His Father did the work that equipped him to be the wisest man of his time. In fact, some consider him to be the wisest man of all time, so clearly that life change had some staying power. It took time, however, for him to grow into it. He wasn’t known worldwide overnight. He got it cheap and good, but it wasn’t fast. Today, we might call these well-churched Christians.

Scariest of all, Judas Iscariot had direct exposure to Christ for the bulk of His ministry. He walked with “God with us” through the streets, witnessing countless miracles. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that he performed miracles through God’s power just like his eleven comrades. At the very least, we can be relatively certain that his relationship with Jesus was closer than all but 15 to 20 (11 disciples plus closest friends and family) people on the planet, and his exposure to and involvement in Christ’s ministry was at least more than all but 11 people. He, like his fellows, was called to Christ’s side and found a completely different lifestyle waiting for him. Effectively, his change was overnight. It took still more time for the true life change to fully develop with the other disciples. Ultimately, however, exposure and involvement weren’t enough. He had it cheap and fast, but it wasn’t good. Today, we might call these bottle-rocket Christians.

The Override

All that said, this is food for thought, not doctrine. Ultimately, the Lord demand all. I must be willing to pay a high price for a long time and remain fully submitted to Him for the rest of eternity. Application of the Project Triangle in the spiritual arena is an idea, and all ideas and principles must always be on the altar before God.
It seems interesting to me, and it seems true. But there is no substitute for His Truth.

d20 dice set

d20 dice setI write software. I work on computers. I play video games. And I love science fiction and fantasy. Does that make me a nerd, a geek, a dork, or more than one?

Personally, I happily brandish two of the above labels (geek and nerd), but not necessarily for the same reasons some might apply them to me. In fact, I might apply those labels to most people once I get to know them, but it would be based on a specific set of criteria that I’ve long used but never put into written words.

Indeed, most folks who consider themselves to be one or more of the above terms have specific defining characteristics that lead them to that conclusion. In those cases, there might be some commonality with the concepts described herein. On the other hand, those who do not consider themselves as any of the above might wantonly fling about these three terms in an abusively interchangeable manner. To be fair, these terms were interchangeable in first grade much like “fish” and “whales” but adults (and really teens) should choose their words with some level of precision.

General Definitions

So let’s get down to business, shall we? What makes a nerd a nerd? And why is a geek not a dork? In what ways are they similar? Here are the basic definitions I’d use if Webster were to ask my opinion.

  • Geek – An individual who exhibits a competent passion for a given subject and keeps it in a healthy balance with unrelated aspects of life.
  • Nerd – An individual who exhibits a highly competent passion for a given subject and permits it (intentionally or not) to influence unrelated aspects of life.
  • Dork – An individual who exhibits a passion for a given subject that greatly influences unrelated aspects of life.

The common denominator is a passion for something (anything). In fact, three distinct individuals might have an equal amount of passion for a subject, but each could be classified with a different label based on that passion’s influence on external subject matter and, in the cases of geeks and nerds, the individual’s degree of competency regarding the subject.


You might notice the total absence of Battlestar Galactica, computers, or dragons in those definitions. While it is true that there are Star Wars geeks, computer nerds, and AD&D dorks out there (I’ve been all three), the definitions extend beyond the cliche. For example, mainstream culture has come to accept the term “band geek” thanks in part to the movie American Pie. However, there are undoubtedly band geeks in the world who cannot stand science fiction and are quite terrified of computers. So how can the term “geek” apply unless it’s tied to the preceding word (“band”) in some substantial manner?

Instead, I propose that this premise applies to all subjects. The mainstream world might use a different, less colloquial term. Some might call them aficionados, enthusiasts, buffs, or connoisseurs, but they’re all really just geeks, nerds, and dorks. In fact, to roughly parallel a set of more mainstream terms, I might liken geeks to fans, nerds to experts, and dorks to addicts.

The Car Example

An example I use regularly relates to cars. A “car guy” might think science fiction is dumb, computers are useless, and geeks are the kids he used to stuff in the locker in high school. However, he himself may be a car geek, a car nerd, or a car dork.

A car geek is someone who has some good knowledge of cars and enjoys that aspect of them. A friend of mine (actually a computer geek as well) is definitely a car geek. He might not know all the ins and outs of all cars, but he has a passion for a certain type of car and even participates in social gatherings focused on the car itself. His fellow fans of that make/model don’t have a social awkwardness because of their passion. In fact, it gives them a common ground that facilitates social interaction. From my angle, I don’t get it (not being a car geek, nerd, or dork myself), but I can recognize that they have fun with it.

A car nerd is someone who has a vast amount of knowledge of cars and thrives on it. They’re probably a mechanic, either by trade or hobby. I don’t mean they changed their own oil one time. Rather, they’re rarely found without grease under their fingernails. They can identify an engine from the sound. They can tell a year model from a headlight shape. They can (and do) recite statistics of makes and models you’ve never heard of. And it can make you somewhat uncomfortable. They’ve got a passion, are very competent with that passion, and other arenas of their life (family and friends are the first to go usually) are sacrificed on some level to fuel their expertise.

A car dork is someone who holds a vast amount of interest in cars and is consumed by that interest. These guys might convincingly tell you a year, make, and model when they see a car drive by, and absent any car nerds, you’d assume they’re right (and they might be). The thing you’ll notice most about these guys is how they are drawn to any conversation with the syllable “car” (“Oh, your kids watched CARtoons Saturday? Well, let me tell you about this little ’76 Charger I saw last week.”), and they’re sulky if not given such an opportunity. They feel a need to be perceived as experts regardless of how much they actually know about cars (or how accurate or experience-based that knowledge is). They’re passionately addicted to the subject, and that addiction is very demanding. More demanding than the subject itself.

A More Familiar Example

So let’s see how this compares to a more cliche example. Everyone knows of Star Trek, and thanks to the 2009 blockbuster hit film, it has a chance to become as mainstream as it was when the original television series came out. So following the same approach, how would one distinguish a Star Trek nerd from a Star Trek dork or a Star Trek geek?

I am, admittedly, a Star Trek geek. While I’m not a fan of the original series, I’ve watched every single episode of the Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and Enterprise (thanks, Netflix). I have consumed a significant portion of my life watching these shows (over three solid weeks’ worth, 24/7), and as a result, I’m fairly savvy about the series. I’ve never attended a Star Trek convention, though I’m not opposed to going once for kicks. I’d get killed in a trivia contest with a Star Trek nerd (maybe even a dork), but I could see ten minutes of any show and tell you how it fits into the timeline and discuss character conflicts and growth. I enjoy it, but it’s one of many things I enjoy to that same degree.

The victor of the trivia contest is likely to be the Star Trek nerd, and rightly so. He knows his stuff. He may or may not have been to a convention, but it’s unlikely that he’d pass up the opportunity. He might collect memorabilia, toys, and models, and could display them prominently in his home. He’s read books, he’s memorized scenes, and he knows cast and crew stories and episode numbers. He’s done his homework. And if you look closely, it’s affected some other part of his life (stereotypically his social life). However, you might work in a cubicle right next to this guy and never know it. Undoubtedly his spouse, if he has one, could tell you all about it, though.

The dorks are another story altogether. They’ve never missed a convention they could attend. They might skip a family wedding so they could shake Leonard Nimoy’s hand while wearing a Starfleet uniform. In fact, they dream of getting married in that same uniform (and possibly to that same Spock). While you might never see a Star Trek geek’s or nerd’s passion, you can’t avoid the dork’s passion. They’ll shed it like dandruff. Don’t ever sarcastically say “beam me up Scotty” around them unless you’re prepared for an earful about how that line never appears in the original series. They’re passionate. And they’re quite dorky.

Wear it Proudly

So I’m a nerd and a geek (on varying subjects), and I’m proud of it. Nerds and geeks tend to excel at their passion, and the presence of some degree of balance tends to allow them to operate well enough in everyday life. Assuming he/she didn’t inherit the company, your employer is probably a nerd or a geek. And you should be glad, ’cause it means you’re probably in capable hands! I prefer my wife’s doctor to be a biology nerd. I’m glad that my pastor is a Bible geek. And, you know, all those Nascar dorks sure do help the local economy since my home is so close to Texas Motor Speedway.

The bottom line is that we should all be passionate about something. Maybe you’re passionate about your kids. Do you show baby pictures to unrequesting strangers? Maybe you’re passionate about your job. Do you strive to excel at work because you find the sense of accomplishment to be rewarding? Maybe you’re passionate about food. Do you invite the whole neighborhood over just so you can cook a big meal and watch the satisfied smiles around the table? Maybe you’re passionate about sports. Do you come off as a living, breathing edition of ESPN SportsCenter?

Be passionate, but be in control of your passion rather than allowing your passion to control you. Ben Franklin said it well. “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

Strive to be a geek. In key areas, maybe even a nerd. Keep dorkiness in check. But whatever you do, be passionate. What a mundane existence a passionless life would be.

photo by:

I’ve always considered myself a very “black-and-white” person. I tend to perceive the world around me in a very analytical, highly logical manner. This tendency can best be exemplified by a statement I have made on countless occasions. “The world is black and white; there are no shades of gray. Gray is simply white with black mixed in.” As such, I have often expected “white” from those around me (and even myself) since any “gray” indicates the presence of “black,” as it were.

I’m so glad my Lord doesn’t issue grace in the same manner that I do but instead offers it simply from love. I should strive to be more like Him in this matter. And as I’ve been going through John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, I’ve found myself examining what that would look like. Today, Mr. Piper’s words about extending the gladness of glorifying God through grace spoke to the heart of this issue. And being a nerd, of course, I found my own little context for this quandary.

The Whitelist

Following with the “black and white” motif, I found that I use a “whitelist” approach with extending grace and mercy to the world around me. In the technology industry, a whitelist is a filtering mechanism used in everything from spam filters to firewalls. This basically translates to having a default setting of “deny” but offering an “allow” in specific exceptions. In my life, I tend to react with love, mercy, and kindness to those who meet specific or vague criteria, but everyone else gets the default: suspicion, hesitation, or casual disregard.

For example, someone might cut me off in traffic, leaving me brooding about how careless they are and quietly hoping an officer saw their negligence and tickets them accordingly. Unless, of course, I see it’s someone I know from church or work. In that case, I’d just be sure to give them a lighthearted “hard time” next time I saw them.

So where is the “seventy times seven” forgiveness (Matthew 18:22)? Where is the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)? It’s extended only to those on the whitelist– that is, only to the exceptions. All in the name of tough love, of course. After all, we can’t let people walk all over us. We’re Christians, not doormats.

And I suspect that a great number of Christians extend this very conditional mercy in like manner. And that’s a shame.

The Blacklist

Instead, as Mr. Piper’s words resonated with me this morning, I should default to mercy. That is, I should operate on a blacklist rather than a whitelist. As you might guess, a blacklist is the inverse of a whitelist. All is allowed, with specific exceptional denials. In the context of Christian love, I should extend grace by default to all men. It’s not an unchallenging, spineless “doormat” grace. In the appropriate context, I should still resort to a “tough love” scenario. These are the blacklisted times, but in all other cases, I should act in mercy.

I’ve recently entered into such a period myself. Some of my actions required some direct confrontation and rebuke, and I received (and will continue to receive) tough love as a result. But my actions were exceptional, and the men in my life who challenged me did so on an existing foundation of love and mercy.

I thank God that I’m under spiritual leadership that strives to operate in a godly manner, even when it’s inconvenient and even painful for them to do so.

Why it Matters

I’m still coming to a full understanding of how essential this is. Nevermind that unforgiveness can kill the soul. Nevermind that legalism is lifeless and the law is death. Nevermind that a judgemental person is universally disgusting.
There’s a black-and-white logic at work here. Consider the following seemingly opposed goals:

  • communicating the Gospel message of Christ to the world in love and grace, and
  • preventing outright abuse and enabling challenge and accountability through wisdom and discernment.

Ideally, I and my fellow Christians can operate with a proper, or more precisely, a Godly balance of both. After all, as Paul said, we shouldn’t just revel in sin so we may revel in His grace (Romans 6:1). Instead, Paul urged the church in Ephesus to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), indicating that both should be present.

So what would happen in each potential approach to this balance?

Applying the whitelist approach, wherein I defaulted to “deny” and applied “allow” in certain exceptional situations, I’m hard and cold. At best I come off as indifferent, and at worst I’m an elitist bigot. Doesn’t exactly communicate love and grace, let alone the Gospel. As I’ve applied this throughout my adult life, I have been a hypocrite, choosing to apply my own stipulations to grace and mercy. God’s definitions do not apply. I choose so-and-so because they are family, and such-and-such because I like their kids. My “tough love” to the rest of the world does not challenge. There is no accountability. Accountability requires relationship, and my default “deny” has precluded that. So I accomplish neither goal.

Applying the blacklist approach, I should default to “allow” and only “deny” in exceptional situations. In all cases, I may communicate the love of Christ. In “tough love” cases, it would be interpreted as just that: tough love. As I said before, my leadership has recently addressed me in such a manner. I was not judged harshly and cruelly from the moment of our meeting. I recognized the tough love as such because I knew (by experience) their love for me during times of mercy and grace. And as a result, I was more receptive to their correction, and it was kept in a proper context.

With God shedding a bit of light on this subject, it’s surprising how black-and-white it all is, even for me.

Personal responsibility is a funny thing. Many people simply do not recognize it as a value anymore. In fact, it’s so commonly uncommon, political pundits frequently use the sense (or more precisely, the lack of) of personal responsibility as a talking point to support their propaganda. And they’re often right.

That said, it is not extinct. There are some individuals whose sense of personal responsibility is core to who we are. The Clifton Strengths Finder 2.0 even includes it as a possible strength, though they truncate “personal responsibility” to simply “responsibility.” They define it as an individual’s nature to “take psychological ownership of what they say they will do.” Sounds familiar…

As is the case with many strengths, those of us who possess a strong sense of personal responsibility have a tendency to expect it from others in like quality and quantity to our own. While personal responsibility is a character trait that should be present in all adults, me expecting it from others in the same manner that I have it would be like Mozart expecting me to appreciate all the subtle dynamics, voices, and nuances of Requiem to the same degree that he does. Sure, I can naturally walk with him to a point, but there will come a point when he’s still operating in a strength, and I’m fumbling, lost in the woods. In the case of unreasonable expectations of personal responsibility, the result is a demeanor that comes off as haughty, often hypocritical, and, interestingly enough, somewhat imperialistic.

Also the case with strengths, it is easy to use personal responsibility as a crutch. For me, it’s been more of a safety net. I’ve been utilizing my sense of personal responsibility as a shield to protect my soft and gooey interiors, ironically enough, from the weight of the world and the implications of my decisions.

Like most people with this character strength, I tend to try to “own” anything I take part in. I want to be the team lead; I want to be the head of the household; I want to be the product owner; I want to be the small group leader; I want to manage the project. It’s not a power trip, but a shield. It ensures that if a mistake is made, I’m able to address it with a strength.

After all, if it’s my neck to wring, if my head is on the chopping block, I can simply say, “if things don’t work, take it out on me.” If things go sour, it’ll suck, but it’ll at least be coming down on me, which means my role in the situation requires something I can deliver naturally and well. If someone else’s neck is on the line, and things go sour, my role becomes one of a helper, a comforter, an empathizer. And empathy has always been a completely strange, foreign element to me. I’ve intellectually assessed it; I can describe its characteristics and cite excellent examples (I married one). But I do not understand it. I am generally incapable of “putting myself in someone else’s shoes.” I’m expected to survive where I know not the language of the locals. “When in Rome, wait– what the heck are those people doing?”

What God has been showing me is that, despite my personal responsibility, other people are impacted by my decisions and my mistakes. I had intellectually assessed that truth, but it’s becoming a heartfelt revelation. And it’s dreadfully gripping.

In ways I might not expect, other people may have to reap my harvest alongside me. Or perhaps even without me. This is particularly close to home already, but with a child on the way (yay!), this is some heavy stuff. Going through Wild at Heart and talking to Sarah about Captivating (which I plan on reading once I’m done with Wild at Heart), it’s become obvious to me that, as a father, I can (and unfortunately will) inflict wounds in my children that only God can heal.

And it doesn’t require malice or ill intent. I might just have a brief selfish moment or a long selfish season. I might make a bad judgement call or simply drop the ball, despite the best of intentions. And it doesn’t require a spouse or children. Those who reap my harvest might be unrelated to me, even unknown to me. I have it in my capacity to destroy families, lead Christians astray, and tarnish the message of the Gospel to the unsaved. With His timing and miraculous power, God can work around any mistake I make, but I cannot deny the pain and suffering I can cause.

No amount of me saying, “just dock my pay” or “chalk it up to experience” or “count it against me” will diminish what I’ve done to other people. My post-mortem responsibility cannot save them. I can offer to be accountable (and I am), but the impact on others remains.

And I may have been quick to carry a heavy load because it was in my strength to do so, but that may make for a heavier load for those other people who might be left fumbling, lost in the woods of my harvest.

So now I’m finding myself needing to weigh those sorts of things into my decisions.

  • If I die tomorrow, who has to carry my weight?
  • If I drop this ball, who will be impacted by it?
  • If I continue sowing in this sin, who else will reap the deathly harvest?

I’m starting to think that maybe this is the beginning of empathy. Maybe Romans won’t be foreigners much longer.