Fed is best | Weeknotes 5/6/23

I’ve been really swamped at my day job for the last few months, and, surprise, my routines have suffered. But a huge project I was working on just ended, and things should revert to something like normal. But the end result is my writing practice has suffered. I have still sent my newsletter each week, even if I have sent it late twice. People were kind enough to not remark on that. 

In the neurodivergent world, we have a saying that, “Fed is best”. Sure, it might be nice if you made a wholesome, nutritious, well-balanced meal for your kids with organic ingredients. But if you just don’t have the spoons, or the finances, or the time to do that, it’s better to feed them frozen fish sticks and boxed macaroni than to let them starve because you don’t have the bandwidth to do what you want to do. 

Like many folks with ADHD, I feel a great deal of internalized shame about how I show up in the world. I have let many people down, many times, over the years because of my struggles with executive function. So I am always very aware of deadlines, and they both are essential for my functioning and a source of a great deal of anxiety for me. 

In the past, if for some reason I couldn’t hit send on a newsletter on Monday, I just skipped that week. This made me feel shame twice – once for missing the deadline, and another for sending nothing. But, the reality is that even my most ardent fans – both of them – are not sitting there, staring at their inbox on Monday morning, waiting for my email to show up. It will be OK if it showed up Tuesday morning. The world won’t end, and most folks don’t even notice.

Fed is best. 

The Vault

I have been writing publicly for decades. Because of platforms shutting down, industry consolidation, and unpaid web hosting bills, some of that is no longer online. Besides, as the newspaper of my youth used to say, “If you haven’t read it, it’s still news.” So I’m republishing things that aren’t available elsewhere so I can link to them in the future and make them available for a new generation of readers. They are on a section of the blog tagged as “The Vault”.

Some of it has held up remarkably well. I am doing some light editing to bring things into current style requirements, but mostly I’m leaving it alone, so I can have a conversation, as it were, with the Hugh of 20 years ago. 

Google Docs

I’m trying to learn ways to streamline my inefficient, cobbled together over decades workflow. The pandemic broke many things, including most of my coping mechanisms. The combination of that, plus having a job where I am not 100% in control of my time (I know, poor baby) means I have had to reconfigure lots of things over the last year. 

Like, for almost 20 years I have written blog posts in MS Word, then copied and pasted them into WordPress. This is terribly inefficient, and pretty much means I have to be at my desktop to write. But it has worked for me all these years. I saved those files to Dropbox, so I could edit them either on my desktop or laptop, but it was still clunky. 

Recently I have begun using Google Docs for my blogging (and other writing). I have used Google Docs for years, but primarily as a means of collaboration. But I am trying to simplify workflows and the number of programs (and subscriptions!) I use. 

This add-on for Google Docs allows you to write, format and even put pictures in a Google Doc and then import it to your WordPress backend as a draft post. Note: It says it’s for WordPress.com, but if you use self-hosted WordPress and have it tied to a WordPress.Com account (as you do if you use Jetpack or Askismet) it will still work. It’s a game-changer. 


I’m working my way through the Rivers of London novels of Ben Aaronavitch. He writes London mysteries with some light fantasy mixed in. A friend recommended it and I’m hooked, I think.

I’m also dipping in and out of Orwell’s Roses, by Rebecca Solnit. Hope and beauty during the rise of totalitarianism? Yes, please!

And I’m car shopping. I hate car shopping. I hate everything about it. Exactly zero part of it gives me joy. In fact, it fills me with anxiety. I picture this going very wrong and then I have a car I hate and yet still owe money on for years.

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In the fall of 1969, my mom and dad were newly married. They were home one night, no doubt staring lovingly into each other’s eyes when the phone rang. It was my grandfather, Mom’s dad, and he needed a ride.

My Grandfather was a retired Navy man, and after he retired, he went to work for a munitions company. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, so business was booming, no pun intended.

He was an executive of some sort and often had to “entertain” people after work. And he sometimes drank too much at these meetings, as he had on this night. And on those nights, he called Mom to come to get him.

It would be a quick 20-minute trip these days, what with the new interstates and all, but in those days it was two lanes and traffic lights all the way, so it was an hour’s drive, easy.

Mom and Dad set off through the hot sticky night to pick up my grandfather and drive him and his car home.

My grandfather was six feet tall and had long ropy muscles that looked like the metal cables that ships tie to the dock with. His cheekbones were prominent, and he had eyes that would stare a hole in you. He had been a Frogman in WWII, and then was shot down over Korea during that war and was lost behind enemy lines for more than a week with a broken arm before he fought his way out to the DMZ and was found. He did not suffer fools, and he had not wanted my mom to marry my dad.

But this night was different. The business meeting must have been a good one, as my grandfather was in a good mood, and apparently felt generous.

He was a social drunk. When in his cups, he was always full of advice, and this night was no different. He wanted to stop at a diner and get some coffee and food, to “settle his stomach”. After they ordered, Mom went to the bathroom, and my grandfather began to hold forth on Dad, giving my newly married, 18-year-old father life and business advice.

He watched Mom’s back as she walked to the back of the diner and disappeared into the bathroom, then leaned back in his chair, holding his cigarette between his fingers, and turned to Dad.

“Young Feller, let me give you some advice. If you ever want to get anywhere in this life, you got to get noticed. People need to know your name. Hopefully, it’s because of something good, but it’s even OK sometimes if it’s for something bad. But if you are gonna get ahead, you have to get noticed. They have to know your name. People can’t help you if they don’t know your name.”

When Dad told me this story, he laughed at this point, because he said that about then, Mom was coming back from the bathroom, and my grandfather suddenly straightened up and changed the subject, as if they had been swapping dirty jokes unfit for mixed company.

* * *

One Saturday in August of 2013, I, along with some other volunteers from a local church, was threatened with arrest for giving food to hungry people on a sidewalk in Raleigh, NC. It’s a long story, and one I’m tired of telling, but I got a lot of media attention really fast – Time, Newsweek, NPR, and Fox were all blowing my phone up, and the city got a lot of negative attention. The week before, Forbes had named Raleigh, NC the most hospitable city in the nation, and then this happened.

The city made a few missteps, strategically, and one of them was when the Mayor called me and asked me, point blank, what I wanted. Up until then, I had not realized we were negotiating. I just wanted to be left alone, so we could keep giving hungry people food. Had they apologized and told us to carry on, we would have. But, I figured, if they were asking what I wanted? Well, I had a list.

Eventually, much of that list got implemented. It cost the city more than $5 million dollars. Policies got changed. Programs got funded. Buildings were built and people got hired. But all of that was later.

There were endless meetings in those days – I made the rounds, meeting City Council folks, the mayor, police officials, the talk shows, and reporters. It was my first real immersion into political life. Baptism by fire.

My Dad was back in Mississippi, where he worked for the county as their Emergency Management Director. His whole life was politics – he had to get budgets passed, and he had to advocate for Federal dollars – both to the Feds to give them to his county and to the politicians in his county to accept them. He had to work with people who were different than him and thought differently from him.

“You can’t always control who you have to work with, but you have to find a way to work with them just the same. In both poker and life, Son, you have to play the cards you are dealt, not the cards you wish you had.”

The weeks this fight with the city was going on was one of the times I felt closest to my Dad. We talked on the phone often. He was my coach through this world of politics and relationships, my wartime consigliere.

My notes from those conversations are filled with soundbites.

“You have to let them think they won. That doesn’t mean you can’t get what you want, but they can’t think they lost.”

“You have to give something up, so they are happy. So ask for things that will never get approved, so when you give them up, they think they beat you.”

“They have to justify whatever happens to the people who elected them. So make sure they have a story that makes them look good.”

“If you are going to keep living there, you have to be able to look these people in the eye when this is over and work together on the next thing.”

“This stuff affects people personally, but these folks don’t treat it as personal. It’s just another day at the office for them. Next month they will be working on other things that people feel just as strongly about as you do this. Their lack of involvement emotionally in this is an advantage for them. Your passion is an advantage for you. But make sure your passion doesn’t eat you because you don’t win a war by dying for your country.”

But my favorite conversation, and the one that stuck with me the most, was the night before the big Council meeting deciding if the $5 million dollar package would go through. I was on the rocking chair on my front porch. It was an unseasonably warm night in late fall. We were months into this campaign. I was on my phone to Dad, while watching my inner-city neighborhood come to life as it often did around dusk. I was nervous.

It was then that he told me the story about my grandfather and the advice he had given him.

“I think he was right, in one regard. Folks can’t help you if they don’t know who you are. Nobody’s gonna speak up for the redheaded guy with the nice smile. One day, bad things will happen, and when that happens, you will need friends and people who know your name.

He chuckled at this point. “I’ve seen the news stories. You have that part covered, it seems.”

“But I’m older now than your grandfather was back then, and I would say that while it’s important that people know who you are and what you can do. I think that if you work hard to be good at your job then you don’t have to rub it in people’s faces. They will know.

“Work hard to be indispensable to the work, and invisible to the process. These politicians aren’t going to tell their people how awesome you are, because then their people will start thinking maybe they should elect you instead of this politician. But they will know. And they will remember.

“Some work needs doing. And it’s easier to get it done if your name doesn’t have to be attached to it. You can accomplish great things if you don’t have to be the one to get credit for it. The people who need to know will know, and if they don’t, the people who know your name will tell them.

“So let them have the headlines, and while they are flashing those around, you get your $5 million dollar package passed.”

* * *

I’m an organizer these days. I am the invisible man, off to the side in the group photos. If the press prints my name, that’s a failure, because this work is not about me, but the people I work with. My work is to find out what issues are important to the people I work with, and then we develop strategies for them to get what they want.

I hold press conferences where I’m not in front of cameras – I’m the guy with a clipboard writing down what media responded to the press releases I sent out. I draft op-eds that get published under other people’s names. And when our people ask me what we should do, I ask them, instead, “What do you think we should do?”

Because some work needs doing, and it’s easier to get it done if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.

Blog updates

Most readers know this, but I wanted to state it clearly for anyone who is still here: I am now blogging exclusively over on my new website called Humidity and Hope. I am currently posting there six times a week, so if you have been missing your Hugh fix, you can get it there.

This site will still be here as a sort of virtual business card and a hub for my various online presences, and will use this as a place to store copies of sermons I have given, but I will no longer be blogging here.

I hope to see you over there! If you have questions, just shoot me an email at hughlhgmail.com and I will be happy to answer them.

Thanks for reading my stuff!


When your routine is off.

I am a creature of routine. This shocks people, but it’s true.
I wear the same four shirts over and over. I have two pairs of pants I wear almost every day, unless I wear shorts that day, when I will wear one of two pairs, or if I have to dress up, in which case I wear that nicer pair of pants I own. I alternate between two pairs of shoes, no matter the clothes I have on.
I drink my coffee from the same mug nearly every morning, wake up at the same time nearly every morning, eat one of three things for breakfast, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, to quote the king.
Flaubert said to “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” I like that a lot.
But sometimes things throw the routine off. Like right now, Renee is out of town to visit her family, so three cats and I are living the bachelor life here in this tiny apartment.
Which is fine – I lived by myself for a long time before I got married, and I do all the cooking anyway, and while I struggled a bit with wondering what sort of cat food we buy for the cats and where we keep the trash bags, I am doing fine.
Except that the routine is off, and things fall through the cracks, all of which makes me feel mega uncomfortable, like I am wearing someone else’s clothes.
So this morning when I woke up feeling off, I just put it down to the routine and the changes and got up to make my coffee the same way I do every morning. And in making the coffee I moved something on the counter and saw my pillbox – the one with the daily little boxes for each day of the week that I use to track the medication that keeps my depression at bay – and that it was amazingly full.
It seems I had not taken a single pill since Monday morning. In other words, I missed three doses. No wonder I am off.
Before you ask – I’m fine, and in a good place and not really depressed, just off – again, like I am wearing someone else’s clothes. But it does feel a bit disorienting. It’s the most doses I have missed in a year.
But one side effect of all of the mess that is my head – the ADHD, the chronic depression, the learning disabilities I have and all of that – is that you tend to blame yourself when things like this happen. Instead of thinking, “Of course you are disoriented – your life is a bit chaotic right now”, which is what my counsel would be to anyone else in this situation, you tend to see it as a personal failing. Like you don’t want to be healthy enough, or you are not trying hard enough, or maybe you just are not enough.
All of that to say, I cannot wait for my wife to return. I cannot wait to move into our permanent home, and I cannot wait to have a regular routine again. For me, it really is a matter of life or death.

Don’t Be Afraid

Open Door Mennonite Church
July 1, 2018
Mark 4:35-41 (NRSV)

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing ?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

When I was a little boy, there was a swimming hole we all went to. It was just a small pond, really, but there was a big tree with a rope hanging from it, and when the weather was as hot as it is right now, we would take turns swinging from it and dropping into the pond.

Nothing ever felt as good as crashing into that cool water on a hot day like today.

I probably swam in that pond 50 times, at least. Everybody I knew did. It was a thing you did if you grew up where I did, when I did.

One day when I wasn’t there, a boy whose family was known to us went swimming, and this time when he let go of the rope and went crashing in the water, he landed in a nest of water moccasins. He got bit more than a dozen times, and he died before anybody could get him help.

Nobody went to the swimming hole after that.

It was still pretty to look at. The water was still cool to your skin, and the weather was still just as hot as it ever was. But the problem was, you couldn’t see what was under the surface. You didn’t know if the water was safe and refreshing, or full of water moccasins. It no longer felt safe, and you couldn’t tell if it was safe.

The safest thing was to just stay out of the water. To this day, I won’t swim in a pond of any sort.

We always have fears about the things we can’t see, and people in the ancient world were no different. The sea, the water, was a wild, unpredictable place, where sailors went off in boats and never came back. It was a place inhabited by strange creatures that lived hidden under the surface and would suddenly grab you and pull you under. The sea was calm and beautiful, but a storm could suddenly come up that would destroy your village, or crash your boat, or take your family from you.

The sea was a wild and dangerous place in the ancient world, and it was often used by ancient authors to represent chaos.

In the book of Genesis, when the author is trying to explain the chaos that existed before God created the world, they used the image of the sea:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

It was so chaotic before God put order to it, the author tells us, it was all water. All sea. All unpredictable. All scary. All unknown.

In the story today, Jesus and the disciples head out to cross the sea, and sure enough, a storm came up out of nowhere. It was a fierce storm, full of fury, and it threatened to sink the boat.

One of the things about this story that stands out to me isn’t that there is a storm – storms happened on the water. It’s that the disciples are so scared. I mean, these guys were fishermen, who made their living on the water. They had seen storms, had survived many storms. And this storm scared them. It must have been a serious storm to have scared such men as that.

Back in the late 90’s, I had a chance to go deep sea fishing off the coast of Florida with some people I knew. It was a beautiful day, and I had never been deep sea fishing before. But we hadn’t been out there but a few hours before the wind picked up and the waves started. First they were little waves, but they kept getting bigger and bigger until they were six feet tall or more, and the little boat was rocking hard, and we had to head back to the port.

But we were several hours out when the storm hit, and so it was a rough trip getting back. At first I was scared, seeing as I know nothing about boats, but the crew seemed calm, and that had a calming effect on me. After all, these were guys who did this sort of work every day, and they were not scared.

No, I wasn’t scared at all until the moment I saw the first mate throw down his pole, shout out a curse word and run to grab a hold of the mast to keep from being swept over the side. If he was scared, this must be serious!

But in the storm in the story, Jesus is calm – so calm, in fact, that he falls asleep. And when in desperation the disciples cry out to him, he rebukes the storm, and it stops.

How is it, they wonder, that this man can calm the storms with his commands?

Today in 2018, the world seems like a pretty chaotic place. Like the sea in the ancient world, dangers are everywhere. Young black men get killed at alarming rates by police officers. The opioid epidemic is, well, an epidemic.  Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you can’t say it is all calm there, either.

If you turn on the news, or talk to your friends, or even just open up Facebook, it seems like everything is going bad all at once.

It seems like chaos rules the day.

And sometimes, when we are overwhelmed by the chaos, when the storms are raging all around us and it seems like we just are not capable of surviving this one, it can sometimes feel like Jesus is asleep and we are left to handle this all by ourselves. Sometimes, it feels like he is not even there at all.

You know, when you read the story of Jesus and the storm, it seems like the important thing is that Jesus can stop the storm and save you from it. But to me, that is not the most remarkable thing. To me, the thing that stands out is this: In the midst of the storm, Jesus is right there beside you, enduring the storm with you. And what’s more, he has been there the whole time. Even when you were losing it. Even when you were terrified. Even when you didn’t know what to do, or how to do it. In the midst of all of that, Jesus was there, right beside you.

Don’t be afraid, dear ones. Don’t be afraid. The storms are bad – bad enough to scare seasoned fishermen who have survived many storms. But don’t be afraid. God has not forsaken us, and even in the midst of the storm, we are not forgotten nor are we alone.

And we never were.

The one who can command the storms and have them obey him is in the boat with us, and we will ride through the storm, together, to the other side.

Why I am a Christian Humanist

I received the following question the other day by Facebook Messenger. Since it took me a thousand words to respond, and I get asked questions like this all of the time, I thought I would respond here. If you have questions, feel free to send them. I don’t always have time to go into this sort of depth, but I will try my best.  – HH

Christian y Carina

Him: I was reading your posts, and I wondered what you are exactly? Are you a Christian?

Me: Well, I am not sure what you read, but it doesn’t bother me if you want to call me a Christian. I generally use the label “Christian Humanist” myself, but whatever.

Him: What does that even mean? Are you Christian? Do you believe that Jesus is the only way for people to get into heaven?

Me: Well, that opens up a lot of conversation. If you are asking, “Do you, Hugh, believe that apart from someone explicitly praying a prayer, asking Jesus to be their personal Lord and Savior, they will burn in hellfire for all eternity?

Because if that is what you are asking, the answer is no. I do not believe any of that. I do not believe that people who grew up Hindu, who faithfully lived as Hindus and tried to live good lives and raise their families and make their world better are abhorrent in the eyes of God and will burn in fire because they did not say the magic words only revealed to a small colony of the Roman Empire in the Middle East some 600 years after Hinduism was even formed.  

I do not believe that my friend Tim, who was sexually abused by a priest and is now an atheist who gets physically ill if he sets foot in a church is damned forever because he cannot believe in God anymore.

If there is a God, I cannot believe that God would be so capricious and ego bound that people who do not praise the name of that God would be eternally punished. And if God were like that, I would have no use for that God, and whatever spot I have in heaven could be given to someone else, because I can imagine nothing worse than to spend eternity praising such a monster.

When I say Christian Humanist, what I mean is this:

I am part of the Christian story. It is my story – I was born into it, and its ethical teachings permeated me and formed me. The teachings of Jesus captivate me, and I have willingly submitted myself to them. If you ask me who do I aspire to be like, well, I want to be like Jesus. I want to love that way, I want to see the world that way, I want to be captivated by creation that way. So I follow Jesus.

But I also recognize that were I born in India, I would have a different story, with different examples. Or had I been born in a Buddhist family, or a Wiccan family. I can’t speak to that – because that isn’t my story. Mine is the Christian story.

I am humanist because I am human-centric. I think people matter. I think people have inherent dignity and worth, and I think that we are responsible to each other.

So, in short, I am a humanist who loves and finds himself within the Christian story, and who has decided they are not incompatible. Or a Christian Humanist.

As a Christian Humanist, I believe that people have inherent worth, and they are made (as the Christian scriptures tell us) in the image of God, only a little lower than the celestial beings. I do not discount the possibility of supernatural miracles, but I do not have any experience with them myself. I believe it is not we who wait on God to act – rather, it is God who is waiting on us.

I believe the God who heard the cries of the slave in Egypt and sent Moses to liberate them still hears the cry of the oppressed and still sends people. I believe God hears the cries of the oppressed, and God hears the belly rumblings of the hungry and feels the tears of the abandoned and sees the devastation we wreck on the environment, and I believe God has a plan to deal with all of that: To right the wrongs, to comfort the afflicted, to humble the mighty, to fill the bellies of the hungry.

I believe that God has a plan. God’s plan is us.

And that is what I mean by Christian Humanist.

By now, if you are still with me, you might have some questions.

What about the divinity of Jesus? Did Jesus rise from the dead on the third day? What happens after we die? Do we go to heaven? Is there a hell? Do you believe in predestination?


I am an ordained minister, in an historic denomination. As such, I can tell you what the church has historically believed about all of those things. Or rather, I can tell you what churches have believed, because there have been a wide variety of beliefs about all those things, many of which clash with and contradict each other.

The simple truth is, there is no such thing as historic Christianity. There have been many manifestations of Christianities that sought to provide the answers those particular people in those particular places wanted answers to.

But me? Those questions aren’t questions I have or need answered. Those questions are in response to the bigger question, “How can I make God not be angry with me?”  I don’t have that question, because I don’t think God is angry at me.

Rather, the question I want answered and have devoted my life to finding the answer to is, “How do I find healing for myself and the world?”

So, I don’t know (I mean, really know) what happens when I die. I don’t really know what happened on that first Easter, thousands of years ago. No one knows, and anyone who says they do is trying to sell you something. 

But I know exactly what happens to me and the world when I forgive someone who has wronged me. I know exactly what happens when I make the table I sit at more open and inclusive, and I know what happens when I offer a hungry man some food or a homeless man housing.

Those are the things that answer the questions I have, so those are the things I spend my time worrying about. And as for the afterlife and the rest of it?

Well, as I said earlier, if there is a God, either that God is way more loving and accepting than I am, or that God can give my spot in eternity to someone else. Because while I do not get to decide what God is like, I do get to decide what sort of God I deem worthy of worship. And if that God isn’t more loving than me, more generous than me, more open than me, more accepting than me, then that God isn’t worth my time or my devotion.