I don’t want fighting to be my default

From 2009 until 2018, I did a lot of work in what can best be described as the “Progressive Christian Influencer” arena. I wrote extensively, publishing articles in national publications and having chapters and essays published in books. I traveled a lot, speaking to audiences as small as seminary classrooms and as large as music festivals and youth conferences. It all seems surreal.

There is no such thing, really, as a “speaking circuit”. But, there is a small group of people who generally make a large portion of their living – directly or indirectly – from public speaking. They generally work in niches – like I was in the progressive Christian niche. And since there is a finite number of speaking opportunities in any given year, and since most events have multiple speakers, many of the folks who speak in a given niche know each other, if for no other reason than we share stages and events.

As I said, I pretty much quit that life in 2018. It wasn’t good for me – I actually think it isn’t good for anyone – and the healthiest thing for me to do was to walk away. But I still have a lot of friends I met on those stages. After all, when you are on the road, staying in a beige chain motel in a suburb of Toledo Ohio, having long conversations in the hotel bar (or, more likely, the motel doesn’t have a bar, so you end up in the Applebees in the parking lot) with other people who understand your life leads to lasting intimacies. Or, at least, it can.

So, a few weeks ago, someone I know well from that time was passing through Jackson. He lives on the other side of the country, and while we have stayed in touch, it had been years since we spent time together. So, we had lunch.

It was nice, catching up. Hearing the stories of his children, beyond what I had gleaned from Instagram. The work he is up to now, the new project he has started. His current interests and hobbies. Eventually, the conversation stalled a bit, and he looked at me. Like, really looked at me. Like he was actually seeing me, or rather, seeing inside me.

“Man, you’ve changed.”

“Oh? I have? How?”

“You’re… calmer? Less angry? Less intense? Something like that. That’s not quite it, but it’s close.”

I knew what he meant. I’ve felt it too. You can most tell it in my writing, I think. It’s not that I don’t have opinions – I assuredly do. And it’s not that I’m not passionate about the things that matter to me – I assuredly am. To be socially conscious and to live in a place like Mississippi is to be enraged nearly all the time.

But I’ve lost all stomach for fighting for the sake of fighting. And over the last few years, I’ve been doing a lot of self-work.

A thing I find helpful when examining a belief I hold is to ask myself what the world would be like if everyone held that belief.

If the answer is that things would be worse than they are now, I work to change that belief, because it doesn’t move me closer to the world I want to live in.

(This does require that you be willing to examine your beliefs in the first place.)

And I don’t want to live in a world where the default response to things that are wrong is that we fight.

A Dark and Stormy Night

It was a dark and stormy night.

I’ve always wanted to start a piece that way. Of course, I’m stealing it from Snoopy, who in his guise as a World Famous Author always began the story he was writing with those words.

In a more serious vein, Madeline L’Engle began A Wrinkle in Time with that line, although it is generally agreed that she was somewhat winking at the audience as she did it. It had already been a cliche for a long time by then.

But yet, right now, it IS a dark and stormy night. At least, it is here, as I sit down to write this.

Some days, the words just don’t come. As I sat down to write this, I just learned that there has been yet another school shooting, where 14 students and their teacher are dead. I don’t have anything to say about that. Even the standard platitude of “thoughts and prayers” is hollow, as there is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to solve.

And that is just one example. A week ago there was a racially inspired shooting, where 10 folks died in the grocery store. And COVID has killed a million of us here in the US alone. And inflation is pinching us and lots of folks are barely making it and meanwhile, billionaires travel in space for fun.

I want to write an angry post right now. I would feel better, and you would share it and nothing would change except that my blood pressure would be higher. That sort of anger almost killed me once, and I’m no longer willing to sacrifice myself or my health to make people on the internet like me.

* * *

The air conditioner went out in my house yesterday. AC repairs always scare me, because most AC work requires specialized tools, and the repairs tend to be expensive and so when I need AC work done it stirs up fears around money and career choices I have made and drags up all of the old anxieties I had hidden away when life was going well.

Last night I sat on my deck (because it was hot and stuffy in my house) and heard frogs having a party in the new frog pond I’m building, and the sounds of frogs singing and the water bubbling soothed my anxieties and I slept a hard 7 hours, and woke up this morning to find frog eggs in my pond.

And then I went for my walk before it got hot, and I saw the flowers abloom and the neighbors waved and I came home and drank a cup of coffee made exactly the way I like it, and I sat on my deck and watched the water splash in the frog pond and I thought how fortunate I was, even if my AC didn’t work.

But then I called a man that someone in my network recommended, and he came out and fixed it quickly and it cost a mere $100 and I recognize that my community saved my bacon once again and I can leave my anxieties about money and careers and productivity on the shelf for now, to be examined later.

And that is where I am right now, on this dark and stormy night, enveloped by the pain of the world.

I believe it’s bad. I believe that our community can save us from all of this. And I believe we have to find the beauty and the joy that exists in the midst of it all if we intend to survive until it does.


My personality is such that I get furious when others are mistreated, but tend to give little thought to how I am treated. I am always going to fight for someone else, even if I am largely unwilling to fight for myself. There have been times I walked away without getting paid rather than fight about it, or I have had to pay more than I should have had to rather than fight about it, yet let me see someone else get taken advantage of and I will go into full-bore Hulk-smash mode. I am a much better negotiator for you than I am for me.

This has not always led to positive outcomes for me.

For more than 12 years, I survived on rage. I was deep in the fight on behalf of people whose voices had long been suppressed, and the sheer rage I felt on their behalf kept me going, long after it was no longer a good idea for me to do so. This rage led me to fight a city, several neighborhoods, more than a handful of slumlords, at least three churches, and dozens of individuals. Rage was my fuel.

Rage as fuel, however, is not sustainable, and I burned out – literally. In the years since then, as I have been in recovery from that period in my life, I have been working hard on anger management, on acceptance, and on advocating better for myself. I’ve been trying hard to learn to survive on hope instead of rage.

Most days it seems to be working.

Today, however, it did not.

I have been involved in a local campaign around working to make sure Black-owned businesses get their fair share of the city contracts here. In a city that is 85% people of color, less than 5% of city contract dollars go to businesses owned by people of color. This has led to all sorts of interesting interactions with the business community, local politicians, and the media.

And today I got interviewed by someone in the press who managed to piss me off. As far as this story goes, it doesn’t matter how they did it or why they did it, but in any event, I got pissed. Experience has taught me that when you are angry and in front of a television camera, that is not the time to take it out on the person who has angered you, so there I was, on camera, getting angrier and angrier.

And then I got angry at myself because none of my hard-won coping mechanisms were working. I was getting angry that I was getting angry. But I survived the interview and lived to fight another day.

But I got angry. Like not the general, have-you-seen-the-news-generalized-hellscape angry, but I felt real, genuine rage, at someone else and then at me.

I let them get to me. That was… disappointing.

I’m OK. And it’s fine, really. Nobody got hurt, my passion probably moved some things forward, and I came home and went for a long walk, and watched the tiny sparrows play in the leaves that had gathered in the corners of the creek, and came to terms with the fact that I still have more work to do.

I’m just glad I have a chance to get to do it.