An Inconvenient Truth

I want to tell you a secret. Or maybe “secret” isn’t the right word since it’s pretty evident when you think about it. Either way, virtually nobody wants to talk about it.

And what’s worse, they plan movements and actions as if this secret doesn’t exist.

Are you ready? Here goes:

If we are going to win, we have to convert people to our side who currently disagree with us.

We want to think this is not true. We want to believe that because of social media, the strength of our ideas, and the rightness of our cause that we can find what Richard Nixon called “The Silent Majority” that agrees with us but just is not being talked about or listened to.

But the truth is, that silent majority doesn’t exist. Because we have had the internet widely available to the public for more than 2 decades now, and they haven’t shown up yet. Just because you can find someone who already agrees with you in Peoria, Illinois, doesn’t mean you have anything like critical mass to change the outcome of an election.

No, changing the world will require the cooperation of those who currently disagree with you.

Let’s do an exercise. In your mind, imagine the last time you went to a crowded place – an airport, a bus station, Walmart, wherever. If it helps, and you are in a place where it’s safe to do so, close your eyes.

There are people everywhere. All kinds of people – some fat and some thin, some white and some people of color. Some gay, some straight. Some men, some women, some are older and others are kids. Republicans, Democrats, Independents. All kinds of people.

Got it?


Most of those people don’t want the better world you are offering. They don’t share your dream. Because they have a lot of things going on in their lives, and their own self-interests, and so your dreams are not their highest priority. Most of them, even if they like your ideas, will just find it easier to go along with the Powers That Be, content to live their life on default.

If your stated goal is resistance, then almost by definition, the majority of the world disagrees with your goal. Because if they agreed with you, then you wouldn’t need to resist.

Back to our imagination: you are surrounded, in a large public place, with people who, by and large, disagree with you. So my question is this: Let’s say you win. You get the better world you are wanting. What do you do then with the people who disagree with you in the better world you are dreaming of?

What do we do with them in this new world we are building? Because if we succeed in building this better world – and I’m planning on it – then we either have to learn how to convert them to our side, or… I dunno – lock them in a cage? I mean, seriously, what will their place be in this new world you dream of?

More than a decade and a half of building intentional cross-class and cross-racial relationships has taught me that people only change if they have reasons to change.

It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are – we learn from others.

And if we are to have any influence in changing the minds of others, we have to learn what they want and find ways to show them how our goals align with their self-interest. Because people, by and large, are motivated by their own self-interest.

The world would be a much more fun place if we could just show up at marches and denounce the oppressor class and buy fair trade coffee and talk smack about corporate interests, but the reality is, to build this better world, we have to find a way to get others to buy into it. Because the better world we all dream is possible is only possible if we can all achieve liberation.


I don’t understand prayer. I mean, not really. I don’t know how it works, or if it works, and I have noticed that when I pray for something to change, the thing that changes the most is usually me.

Maybe that is how it works, after all.

I once was pastor to a woman named Karen. Her partner – let’s call him Tony – was routinely physically abusive to her and trafficked her to support his drug habit. I knew she needed to leave him, she knew she needed to leave him. But she didn’t have the strength to leave. She, like many in her situation, was afraid.

Those of us who loved her tried to be supportive of her, and we all pretty much despised him. During our weekly chapel service, we would all pray for her safety. She and I would talk regularly, and she would tell me that she was praying something would happen to him so he wouldn’t hurt her anymore.

Several men in our small community volunteered to whoop his ass, but she asked them not to. It was a combination of her fear of him and that none of them could afford to catch a charge for assault.

But Tony was his own worst enemy. One day, he smarted off to the wrong person in a drug deal gone bad, and 6 guys beat the ever-loving shit out of him. I mean, they broke his legs, broke his jaw, broke his skull, broke his ribs, broke things inside of him. He was inside the hospital for more than a month and when he finally did leave, he left in a wheelchair.

While he was in the hospital, we bought her a bus ticket to go live with a friend of hers in another state. She was free. He would never hurt her again.

The following week, in our chapel service, we lifted her name up during prayer time and thanked God for her safety. One lady asked if it would be wrong to thank God for Tony’s being in the hospital. Or wrong for them to be glad he would never walk again.

I told them that they got to feel what they felt. I told them that there is no one prescribed response to trauma, and no one way to feel after trauma was over. And I told them that Jesus said he was in favor of tying rocks to people and chucking them in the sea if they harmed vulnerable folks. David, a man we are told is a man after God’s own heart, wanted to smash the heads of his enemies’ babies against the rocks.

I told them it was complicated, sometimes, this desire to protect the vulnerable while also wanting to model a better world.

But I also told them that Karen had been in danger, and now she was not. Because this happened, she was now safe. And I reminded them that this was caused 100% by his own actions. In other words, Tony got his ass beat because he was the sort of person he was. This was entirely the consequence of his own actions.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think there is a plan. I think God, or the Universe, or whatever metaphor you want to use for whatever is larger than we are, is just frugal and, since the universe wastes nothing, the tragedies that befall all of us are not debris left over from disasters, but building materials from which we build our lives.

So I don’t know if our prayer is the reason Tony will never walk again or the reason Karen is still alive. But I do know that those prayers changed me.

The Plan

Some years back, I was hanging out in the smoking rea of the day shelter I ran at the time. It was one of my favorite community-building activities – it’s hard to have any agenda in a smoking area, especially if you yourself do not smoke.

If you just hung out there long enough, people would forget you were the guy in charge of everything, and eventually, they would just talk. And if you were willing to just listen, you heard some amazing things.

Like the time I heard how one of our guests had been in a drug deal gone bad, and so the other party to the deal was looking for him to kill him, but our guest had hidden in a dumpster and the would-be killer overlooked him.

He turned to me and then said, “Pastor, that’s why I believe in God. Because he was protecting me that day.”

Well, as the old saying goes, the Lord protects fools, drunks and, I guess, drug dealers.

Anyway. Another time, and to the point of this conversation, I overheard two guys talking. It seems that this was homeless because he had cheated on his girlfriend, and she found out about it, and she had then thrown all his stuff out in the street when he wasn’t home, changed the locks, and also called the woman he was cheating on her with, who was unaware he was cheating, and who also threw all his stuff out and locked him out.

So he’s telling this story to another guy who we will call Guy #2.

Guy #1: I ain’t mad though. This is all part of God’s plan.

Guy #2: Oh, how do you figure?

Guy #1: I mean, I just figure everything happens for a reason.

Guy #2; Sure. But sometimes, the reason is that you did some stupid shit.

Well, yes. There is that.

Our impulse to make meaning from chaos is strong. I have spent more time than most people at the deaths of youths who died violent deaths, and I always hear folks say that God needed them more than we did, or that this is all part of God’s plan, or that God won’t give us more than we can handle – all of which are really stupid things to say that bring comfort to no one but the speaker.

But they say them anyway.

I get how it happens though. As I look back over my life, I see things that turned out poorly – a bad relationship, a job I got fired from unjustly, a friendship gone bad – that at the time seemed horrible, but which, in time, became a turning point for my life, and that led to my finding a better partner, or a more rewarding job, or led to my developing healthier relationships.

And so it is tempting to believe that the bad thing that happened was part of the plan – God’s, The Universe’s, hell – somebody’s – and that it was foreordained that as a result of this bad thing, I would be better off eventually.

But I don’t believe that to be true.

What I believe is that the universe is inherently frugal, and wastes nothing. The leaves that fall from the trees in Autumn become compost that feeds the trees in Spring. The flurried attempts to get nourishment by bees from flowers are also the accidental means by which flowers get pollinated, and thus exist. The spring ephemeral flowers only exist because the leaves fall off the trees, and thus bring sunshine to places that are normally in darkness.

The Universe is a very frugal place.

And I exist in that frugal universe. And so do you. We don’t just exist in it – we are part of it. Like the leaves, or the bees, or the flowers. And so, since the universe wastes nothing, the tragedies that befall all of us are not debris left over from disasters, but building materials from which we build our lives.

And so the fact that I spent most of my 20’s doing a job that I hated, that required me to do things I found abhorrent and that led to my drinking an unhealthy amount to survive was neither a personal disaster nor part of a benevolent god’s plan, but rather the source of the skills (such as public speaking, persuasive writing skills, and confidence in dealing with people) that I have used to build a 15-year career advocating for people who have their backs against the wall and effecting culture change. Work I would not have had the tools to do had I not learned them then, in that ugly period of my life.

Like bones and water, which, with time. Heat, and intention, form broth, the things in our past are the materials with which we build our future.

I once knew a lady who lived in a van. Her story was harsh and brutal, and she had legitimate grievances about the circumstances that led her there, and her reasons for being unable to be rehoused. But she wasn’t angry. I asked her why not, and she told me she never really thought of it that way.

“I don’t focus much on what got me here. I just ask myself what I’m supposed to be doing now that I’m here.”

That sounds like a plan to me.

Guardian Angels

A thing I do, when overwhelmed by the pain of the world, is to look through the memory box I carry around in my head and try hard to remember everything I can about a particular thing.

Last night, processing the shootings and the huge loss of life, I closed my eyes and went back through time to Strickland Road, in Desoto County, MS, and I was maybe 8 years old and in my Aunt Louise‘s house – a house I have not set foot in for more than 38 years.

The house, which had been her husband’s house before his death, and his parent’s house before it had been his, was a converted dogtrot house. A dogtrot is a style of farmhouse popular that existed in the hot and humid south before air conditioning, where the building was a rectangle, with a room on either end, and the center was a covered porch. For the most part, the real living was done under the covered porch, where you could take advantage of the dominant breezes, but the bedroom and sitting rooms were capable of being secured.

When AC came along, many dogtrot houses had the center room boxed in, so now you had three rooms, and not two. Which was what had happened to this one. The house had a long covered screened-in front porch that had been added later, and when you walked across the front porch and through the front door, the room you came into – the former porch of the dogtrot – had no windows, so it was always dark.

In my mind’s eye, I can see it still – the beadboard paneling, the high ceilings, the hard, uncomfortable couch with the scratchy upholstery on the far right, along the wall, and on the left wall a couple of chairs and a table with a record player on it. We virtually never sat in this room.

Except when there was a storm. Because there were no windows and it was in the center of the house, if there was a bad thunderstorm, she and I would sit in the living room on that scratchy couch, and I would curl up next to her, and she would shut the doors to the other rooms so we wouldn’t see the flashes of lightning and the thunder was muffled and we and the dogs would sit in that room and wait the storm out, and I always asked her to tell me the story about the kids in the picture.

I don’t know how she came about it – it was a dollar store print with a heavy gilt frame – 18 inches by 24, including the frame – that hung on the wall opposite the front door of her house, the first thing you saw when you came in. And when we were in the living room – which we only were when there was a storm and I was scared and most likely the power had gone out and we were sitting in candlelight- she would tell me stories about the people in the picture.

It showed two small children on a bridge – a sketchy bridge, at that – and in the background was an angel, watching over the children, ready to swoop in lest they be in danger. It was a popular print in Appalachian America during the first half of the last century, and somehow, she had ended up with a copy on her wall.

The stories she told me varied. Sometimes the little boy had gotten lost, and his sister had found him and was bringing him to safety. Sometimes the sister was scared and he was walking over the bridge with her so she would feel safe. Sometimes, the kids were late getting home, so they took the sketchy bridge to save time. But always, the guardian angel was watching out for them.

My aunt was agnostic, but her theology of angels was strongly an interventionist one. I was evangelized to believe, in that paneled living room, sitting on a scratchy sofa, while looking at a dollar store print in candlelight, that we were cared for and watched over by guardian angels, who cared for us and protected us. And if I ever came to doubt, she would tell me that the guardian angels were watching over us right now, and soon the storm would end and the sun would come out and the power would come back on and we would be safe once again.

And then it would happen, just like she said it would. I mean, how can you argue with that?

When she died suddenly when I was 12, I got that print – it hung on my wall over my bed all through my high school years. I then got put in a closet in my parent’s house, and last year, when they were cleaning out a room there, Mom found it and called me to ask what she should do with it.

It hangs now on my wall in my bedroom. I look at it every night before I go to bed – not because I believe in literal angels out there, watching over me, ready to catch me when I fall off a sketchy bridge, but because I absolutely believe in the power of story to make us feel safe and loved when the world is conspiring to make us feel neither.

Hey there

Hey there.

Yes, you.

How’s it going? I mean, for real?

Yeah. Me too.

It’s exhausting. All of it. Like, so many good things are happening, and new possibilities are opening up, and also the world is a damned dumpster fire, and the rights we have fought for are being rolled back and democracy seems so fragile and COVID numbers are rising again and people I love keep dying and … it all seems too much.

I feel constantly behind right now. Like, there are so many things I need to be doing and I have no energy for any of them because I am just watching the world collapse around me and I told someone the other day it was like the collapse of Rome, but with Wi-Fi and Netflix.

I’m not sleeping well. I mean, I fall asleep OK, but I wake up at 4 AM and about half the time can’t go back to sleep. I just lay there and think about all the ways I am behind and the despair of it all and finally, I just get up and make breakfast because at least that is something I can focus on and accomplish.

The world is opening back up, but that doesn’t mean it’s wise to do it – people like my wife who don’t have functioning immune systems and kids under 5 who aren’t vaccinated, and oh, by the way, lots of folks still aren’t vaccinated and I guess they’ve just decided to hell with those vulnerable people.

So yeah. I get it.

What’s keeping you going these days?

For me, it’s nature. Every morning I make my coffee and go outside and walk around my yard. I look at what’s blooming and take pictures and watch the birds play at the feeder and I make gardens in my head. Later I will probably go for a walk – I like doing that more than swimming, now that it’s warm again. I love strolling through the neighborhood, checking in on my favorite trees and flowers, getting harassed by a tiny, but very vocal dog at the end of my street, and waving at people I do not know in their cars who wave at me first. It all makes me feel connected to the world, a part of something bigger than myself.

Oh yeah – I’m building a pond. Can you believe that? I mean, it’s a small pond, 6×10, but it is shallow – more of a huge birdbath, really, The birds love moving water – hell, so do I, when it comes to that. I am looking forward to watching the water splash on the rocks in the evening, after supper, when the sun is going down and the birds are singing. It won’t be long now.

Anyway. That’s what gets me through. Birds. Water features. Building gardens in my mind.

It’s my birthday in a few weeks – June 5th. I’ll be 50. That doesn’t make sense to me at all. But that’s probably a whole other letter.

But basically, I just wanted to check-in. To let you know that I know it’s hard right now. I see you, doing the best you can. I see you, hanging on.

I wish I knew something pastoral to say when it feels like the world is crumbling around you, but I don’t. At least not anything I haven’t said before.

Stay hydrated. Get plenty of sleep. No, more sleep than that. Eat good food, and preferably with people you care about.

Don’t let them steal your humanity – look for opportunities to help others, even if on the smallest of scales. Find humor where you can, and laugh as much as you can.

In the midst of powerlessness, search for things you can still control, and do that.

And remember that love always wins in the end. Always.

And if it seems like love didn’t win, it’s only because it isn’t yet the end.

Don’t give up, and don’t give in. And love really, really hard.


The Bad News

It was perhaps six years ago that I found myself at the hospital. It was, to be fair, a nice hospital, as hospitals go. I didn’t have clergy credentials at this one – my people almost always ended up at the much less nice county hospital. But still, here I was – well, me and my buddy Shelden. He was good as gold, Sheldon was, but his missing teeth and unkempt afro garnered some stares from folks in the lobby.

Shelden had come to me earlier that day and told me that his brother was in the hospital with lung cancer. And then he asked if I would go with him to see his brother.

I said that of course I would, but that I didn’t even know he had a brother. Sheldon said something about his own brother had acted like he didn’t have a brother. I didn’t push it. When you don’t have a home, sometimes family dynamics get complicated.

The first clue that something was wrong was at the front desk when Shelden asked for his brother’s room number. The receptionist looked at the computer and then picked up the phone. A cryptic exchange happened, then she hung up and said, “You need to go to the nurse’s station on the fourth floor, they will tell you where to go.”

So we go off in search of the elevator. We get lost and wind up on the wrong elevator, and at the wrong nurse’s station. We ask for his brother’s room.

The nurse looks up the name, makes a bit of a face, and then picks up the phone. And that was when I knew this is not going to end well.

She sends us to the other end of the fourth floor, to the correct nurse’s station. Shelden starts that way, while I linger.

“He has passed, hasn’t he?” I ask the nurse.

She looks at me with sadness and nods, probably violating eight different privacy laws.

I take a huge breath and then hustle down the hallway to catch up with Shelden, who is shuffling along, head down. There are no rules in such a situation, other than to take care of your people. Actually, that is really just a good rule any time. Figuring that it’s better for him to hear this from me than a nurse, I stop him in the hallway and, for probably the 10th time in my life, I told someone who mattered to me that someone who mattered to them is dead.

The hospital staff had been watching us, and when Shelden broke down in the hallway, they were right there with a chair and a wet rag. They assured him his brother had gone easily in his sleep that morning. One, in such a scene that only happens in the South, told him his brother was “with the Lord now.”

Fifteen minutes or so pass, and we’re handed more wet rags and ginger ale and boxes of tissues and Shelden gets hugs from a few nurses. Then he looks at me and says, “Can we get out of this hallway?”

We go to the chapel to sit for a while. That’s the nice thing about hospital chapels – they are almost always empty.

Again – no rules. We sit. He cries, and at his request, I read “some stuff from the Bible.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39

He asked me what I thought that meant. I told him that it meant that there wasn’t a damn thing that could keep God from loving us. He nods.

We sit and time passes. A few more tears. Then he is ready to go. It’s almost dark as we walk to the car. I ask him where I should take him. He asks to be dropped downtown, where he can hang out until he finds out if he has a bed for the night at the shelter.

We stop at the big park downtown – the one that had the statue of an acorn in it – and we get out, the wind whipping at our cheeks. It’s not bitter cold yet, but it’s down in the fall and the wind makes it a little uncomfortable. I hugged him and told him I loved him, and that I want him to come by my office tomorrow and we will see what needs to be done about the arrangements.

And then he headed toward the bus station, hands in pockets, head hung low, and I got back in my car and drove home to get ready to meet friends for dinner.

The Storm

Her name was Betty, and how exactly we were kin is a long story that involves marriages, divorces, widows, and time, but it’s far easier to just tell you she was my cousin’s wife which, while true, downplays her role in my life.

She had always been beautiful – I remember being six or seven and going to the bank where she worked as a loan officer and seeing her at her desk, in the lobby, thinking she must be the most beautiful woman in the world.

Her husband was my cousin but was also 30 years older than I was, and 10 years older than Dad. He was the oldest of his generation and served as sort of the patriarch of our extended family (see, I told you it was complicated). He died 24 years ago, but since then, Betty had stepped into the role. And for the last 15 or so years, she put together a potluck dinner on Easter Sunday.

For most of that time, I lived far away. In 2019, I was on staff at a church, and it was my first Easter there, so I felt like I needed to be there. We left right after but got there just as everyone was leaving. In 2020 they canceled because of COVID. In October of 2020, Dad died.

In 2021, it was back on, and it was fabulous. Renee and I had been locked down for more than a year at that point, our vaccinations were current, and so we made the trip north, our first real trip in ages. We took the Natchez Trace north, spent the night in Tupelo, spent an afternoon in Oxford, and then on to home, turning a three-hour trip into a 24-hour one, but feeling a little bit alive again.

Betty was 79 at that point, and all during the pandemic had been in the most severe of lockdowns because of her health. But now there were vaccines, and she was fully vaccinated, and this was the first time she was in the presence of people who were not carefully screened or her doctors. After a full year of virtual isolation, she was there, grinning like a cat in the cream, so happy to just see people.

She would come up to folks and say, “I’m fully vaccinated. Can I hug you?”. I bet she hugged everyone at least twice. We all had so much hope that the nightmare was over then, in the spring of 2021 after the vaccines came out.

Betty talked to me last year about how it just seemed wrong without Dad there. Dad was always the man with the camera at any gathering. And 2021 was the first year he wasn’t. We all felt his absence.

In August, Betty would suddenly die from an unrelated illness.

So this year was very solemn indeed. A whole generation was gone. And while it was so good to see everyone, it was far from festive.

On the way home after the potluck yesterday, we got caught in a rainstorm. I hate driving in the rain under the best of times, and this was more than 2 hours of brutal rain and thunder and lightning, and being buffeted all around the road. It was exhausting.

Driving back home from being in my hometown is always a time of introspection for me, as I reflect on the ways things turned out, on roads not taken, promises unkept. None of that is easier when you are doing it in a thunderstorm.

We stopped at the rest area to get some relief from the storm, to stretch, and catch our breath. And standing under the pavilion, watching the rain pour around us, we read the text message from a dear friend telling us that her husband – who has been fighting COVID for months – is most likely going into hospice later this week and that, baring a literal miracle, he won’t be recovering.

Well, shit.

I stare at the rain some more before getting back in the car to continue toward home.

So much loss in the last few years. Every time I’m convinced I cannot take more, more happens anyway.

We were some 30 minutes away from home when the sun came out. It was still raining, but it had slowed dramatically, and the sun was shining fiercely and, off to the east, I saw a large double rainbow arching up from the horizon.

I know the old story about how, after destroying the world with a flood, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of that promise was a rainbow. And if I’m honest, I always wondered why a rainbow would be taken seriously as such a sign.

But yesterday – on Easter Sunday, no less, when I had come through that storm and was carrying so much death and despair with me, when I saw those bows in the East I knew that we would get through. That we could keep going. That we had to persist, to carry on, and build a better world.

So I kept driving.

Children and Ancestors

When I was doing homeless work, there were children everywhere.

I knew children that lived in cars, who got cleaned up in gas station restrooms, and who wrote their school papers on old cellphones that were submitted using the wifi stolen from a Mcdonald’s parking lot. There were children abandoned on literal church doorsteps. Children who ate cold hotdogs for supper, while watching porn with their Dad. Children who had multiple diagnoses, but no services. Children on a rash of medications. And children who had executive function skills off the charts. The latter were often the oldest child, who had to step in as surrogate parents for their younger siblings because their parents were dysfunctional.

So many children.

And then there were the pregnant people. Many of whom were, in fact, still children themselves, having ran away (or were kicked out) when they told their parents they were pregnant. The women I took to the gynecologist’s office. The women I took over to Chapel Hill to the Planned Parenthood office after they made difficult choices. The women I was the only person there when they came out of labor. The women I stood with when the state took their babies away.

There were children everywhere.

One of the biggest populations of people who were experiencing homelessness I came across was people who were anywhere from 18-25, who had been children in foster care, and who had aged out. This means that they had turned 18 and, being adults in the eyes of the law, their foster parents would no longer receive stipends toward their care, so they got kicked out. So many people I knew who were homeless had aged out of the system.

A coworker was pregnant with her first child, and I asked if she was nervous.

“Absolutely”, she said. “There are so many ways to screw this up, it feels like. However, working here makes me feel better, ironically. You see this many babies and you realize there is a wide range of conditions under which humans can grow and develop.”

It’s true.

I am incredibly lucky in so many ways. My parents were just children themselves, having had me when they were but 20. My grandparents either died or were hundreds of miles away when I was very small. We had very little money. And yet I had parents that taught me to love books, encouraged my creativity and curiosity, gave me independence and that loved me without question. It truly was like winning the genetic lottery, without buying a ticket.

A critique of my writing is that I romanticize things about the past. But I don’t see it as romanticizing as much as I do curation. I am really clear I am who I am because of who I come from – because of who my people are. Had I been born under different circumstances, in a different place, to different people, I would be different. Heck, my two brothers and I are all very different, despite having grown up in the same house, with the same parents, and gone to the same schools.

Last week, while in the mountains, some friends were talking about my writing, and they said the thing they connected with the most was my hopefulness that doesn’t attempt to minimize the very real horrors of the world.

There are so many ways people maintain their resilience in the light of the chaos of the world. Some focus on self-care. Some drink. Some become jaded and hard.

I have, on various occasions, done all of those, and more.

But the sustaining belief I hold onto – that allows me to be hopeful in spite of the facts – really comes down to children and ancestors.

When I say children, I recognize that not all of us are bio-parents, nor can we be. But we can all put creative effort into the world, we can all leave legacies behind, and we can all be generative and supportive of people that will outlive us. Many of us have raised babies we did not give birth to. What are children but an investment in the world after we are gone? And all of us can make such an investment – not just those of us who have biological children.

If there is such a thing as a chosen family – and there is – then I can have chosen children.

But if we can all have children, then we are all ancestors. And more and more I resonate with the words of Jonas Salk, who said that our greatest responsibility was to be good ancestors. I am who I am because they were who they were. I am because of them.

Much like the quote credited to Gandhi about being the change we want to see in the world, I believe we have a responsibility to be the person for young people that the younger version of us needed. Even if we didn’t get it ourselves. Probably especially if we didn’t get it ourselves.

By doing that, we are bullish on the future. We are rolling the dice in favor of a better world, we are modeling the world we want to see, and living in such a way that is a defiance of the present darkness that surrounds us. By focusing on being the best ancestor I can be, I deprive the bleak reality of oxygen.

So that’s it, really. The source of any hope I can muster is that I have a responsibility to my ancestors as well as to my chosen children to be an ancestor, and what’s more, to be a good one.


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.


The Apocaloptomist

It was Thanksgiving morning in 1986, I think, that my Daddy’s friend got gunned down in a trailer park by his cousin. There was liquor involved, and a shotgun, and much screaming, and my Dad’s friend, who had tried to get his cousin to put down the gun and go sober up, was instead shot down and left to bleed out on the gravel in front of his house.

I remember it was Thanksgiving because we were getting ready to go to my grandmother’s when Dad heard the news. He told Mom he would be back soon, and then hopped in his truck and went over to see the family. It was a dirty, shabby story, with no way to clean it up or make it make sense. It was the sort of tragedy that happens when families squabble and there is both alcohol and guns involved.

Eventually, Dad came home, and we went to my grandmothers and ate, while Dad pushed the food around on his plate, and then got up and went for a walk, leaving us all at the table.

In the weeks that followed, I heard Dad and others talk about the man who had died. He had been a leader in his small community, had served on the Volunteer Fire Department, and was generally seen as someone to look up to. That he died trying to de-escalate a bad situation only added to his personal legend.

It was the first time I really thought about what people would say about you after you were dead.

* * *

A while back, a friend sent me the Urban Dictionary entry for an Apocaloptomist and said, “It’s you!”

I looked at it and realized, sadly, that it was. I do believe the world is going to shit, but still at least hope it turns out OK. I am inordinately hopeful, in the midst of overwhelming evidence that the world is crumbling around me.

I’m not some Pollyanna – In fact, I’m somewhat resigned to the facts: The world is getting warmer, the systems that hold us together are failing us, and our politicians have sold us out for campaign contributions. But if the world is ending, well, what sort of person do I want to be when the world ends?

Do I want to be the guy on the jet, eeeking out every bit of hedonistic pleasure, or the person committed to the very end to hold on as long as possible, to scratch and scrimp to save as many people as possible for as long as possible?

“What sort of person will I be when the world ends?”

I think about this question all the time. Not the specific form, but the general: What sort of person will I be when X happens?

What sort of person will I be when the supply chain runs out of food? Will I be the sort of person who had enough food to share with their neighbors, or the sort of person who sits on their roof with a gun, to defend their homestead?

When I am old and my grandchildren learn in school about the Obergefell v. Hodges, the same way I learned about Brown v. The Board of Education, what sort of story will I have for them when I get asked about where I was? What sort of person was I in the years up to Obergfell v. Hodges? In the years after?

When I am “…layin’ on [my] back, lookin’ at the roof of the church / Preacher tellin’ the truth and it hurts”, to quote DMX, well, what sort of person do I want them to say I was? What sort of person do you want to be when you are dead?

I don’t believe in the great man theory of history – that some are born great, waiting on history to recognize them. Instead, I believe history is made by those who show up, who decide to take a stand, who, when given a choice to do something or to do nothing, choose to do something.

And I will, as long as I can, be the person who does something. And I know I’m not alone in that. It doesn’t all depend on me – there are lots of us that choose, in the moment of truth, to do something.

And maybe, together, we can change things. We can definitely try.

And that gives me hope, in spite of the facts.