Why I #GiveThanks

Recently, Russell M. Nelson, the Prophet and President of the church I belong to, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, issued a challenge to the world to spend the next week giving thanks each and every day, and post our expressions of gratitude on Social Media.

Millions of people took up the challenge. What happened was a week of almost total positivity on social media feeds and it was an incredible (and needed) change of pace.

Here, then, are my contributions:

Friday, Nov. 20

Stepping up to the challenge to #givethanks this week. I am eternally grateful for my wife who, in every other, more likely alternate universe probably ended up with someone else. I don’t think there was any ball during our pre-marriage gamesmanship I did not fumble. How she saw through my bad plays to the devastatingly handsome and athletic husband I mostly became, I’ll never know. But it fills me with gratitude. (Also, she has the best smile in the world. I should take lessons.)

Saturday, Nov. 21

Today, I #givethanks for the girls who turned my world upside down in the best possible way by making sure the second half of the life I’ve lived so far is the extended gender studies lesson I probably needed. I would do anything for them.

Sunday, Nov. 22

Say what you want about a pandemic, but DO NOT knock week-in-and-week-out church attendance in pajamas. Grateful for my Creator. Grateful for billowy pants that feel like they’re barely there. #givethanks

Monday, Nov. 23

Today, I #givethanks for hair. Not because I have any, but because I once did and I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. Hair really is the whipped topping on the marvelous sundae that is our bodies. Or maybe the cherry. Or the nuts. The point is: my sundae stops at the ice cream now and I’m grateful for the time when I got to have toppings.

Tuesday, Nov. 24

I have to #givethanks for creativity. I went from wanting to be a banker or a lawyer as a kid, to creating comics, writing books, and making movies as an adult. I don’t know why I always seem to walk the wrong path first, but the brush clears away eventually and I am happy to take off running.

However, I don’t run alone. Many, many people support these efforts and have either helped or currently are helping me get these works made and out into the world. And so, I am grateful also to my creative partners: Th3rd World Studios, Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, VidAngel, Stellar Lense Productions, Tremendum Pictures, Pen Name Publishing, Oops Doughnuts Productions, Samaco Films, and the many, many individuals within and without those organizations who are so talented and with whom I am so fortunate to work.

Wednesday, Nov. 25

No matter how brilliant the light—the fortune, the love, the joy, the strength, the blessing, the peace—we can never truly comprehend or appreciate it without the dark—the poverty, the hate, the sadness, the temptation, the trial, the conflict. One without the other is meaningless, so I #givethanks for both.

This may seem like some weird, not-great stock photo, but I actually took it in Venice, Italy about 4 years ago.

Thursday, Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving)

Finally, I #givethanks for faith and science. For that which can give us confidence we will see an end to this pandemic, and for that which tells us how.

#givethanks for the many inspired women and men who are working tirelessly to heal and to prevent. My hope is that they are properly supported and that the rest of are making the small sacrifices necessary–masking up, social distancing, taking time away from family and friends (especially during the holidays), and prayer coupled with fasting–to stem the tide of this thing and be rid of it once and for all.

There are spiritual laws and there are natural laws, and He is the master of them both. I am so, so grateful for that understanding and the peace that comes with it. 

I gotta say, I super enjoyed doing this. I make it a point to be grateful every day, but thinking harder about it and all putting these things out there like this gave them even greater resonance and importance. My contention is that even in the most dire of circumstances we have much to be grateful for, and if we can focus on those things, we might not find our burdens changed, but they will be lifted.

Set Visit: The Chosen

I had the great privilege of spending the past two weeks on the set of The Chosen at the invitation of the show’s creator, Dallas Jenkins. Dallas, of course, recently signed on as the Executive Producer of my feature film, The Shift, and this was a chance to not only see him at work and see a production on a scale unlike anything I’d experienced before, but also an opportunity to sit at his feet and learn (well, not literally “at his feet” [which I’m sure are fine and never smell]—more like on the couch next to him).

The days were long, as they always are on a production. We were out the door by 6am most mornings, and then didn’t return until around 8pm. The set, built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is more incredible than video and pictures can capture (though, as you can see, I tried). It’s the detail of the place that got me. There’s no corner that would not stand up to the tightest closeup; the feeling of immersion as you walk the streets and dart in and out of the synagogue and dark alleyways is total. It’s hard to believe that under most of the stony facades is dense Styrofoam.

The first few days I was there, I hung back. My only purpose was to observe Dallas, invading his space while also trying very hard not distract or be a nuisance. I was a little too successful. Thanks to my reticence and the face mask I (and everyone else, of course) wore constantly, no one noticed I was there at all. The most interaction I had with anyone was when Yasmine Al-Bustami (who plays Ramah) said she liked my Baby Yoda hat and Shahar Isaac (Simon) gave me a big end-of-shooting-day hug. He probably thought I was someone he knew, but I received the hug gladly anyway. Oh, and I stole Noah James (Andrew) away for a moment to tell him how much I enjoy his (seemingly—I know better) effortless, kind, and genuine performance on the show. My usual policy with actors is to leave them alone. They are so used to being accosted and the focus they must have is total, so I don’t want to disturb that, but Noah was just kind of wandering around by himself between setups and no one else was around.

I finally switched over to Production Assistant on the fourth day, and the crew were shocked to learn I’d been in their midst the entire week. Face masks really do render you invisible, though I wouldn’t recommend betting on that and trying to sneak onto set. Security and COVID protocols being what they are (I was tested for the virus 6 times over the course of the two weeks), you would not be successful.Production Assistant is a crucial position the production depends on to prevent a slide into chaos, but it’s not the most creative or active position. At least, not as a volunteer. As a Writer/Director myself, it doesn’t exactly take best advantage of my talents, but it’s a great vantage point from which to see all working parts of the production, and that’s what I was most curious about so I was happy to serve. I worked in the Assistant Director Department, under 1st A.D. Adam Drake and 2nd A.D. Mitch Hudson. Alongside me (or rather, I was alongside them) were P.A.s Willie Mellina, Jordan Roby, Gwendelynn Martindale, and Avery and Larsen (additional volunteers whose last names I didn’t catch).

What I saw was a crew designed to support Dallas in every conceivable way, to the point where he isn’t bothered with the small things and focuses almost entirely on his primary job: directing. This may seem like how it should be—and it is—but coming from the indie filmmaking world with a couple short films under my belt and some producing credits, I know it’s very easy for a director’s day to be almost entirely about anything BUT directing.

The Chosen creator Dallas Jenkins and me.

I was fortunate enough to stay with Dallas at the rather large house where he and a few of the other people on the production were staying, which afforded us plenty of opportunities to talk outside of the set where things are quite a bit more relaxed. I found Dallas to be a forthcoming mentor, willing to answer any questions I had and share insights on casting, directing actors, working effectively with the Director of Photography, etc. that are going to serve me REALLY well as I prep and shoot my film. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is the importance of a solid team that works well together. Dallas has been in the game long enough he’s been able to assemble a group of people at all levels that work incredibly well together, without the personality clashes and occasional bad apples you’d normally and understandably find in a group this size. From the Production Office to the Art Department to Wardrobe to Catering to the actors to, crucially, the team that immediately surrounds him on set day-in-and-day-out, my close observations didn’t turn uncover any weak links. I’ve worked on some great, friendly sets, but this seemed to me to be on another level.

Word slowly got out about who I was, and I even got recognized a few times by some on the production and a few extras thanks to all the livestreaming I’ve done and my dumb face being out there so much. The Shift does not have near the fame and online presence The Chosen has (…yet?), so that was nice. Not that being known is a goal of mine (I’d rather be behind the camera, thank you very much), but The Shift’s message is important, something I feel led to create, and a movie a lot of people believe in, so getting it out there and known is crucial to its success. I’ll be the vessel if I have to be, reluctantly but also gladly. I would like to have a team that works as well together and is as highly functional as Dallas has, and connecting the community of professionals who create The Chosen with me and The Shift is no small thing. It’s fair to say I’d be happy to have the opportunity to hire a bunch of them. Can’t think of a higher compliment than that.

I admit I was a bit nervous to go to Utah. Living and working with a group of people I’ve never met for two weeks is high on my list of anxiety-inducing events, and I’m sure those nerves exhibited themselves through a few awkward interactions here and there, but I figured the pay-off would be worth it. I was not only correct in that assumption, but I made friends and, in some cases, solidified existing relationships along the way.

There was Dallas, of course. With so much on his mind and plate, I was grateful to have a good portion of his time and attention. Turns out, he puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else (note: I did not personally verify this; I’m not a creeper).

Me and Composer Matt Nelson

Composer Matt Nelson, who along with Dan Haseltine, creates not only the score for The Chosen but will also be doing the score for The Shift, visited the set for a few days (Dan was supposed to come, too, but he was busy with his “band” or something…musicians, amirite?). After all our conversations online it was a pleasant happenstance that Matt and I turned out to be kindred spirits with a shared love of good ice cream and discussing the intersection of politics and faith. No one was listening, but I’m pretty sure we solved the world’s problems in the space of about 30 minutes.

Associate Producer Justen Overlander and Me

Associate Producer Justen Overlander is another person I connected with immediately. While his endless lobbying for playing the part of ‘Satan’ in The Shift feature film did begin to wear me down (NOT in the good way, Justen!), he proved to be as kind and personable as anyone who has seen his numerous behind-the-scenes videos for The Chosen imagines he would be. Just as an example: on my first day he found me eating alone in the on-set cafeteria during lunch and came over to sit with me. A small gesture, but my inner 4th grader who was sure the entire cast and crew was snickering at him was grateful. I made no secret of wanting to work with Justen someday. And play board games together. Turns out, it’s a shared past time.

Jesus (Jonathan Roumie) hanging with the apostles between takes.

Jonathan Roumie (Jesus) and I have exchanged a few emails over the past year and there were several moments during my first week I wanted to go up and say hi, but he’s an intensive and intentional performer and I never wanted to break his concentration. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered he was not due on set at all during my second week. I’d missed my chance, or so I thought. Jonathan actually stopped by on his day off, clad in jeans and a baseball cap and a face mask, but nevertheless I recognized him and took the opportunity. We compared notes on coming up through the entertainment industry (he worked for several years behind the camera, including as a P.A.) and promised to keep in touch. A gracious man I’d be more than happy to cast in just about anything I do.

VidAngel CEO Neal Harmon and Me
VidAngel Moderator Guru Brad Rhees and Me

From VidAngel, I was able to connect with both Neal Harmon (CEO) and Brad Rhees, my undercover brother-in-arms during the Shift crowdfunding campaign and secret moderator on all the livestreams. Aka, “Batman.” Again, it was a true meeting of minds and hearts, with all of us sharing not only a love for The Chosen, but also for what I’m doing with The Shift and beyond. I hope to have a partnership with VidAngel for a long time to come and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. The Chosen is just the beginning.

(Look, I’m not trying to be annoying and sickeningly Pollyanna about how nice and supportive and positive everyone was, but it’s simply the truth. For me personally, I’ve fought for a long, long time to get to a place where I’m working with people who share my passions and who believe in me and the kinds of stories I want to tell, and for a good while there I wasn’t even sure that was possible. Now that it’s happened, I’m going to celebrate that…and them.)

Taking a two week break from my life and my family to go visit the bubble world that is the set of The Chosen (seriously, it’s like a Fort Knox against the coronavirus; congrats to the entire COVID team) was not easy for my family, so special mention must be made of my wife, Erin, for making this all possible. All I can say is: it was worth it. I learned SO MUCH (only a tiny bit of which I’ve revealed here), and it made me even more excited to get going on my own project.

There is a wave of good—genuinely GOOD—Christian/faith-based entertainment coming, and The Chosen is ground zero. Hollywood is going its way, so we’ll go ours, but we have to be as good as or better than them, artistically speaking. To get just a tiny peek at those who actually ARE doing it better was an amazing thing. It looked and felt exactly as I’d hoped. I’ve been saying since I first saw The Shepherd (the Chosen pilot) that The Chosen—the quality, the depth of characterization and storytelling, the high production values, etc.—is what I aspire to, but now I have such a better idea of how to hit the target.

Just happy to be here

A big thank you to Dallas and the entire Chosen team.

How to Survive a Family During a Pandemic

It’s not just this virus. Literally anything that happens to us, good or bad, either draws us more closely together or rips us apart. A pandemic like COVID-19, of course, draws us together no matter what. We quarantine. We lockdown. We huddle together in a bubble held together by, in some cases, nothing more than proximity. The question isn’t just whether we can survive the virus, it’s whether or not we can survive each other.

Are we a family of ships passing in the night, or is there a love still there that can be rekindled by a whole lot of togetherness?

I want to make two things clear up front before I dive into this:

  1. I’m the writer in the family or you’d be hearing from my wife, Erin, right now. The following is all down to her. Her ideas, her initiatives, her glue holding us all together.
  2. All of this requires effort. I know it’s easier to be lazy during a pandemic, but that way lies madness. Family is work. Family during a pandemic is a little more work. No way around it.

Okay. Here it is. The following is what the Heasley family has been doing the past four months to survive each other during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Your mileage may vary.

CELEBRATIONS

When so many things are going wrong, you’ve got to elevate the good. We will take any excuse to celebrate. And I mean, ANY. Yes, we’ve done things like in-home celebrations of birthdays and our eldest daughter graduating from high school and an in-home prom with the help of John Krasinski, but we’ve also come up with a completely made up reason…

The pandemic itself. Starting on Day 50 and every ten days since, we’ve put together themed celebrations just to say to ourselves, “Hey, we’re doing this, we’re staying in as much as we can, we’re masking up, we’re avoiding anyone who doesn’t live in this home, and we’re doing our part. Let’s celebrate that.”

Here’s what that’s looked like so far:

Day 50 – Family Sock Hop

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Day 60 – Mocktail Night

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Day 70 – Family Fun Run

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Day 80 – 80’s Movie Festival

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Day 90 – Water Day (New trampoline with sprinklers and water balloons/guns)

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Day 100 – Service to Others and Ice Cream Sunday

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Day 110 – Blanket Fort Day

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Day 120 – Spa Day

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Day 130 – Christmas in July

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Day 140 – International Night (Trivia and food from around the world)

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Consequently, marking time during the pandemic has gone from a depressing thing to an exciting thing. Yeah, it’s a lot of work for us (again, mostly Erin), but for our kids they’re going to look back on this time as difficult, yes, but also special. Exciting, even.

I mean, everybody got presents during Christmas in July. Our kids should be LOVING this. And they do.

ONE HOUR CLEANINGS

Every day. Every day except Sunday we get together as a family and clean for one hour, at 11 AM. Four out of five of the people who live here are able to participate, which means that our house is getting four hours of cleaning every day.

Within two weeks we had cleaned literally everything in the house. Spring cleaning the likes of which we have NEVER done before. Now, it’s just upkeep. Really easy stuff. We even folded in a repaint of the bathroom over the course of a week because there’s just less to do now.

Look, my family HATES cleaning. I don’t think we even started cleaning the house in a significant way until around Day 100 because we hate it so much, but it has made a HUGE difference. We are in this space ALL THE TIME, and having it clean just FEELS good. Plus, no one gets mad at anyone else because their stuff is somewhere it shouldn’t be because know that 11 AM the next day it’ll get picked up.

Or fed to the dogs. I don’t make the rules.

ROUTINE

Speaking of doing things every day, a routine is essential for a time like this. The days can easily get away from you, you can lose track of time, and you can be so unproductive if you don’t have your routines in place. Besides the cleaning, we also get up by 9:30 AM each morning (why wake up any earlier when you don’t go anywhere?), eat dinner together as a family every night around 6 PM, read scriptures and pray together as a family at 7:45 PM, and the parents take over the TV at 8 PM. Because we paid for it.

Simple stuff, but it keeps our clocks in order and gives structure.

BREAK THE ROUTINE

If the routine is wearing you down, it’s not doing its job. Take breaks! Just the other day, Erin woke up and said “I can’t clean today.” So, we didn’t! And we didn’t the next day, either. Or the day after that (mostly because that day was Sunday). But today? We were right back on it. Breaking the routine is just as important as keeping the routine. So, break it.

But then get right back on it.

ICE CREAM

Sometimes, you need ice cream. That’s it. That’s the tip.

(But don’t overdo it.)

GIVE EACH OTHER SPACE

Don’t be in each other’s business all the time. We got both Animal Crossing and Minecraft for our Nintendo Switch for our youngest. She hasn’t seen a friend since March and it’s her major form of entertainment and socialization, sadly, but more importantly it keeps her in a private space at a time of her life when she can kind of talk your ear off.

Best way to not get on each other’s nerves? Don’t be in the same space all the time. Respect the need for privacy.

DON’T OBSESS OVER THE NEWS

The job of the news is to inform, and the most essential information is always going to be bad news. There’s a lot of bad news right now, and a lot of disagreement about what is and is not true about that bad news. You can drive yourself mad trying to sort through it all, and everyone I know who lives on a steady diet of news (TV, in particular) is pretty sure the world is going to end, like, tomorrow.

That’s not a super healthy place to be, but if that’s the place you insist on being, don’t take your family there with you. Not everyone wants to go. We talk about current events in our house, but we don’t dwell and we are conscious of who is in the room and what age they are. There’s only so much we can control, but controlling our home environment? Well, that’s all up to us.

FIND GOD

This isn’t going to resonate with everyone who reads this, but find God in all this. He is, I assure you, there. I’m not super old, but I’m not super young either. I’ve been through some stuff, and I’m telling you that even in the darkest of times–ESPECIALLY then–God is there. He cares about you. He loves you. (Yes, he’s allowing all this to happen, but that’s for a purpose that would take a whole other blog to cover (or, y’know, a movie I wrote). )

He’s in the kindness of strangers. He’s in the smile of those you pass by. He’s in the hug of a child and a meal shared. He’s on the other end of the line when you pray. I have felt tremendous comfort through all of this, and, I would argue, my wife has been tremendously inspired through all this by the Spirit of God. We are constantly, constantly looking to Him, and because of that we know peace.

And because we know peace, the Heasley family is more than just surviving each other during this forced togetherness. I daresay we love each all the more.

The Trap of Nostalgia

I grew up in two places, primarily, and they are both special to me, but the first thing I think of when I reflect on either one is gunfire.

The place where I lived was the home I grew up in on Buckingham Way. My parents moved us away from there after a FBI sting operation at a mini-mart a stone’s throw away resulted in two Agents dying and the killers hiding out in our neighborhood. One of them in the house behind ours. We were trapped until the criminals were found later that morning; my first experience with quarantine. I remember it being a lot more fun than the current one.

The second place I grew up in was my Dad’s store on the very outskirts of Fresno, where he sold guns, fish bait, sodas, candy, and cigarettes—and not always safely (I’ll spare you the details in this post). Despite the violence of the area and my father’s occupation, I spent a LOT of time in “The Shop” working, playing, shooting plastic army men out back with a BB gun, waiting for dad to finish work so we could go to a movie, and playing “fish out of water” with the minnows in the tanks he kept in the back. Just to torture them. The Shop is firmly imprinted as a magical place on my brain, burned alongside every terrible thing that happened there and because of it. In The Other Side of Fear, my forthcoming book* about all the violence Dad suffered at the Shop and the growing up I did in between it all, I describe my time there this way:

A full-sized Donkey Kong video game cabinet sat near the front door. I spent every possible minute jumping barrels and rescuing damsels in distress, my Atomic Fire Ball cooling in a Dixie Cup full of water next to the joystick (a low-rent chemistry experiment that made it easier for me to skip the “fire” and get right to the sugar). Meanwhile, just a few feet away, someone would ask Dad if he could see a handgun before purchasing a Coke and a pack of Marlboros.

I knew there wasn’t much to it. The entirety of the Shop seemed quite a bit smaller than the three-bedroom house we lived in. Definitely dustier. Winds from the surrounding countryside and farmlands kicked up the dirt surrounding it on the regular, pushing it all inside and casting a thin blanket of wispy grime on the cracked cement floor. A broom behind the counter justified its existence by shooing it all away on at least a quarterly basis. Deep, muddy puddles dressed the Shop on all sides after a rain, with the exception of the side it shared with the bar next door. The front faced out toward the highway, a flat slab of concrete its only accouterment. If you could see it. The manmade parking surface was usually covered in oil and sludge.

The backrooms—secret places at every grocery store and mini-mart my father didn’t own—didn’t hide anything special. Just palettes of beer and soda. The walk-in freezer housing the fishing bait Dad distributed throughout the Valley, as effective as it was as a refuge during the summer, reeked of worm and earth.

I was Bill’s Son, the little prince within the Shop that was his kingdom. The Donkey Kong games were always free of charge. So were the New York Seltzers (always the Vanilla Crème) that gave such sweet relief when the temperatures swelled and the swamp cooler wasn’t cutting it. Drinks, Frozen Burritos of questionable nutritional value, and candy (whose nutritional value—or lack thereof—was never in question) were all there for the taking. Long as I asked King Dad first.

That is a child’s description of a childlike time, devoid of any discussion of the perils or appropriateness of such a place. I didn’t even blink as I ran past the .45’s and the 30 ought 6’s on glorious display in their glass cases. The moral implications of my father making his living by selling instruments of death were too unknown for me to even consider. Neither did I ever imagine that any of the many robberies or arson fires the Shop suffered could occur while I was there. They never had, so why would they? And it never, ever crossed my mind the emotional and financial toll running such a place and depending on it for income took on my mother and father. Not even when Dad desperately sought employment or business opportunities elsewhere did it occur to me that maybe he didn’t love the Shop as much as I did. I thought he just wanted a change of pace; somewhere else fun that I could run around in.

I try not to be nostalgic. There’s so much that’s new, and so many things old in this world I’ve never experienced that I think looking back, even wistfully, can be a trap. We can sometimes mistake times gone by as the very best times, especially compared with today, but it’s often not really the case. Saturday Night Live isn’t “not funny anymore,” you’re only remembering the good sketches. Likewise, recalling the 1950’s as a golden age for morality in the United States is to deny the reality of so many Black Americans and women for whom it was a time of denied rights and diminished personhood.

The Shop wasn’t just my own personal arcade and Dad’s kingdom. It was his death trap.

When I look back on my childhood, the wonderful sits alongside the horrific, comfortably. This is why I can both be glad my daughters haven’t ever experienced the violence and fear my brothers and I did, and I can want to tell them all about it like it was the coolest thing ever, too. Because it was. It was very cool. Fun, even. That’s both the prerogative of youth and the privilege of looking back. Of nostalgia.

TheShop2020

Yesterday, I went and visited the site of the Shop, right at the end of Hwy 180 going West out of Fresno. It’s not there anymore. It was demolished some years ago, and nothing has been built to take its place. The Shop was right there, in the space where there is now only dark brown dirt and odd pieces of litter thrown out of speeding, passing cars.

I got out of my car and walked around a little. At near 100 degrees, it was hot, as it always seemed to be whenever I visited the Shop, even in the winter. There’s an AM/PM going up across the street and the highway didn’t used to end right there, but otherwise the surrounding area looks the same.

But it doesn’t feel the same. I got out of the car because I wanted to feel the space again, or at least see if I could. But I couldn’t. The Shop is gone, and it took all the ghosts with it.

Probably better that way.

*The Other Side of Fear is due out Oct. 13, 2020 from Cedar Fort Publishing and will be available in a variety of formats.

 

How I Went From #AllLivesMatter to #BlackLivesMatter

I left Rush Limbaugh behind a long time ago. In high school, I served two years as the cartoonist for the school paper and I was known for working signature catchphrases like “Ditto” or “Rush is Right” into every editorial cartoon. Sometimes it was subtle, but most of the time it wasn’t. I still can’t believe they let me get away with it.

By the time I graduated from high school, I left Rush behind. I saw something in his rhetoric that reminded me of what the scriptures call “priestcraft,” and I came to think of him as someone who was less about ideology and more about himself. It didn’t take long for me to start seeing political parties the same way. When it came time to register to vote, I marked myself down as an Independent. I never looked back.

My value system still leans a bit to the right, probably owing a lot to my upbringing, and also my religion. I’ve never been able to completely buy into Progressivism, even though one of the tenets of my faith is an emphasis on change and progression. Though I don’t believe in being stagnant or getting things back to the way they were in “the old days” when, for example, women weren’t allowed to vote and redlining condemned multiple generations to poverty, I’m also wary of the constant drumbeat for change, which can become a moral value unto itself at the disregard of what I believe to be moral constants. We should be moving forward, always, but in the right direction and for the right reasons.

One of the big problems I’ve always had with Progressivism is something I’ve termed “temporary exceptionalism.” It’s this idea that in order for social reform to happen then we must make special allowances for underprivileged groups or bring down the majority in order for the minority to get a leg up (I’m oversimplifying a bit, but quotas would be the most basic example of what I’m talking about). I don’t believe in creating opportunity by taking it away from others. I don’t think we’re playing a zero sum game here and I think, as difficult as it would be to achieve, it’s possible for everyone to have equal opportunities at the same time. I don’t think you get to equality by lifting some above others the same way you don’t get it by pushing anyone down. Otherwise, you’re at risk of swinging the pendulum too far and that becomes another kind of injustice.

Years ago, when I first heard the term “Black Lives Matter,” I rejected it immediately. My first thought was, no joke, “Hey, wait a minute, all lives matter.” I saw Black Lives Matter as more of what bothered me–of lifting up one group over another. I saw “BLM” as saying, as I believe Progressivism often does, “The only way we’re gonna make this right is by giving more advantage to these folks over here than to those folks over there who have had it for way too long.” Elevating black lives over white lives? No, that’s not right—same way the other way around isn’t right. I saw Black Lives Matter as a different kind of inequality and isn’t that what we’re all supposed to be fighting against? My wife and I had a lot of discussions about this, debating it back and forth. I was on one side, her on the other, supporting #BLM. Both of us operating in good faith and trying to convince the other of what was right.

I was, quite obviously, wrong. As a concept, Black Lives Matter isn’t about excluding anyone, it’s a raising of a hand to be recognized. It’s a righteously angry plea for acknowledgement that black lives are the same as everyone else’s–they matter. All lives matter THEREFORE black lives matter, too. This is basic, and I missed it because, try as I might to be an independent thinker, I got infected by a rhetoric that said a particular advantage was trying to be achieved when that wasn’t the case at all. It never was.

It has to be said that Black Lives Matter because too many people are behaving as if they don’t. Particularly, unfortunately, people who have power. Black Lives Matter is a spotlight on an injustice and a plea for change–a specific, righteous change.

The best explanation I’ve seen going around (and that seems to be convincing a lot of Conservatives) is this one I saw on Twitter:

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It’s really as simple as that. My house isn’t on fire. I don’t have fear when I interact with white, bigoted, racist people, whether they have power or a gun or not, because they don’t see me as their enemy and they don’t see me as less than human. But if I were black? George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and so many before them prove there is a real reason to fear. It’s the fear of death, and, after all the strides towards equality we’ve made in the past 60 years, we should not be okay with anyone walking around in our country with the fear of death for the way they look, a thing over which they have no control and is of no consequence to their value as a human being. What inequality could be greater?

Another way of getting at this same idea (and this is another example I’ve seen going around) is to look at what Jesus doing when he left the 99 sheep to go after the one. He was, essentially, saying, “Lost sheep lives matter.” The 99 were safe, so he went after the one that wasn’t. White lives are not imperiled in the same way black lives are, so #BlackLivesMatter.

I’m encouraged by the sea change that’s happening. People are waking up to what Colin Kaepernick and others like him have been trying to say for years, and it’s important for white voices to rise up with them, so I’m adding mine.

I believe in change and progression. They are at the heart of the Gospel of Christ. It gives me a lot of hope in our country’s potential to heal what are some very old wounds when I see the movement that’s sweeping this country. To see mayors and governors and religious leaders and what seems like the majority of people in my social media feeds throw their weight behind Black Lives Matter is an encouraging thing and a positive sign at a time when it seems like we’re more divided than ever.

To anyone who also struggled at one time or another with #AllLivesMatter vs. #BlackLivesMatter, I would encourage you to add your voice. You’re not alone. However you arrived at your change of mind, it’s an important story to share. So, share it. This is the time.

All Parents are Terrible

Parents are terrible. You know this incontrovertible fact if you’ve ever read any published memoir about growing up. There’s one universal theme to all of them: the parents should be arrested and the key thrown away for the cruelty they inflicted on their progeny, the writer. If you were a space alien and the only thing you knew about the parenting practices of earthlings was what you read in books like The Glass Castle and Running With Scissors, you’d be justifiably horrified and immediately set about liberating the youth of the world through abduction (wait a minute, you don’t think…?). In fact, for a lot of coming-of-age memoirs, that literally is what the book is about: all-time, world class, terrible parenting. It’s the very best revenge anyone ever devised against all the therapy they had to shell out for later: immortalizing the parental misdeeds in print.

I suppose there’s a universality to that experience, and it certainly makes for good copy, but it’s pretty far from my own experience and, at the very least, the experiences of most people who belong to the same Church I do* (aka the culture I’m most familiar with). I tend to think there are more decent parents out there than bad, and I’ll hold up my own as a good, if imperfect, example.

*I say this having conducted no studies and done no polls, so I’m speaking mostly from experience and observation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church teachings provide a solid foundation for highly functional families. Any parents who draw from that deep, deep well are bound to get it more right than wrong.

Which brings up a good question: If I’ve written an entire book (tentative title: The Other Side of Fear) about my own growing up and my parents are a big part of it, how is the story I’m telling in any way interesting or exciting?

I guess it’s not. Save for a handful of chapters, my parents and I largely get along.

So, boring book.

I’m being a little facetious. Once you throw in the shootings, the murder, the bullies, the helicopters circling our house at 1am, the flooded city, the thief my dad runs down, the missionary tales, and everything else, you don’t really need to ladle bad parenting on top to have an interesting and exciting story. But bad parenting? No, that’s not really one of the ingredients I’m cooking with. My story is about growing up through through difficult things with good parents.

People clamor for good, clean, positive stories, but they flock to conflict and the controversial. These types of stories are not mutually exclusive, but they can be difficult to bring together, depending on the market and the audience, and, most importantly, the writer. Those who traffic in positivity can be afraid to let the real world in for fear they’re not being positive or uplifting enough. Their stories, consequently, can be, yeah, super boring. Meanwhile, those who focus mostly on conflict and controversy can easily choke out anything positive, or simply dismiss such notions altogether for fear of “watering down” or because their worldview doesn’t allow for it in the first place. I’m talking extremes here. The pendulum doesn’t only swing one way or the other, but I would argue that the mainstream creative world encourages a more cynical form of storytelling than not, and for good reason: it sells. At least, that’s the current thinking.

And I think it’s that kind of thinking that leads mainstream publishing towards bad parenting and cynical, isn’t-life-horrible? narratives, and away from any kind of positive, uplifting, religious narrative, even when done in a way that’s inclusive (another topic for another time).

I am not a fan of extreme positivity or extreme cynicism. Speaking of religion, I think good stories are like a religious life well-lived: accepting of the reality of the actual world we occupy while acknowledging the hope and reality that is above this world. It’s only when you combine the two things together that you get a story that is truly true and resonates and moves and uplifts and entertains and enlightens and encourages. You get your conflict and your controversy, and you slam it up against hope and positivity, and you end up with something that is dynamic. That isn’t so one-note and serves a defensible purpose.

My parents are both very human in the telling. They have flaws and foibles and quirks and maybe do not-so-great things because they are not perfect, godly beings. But, if I’ve done my job correctly, it all makes them more endearing than anything. There to prove them real and relatable, not to take them down. I can’t present them as real people if I only speak of them positively. And being real is the only way to get at the truth.

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In other news…I’ve done a lot of the homework publisher Cedar Fort assigned me to get the book ready for publication. Writing my bio, submitting my author photo, etc. One of the big tasks that will take months to complete is reaching out to people for “endorsements.” These are the blurbs you read on the backs of books from people with some reputation whose praise you can trust. It’s a huge favor to ask someone of influence to read your book and appraise it, so I was a bit nervous to go out and ask. I hate asking for favors.

But, I’ve already gotten three “Yes” responses back! I can’t wait to share with you who they are (they’re very, very cool), but that feels premature right now and there’s always the chance they could read the manuscript, not like it, decline to offer their endorsement, and ask for monetary compensation for time wasted (wait…that’s not a thing, right?). But still, they’re willing to take a shot. Which is awesome.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels