Will You Stay Home This Christmas? Please?

Will you stay home this Christmas? Please?

This isn’t a condemnation. This is a plea. Opinions on this virus are as varied as my friends list and I’m not trying to debate or engage with any of that. I know there are many who have probably already stopped reading and tuned me out and believe me, I’m not here to convince you. I don’t think I can and I won’t try. I love and respect you despite our differences on this issue. Feel free to move on.

I’m here for those who might be on the fence. For those who are feeling the pressure from family to join together or have been invited to a party and really want to go but maybe, in the back of their minds, there’s a voice that’s saying, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t.”

To you I say: please, stay home. You are not alone and I and many others support you. Cancel that party. Tell your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles, your children, and your friends that you love them and don’t want to upset them, but this virus is really bad right now and hospitals are overwhelmed. If we repeat the aftermath of all the traveling and togetherness of Thanksgiving it’s only going to get worse.

I genuinely don’t know what worse will look like or how we will accommodate that. For example, where I live–right now–there are no beds in the ICU left. And Christmas hasn’t even happened yet.

There are many who have been sacrificing all year to help stall the spread. It’s time to join them. It’s not just about how you or I personally will be affected by the virus. Odds are in your favor and mine that we will live through it, no doubt about that, but a virus is just that–it’s viral. The less we associate with others, the less it will spread. It’s not just about whether or not you personally will get through it, it’s about slowing that spread by minimizing contact. Please, even if you feel healthy, don’t go to a place where you are cooped up with people you don’t live with. In a very real way, people you don’t even know (and maybe some you do)–the future temporary residents of E.R.s and hospital hallways and rooms and ICUs–are depending on you for help.

I’m with you. My little family has been living a strict life of isolation for over 280 days, since March. The only other person who has been in this house since then was a handyman who came over to fix a broken sink. We all stayed on one side of the house while he made the necessary repair. Other things broke this year that we can live without. They remain broken. We will get them fixed later. When we do venture out, we mask up. We socially distance. We get takeout. We haven’t had a sickness in our house–not even a cold–since February. But even given that, for the week and a half leading up to Christmas, we have doubled down on our isolation and are not venturing out except for walks. Why? Because we’re giving our kids back their Grandparents for Christmas. They’ve been doing the same–zero contact with anyone on the outside world, not even with masks and social distancing–for 10 days as per CDC guidelines. To ensure we are all virus-free. And if you and your family are taking similar measures, then by all means, enjoy this time of year together.

But if not, please, stay home.

I’m not looking for a gold star here. I’m not telling all this because I want credit for “doing my part” or whatever. That would be dumb and I don’t care about that. I’m only speaking specifically of our efforts to encourage you and demonstrate that you would not be alone should you choose to isolate this Christmas. And it’s not just us, I have many friends who are making similar efforts, quietly and reverently with a sense of duty and purpose.

I’ll say it again: You would not be alone if you do this thing with us.

Please, let’s help keep the numbers down and give the hospital back some beds, together. Let’s stay home Christmas morning. Let’s skip the parties and family meals. Let’s do what we can not just for ourselves, but for others. It’s a sacrifice, and I get that, but you’re probably used to that, if you think about it. That’s what being a person of faith or a responsible citizen of the world is all about, right?

Huh. Sacrifice and Christmas. Can’t get much more in the spirit of things than that.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Let us pray–and do our part–for a Happy New Year.

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.

The Lack of Difference Between Patience and Faith

I’ve come to believe that patience is more than just a feature (or, as I once regarded it, a bug) of faith. It’s pretty much synonymous.

I can’t think of any past exercise of my faith that was not also a sweaty, when-will-this-be-over-and-how-has-it-only-been-60-seconds workout of my patience. Sometimes, the wait is brief. But not usually, and however long the question is the same: can we wait upon the Lord? Do we have what it takes to endure his better timing?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially this year. 2020 feels like I’m back in college. I know it’s going to end, and I know this pandemic/studying constantly thing is going to end, but it doesn’t feel like it most of the time and I’m not sure the reward at the end will be worth it.

But it was and it will be. My college degree reaped great rewards and my life settled into a groove afterwards that was never again so frenetic and busy and packed. We will all get our groove back, I’m certain of it. Even while it doesn’t always FEEL like it.

(The groove may be slightly worn and the needle might skip a bit, but that’s okay. It would be weird if we returned to an old record only to find it shiny and new. Maybe we’ll discover a new hidden track we didn’t know was there before.)

And I say all this while acknowledging that 2020 hasn’t been THAT bad for me and mine. Have we been quarantining for over 240 days thus far* in what sometimes feels like a futile and disrespected effort to do our part to minimize the effects of this virus and keep it away from ourselves and Cami? Yes. But, the upshot? Not one of us has been sick since February. Not even a sniffle.

Have we suffered disappointments, job and opportunity loss, and distance from family and friends? Yes. But, the upshot? Other opportunities have come our way (there’s the matter of a little movie I’m putting together, among other things) and we have found joy in being together in new ways. See: Erin’s amazing ability to celebrate every ten (now twenty) days.

Has there been death? Yes. And there is nothing not tragic about that. While I am grateful that we have not been personally so affected, I am saddened, just like all of you, that so many have been lost.

With the announcement of vaccines this week and a return to purple status, a little bit of light seems to be shining between the rocks of the 2020 cave-in, showing us hope and also how much of the collapse we still have to clear to make our way out. The time for patience/faith is not yet over. And that’s okay.

Every good thing I have ever received has been on a time delay. Never when I wanted it, always when I needed it. I believe all things can be for a higher purpose, even the very worst things. But only if we do not with our bitterness shut down that possibility.
I say none of this as a minimization of suffering, only as an argument in favor of faith; in favor of having the patience that we will get to that point of understanding if we so choose.

That’s my prayer: that 2020 is not a pothole to dodge on the way to the next thing, but ultimately a hard-yet-enlightening detour we can be glad we took to fully appreciate the better sights ahead.

*Minus, for me, the two weeks I spent in The Chosen set bubble of tight COVID restrictions and precautions.

Intellectually Dishonest Thieves, Flag-Waving-and-Desecrating Robbers

If you knew the way I voted, you might question whether I’m a good person, a moral person, or even a Christian.

If I knew the way you voted I might raise my eyebrow at how that vote could be consistent with being a good person, a moral person, or a Christian. Whatever you profess to be.

But, that’s dumb. Judging and making enemies of each other based on votes cast is dumb and unproductive and puts us on a dark road where intellectually dishonest thieves and flag-waving-and-desecrating robbers lie in wait.

I’m as frustrated as anyone else by the head-shaking bad takes on the happenings of the day that come across my news feed, but I’m increasingly convinced that no good comes of letting those bad takes–that propaganda, the disinformation and opinion and incendiary headlines of it all–seep into our hearts and minds and curdle into a hatred that turns monstrous those we would otherwise call brother and sister.

My prayer is always–but especially here at the end of the count–that we can recognize that we all have far, far, far more in common than we have different, and that those commonalities can be points of unity between two people with even the most vitriolic of takes.

There is hate on the one hand, and on the other there is the charity and grace we can extend towards each other even while we disagree with each other. Whatever wisdom I have attained thus far tells me this: the choice, when you boil it all down, really is that simple, and anyone who claims otherwise is victim already to the great lie that complicates with ifs and ands and buts the greatest teaching the world has ever known:

Love one another.

Start there, and the path ahead becomes clear.

Should You Punch a Nazi?

Should you punch a Nazi?

There’s a thought in some circles that goes like this: Nazis bad; punching Nazis, good. There are even videos of people smacking modern day Nazis out of nowhere while they’re talking to a reporter or walking along the street, a vicarious cathartic release spread far and wide over social media in a time when racism and the rejuvenation of white supremacy is rightly called out.

But, should you punch a Nazi?

If a person is evil* and is promoting an evil thing, is it a bad thing to knock their block off? How could it be, right? After all, the world would be a whole lot better off if we’d done a lot more Nazi punching back in the 1930’s instead of waiting for the 1940’s to roll on out.

Maybe. Probably.

So, if I hate and oppose evil, I can hate and punch Nazis, right? That tracks?

What about people who disagree with me, politically? Their ideas are bringing the country down, and if the country goes down, people will suffer. Better punch them. What about people who discriminate against others for their gender, race, or how they identify sexually? Or Pro-choicers? Gun enthusiasts? Atheists? Fundamentalist Christians? Non-mask wearers? Progressives? Conservatives? People with mullets in the Year of Our Lord 2020? All doing harm in their own way. All punchable.

Right?

Let’s toss Doug in there, too. Doug was having a hard time and I lent him money when he needed it most and he never paid me back, even after he got that huge settlement. Doug is a jerk and definitely deserves a punch in the face if I’ve ever know anyone who does. And Roberta. She looked at me sour, cut the line at the Save Mart, and ruined my whole day with her nasty face. Punching her would be a blessing to all, and might even improve her looks a little. Bonus blessing.

Look, there’s a lot to be mad about is what I’m saying. You know this. I know this. But, this call to punch, to insult, to disparage, to ostracize, to dismiss. To demonize.

To hate.

And all in the appeal to some moral high place upon which the righteous stand but the unrighteous do not? It’s nuts. Who is the righteous? Who is the unrighteous? Well, that’s simple. The righteous is us. The unrighteous is them.

The othering of those who do not believe “correctly” is not helping. Anything. It’s not helping you or me or anything at all. What it is doing is dividing. It’s defeating conversation and honest debate. It’s defeating kindness and love and change.

That’s right, change. If those who rail against evil do not temper their invective with genuine love and care, they defeat their own cause. They prove that their cause is less important to them than ego and self-satisfaction. Because to what end? What does punching a Nazi accomplish?

“Well, it makes me feel good.”

And how many evils have been done in the name of that?

There’s a great Martin Luther King Jr. quote that’s getting a lot of play lately and that my wife reminded us of during our in-home church yesterday:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

Hate is corrosive and evil. It doesn’t matter who you hate or what they’ve done, hate is not justified. Ever.

I recently participated in an online discussion about whether it’s possible to “love everyone,” including rapists, serial killers, pedophiles, etc. The notion that anyone on this planet could love everyone was called “silly.” It was dismissed outright as a fairytale. But, it’s not.

I have love for everyone. Some people annoy me, some I think are toxic and don’t need to be part of my life…some have even killed people close to me, but there’s still love there. Even if I don’t know a person personally, I still see them as my brother and sister in this world.

And I’m not special! There a plenty just like me quietly shaking their heads and hoping for more kindness and a better world.

Because we know hate does not drive out hate and we hold fast to this one truth: no one enters this world determined to be a monster.

Not one.

And so, when someone does something horrible—when they injure or rape or kill or abuse or commit any other terrible number of atrocities—it is a great sadness. I am sad for them. The monster.

And that sadness is a tragedy adjacent to the horrible thing they’ve done.

It’s what we have in common that makes me love them. Our shared humanity and divine promise. Whatever they have lost along the way, whatever someone has done, I still want better for them. And that’s love.

When you have a love like that, it’s hard to insult and disparage and ostracize and dismiss and demonize and hate. It’s hard to feel any satisfaction at all from doing something as pointless as punching a Nazi.

When you love, not only do you not want to punch, you also know it just won’t do any good. You see that so clearly.

Except for Doug. He owes me money.**

* I would argue we should never, ever call a person evil. Acts can be evil. Deeds can be evil. Knievel can be Evil. But people? Sure, they CAN be evil. But for you to say so is to place a judgement on them and their heart, and that you cannot do. You simply cannot know such a thing. Let God sort out who is evil and who is not. It’s just not our job. 

**There is no Doug. Sorry, Doug! You exist only in my heart.

…One last thing. The video below was also part of the lesson my wife shared with us on Sunday. It’s a beautiful rendition of the Savior’s words, direct from the New Testament. He, of course, is the originator of all these thoughts.

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

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.