The Friend We Don’t Need

We’ve all had that feeling. That we’re alone, that everything is working against us. That there’s no hope. It’s in that moment he comes to us. He looks like a friend, but he’s not.

He smiles and offers his hand, promising to take care of us. His method? Pleasure. Ego-inflation. The accumulation of power or wealth. A violent outlet for our anger.

All of these things, he tells us, will make us feel better. And he’s right.

He’s right.

HE’S RIGHT.

Giving our bodies what they want makes us feel better. Elevating ourselves over others makes us feel better. Having more control and more THINGS makes us feel better. Hurting someone else makes us feel better.

For a time.

The good feeling goes away. We are left less than empty, with less even than what we started with. And so we chase after him, asking for more of what he has in the hopes that it can fill us up again. And here’s there, waiting, willing to help.

“But you need more this time,” he says. “Look how empty you are.” And we see he’s right again.

The solutions he offers, all of them, are only temporary. That’s the catch. He knows nothing he offers will sustain us, but he doesn’t tell us that. If he told us the full truth, we might not listen to him. We might not come back.

And he wants us to come back, over and over gain, until we’ve been drained so many times and are so empty there’s no way we can ever fill up, on anything, ever again.

And the whole time, he is scrambling. He’s trying his hardest to get us to that point of absolute emptiness because he knows it’s so easy for us to slip from his grasp, fall off the path he’s placed before us, and recover and grow and thrive and be filled to bursting with the good things of the world. With kindness and love and happiness and satisfaction.

He scrambles because he knows all his work will be undone, in an instant, if we call upon Him. It is Him who offers something real, permanent, and genuine.

It is Him who says we are not alone, that we never were.

It is Him who gives freely the one thing he can never offer: hope.

It can happen so quickly, with a simple prayer–before the prayer is even over– and because of that he lives in fear of Him every day.

And it is because of Him that we never have anything to fear at all.

 

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The image at the top of this blog is taken from my short film, THE SHIFT. It’s a film about a man at a low point in his life who has a face-to-face encounter with the Devil. It explores a lot of the ideas expressed in this blog. You can watch the film on VidAngel.com and also at the top of this page

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

 

How to Be a Jerk to a Person of Faith

“Grow up and end your magical thinking.” – Someone, some post every two weeks on my Facebook feed.

Disagreement is in the digital DNA and fiber optic bones of the internet. I’m fairly certain the original, Graham-Bellian creation myth of the internet’s inception involved Al Gore sending his friend Mr. Lee Jones a simple text message: “Tommy–come over here–I want to tell you all the ways you’re wrong.”

I mean, forget shouting fire in a movie theater. You want to really see people go nuts? Type “gun control” on Facebook.

You know all this because you are currently reading this on the internet and have ventured beyond the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic boards. You’re open to being challenged. Maybe you’re the kind of person who, when you hold up your phone or dare to crack open your laptop, you pretty much expect to be hit with a point of view that’s different from your own. Diametrically opposed, even. And you’re okay with that.

Mostly.

Sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, people aren’t expressing opinions so much as just being bigots, prejudicial, myopic, close-minded, or just downright jerks. When is an opinion not an opinion? When they’re being a jerk about it. When their opinion comes with a heaping helping of insult big enough to overwhelm whatever savory flavors their otherwise (I’m sure) cogent musings had to offer, the jerks no longer get to have their thoughts taken seriously. They’ve rendered them stupid.

Or you have. Or I have. It’s not like “jerk” is some subspecies. They are us.

I opened this blog with a quote that’s become all-too-familiar to me: Grow up and end your magical thinking. Roughly translated, it means: Stop believing in God you big baby who can’t handle the real world.

What is wrong with this? Well, my problem isn’t that someone doesn’t believe in God or thinks I shouldn’t. I may disagree with both of those positions, but I respect another’s right to feel, believe, and think differently than I do. In fact, having people with points of view different from my own is something I value (which is why I’m seeing so much of this in my Facebook feed in the first place–I cultivate diversity in my friendships, both IRL and online) You don’t believe in God? Okay, cool. That is completely irrelevant to me as to whether or not we can be friends or have association. What is important to me is this:

Are you a jerk?

Where “Grow up and end your magical thinking” goes wrong for me is that in its expression of an understandable, legitimate opinion (however much I disagree, denying the existence of God is a point of view that is not incomprehensible to me) it wades into the murky waters of insult by way of condescension and casual dismissiveness.

Grow up” suggests a certain amount of childishness; a clinging to apron strips because of an insecurity about the world and one’s place in it that can only be mollified by the idea of an all-powerful bearded dude who sits on a cloud made of tissues he uses to wipe away ignorant tears. “Grow up” equates God with an imaginary friend, and the believer with the toddler who bops around the living room talking to Clarence, the combo lion-poodle who knows how to rock a tea party. How is “Grow up” anything other than insulting? And why in the world would anyone of faith listen to someone for whom that is their baseline approach? Who could even get a fair shake in a conversation with a person who insists on infantilizing them for the great crime of thinking the universe is a little bigger than what they can see right in front of them?

“Magical thinking” suggests a wrongheadedness in one’s thought processes and perspective on the world. It is a cry in favor of science, obviously, but it also denigrates a worldview that essentially boils down to: current science doesn’t have an answer for everything.* Religion is an argument against arrogance. Reducing religion to “magical thinking” is a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of faith, just like “grow up” is a misunderstanding of its function. Most of the religious people I know don’t actually believe in the existence of magic. To equate someone’s sincere, reasoned beliefs with fantasy is… say it with me now… jerky. It is being a jerk.** And if you are being a jerk then I know–I know automatically–that you are the one speaking from a place of insecurity about the world and your place in it.

A confident person doesn’t feel the need to be a jerk. A confident person does not mock the thoughts and beliefs of others because a confident person is not easily threatened. Being a jerk is, always, a reactionary position; a defensive posture. A jerk wants you to know he thinks you’re stupid, and, if he can, make you feel stupid. You can’t destabilize a confident person because a confident person does not entertain the bad math that says they can only be sure if others are not. They are willing to embrace or at least hear out opposing views and learn from them because they understand the value of such views inspiring and challenging them. An insecure person is a destabilized person before they even get to you. They have already been threatened by someone or some idea or thought or action and then you come along with your opinions and your faith and your whatever and you bring it all back, all the bad they’re trying to hide. It comes back, right to the fore.

Basically: people aren’t mean for no reason. That’s simplistic, but it’s true. The jerk hits back because they’ve already been hit. They need to say, for example, “Grow up and end your magical thinking” because in some way it will make them feel better and whole again. They think it will, anyway.

I think I know a better way.

*Science may not have an answer for everything, but even as a person of faith I do believe that the answer to everything is science. There’s not really any such thing as magic. There is only the principles and the order of the universe, some of which we’ve discovered. God is a person who understands those principles and orders to a greater degree than we are currently capable, and He does his best to help us operate within them for the best result. That’s what we call religion.

**None of which is to say the reverse cannot be–and just as often is–true. People of faith can be jerks, too. They can look down on those who don’t share their faith and it’s just as bad. It’s just not the angle this particular blog is coming from.

The Mansion

I’ve had this image of rolling around in my head for awhile now. It’s an image that attempts to explain a frustration. Were I a painter, I would paint it. But I think it makes a better story. 

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THE MANSION

A group of people seeking knowledge came upon a mansion bigger and grander than all other mansions. They made attempts to venture inside, but after multiple tries they found that every door was locked.  Still determined, the group tried to peek inside instead. They could not. Every single window on the mansion was blacked out.

After some time, the frustrated group noticed a small keyhole on the front door through which they could spy the inside of the mansion. At last peering in, they saw a great many wonders: a wide, ornate staircase leading up to the second story; a mantle over which hung a stunning landscape painting; shiny wood flooring; red velvet furnishings; and much more.

The curious group made an extended study of the mansion. Observing only what could be spied through the keyhole, they drew all sorts of conclusions as to its purpose and construction. They could not help but note both the mansion’s beauty and that it seemed to be entirely without occupants. Conjectures were made as to what additional wonders might lay within. Complex theories were crafted to explain the mansion’s very existence.

While this was happening, another group came upon the large mansion. As they approached those gathered at the front door, one man in this new group heard a small, quiet voice coming from one of the nearby, blacked out windows.

He listened closely. The voice was friendly and told him all about the mansion, including much about what could not be seen from the keyhole. For hours, the man sat enraptured as the voice told him about indoor swimming pools, cavernous ballrooms, luxurious baths, a library full of every kind of book, and dining halls with the most savory and delicious food.

The man expressed his desire to enter the mansion and meet the person behind the voice. The voice responded that the man would be welcome to come in along with his friends, and gave the man instructions on how to do so.

Excited, the man told those that were with him of the voice behind the blacked out window and all about what he had learned about the mansion. His friends, for the most part, shared in his excitement, but some were skeptical. They wanted to know what the group looking through the keyhole made of all this.

The man went over to the group looking through the keyhole and told them all about the voice and everything it had told him about the mansion. They laughed at him.

“A voice,” they scoffed. “A voice in your head, perhaps!”

“Not just a voice,” the man said. “There is a person inside the mansion. He wants us to come in.”

“There is no one in the mansion,” they said. “If there were, we’d have seen him.”

Frustrated, the man told the group at the keyhole about the indoor swimming pool and the library and the ballroom. He would have told them more, but they cut him off.

“And what of the staircase?” they said.

“The voice didn’t mention a staircase,” the man admitted.

“No? What about the painting over the mantle? The furnishings?”

“I know nothing of those things.”

“You don’t seem to know very much at all.”

Embarrassed at the man’s ignorance, his skeptical friends departed from him to join the group at the keyhole, doubting fully his stories and ashamed that they’d entertained them in the first place.

The man stood fast with those who still believed his words. “I know what the voice told me. I trust it. Listen, and I will tell you how to enter the mansion.”

The group at the keyhole refused to listen and laughed at the man all the more.

“We have done a thorough examination of the mansion,” they said. “The spaces you describe do not exist and there is no way in. To enter is a fantasy.”

“Let us try to enter the mansion together and see,” the man offered.

“We will not waste our time on something so absurd,” they said.

“I believe what the voice told me.”

“Then you are a fool.”

The man and those who believed on his words went away saddened as the large group at the keyhole continued to laugh and mock. When they were far off, they followed the voice’s instructions, passed through a narrow gate the group at the keyhole missed even for all their searching, and entered the mansion together.

Inside, the man behind the voice greeted the believing group with open arms. To their great pleasure and astonishment, all the wonders the voice described were there, and more besides.

* * *

The world will always mock those who refuse to be limited by what can be seen through the keyhole and choose instead to listen to the small, quiet voice coming from inside the mansion.

Empty Tomb Pendants Reservation Form

On the third day, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was found empty. The elegant design of the Empty Tomb symbol is a subtle, powerful way to express belief in the Living Christ. On the front is the stone and the tomb, on the back the simple, powerful truth at the heart of Christianity: HE LIVES.

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It’s finally here! After first designing the Empty Tomb symbol this past Easter and then making it real with the first and second prototypes (follow-up blog coming soon), I’m pleased to announce that Empty Tomb Designs is now taking reservations for the Empty Tomb Pendants in Sterling Silver and Yellow Bronze.

Our second prototype and a great look at both the front and the back.
Our second prototype and a great look at both the front and the back.

 

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Fresh out of the box and ready for chains!

These are hand-crafted, Made-in-the-USA pieces of the highest possible quality in these metals. We worked for months to get just the right design and find just the right manufacturer. No easy task, but it was worth it. Pre-order now and we guarantee you’ll have your pendant(s) in time for Christmas.

Our website is not quite up and running, but this pre-order form guarantees your spot in line. No need to submit payment information at this time. Reserve your pendant(s) today and we’ll contact you with further instructions later. See details in the form below:

UPDATE! The pendants can now be ordered directly at www.emptytombdesigns.com

The Empty Tomb: Bringing the Symbol to Life with the First Prototype

cropped-logo.jpgPreviously – The Empty Tomb: Putting the Symbol Out Into the World

After proving there was real merit to the Empty Tomb symbol and that people were genuinely interested in seeing it on some type of accessory, my thoughts went immediately to who in the world I could call upon to help me make my germ of an idea into something real.

Thankfully, I’m Mormon. That means I know a guy for just about everything. Need work done on your car? I know a guy. Your house? I know a guy. What about a lawyer or a handyman or a foot doctor? I know a guy. A cop? I know a few. Mormons are everywhere and we’re all connected to each other with not very many steps in between. Basically, every Mormon is Kevin Bacon.

I didn’t even have to go outside of my own circle at to find the perfect partner for the Empty Tomb project. Jeff Kennington at Kennington Jewelers sold my wife and I our wedding rings. My Mother-in-Law is one of his most frequent customers. He’s also my uncle.

Jeff reminds me of my dad probably more than anyone else I know. Hopefully, he takes that as a compliment because my father was not only one of the better people I’ve known, he also had no small part in inspiring the Empty Tomb symbol in the first place.

Dad died as a victim of an armed robbery in 1996 after claiming for years that he would die before seeing his sons grow up. I was 19 at the time, and my youngest of three brothers was 10. Dad was 47. H is final years were full of pain and struggle as he had suffered no small amount of physical complications from another armed robbery eight years prior.

If you watched the above videos you heard my dad say it boldly: “I’m not afraid to die.” He really wasn’t. He talked all the time about what a grand adventure death would be and how much at peace he was with the idea–to him, fact–that he was not long for this world. He was a believer in the resurrection. He looked forward to living again and his body being restored to perfect order. It was his understanding of the gifts Christ had given him that got him through some pretty tough days and gave him a courage I still envy. Dad taught me more about the Living Christ through his powerful, matter-of-fact faith than any other book, teacher, or person I’ve known.

Jeff was a good sport about my email inquiry. He didn’t even tell me straight off like he should have about how he gets a million of these proposals from people who have the “next big idea” in jewelry that will make him millions. Instead, he looked at the design, considered the social media response and read the reactions, and ultimately concluded that I just might have something.

“There are no guarantees,” he said. “But this probably has the best shot of anything I’ve ever seen.”

Jeff and I working on the initial 3D model of the pendant.
Jeff and I working on the initial 3D model of the pendant.

Jeff, who I like to refer to as “Master Craftsman,” is real DIY jeweler.Kennington Jewelers specializes in high end and custom jewelry and Jeff has all the tools and equipment he needs to make just about anything he or anyone else can imagine. Immediately, we both wanted to make the symbol real. We wanted a pendant, in our hands.

Using the computer at the back of his store, Jeff immediately went to work on a 3D model using CAD to bring my flat design out of the 2D realm.

And, specifically, to my wife.

My wife, Erin, the first person to wear the Empty Tomb symbol (and owner of the first prototype!)
My wife, Erin, the first person to wear the Empty Tomb symbol (and owner of the first prototype!)

The road from designing the pendant to reality was a bit longer than I might be making it seem. Once the design was finessed in the computer (Jeff was extremely patient with my requests to take off 1/8 of a millimeter here and add 1/10th of a millimeter there), Jeff made a wax mold, cast it in white gold, polished it, added a chain, and probably did a whole bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting or just plain don’t know about. Because Jeff is the real brains of this operation.

Jeff, working hard on the first prototype.
Jeff, working hard on the first prototype.
Close up of the first pendant prototype.
Close up of the first pendant prototype.

In the end, we ended up with something that very, very closely resembled my initial drawings. We opted for putting two o-rings on either side of the pendant because of concerns over the inherently uneven weight distribution across the symbol. The thinking was that splitting the chain and attaching it at the o-rings would balance it out for the wearer.

But, as it turned out, we didn’t need to be all that worried about imbalance. There was a much, much simpler solution…

Next: The Second Prototype.

What Violet, my youngest daughter, does while waiting for Mommy and Daddy to finish working with Uncle Jeff.
What Violet, my youngest daughter, does while waiting for Mommy and Daddy to finish working with Uncle Jeff.