The Four Traps: Dismantling Feland and Tschetter’s Petition at UNW

I’ve spent two days and one sleepless night thinking about the petition floating around UNW that was created by Joshua Feland and Hayley Tschetter.  I must have read it a dozen times in an attempt to understand the petitioners’ arguments, their basis for such arguments, and whether or not I believed they had any weight.  The question that nagged my mind the most, however, wasn’t about the petition itself, but by the wide gap in opinion that has split the UNW community.  How could such a petition be so heralded as biblically sound and fundamentally true by some, be also labeled as disgusting, racist, and anti-Biblical by others?  What causes such a disparate gap in belief? 

Naturally, how one perceives anything is going to be influenced by one’s worldview and presumptions to some degree, so here’s my bent in a nutshell.  Presumably, like all the people who signed the petition, I believe in the infallibility of scripture.  I affirm 2 Timothy 3:16 that says scripture is profitable for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”  From a socio-political perspective, I often find myself being conservative on some issues, liberal on others, and moderate on most.  I believe that in the pursuit of justice, one should not use anything unjust as a tool to further their cause.  I believe that any well-intentioned movement or social theory is easily vulnerable to corruption without rigorous checks and balances.  I believe it’s possible to both support movements like Black Lives Matter, while at the same time, be dubious of ideologies like Critical Race Theory. 

 In many ways, I imagine I align politically and theologically with many of the people who signed the petition.  But as far as the petition itself, I vehemently disagree with it.  And I suspect that many, but definitely not all of the (at the time of writing this) nearly 1,000 people who signed the petition would reconsider their stance if they were to look at it from a slightly different angle.  While the petition appears to be thorough and convincing, it easily falls apart under moderate scrutiny. Please consider the following traps in Tschetter and Feland’s arguments. 

Trap 1: Quoting a Lot of Scripture in an Effort to Sound Authoritative

Feland and Tschetter use a copious amount of scripture in their petition.  While this is a completely positive and appropriate thing to do, the lion’s share of the scriptures they used did nothing to bolster the crux of their arguments–which, curiously, wasn’t even stated in the petition until later in an update.  Before this update, the petitioners made three vague requests of UNW: do not undermine the authority of scripture, do not redefine the nature of humanity, and do not compromise the integrity of the Gospel.  

Of course, no evangelical would disagree with these things.  Each request was backed up with a litany of prooftexts that made the document sound more like a statement of faith than a petition.  Before the petition’s update, and after hundreds of people had already signed, there was no mention on how UNW was actually violating these things; the scriptures seemed to be used only as a vague argument against the “worldviews rooted in anti-biblical ideologies such as Marxism, Postmodernism, Social Justice Theory, Critical Race Theory, and Intersectionality.”  Using a myriad of scripture to string together a loose argument about “anti-biblical ideologies” and then making zero connection as to how UNW is actually espousing such ideologies is a poor argument at best, and manipulative at worst.

To give an example of how using scripture can be manipulative, consider the following true story.  Several years ago, I visited a church who incidentally had an evangelist preaching that day.  The evangelist’s sermon was full of different scripture that spoke of the wisdom and benefit of obedience and listening to instruction.  Each verse was met with nods and applauses of approval.  But at the end of the sermon, the evangelist used the very same scriptures to make an argument that the “wise instruction” of the day was to donate to his ministry.  This manipulative tactic set up a false dichotomy for the congregation: either donate or go against the authority scripture.

To be fair, I do not believe that Tschetter and Feland were being intentionally manipulative in their protest.  From the limited experience I have had with these students, I found them to be pleasant individuals. But manipulation, even when unintended, is still manipulation.  It is not a stretch to imagine that there were some individuals who read the petition with an authoritative weight due to the many Bible verses listed in it, and signed it without actually considering whether or not UNW actually committed the offenses they hinted at. 

Trap 2: Using Theological Gymnastics to Argue a Political Position

Even though I personally found Tschetter and Feland’s prooftexting of scripture to be a classic example of an eisegetical cherrypicking, it is not within the scope of this paper to argue in detail against their points of doctrine that I find problematic.  Although I disagree with their definition of biblical justice and their views on individual sin, I can certainly respect how one arrives at such conclusions.  However, even if one does fully align with their doctrinal nuances, it does not necessarily mean that one has to, as a result, ascribe to their political beliefs. 

Feland and Tschetter allocate a lot of space to arguing the inerrancy and authority of scripture, but use that same authority to argue boldly that verses such as 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 2:4, and 1 Timothy 6:3-5 speak to ideologies such as Marxism, Postmodernism, Social Justice Theory, Critical Race Theory, and Intersectionality.  It is ironic that the petitioners so passionately describe the Bible as a “singular lens” and a “cohesive, all-encompassing worldview” and yet fail to be humble about their interpretations that are evidently and heavily colored by their own western and conservative worldview. 

To be clear, I am not suggesting that we cannot take biblical principles to ascertain whether or not the above ideologies are problematic, but to use a verse like 1 John 2:4 to fully write off a complex ideology like Intersectionality without discussing any nuance, and describing it as a “destructive one-way road from which you cannot return” is disingenuous.  It is interesting to note that the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination known for its ardent fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture, calls Critical Race Theory a “set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society…and can be employed when subordinate to Scripture” (Christianity Today, 2020). Clearly, even the most fundamentalist of Biblical interpreters can have wildly different opinions when taking authoritative scripture and applying it to non-authoritative options on socio-political matters.

Trap 3: Making a Petition so Wordy That People Won’t Bother Looking for Proof

Even if one does subscribe to the petitioner’s theological beliefs, and believe that such convictions can be used to make a biblical case against the above ideologies, the whole petition falls apart as Tschetter and Feland provide zero proof that UNW is championing such ideologies.  As I stated before, the original petition does not provide even a hint of actual things that Northwestern is doing to merit such concerns.  As I read the petition over and over again, searching for some semblance of idea as to what Tschetter and Feland were actually talking about, it continuously reminded me of a certain Macbeth quote about “…sound and fury, signifying nothing.” 

 When pressed, the petitioners did include real examples in an update, but provided very little argument as to why they are unbiblical, and zero proof as to how these things actually champion the ideologies above.  For example, Tschetter and Feland list UNW’s mandatory bias training for staff and student leaders as something that “explicitly or implicitly endorses ideas of Social Justice and CRT.”  But how is something as commonplace and uncontroversial as bias training an endorsement of Critical Race Theory? They do not give us an answer.  The leaps one has to go through to first biblically prove that such an ideology is unequivocally evil and then empirically prove that bias training taken wholly from such an ideology is laughable.  If Tschetter and Feland are condemning bias training, should they not also be condemning sexual harassment training based on the same arguments? 

Readers of the petition should also be asking why Tschetter and Feland failed to include the very crux of their petition in the first place. It seems very odd to me that a petition that was the result of “careful and deliberate study,” “much prayer and consideration,” and was “reviewed and edited by several local pastors” did not even mention the one thing that makes a petition a petition: objective examples of things they want to see changed.   

 To be frank, I do not expect the 1500 words above to necessarily change anyone’s mind.  If you have fully considered these issues and still believe that signing this petition was a good idea, then I guess we can agree to disagree–but only in part.  Far be it for me to judge the thoughts and convictions of any person, so long as those beliefs do not result in actions that actively harm others.  But I am convinced that this is exactly what this petition is doing, which brings me to my fourth and most important point.

Trap 4: Believing You’re Free to be as Inconsiderate as You Want, so Long as You’re Speaking Truth

Near the beginning of the petition, Tschetter and Feland state:

We write not in anger nor in defiance, not out of prejudice nor malintent, not for attention or affirmation of man. We write not to bolster our reputations, assert some faux-intellectual superiority, or confound with needlessly complicated rhetoric. We do not demand anything; we write simply and solely intending to uphold and proclaim that which is true. We lay down our reputations, intellectual abilities, and vocabularies for that same purpose — to uphold the truth in a spirit of love.

While Tschetter and Feland do not make any acerbic statements towards anyone directly, their lack of a loving spirit is evident in the apocryphal way they describe the things they argue against. Destructive one-way roads with no hope of redemption, dreadful warnings and consequences, and implications that a failure to believe their biblical interpretations will forfeit your “promise of eternity with God” are plenty.  I believe it would be tactless to use this kind of language even when talking about issues of dogma, but the readers of this petition must be honest here—the content of this petition is neither dogma nor doctrine, it’s opinion—and that is completely okay.  We all have our theological beliefs that are not essential to salvation.  Such beliefs should not cause rifts in Christian communities and should be held with humility and the possibility that we could be wrong.

This is why I submit that this petition is, in fact, toxic and against the overarching biblical narrative of love: Imagine that you are a BIPOC student going to Northwestern.  This student may be feeling the weight of the George Floyd trial, the trauma of the Daunte Wright and Adam Taledo shootings.  They may be feeling exhausted and emotionally raw that Northwestern was once again in the spotlight for one of its students saying ignorant and racist things at a volleyball game.  Now, imagine that this student takes comfort in the fact that UNW is implementing things like a diversity and inclusion office and bias training.  Perhaps this student is starting to feel heard in their community instead of feeling marginalized.  Now, with all the racial tension going on, imagine how this student might feel if, all of a sudden, nearly 1000 people in their community visually agree through an online petition that the implementations that they find beautiful and meaningful are leading Northwestern down a dangerous path to hell.  How exhausted, how hurt and, how betrayed do you think that person would feel?

 If you can imagine the above scenario (which I don’t see how anyone couldn’t if they’re being honest with themselves), now ask yourself, is putting a student in this position actually honoring God? If this answer is no, that causing such feelings is not God honoring, then I encourage you to reconsider your stance with this petition.  I have heard that many people who signed it did so because they want reconciliation and unity.  It is unfortunate that such a hope was put into an action that did the exact opposite.  If you are one of these people, I submit to you that signing Tschetter and Feland’s was a mistake, but such a mistake can be corrected.  In the name of reconciliation and unity, I challenge you to find someone who was negatively affected, apologize, and seek to understand a different perspective. 

The Shiny Facade of Trump’s Immigration Policies

Last week, President Trump spoke in Minneapolis and his hot takeaway (or controversy) was about his immigration policy.  The very TL;DR version was that Trump boasted about his executive action that “no refuges will be resettled in any city or any state without the express written consent of that city or that state.”

Tune in to the political commentary on the issue and you’ll hear that which has become commonplace: Trump’s policies are racist and they marginalize people of color.  Trump’s policies are good and put American families first.  You don’t hear many thoughts in between these two ends of the spectrum.

A few days ago, a friend mentioned that she’s surprised more of her friends – specifically Christian friends – didn’t speak out against the parts of Trump’s speech regarding immigration.  She’s right; outside of either not knowing about the speech or believing that political social media posts are fruitless, there wasn’t a lot of talk about this one.  But why was the issue controversial?  Taken at face value, I can see how the executive order makes sense.  Don’t states and cities know better than the federal government how many refugees they can take in?  Aren’t state’s right a good thing?  This isn’t racism; it’s common sense! – cries the conservative.

This is a great example of how even good policy can be bad with the wrong motivations, and why I believe it’s hard for other’s to see Trump’s racist tendencies.  Watch the short 90-second video (link below) that contains a small section of his speech.  Notice the way he says “refugees” and “Somalia”.  Listen closely to the boos in the background.  Hear how he implies that a specific ethnic group has been a drain on Minnesota.  It is clear that he is speaking of Somalians with contempt.

One might argue that he is not speaking of the specific ethnic group with contempt.  After all, any sizable refugee group from any nation has the potential to be a drain.  Or perhaps, one might say that he’s more criticizing the federal government for their mishandling of refugee resettlement.  While these arguments *might* hold weight, imagine being a Somalian refugee and hearing his words, his tone, and the subsequent boos.  I imagine I would not feel very wanted nor welcome here.  Even if you don’t believe that Trump’s message here was racist, it’s hard to deny that he is using the language of us vs. them.  We are the good guys who need to be protected from the bad guys who are a drain on our community.

To put it in religious terms, such vitriolic, self-centered, us vs. them rhetoric is against the core of the Christian faith and must be rejected – even if you believe the policy makes sense.  Or, to put it in non-religious terms, the ends don’t justify the means.

I’m not saying that tighter, more responsible immigration policy is necessarily a bad thing, but we need to look at our motivations for why we want it.  For me, I lean towards believing that arguably moral issues aren’t usually the best when they’re legislated.  In other words, forcing someone to do the right thing in most situations doesn’t lead to a change of heart.  So part of me likes the idea of not forcing refugees on cities and states.

But why can’t we encourage and inspire people to want refugees?  Why can’t we make sensible rules for freedom’s sake, but at least try to instill a culture of openness and acceptance to the huddled masses yearning to be free?  Imagine if President Trump, while still making such a policy said, “We want to leave it in the hands of the state, but as your nation’s leader, I encourage you to open up your heart and homes to these people.”  What if he starting saying things like, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?”

According to Trump, the result of his policies are that refugee resettlement is down 85%.  I would love to live in a country where even though we may have the freedom to choose whether or not we want refuges in our city, that we the people would choose them and that 85% figure would be non-existent. Being more others-oriented and less self-centered is done with the heart muscle.  Just like any other muscle, it’s inconvenient to exercise.  In the beginning, it makes you sore and drains your energy.  But then it gets increasingly stronger. And then one day you find out, similar to those crazy lunks who love the gym, that being mindful of others is a joy.

But our president seems to want the opposite.  Even though he wants to make laws that protect us, his rhetoric sets us up to be fearful and mistrustful of anyone outside our safe, warm bubbles.  It is time for us to look past the shiny convenience of these policies and towards the purpose and heart behind them, and ask ourselves if this is who we really want to be.


Growing up in a typical Christian family meant that I was obligated to follow the Ten Commandments. But since we were extra serious about our faith, my parents also required me to obey what I like to call the Five Supplemental Commandments.  These were:

Thou shalt not smoke, drink, swear, chew, nor hangeth out with the girls that do.

I was a pretty good kid and managed to obey all five with the exception of the last one.  My Dad once caught me making out with Heather Baker behind the church bushes.  We were Pentecostals and I’m pretty sure she was either a Catholic or a Baptist – either one meant she was probably a heathen.  Fortunately, Dad didn’t seem too mad.  At first, I wondered if he thought that I was just trying to save her soul, but when he gave me a coy smile and said, “Don’t tell your mother,” I realized that he knew my true intentions.

(Mom, if you’re reading this – and I’m sure you will be, I’m sorry for sinning with a Baptist behind the church bushes when I was 14.  But you should be more upset with Dad; he basically told me to pull an Adam & Eve and try to cover it up.)

Like I said, I was a decent kid.  But when I became a man and moved out from under my parent’s roof, I thought the Five Supplemental Commandments no longer applied to me.  I figured it was similar to how God’s people in the Old Testament weren’t allowed to eat shrimp and get tattoos, but then later God was like, “Meh.  It’s cool now.”  Or like how parents tell toddlers to never touch the stove, knowing full well that never only applies whenever the kid is too young and not mature enough to do so responsibly.

I broke all Five Supplemental Commandments at various points in my young adult life, but that was okay.  I was a big boy and could do so with impunity.  My parents didn’t see it that way.  They found out about every one of my discretions and responded with varying degrees of disappointment.

Now, I love my parents.  They are, quite literally, the greatest people on this planet. But I still don’t understand their disappointment scale when it came to the Five Supplemental Commandments. Violating the fifth commandment behind church shrubbery didn’t evoke nearly as much disappointment as I thought it would.  When I was 22 and my Dad “accidentally” opened my mis-delivered credit card bill, his disappointment was only marginal when he discovered a rather dubious charge from Bob’s liquor store.  And when I tried chewing tobacco for the first time…actually, they never found out about that one.

(Mom, if you’re reading this – and I’m sure you will be, I’m sorry for trying snuff at the tender age of 26.)

Strangely enough, the sin that caused the most parental dissatisfaction was swearing.  They loathed cursing with the fire of a million gosh darn suns; it would raise their ire hotter than the fires of heck.  How much did they hate swearing?  Enough to buy a TV Guardian.

The TV Guardian was this magical little black box from the 1990s.  You would plug it in to the back of your television and it would monitor the closed caption embedded in most shows.  Whenever it came across an inappropriate word, it would mute the entire sentence that contains the word and display the sentence in closed captions with a replacement word.

To give a true-to-life example: It’s 1995, you’re on your third can of Surge, and you’re watching the Princess Bride on your 24’’ Magnavox for the second time that night.  It’s a clean movie, so the TV Guardian has an easy night, but oh does he remain ever vigilant.  You get to the scene where Inigo Montoya duels with Count Rugen.  Inigo has been training his whole life for this one moment – the moment where he finally gets to avenge his father’s death.  You’re a 90’s kid, so you have the darn movie memorized by heart, but it still gives you goosebumps every time.

Inigo: Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father Prepare to die.

Rugen: Stop saying that!

Inigo: Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father Prepare to die.

Rugen: No!

Inigo: Offer me money!

Rugen: Yes!

Inigo:  Power, too.  Promise me that!

Rugen: All that I have and more!  Please!

Inigo: Offer me everything I ask for!

Rugen: Anything you want.

Suddenly, the TV Guardian senses danger.  Red alert! Incoming swear word!  As Inigo runs the six-fingered man through with his sword, you see all the pain and anger in his eyes.  His mouth starts to move, but no sound comes out of it.  A black box containing white text appears at the bottom of the screen.

I want my father back, you jerk.

Now, you’ve seen this movie at your heathen Baptist friend’s house a dozen times, and you know the line is, “I want my father back, you S.O.B!”* But thanks to the TV Guardian, your home is safe.  The TV Guardian saves the day again, allowing you to watch the bloodlust stabbing of Count Rugen without having your ears be assaulted by a naughty word.

/end scene

To this extent, the TV Guardian wasn’t so bad.  If the only consequence was that you had to occasionally read some closed captioning, then the TV Guardian was a worthwhile investment for people averse to swearing.  But the TV Guardian had some unexpected consequences on my brain.

Since the TV Guardian replaced audible curses like S.O.B. with visual words like jerk, it created some weird correlations in my mind that had the opposite effect of what the TV Guardian was meant for.  It taught my brain to think S.O.B. every time it saw the word jerk.  For example, if I saw a sign for Caribbean Jerk Chicken, my mind would register it as Caribbean S.O.B. Chicken. 

(Mom, if you’re reading this – and I’m sure you will be, I’m sorry for saying S.O.B. a whole lot just now.)

But it gets a whole lot worse. The TV Guardian had two or three levels of sensitivity.  Ours was set at the highest level, and my Dad couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.  The highest level of sensitivity filtered words that were innocuous.  For example, it filtered out the word balls and replaced it with the word feeling. (Yes, you read that correctly).  This made watching sports a bit awkward.

The count is at 3 feelings and two strikes.

I think this is the reason why I’m not the best at sports, but far better in touch with my emotions than the average male.

But it gets even worse.

The TV Guardian replaced the word sex with the word hugs. So, in my backwards brain, every time I saw the word hugs, my brain would immediately register its meaning as sex. And that’s when things got weird.  Bumper stickers like “Give Hugs Not Drugs” took on whole new meanings.  Fortunately, I didn’t see the word hugs (it had to be plural) out in public much.  But one fateful day at a bookstore showed me just how wowed up my word associations were.

I was in college at the time and even though I hadn’t been exposed to the TV Guardian for a full year, its effects were still strong. I was out with some friends to see a movie, and we decided to go to the Barnes and Noble next door to kill some time before the flick started.  It was around Mother’s Day and the bookstore was heavily advertising mother themed books.  I walked in.  I didn’t notice it until it was just inches away from my face.  I looked up, and to my shock saw a giant display of a book: Hugs for Mom.

I screamed.

Don’t worry, I’m fine now.  I turned out to be a fairly well-adjusted adult – although I am still prone to giggle at “Give Hugs not Drugs” bumper stickers.  My parents no longer have the TV Guardian, but my Dad said that he would buy another one if they made them for modern televisions.  I just looked on Amazon; turns out, they do.

(Mom, if you’re reading this – and I’m sure you will be, don’t tell Dad about the new TV Guardians.)

* EDIT: I changed the one naughty word I used in this to S.O.B.  I had originally planned on something like this, but I wanted to see how long it would take my parents to comment on my potty mouth (and thus validating my whole story).

Two hours after I posted this story, Dad Facebooks me.  Consistent as the sunrise, that one.   I love the guy too much to not respect his wishes.  🙂

Leaning in to the Lion: How a Writer’s Fear can be a Wonderful Thing

c71b125317b4fc6f3b2e01eeb667a305Over a decade ago, I lived near a zoo that had a unique lion enclosure. As I recall, it was one of the good and responsible zoos that gave the lions a great deal of roaming space.  It also had a small section where the only thing separating the lions from its human viewers was a thick fence that stood about 15 feet high. The mere possibility of being that close to a lion (sans danger) made it my favorite exhibit.  Sadly, out of the numerous times I visited, I had never seen a lion get anywhere close to that area of the fence.

But that changed during one visit. On one summer day, I went to that zoo with a small group of friends.  When we made it to the lion exhibit, we all stood in front of the fence and were fortunate to see a male lion walking by.  He was still roughly 30 feet away from the fence, but it was as close as I had ever gotten to one of the big cats before.

Next to me stood a boy who looked to be about ten years old. This kid possessed a face full of mischief and a handful of the small food pellets that were used at the petting zoo. Now, before I say what happened next, I want to stress that I do not condone this kind of behavior.  With that being said, I couldn’t help being impressed at this kid’s odds-defying aim.  The boy took just one of the tic-tac sized food pellets and launched it over the fence.  It hit the lion – I kid you not – square in-between the eyes.

I might be guilty of anthropomorphizing the great panthera leo, but I could have sworn that the lion gave him a face of shock and annoyance as if to say, “Hey, what gives, little man?” I don’t know what kind of look the kid gave in return, but all of a sudden, the lion’s look of moderate irritation turned into one of pure anger.  The lion ran at the fence, stopped just inches away from it, and let out the loudest, earth-shattering roar I had ever heard.

Everyone around the fence instinctively jumped back in fear, that is, everyone except me.  When the lion was charging, I actually leaned in and got closer.  His roar was directly in front of my face; it was exhilarating and oddly beautiful in a way.  One of the adults in my group noticed my reaction and commented on how I was the only oddball whose defense mechanisms didn’t kick in.  I pointed at the fence and said, “It’s not like he can get to us.”

The fundamental nature of a lion’s roar is one of terror. It can be heard up to five miles away and is often used to warn and scare away would be intruders.  In other words, when a lion roars, it is often saying, “Yo, I’m terrifying.  You should be scared.  Don’t mess with me.”  And almost every creature on God’s green earth has a built in mechanism that hears scary stuff and warns, “Hey that thing over there sounds terrifying.  We should be scared.  Let’s not mess with it.”  It’s a simple, yet genius method of communication that’s been around since time immemorial.  We’re all designed at some level to avoid the scary stuff in life.

But when you take the actual danger out of dangerous situations, the things that cause fear can suddenly become the things the evoke joy and exhilaration.  I don’t know anyone who wants to jump off a building and fall to his or her death.  However, I know several people who love roller coasters and skydiving.  Take away the death aspect and suddenly the act of falling becomes wonderful.  It’s the same way with the lion’s roar – it’s terrifying when it can eat you, but it’s majestic when it can’t.

It’s also same with the art of writing. As any writer knows, our craft can cause an abundancy of fear.  The roar of taking the gray matter of our souls and shaping it into words can be louder and more ferocious than the roar of any lion that’s ever existed.  And when we decide to travel that arduous path whereby we try to find agents and publishers who will make our words accessible to the world – well, that’s when the real terror begins.

But here’s the one the I want to stress to you, fellow writer: YOU ARE SAFE.  Your worth is in so much more than whether or not you’ve been published.  You are more than the sum of your blog readers, your Twitter followers, the word count of your struggling manuscript.  You are not defined by the rejections of any agent or publisher on the planet.  And if anyone shames or discourages you on your journey, there is no law in the known universe that requires you to pick up the negativity that others are throwing down.  You are worthy and beautiful –  if for no other reason than because you exist.

The fear that comes with writing is nothing more than a lion behind an impenetrable fence. Sure, its roars may be terrible, but it can’t get you.  Once you’ve truly realized that, the terror becomes something else entirely.  Once you’ve realized that there’s no bone-crushing conclusion to this fall, you’ll suddenly realize that you haven’t been falling, but that you’ve been flying this whole time.

Have you been terrified about any part of the writing/editing/querying/publishing process?  Good!  Use it.  Lean in and let the lion roar directly into your face.  He can’t hurt you; he can only inspire you.

Seinfelding: How to go from angry to laughing instantly

Jerry_seinfeldA few weeks ago, my wife and I bought all the stock at a local Target – at least that’s what it felt like. We don’t typically go to Target and buy massive amounts at one time, so we don’t have that mystical, innate quality of knowing which lines and checkers are the most efficient.  By the way, by what strange alchemy or ancestral power do some people just know which lane will get them out the door the fastest?  Do they look for signs in the fluorescent lightbulbs?  Is there some secret equation that involves the placement of the gum in relation to the tabloids – the ones that are always reporting on some new royal baby or wedding that I care absolutely nothing about?

But I digress.

We packed our cart full of groceries, supplies for vacation, and stuff we ultimately didn’t need and budged it towards the front of the store.  We picked the shortest checkout line – a choice that seems to be a mistake more often than not – and patiently waited for our turn like good civilized people.

And when it was our turn to checkout, that’s when we met Cheryl.

Cheryl looked as if she was one cartload away from ripping off her nametag and ragequitting on the spot.  She didn’t look angry with customers, but rather, she possessed the look of a tormented soul who had frequent nightmares about laundry detergent and frozen dinners and off-brand tennis shoes that fall apart after a month of use.  I greeted her in my usual tones of obnoxious extroversion; she replied with a “hello” that sounded like the noise one first makes in the morning when drool has fused one’s face to a pillow.

Now, I want to take this moment to say that I do not mean to besmirch Cheryl’s value as a God-created human being.  I’m sure she’s a lovely woman in many, many ways.  If any of us took her out for coffee, I could imagine her telling us stories about her life – about love and longing and victory and pain and all the things worthy of an autobiography.  I’d like to think that Cheryl is a concert pianist with a part time job.  Or, maybe she’s a product scanning and bagging savant and she was just having a bad day

With that being said, on this day, Cheryl was slow – the kind of slow where Father Time takes a smoke break and causes all of reality to just creep by for fifteen minutes.  She also had a unique way of bagging goods.  Even though she had three bagging stations around her, she was very meticulous about what went into each bag.  One of the first items she scanned was a plastic box of Tide pods, which went into the bag closest to her.  There was still more space in this bag and she kept it open, but she didn’t put anything else in this bag until the very end. 

This odd bagging tactic only gave her two bagging stations to work with, and she was meticulous about these as well.  Every finished bag she handed to me had goods stuffed in them like a perfect Jenga tower.  But all the items that didn’t quite fit her system – and there were many – were scanned then pushed to the side of the conveyor belt.  This caused her to scan a couple of things twice.

Amy, who rightfully began watching her like a hawk, caught one of these errors and pointed it out.  Initially, Cheryl denied the allegation in a way that made her sound as if she thought her revolutionary way of bagging was infallible.  But when Amy showed her the duplicate entry, Cheryl tried to delete it, but then deleted the wrong item.  Then, Cheryl proceeded to rummage through her already scanned items to find the one she accidently took off the screen.  She eventually found the item, but only after Father Time had started on his second cigarette.

I started to clinch my jaw in frustration. I looked back and saw that the line of shoppers behind us had grown so long that the tail end of the metaphorical snake was close to the women’s clothing department.  That’s the danger zone of retail.  When lines get that long, it’s an indication that the employees are losing control, and that a civilized brick-and-mortar store can suddenly turn into a lawless, post-apocalyptic scenario rife with looting and rioting.

I began to feel guilty about it, even though I had done nothing wrong, even though it was beyond my control. I’m sure you’ve been there – the times where you’re the head of the queue and the retail process suddenly breaks down, and you take on the shame for being the harbinger of a ruined shopping experience. I call the phenomenon, McDonald’s Drive-Thru Guilt.  I think the Catholics just call that Catholic Guilt, although my example is much more specific.

But the thing that annoyed me the most was the box of Tide pods sitting inefficiently by its lonesome. Now, maybe Target has some overblown safeguards about what can go into a shopping bag with Tide pods since a handful of the world’s brightest teenagers found them to be delicious.  But if that’s the case, then put them in a bag by themselves, slap a Mr. Yuk sticker on it, and move on.  I thought about grabbing the bag anyway, but Cheryl occasionally looked in it to see if the item she had just scanned would be a good fit.  I think that if I had snatched the Tide without her consent, it would have wrecked her whole process, and God only knows what would have ensued.

I’m a pretty chill guy, but the whole process made me want to grind my teeth into dust.  I could almost hear the lecture and invoice from my dentist, which made me want to grind them even more.  But then, something magical happened, and I suddenly went from angry to delighted.

I have a small section of my brain I like to call The Storyteller. I think we all have it to some degree.  We all love to find the humor and beauty in things, and then go to our friends and family with a story, which is often started with the phrase, “You’ll never believe what happened to me today.”

The best stories we tell are the ones that have the most mundane settings: on the couch with our children, in the car with our friends, in the checkout aisle of a Target. A good story will make someone laugh or cry or think.  A great story will make the listener do those things, but also say, “I totally get it!  Something similar happened to me!”

On this day, The Storyteller whispered into my ear, “This will make for a great story. It’s like an episode of Seinfeld.” When this happened, I mentally put myself in my very own Seinfeld episode. I could almost hear the slap bass and the canned laughter as the whole rage-inducing event suddenly became hilarious.  Before, whenever I looked at the bag with the Tide pods, my internal chatter would scream, “Dang it, Cheryl, just put something else in the bag!” But when my inner monologue suddenly possessed the voice of Jerry Seinfeld, it said the same words, but the context had completely changed. The bag was now nothing more than a prop in a funny skit.  Dang it, Cheryl! I’m not going to eat the Tide pods! Put something else in the baaaaaaaaag!

When we finally got out to our car, I laughed myself to tears as I did my best Seinfeld impersonation.  Amy caught on and we talked and laughed about the whole matter the entire ride home.  Thanks to my second favorite Jerry (my Dad claims the first spot), our frowns were turned upside-down.  Admittedly, it’s a stupid platitude, but it works in this case.

And so, at the risk of some sort of infringement, I’m coining the term Seinfelding.  Whenever you’re in any kind of frustrating situation, try to listen for the slap bass, the canned laughter, and the voice of everyone’s favorite New Yorker from the 1990s.  You just might feel better, and you might have a story to tell.

Blogging and Broccoli


When I finished my novel, I just figured I would crawl out from under my metaphorical rock.  Then, like an unwashed and unshaven cave troll, I would point at unsuspecting agents with a long, gnarled finger and growl, “YOU READ BOOK NOW.”


I’ve always had a complicated relationship with blogging.  In 2002, I started a website called where I posted my random, often silly musings about life.  I was in college at the time and although it was a creative outlet, its ultimate purpose was to impress a girl.  This was before the term “blogging” became mainstream.  It was also before the word “friendzoning” was invented.  Curiously, Joshuasphilosophy was an experience in both terms.

I like to think of myself as a trendsetter.

In 2010, I started a blog called where I wrote about religion, morality, and culture.  On this site, I wrote on a fairly consistent basis for two years before I began to neglect it.  This was during a time when theology and religion blogs were popping up faster than acne on an oily teenager.  I eventually felt like I was simply adding to the noise, so to speak, and got tired of poking proverbial bears that did not wished to be poked.

After fourfingerculture, life began to get a bit rough and my writing slowed to a freezing crawl.   I feel that I’m atypical in the sense that I write best when I’m at my happiest.  Unlike many writers who, at the lowest times of their life, can use their pain to dance brilliantly with words, I go into a survival mode that renders my brain incapable of any creativity beyond crafting mediocre jokes.  As a result, I lived a couple of years  where the only creative outlet for which I was engaged was some really terrible amateur stand-up comedy.

But then – and this isn’t a cliché, but a fundamental truth about how God typically operates – the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless, (dare I say scandalous) love, grace, and healing of God rescued me at the point at which I was most broken.  It took some time for my mind to heal, but the creative muse eventually came back to me like a long-lost daughter.  In 2016, I started my master’s degree in theology.  In 2017, I started my new blog:

In my humble opinion, the blog started off well.  One of my first articles found its way to Twitter and was read over 600 times in the span of a few days.  Granted, 600 may not be a number worth bragging about to one’s momma, but when momma is one of the only people who reads your stuff, 600 is a pretty big deal. But three months later I started writing my first novel, and my new blog became yet another orphan.

I submit that my reasons for doing so, while not inerrant, are at least understandable.  First, I was attempting to write a novel while finishing a master’s in theology. Some things had to be sacrificed – things like sleep and blogging.  Second, my book is a work of contemporary fantasy.  Authors of such a genre aren’t found engaging on social media and blogging about their everyday life; they’re found alone in dark cellars, sipping absinthe and creating worlds on ancient typewriters in the dim glow of unscented candles.

Even though I’m an extrovert, I noticed that I became a bit reclusive during the time it took to write my book.  I didn’t want to blog and engage in social media.  I had no desire to market myself and start building a platform.  When I finished my novel, I just figured I would crawl out from under my metaphorical rock.  Then, like an unwashed and unshaven cave troll, I would point at unsuspecting agents with a long, gnarled finger and growl, “YOU READ BOOK NOW.”

Because that’s how aspiring authors get published, right?

Of course, I’m exaggerating.  Nevertheless, my expectations were somewhat dashed once I heard what professionals had to say.  A couple weeks ago, I attended the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference.  There, I heard the same advice from several different pros: writers must market themselves and build a platform.  Then, I kept hearing that little four-letter word: blog.


The stubborn child in me wanted to scream, “No, you don’t understand, Mrs. Professional writer.  I’ve done the blog thing.  It’s fun and all, but it’s not going to help me write or publish stories about angels and dragons and things found in fairy tales.  Maybe YOU need a blog, but I have better things to do with my words, thank you very much.”

It took me a few days to realize that I was looking at this advice through a myopic lens.  There’s no objective law that states a writer must have a blog lest he or she remain unpublished.  In a similar vein, the chances of being published are not necessarily contingent upon the size of one’s platform.  But having a blog can help the writer network with others, gain exposure, and get the attention of those in the business.  It seems like a much more effective tool than screaming at literary agents a la unshaven cave troll.

But more important, I suspect that the professionals who told me to blog were being wonderfully sneaky.  They, too, are writers who understand the paradoxical relationship between the wordsmith and their craft.  There is little that writers love more than to write, and yet, they often need a ton of motivation to do so.  So now, when I think about their advice, I also imagine that they were tacitly saying, “You’ve finished your book; don’t stop there!   You love writing, and you need to keep at it if only for the simple fact that it’s in your DNA. 

Being encouraged to blog is similar to when my parents encouraged me to eat broccoli as a kid.  They told me it would help me grow big and strong.  Of course, they didn’t mean that not eating broccoli would have the opposite effect.  My overall health was not contingent upon whether or not I ate broccoli, but then again, it was better for me than eating a fistful of Cheetos.  Alleged health benefits aside, trying the broccoli was the right move, if only for the simple fact that I might have liked it.  Turns out, I was one of those weird kids who did.

So here I am again, reconciling with my abandoned blogsite.  I’m going to be more consistent this time.  As an author who is aspiring to get published, it just makes good sense.  But more important, I’m going to blog because I’m a writer, and I love to write.


Soul Screaming

I was at Planet Fitness when I heard about Sutherland Springs
Screen #8, in-between NASCAR and the Food Network
Up to 26 dead in church shooting
I immediately become exhausted

Another mass shooting; another reason to feel sick in the soul
The word calamity should presume a rare occurrence
But I’ve already lost count of how many times it’s happened this year
What is the word we should use when catastrophe becomes routine?

The exercise machines around me continue to pump and buzz
But everyone shares in the same silence
A troubling cognitive dissonance permeates the atmosphere
No one looks away, but like in life, no one wants their rhythm disrupted

A dark question on everyone’s mind  no one wants to acknowledge
We, who have been lucky enough to maneuver the minefield of tragedy
We, who are forever distant to such a crestfallen community
How much should we care?

The globalization of news often feels like Sisyphus’s curse
We have unlimited access to the world’s problems
With finite power to fix them
Push the boulder enough and you’ll want to believe it doesn’t exist

But this shooting hit close to home
One stray bullet travelled 1,000 miles and grazed my apathy
A pregnant women, multiple young children, 26 innocent people
While worshipping the God-man who told us to turn the other cheek

I open my mouth to say something
And send a wordless breath into the ether
I realize that I’m not even sure of the questions
Let alone the answers

Some people are calling for less prayer and more action
As if these two things are mutually exclusive
Others are claiming that gun control will never work
A tacit admission that we’ve let this problem get too big to control

Some are saying we shouldn’t even talk about it
As if dialogue and political gain are the same thing
A cheap excuse to dodge the proverbial bullet
When justice demands some kind of retribution

Complexity gets reduced to simplicity
And dividing lines kill progress
Those in the middle experience crossfire from both sides
And become enemies to two states of extremes

I like guns – guns are fun – guns save lives
I hate guns – guns are dangerous – guns destroy innocence
I lie to my conservative friends and tell them I own one
I lie to my liberal friends and say I do not because of morals

But the truth of the matter is
I’ve never wanted a gun more than I do now
While at the same time
I’ve never wanted them abolished more than I do now

I open my mouth to say something
I feel like it’s important
Not because I have anything new to contribute
But because my soul needs to scream

Mansplaining For Men: Why You Should Support #metoo, Even If You Feel Legitimately Odd About It.

Yesterday morning, I was quickly scrolling through my Facebook feed when my eye caught a few statuses that contained the hashtag #metoo. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. To be honest, I’ve grown somewhat numb to hashtags and Facebook filters. It was too early in the morning to want to think about anything on social media beyond funny videos of puppies and fainting goats. But as the day went on, and the number of those hashtags kept increasing on my feed, I began to realize that those 6 little characters contained a great deal of gravitas. By evening, the sheer number of them forced me to cognitively deal with what was going on. My initial reaction wasn’t all that pretty.

This is where I get brutally honest and vulnerable. Bear with me.

At first, my mental response was a mixed bag of emotions. I felt sad and angry for my female friends. I also felt defensive, perhaps a bit incredulous. Something was holding me back from fully affirming the severity and legitimacy of #metoo. It was cognitive dissonance in its rawest form.

I also noticed that the majority of men in my Facebook feed were being silent about what was happening. That’s when it occurred to me: A lot of guys are probably experiencing similar emotions, and they don’t know what on earth to do with them. “What am I feeling?” is a question not easily answered in the male brain, at least not typically. It’s a skill I’ve had to develop over time. So I spent a long sleepless night trying to work out all my thoughts and emotions concerning the #metoo movement. It took a good deal of wrestling with myself. In the end it was worth it, because I came to realize that my initial feelings were dead wrong. Now, I am not ashamed to say that I fully embrace this movement, and hope I can convince other guys to do the same.

The rest of this post is for the guys. Ladies, you are welcome to read it, but know that some things I say might not sit well with you. It might sound like mansplaining. That’s because, in a way, it is mansplaining. I’m attempting to explain the importance of this movement in the language of men. I’m trying to be a translator. It won’t be a perfect translation, but I’m hoping it will help bring a little more understanding to something that might sound like Ancient Greek to some of us dudes.

. . .

Fellas, let’s just get real with our thoughts here. You might be like me and know that momma raised you right; that you respect women and would have a hard time not pounding on some creep you catch disrespecting the females in your life. You might call yourself an egalitarian and truly believe that all genders should have equal rights and equal respect. But when thinking about the #metoo movement, you might be experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

You might feel that conversations about sexual harassment and assault are important, but are skeptical of the effectiveness of any kind of hashtag movements.

You might feel that this movement is too broad and ambiguous, as sexual harassment and sexual assault are two very different things.

You might feel that even though you abhor sexual harassment and assault, that these kinds of movements increase outrage culture and foster an unhealthy victim mentality.

You might feel bewildered, as all the guys you know respect women.

You might feel that this movement fuels the hateful man-bashing narrative of radical feminism.

You might believe that every good movement or ideology needs safeguards to prevent it from turning bad, and feel these types of movements do not allow for balance and caveats.

You might feel that this movement just gives problems and no solutions.

You might feel that these kinds of movements generalize all men, and you hate that.

You might feel that by expressing any of the above concerns, you will be labeled as some hateful mansplaining misogynist.

And you might feel stuck because you want to support your female allies, but don’t want to be tacitly approving of things that might cause more harm than good.

If you have felt anyone of these above symptoms, your feelings are understandable. And they may be representative of some truth, but not the entire truth.

This is an important distinction so I’m going to say it again. Your feelings are understandable, and may be representative of SOME truth, but not the ENTIRE truth.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Let’s pretend I told my lovely wife I will mow the grass today. I make every good effort to get it done, but in the process I twist my ankle and the lawnmower breaks down. When my wife gets home, she sees that the grass isn’t cut and becomes annoyed. This initial feeling of annoyance is completely valid and understandable, and representative of SOME truth. She’s ultimately not annoyed at the objectivity of the grass not getting cut; she’s annoyed that I didn’t do something I said I would do. But she’s no longer annoyed when I give her the entire story, because I did everything in my power to try and keep my word.

Was my wife in the wrong for initially feeling annoyed? No. She had unavoidable feelings based on her incomplete perspective. It would have been wrong of me to be outraged at her annoyance because her feelings were completely understandable. Instead of getting defensive with her, I shared with her my perspective and the problem was solved. Adults who spend a little more time understanding each other spend a lot less time being unhappy when they don’t need to be.

I’ll say it a third time: Your feelings are understandable, but we need to take time to see the bigger picture. In order for me to see the bigger picture, I had to realize that my perspective was very limited on a few things. Here it goes.

First, my own defensiveness was based on the absurd idea that there is an ever-increasing amount of women buying into the narrative that all men are the embodiment of oppression, scum, and villainy. Whether it was intentional or not, I got this idea from the media. Bottom-feeder bloggers and financially strapped news companies love to shine a spotlight on anyone who represents the extreme and unbalanced versions of any ideology. Believing that the news reports on the status quo will invariably lead you to believe the worst about society.

But the truth is, what the news tells me and the reality I experience are entirely different. Every single one of my female friends I know who posted #metoo are nowhere close to being man haters. 100% of them are intelligent, trustworthy, and respectful individuals. They’re not generalizing all men. They’re not marginalizing women who have experienced worse. They’re not trying to milk anyone for sympathy. There is no reason why I shouldn’t believe these women or think they have some sort of ulterior motive.

My skepticism about the severity of sexual harassment was also based on my own limited perspective. There have been times in life when I’ve experienced what could objectively be defined as sexual harassment. These moments did not really affect me because I had the power to push back. That is, except for one time. A long time ago, I had a superior who was blatantly sexually some of my coworkers. His position of authority made me feel powerless to do something about it. The harassment wasn’t even directed at me and the situation made dread work every day. This trip down memory lane was shocking and sobering, because it made me realize that if I ever experienced direct sexual harassment while also feeling powerless to do anything about it, I’d be pretty torn up about it.

My skepticism over the amount of terrible men out there, again, was based on my limited perspective. I live in a nice-guy bubble where the closest men in my life are aggressively egalitarian and take terms like honor and integrity seriously. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing. However, it also makes me sometimes forget to take off my rose-colored glasses.

My skepticism over the effectiveness of this hashtag movement was completely unfounded – not that it’s my job to judge these things anyway. I’ve heard several women state that posting #metoo was the first time they’ve ever publicly acknowledged their circumstance of being sexually harassed or assaulted, and doing so felt like a weight lifted off their shoulders. Guys, if you have women in your life who have experienced these things, and have kept it bottled up due to various fears, then that seriously points to a really big problem in our society. These women aren’t increasing a culture of victimhood, they’re taking steps towards healing. And they’re showing us that the problem is more serious than we realize.

Finally, my feelings over this movement offering all problems and no solutions were simply wrong. We can’t solve unless we’re aware, and my awareness has increased dramatically. It’s now not enough for me to just state that I’ll personally respect women and teach my sons to do the same. This is a problem we must solve collectively, both men and women. Maybe we should start teaching virtue along with math and science. Maybe we should start being a little less of a status-driven society and more of an honor-driven society. Maybe we should start taking seriously the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and the words of Bill and Ted, “Be excellent to each other.” I don’t know if there’ll ever be a perfect solution, but I’m optimistic that we can do better.

So guys, let’s support the hell out of this movement. You may not 100% agree with everything it stands for, but the only person that will ever fully agree with you is…well…you. Sexual harassment and assault is too important to get ideologically nitpicky. Provide a listening ear to those who wish to speak. Speak out whenever sexual harassment is seen. Show support by simply saying “I believe you”.

Be excellent to each other.

My Enemy’s Doppelganger: A Letter of Forgiveness

I saw your doppelganger today
I found it strange because I haven’t seen one in over a year
I used to see you everywhere – in the curved bill of a ball cap, in the ruddy
tones of another man’s beard, in the gap of a toothy smile
I remember feeling hostile towards any poor sap that would resemble only a sliver of your appearance
I once caught myself staring down a guy who could have been no more than your distant cousin
He was a pastor; a faithful family man
He didn’t deserve my ocular wrath
None of your doppelgangers did

Our past is a sobering oddity
I had only met you once or twice in person
But after your crimes against me, I couldn’t get the image of you out of my head
That may sound strange, as such vernacular is typically reserved for people who have fallen in love
But this was the first time I truly felt hate

You never forget your first time
In every way, it is the counterpoint to falling in love
Falling in love is euphoric, divine, with paradoxical overtones of misery
Falling in hate is debilitating, subhuman, with paradoxical overtones of exhilaration
Hate is the leaky battery that fuels your motivations but corrodes your soul
Hate makes you the voodoo doll

After a few months, I decided I would need to stop hating you
And start walking down the path of forgiveness
Please know that I’m no saint; I initially decided this for purely selfish reasons
Your mental image was like an overplayed Taylor Swift song
One of the ones I never liked but was still an earworm
I grew tired of mentally constructing elaborate plans for vengeance, knowing I’d never actualize them
I was sore from all the pushpins
Sick from all the poison I was ingesting, thinking it would somehow affect you
I wanted to take back the power you had over me
A power you never wanted and probably didn’t even know you had
It wasn’t exactly forgiveness
It was a variation that was declared with the simple refusal to hate
It was forgiveness expressed with the head, but not yet felt with the heart
But it was a beginning

My journey towards healing was long
But I was more fortunate that most others who have traveled that road
I had an army of loved ones who kept guard while I repaired the cracks in my soul’s foundation
And the more I healed, the less I saw of your doppelgangers
They would show up occasionally, but they brought along different emotions
When I saw them, I no longer felt anger
I felt a strange and subtle fear
But sometimes that’s all anger is, really
Anger is often fear with a few extra ingredients thrown in to give it a different form

I soon realized that the fear I was experiencing really had nothing to do with you
It was the fear of some metaphysical evil that was lurking around the corner
It was the vulnerability of thinking that the tide would inevitably come and flatten my sandcastles again
You’re not responsible for those feelings
There’s no doubt that what you did to me was wrong
But that does not make you the incarnation of evil

It’s now been a few years since that time when our lives disastrously converged
When I saw your doppelganger today, I felt something entirely new
The only word I can think that could accurately describe it is humanity
I didn’t see you as an object for my anger, nor as a two-dimensional poster child for maliciousness
You had flesh and blood
You had dreams, desires; you had virtues that I find lacking in my own life
You had your own share of sandcastles that have been leveled
You had your own fears and vulnerabilities
You looked…not all that different from me

And that’s when I realized what I was truly, ultimately feeling
It was complete and total forgiveness for you

In two cities of nearly a million souls, it is unlikely that serendipity will cause our paths to cross again
But I wonder what would happen should lightening ever strike twice
There’s no relationship to reconcile between us as our timelines diverged just as fast as they collided
We were but cameos of great consequence in each other’s movies
We’d probably just awkwardly nod at each other and pretend the
encounter never happened
And we’d go on to build more sandcastles with the people who have a lot more lines in our scripts
So you probably don’t even need my forgiveness
But it’s there, should you want it, without reservation
I forgive you
And I sincerely hope you’re doing well