Hey ladies and gentlemen. Neither you nor I knew if I would ever revisit this blog. Here I am. The occasion? I wanted to take a break from my regular discussion of controversial issues to talk about race. I’ve talked a little about the topic in the past. I don’t talk about it much.
Why now? Cuz my stupid friend who’s not stupid at all but actually pretty smart, genuine, kind, open-minded, open-hearted, generous with consuming the creative projects of others, and a good writer wrote this.* You should read this blog post even though I’m going to spend some time disagreeing with it. John humbly and honestly deals with his thoughts on race and privilege and he is just generally a person worth reading. The post is based on a Macklemore song entitled: “White Privilege II.” Can you guess what the song is about?
I didn’t actually listen to the song. I read the lyrics. I don’t enjoy Macklemore’s music. It’s just not my style. I’m becoming an old curmudgeon with musical tastes which remain largely unchanged.
Up front: I generally don’t like talk about white privilege. I don’t think it’s a helpful concept. Do you know what the concept does? What it does is group a massive chunk of the population together by race, and then invites people to make assumptions about their lives, thoughts, worldview, and experiences based upon the color of their skin. As someone who is very interested in the unique lives and stories of individuals, I’m not really into making assumptions about others based upon the color of their skin.
That being said, I readily admit I am privileged. Looking back at my life, there are many privileges I can easily recognize. I grew up in an upper middle class household. I grew up in a safe neighborhood. I had two parents in my life well into adulthood. I was cared for. I was homeschooled for a few years of my life. I’m of average attractiveness, at least average enough I didn’t suffer much mocking by my peers. I was naturally able to do well in school. I was more athletic than most. I have had many good friends.
These were major aspects of my life which privileged me in relative to many people. They were easily noticeable. Do you know what I never noticed? Privilege due to my race. Should we blame my white blinders? Maybe. I wonder though, if I can’t see due to my white blinders, why don’t I also have my wealthy family, two parent household, or athlete blinders on? Why would I readily see and acknowledge one privilege and not another?
While surely there are cases where people with skin colors of various shades have certain privileges others do not, this doesn’t mean I think white privilege is a helpful idea with which we should permeate culture. It can lead to a lot of insanity. The concept, from my perspective, misidentifies those white people who were not as privileged as I am (not to mention ignores the black people who were more privileged than I).
White privilege assumes members of a particular race have had similar experiences. What about the white people who grew up with only a drug addicted mother at home? What about those who spent a lot of their childhood hungry? Who were abused and molested by dangerous men their mother brought into their house? Who lived in fear? Who were embarrassed to even show up at school? Who were in some danger of getting killed or robbed because of the neighborhood they lived in? A liberal application of the word “privilege” certainly fits my life, but is it fair to apply such words to the millions of others who share my skin color but not my experiences?
Are These Wrongs Racist?
When describing the song, John says,
The newest song, “White Privilege II,” exposes Macklemore’s own struggle with privilege and his desire to advocate for what’s right and standing in solidarity with people who’ve been wronged—by things like disproportionate police brutality, systemic injustice in schools, cultural appropriation, and more.
I want to talk about some of these wrongs which have been brought up.
Disproportionate Police Brutality
The first one is “disproportionate police brutality.” This is absolutely a real thing. If you look at the numbers of deaths of blacks compared to deaths of whites at the hands of police officers (as well as other numbers related to police brutality), there is a significantly higher percentage of blacks who suffer police brutality. But this begs the question: why?
I’m no defender of the government monopoly on security services, but I have serious questions about whether racism is the reason behind a disproportionate number of blacks experiencing police brutality. I’ve never see numbers related to police brutality comparing races which also accounted for things like: single parent household, household income level, corporal punishment in the home, and education level of the individual and of their parents. Maybe these factors, and factors like them, explain the disparity without even needing to factor race?
I strongly suspect if these factors and others were taken into account, it would be very difficult to find a racial difference. If anyone has numbers relating to race which are normalized for many of these other contributing factors, I would really like to see them because I’ve never been able to find something like that.
Sometimes people assume things like African Americans having things like lower incomes, less education, higher levels of single parent households, etc, than Caucasians is the result of racism of the present or an indicator of the continuing impact of slavery. There is no reason to assume this. In this brief interview Thomas Sowell explains briefly why such disparities still exist and are often very noticeable without needing to reference an event from 150 years ago to explain the data. If you’re interested, Walter E. Williams and Thomas Sowell do some really good work in this area.
I understand there are many stories about black people who were pulled over or stopped by police for doing nothing wrong at all. Many of us have heard them from people who believe they were racially profiled. I do not doubt the veracity of these stories. I make no claims about whether they were racially motivated stops or not. They may have been, they may not have been.
In case you don’t know me, I’m whitey mcwhitester and could not be mistaken for a person of color unless I was interacting with someone who was blind. Despite this, I have also had run-ins with the police for doing nothing wrong.
In highschool, when I was 16-18 years old, I would go jogging at night. During these nighttime runs, I was stopped by police frequently. So frequently that even though I didn’t bring a wallet with me, I made sure to always bring an ID. Many times I would think about where I was going to jog, and would deliberately avoid places where I thought it was more likely I would run into the police, because getting stopped was so annoying.
My highschool friends and I were also pulled over on occasion while driving for being suspicious. Nothing wrong with the car to justify a stopping. No crazy driving. No laws broken. No drugs (except sugar and caffeine from the Mountain Dew). Just a buncha dudes in a car acting suspiciously by driving around.
I’ve also been pulled over for no reason while I was by myself. One one occasion I was told to get out of my car. When I did, the officer told me to get into the squad car. Then he grabbed my wrist, twisted it and my arm behind my back without warning. I’m lucky I had been drinking at bar bible study that night, or I might have not have been in such a good mood and may have instinctively responded to the wrist twist with self-defense. With my arm twisted behind my back he led me to his vehicle with his partner, put me in the back of the squad car, and locked the doors. Then they ran the license plates and registration on my car. They thought I had stolen my own vehicle and said as much.
In my interpretations of these events, I never assumed these stops were racially motivated. I assumed they were related to my age and sex, but not my race. However, I think if I was black growing up in this world, I would have concluded these stops without reason were an act of racial profiling, but I would have been mistaken. What people would have taught me about myself and the world around me would have caused me to make false conclusions about how I was treated and why I was treated in such a way.
Perhaps this is my white privilege in action: Because I was never taught people would be mistreating me because of my race, I never assume they are (unless they make racial comments). I would hate to grow up in a world where people taught me I was being suspected of a crime, ignored, held back, and mistreated by the system and people within it simply because of my skin color. An education like this would cause me to walk around misinterpreting many of my interactions with others. Maybe we are teaching people to misinterpret some of their life experiences.
Systemic Injustice in Schools
I don’t have much to say about the second point: systemic injustice in schools for blacks, because I know nothing about it. If it is related to school funding, I would be interested to know whether whiter schools in a similar area with a similar per capita income level receive more funding simply because of the skin color. Or is perhaps the funding level related to factors other than race?
My understanding of this term is that it refers to someone experiencing an aspect of someone else’s culture, enjoying it, then imitating and integrating the piece of culture into their lives. This was classified as a “wrong.” I’m not sure what’s wrong about it. This is something people do all the time with other people. They like music they hear others listening to, movies others watched, clothing styles others wear, language others use, and they integrate these things into their lives. Cultural appropriation is one of the primary ways we discover our likes and are shaped by the world around us.
What could possibly be wrong about this? The idea seems to be that white people appropriating black culture is a way of wronging the black community. If this is what is meant, I am disturbed. To say whites appropriating black culture is wrong is to discriminate because of someone’s race. You have the wrong skin color and therefore you aren’t fit to dress or talk or act or eat a certain way. That’s only for people whose skin is a different color than yours. Does anyone else find this to be kind of a distorted way of viewing people and groups?
Not Caring About Race Is Not the Same as Not Caring About Someone’s Story
As a general rule, I don’t really care about your race. It’s a physical characteristic. We should both recognize the loaded history behind the characteristic and that, it’s not all that objectively different than eye color or hair color. While I don’t care about your race, this doesn’t mean I’m not sensitive to your experiences or that I don’t care what you have gone through as a result of your race.
I care about your story. Your life. Your experiences. How others have treated you. If you’ve experienced racism, that’s a big deal and I’d like to hear about it. I also want to hear about it if you were mocked for your eye color, hairstyle, or other superficial qualities like skin color. These experiences are a part of your story and shape who you are.
I will not, however, make assumptions about you based on your race. I won’t assume you’ve experienced racism because of your skin color nor will I assume you’ve experienced privilege. I do not believe relying on presumption is a fair way to treat another human being. Everyone is an individual with unique experiences and deserves to be thought of as such.
John goes on to say,
Racism and partiality are problems we can’t ignore or run away from.
Certainly not. But can we please be absolutely confident someone or thing is racist before we use the descriptor? Calling someone a racist is one of the worst terms you can apply to them. I’d rather have every racial epithet in the book thrown at me than accused of racism. We better be very confident with very strong evidence to back it up in order to call someone a racist.
It is scary to me when people notice differences between groups and start throwing around terms like “systemic racism.” Sometimes there is systemic racism. There are many systems which explicitly favor one race over another. However, it is unfair to look at the results of systems (rather than how they are setup) and say something like, “Asians do better than whites in school and their average income level is higher, therefore there is systemic racism favoring Asians and suppressing whites.” We need different evidence to substantiate such claims than differences in results.
I know racism still exists in the world. I’m not trying to pretend it doesn’t. I am afraid of people assuming it’s ubiquitous and in their confirmation bias, seeing it in places where it is not. When we do see racism in practice, many of us should assertively speak out against it. Everyone should avoid participating it. It is much easier to spot and maintain focus on racist acts when we are more careful to make sure what we are pointing out is indeed racism.
I think conversations about race are important as racism has been such a given in the world since the earliest recorded history. I am concerned sometimes these conversations lead to more division and more group delineation, not less. I am concerned about the identifications of people as oppressed or privileged based on skin color which seem to happen so freely. I am concerned about people losing their individuality in the minds of others and just being identified as a member of a group. I’m concerned that some of the calls for people to talk about race or acknowledging of white privilege or bringing up of things like systemic racism, are sometimes self-centered posturing by the person to make themselves look better, more liked, or feel better about themselves.
Walter Williams, an economist, says something I believe to be insightful in one of the articles I linked to above. He says he thinks a lot of this white privilege conversation is actually based around white guilt over what other white people did to black people decades ago.** Don’t worry, Walter is black so his opinion counts. For anyone who feels guilt about their white skin color, Dr. Williams has a pardon for you. You’ve been absolved of guilt by association so now without guilt you are “thus obliged not to act like a damn fool in your relationships with Americans of African ancestry.”
* John is so likeable, I hate writing something which disagrees with what he says, even though I think he will be happy to have inspired me to write something in response to his words.
** It should be noted that to feel guilty about what people of your same skin color have done is to prioritize your association with people of your skin color above people of other skin colors. While this may not be racist, it is certainly the type of collectivist mindset which creates division between groups that can lead to racism and often does. Ideally, the level of solidarity and association we feel with others should have very little to do with race.
Mark Halvorsen reminded me this morning what a crazy year it has been for me. He’s right. I forget about it sometimes. It made me feel known having someone come up to me and express compassion for all I’ve been through in the last 12 months. Coincidentally, I also looked at my timehop today. This is an app which shows what you did exactly 1 year, 2 years, 3, etc on social media and messaging apps and the like. On it was a conversation with my mother which gave me a time reference.
Yesterday was exactly one year ago when I confronted my father about the many Craigslist emails on his phone where he was soliciting women and I gave him 24 hours to tell his wife about it. Today is a year from the day she found out. Tomorrow is the 1 year anniversary of the day he drove off to Kansas to be with another woman and her family. Whew, right?
Also this year, there was a massive church divide, controversy, blow up… not sure what you want to call it… that I was very close to. It was really difficult for everyone involved. It was especially difficult for me (not saying more difficult than for others or anything like that, but I’m trying to communicate how it was hard for me in a unique way) because there were a lot of sides in the conflict. For those who know me, you know I often have a hard time taking standard sides in most binary oppositions because I disagree with everyone equally in different ways.
So, I agreed with a lot of the message of one particular side of the church breakup. I also think some of the ways the people handled it on the side were sometimes simply out of fear, were mean-spirited, misrepresentative, destructive, and I think some people just jumped on board because it seemed like the opposing group was right without thinking through it themselves. Still, I found myself agreeing with many criticisms this particular group had, but I was afraid of associating myself with them because of their methodology and what I think is an over reaction, or at least the wrong reaction. I found myself wanting to side with the people I perceived to be victims only to find that, from my perspective, some had turned into perpetrators and demonizers of their fellow human beings. Additionally, I have a closeness to and love for many people on the multiple sides of this particular issue. So I never know how much to say, how to insert my perspective into the conversation, or whether doing so is even the right thing. I’m not the best person to evaluate the situation as I haven’t been directly involved in the church for a long time anyway, but still had some pretty strong thoughts about most things. At any rate, I felt like I couldn’t take any side and the whole situation made me feel lonely and heartbroken. I’m holding back tears right now as I ramble through this.
In addition, my Grandma on my mother’s side died. This was a sad event, moreso in the middle of everything else. Dealing with the added sorrow and honestly, feelings of guilt on my part for feeling like I mishandled her final years was hard. I didn’t know how to handle them well, so I didn’t do near as much as I could have. I didn’t do enough to pursue relationship with her in the twilight of her life. Grateful for my family members who did.
Anyway, long year. I also had normal life stuff which carries with it its own frustrations and difficulties. I’ve had to deal with home issues, friend issues, other family issues, church issues, wife issues, money issues, job issues, etc. Most importantly, I still live with the same struggle with sin everyone else does, with a heart that needs to die daily to sin and experience repeated rebirth in Christ through the loving forgiveness of grace and the empowering transformation of the Spirit.
So, what’s the purpose of this post? Scattered thoughts.
I believe this will be my last post in this series about dealing with the dissolution of my family. Not because I don’t have more to deal with or because more things won’t keep happening regarding it. I’m sure they will. I’m not sure what else to say about them. It’s a lot of the same stuff over and over. Sadness. Pain. Frustration. Anger. Followed by: Forgiveness. Grace. Love.Pity. Not just for the past stuff, but also for the ways he continues to wrong through attempts at manipulation of those I love and his attempts at deceiving those around him (that I have heard of, though I cannot confirm firsthand, so if I am speaking something falsely here I am sorry and open to correction). But nothing new is happening. Just my heart continuing to heal and hopefully continuing to be shaped into the image of Christ.
Also, in case you don’t know, life is weird. If last year you would have told me all the things which were going to happen to me this year, I would have wondered how I would endure it. But I did. One day at time. Sometimes on my knees. Sometimes on my feet. Some days doing a poor job of dealing with things and cowardly ignoring God and my life and everything important because it felt like too much to handle. But here I am and I feel okay. I feel really good some days. I feel really bad other days. To be perfectly honest, my overall mood and the pattern of feeling good and bad are not all that different now than it was before everything that happened in the last year.
Not only has God blessed me with endurance, but he is helping me do things on his behalf in the meantime. In September, it will be one year since I told my friend Perry I think I should do the teaching at church once a month. Despite my own theological flaws and holes in my ability to communicate, God has used me to bless people in that way. Although I’m quite confident my appeal is still to a narrow audience, I think God has helped me grow in this area. God has also blessed me with a large number of people expressing their gratitude and thankfulness and telling me the things God said to them through me as I stepped out in an area I have always perceived myself to be poorly suited for.
I’ve been writing questions for and leading/coordinating the 9 AM bible study at my church for a while. God has also used this to bless others through my questions and my participation in the discussion. He has blessed us collectively by, I believe, guiding us through the book of John together in some beautiful ways. I have also been blessed by getting to hear so many people’s perspective on scripture who respect God’s words, who are willing to challenge each other, and who are willing to disagree assertively one week, and still show up the next to engage in relationship. It’s beautiful to be a part of.
I also started a podcast. I’ve committed myself to three different things this year I’ve never committed myself to before, two of which are well outside my comfort zone and outside of my perceived zone of capability. All of which are important to my heart. All of which have blessed me. All these things I have done in the middle of an incredibly difficult and painful year. They have all helped bring me closer to God and thus my own heart and soul. God has used them to help heal me and has been wonderful about preventing me from using them as a tool to escape from myself.
Time has a way of creating a new normal. I spent the first 29 years of my life seeing my father very regularly. Now, I haven’t seen his face in a year. It’s been so long, it feels normal. Oddly, this is a helpful and hopeful reminder for me. People get used to things. We can endure a lot. And there can be bad circumstances in our lives which remain forever that don’t make our life bad forever. We can still have joy and be happy. We can still do good things. The bad things can be present and life can still be good.
God’s the best. I’m so relieved and grateful to have had my brother Jesus introduce me to his dad long before Mitch abandoned me. I’ve already been adopted into a new family. I’ve already become the son of a different Father, a son of the one who never stops loving me and who has permanently made a way for me to be in relationship with him no matter what I’ve done, as long as I turn back toward him. He’s always been my true Father anyway. Here’s something crazy: At no point in this whole ordeal have I ever felt unloved. I’ve felt unloved by Greg, but not unloved by my Father. Not generally unloved. Of course love from people in my life I have loved matters. Of course it is painful when they no longer love me. Of course it is painful when they choose their own selfish desires over you. But there is a love far more powerful and more constant which has made itself available to me, the love of God put on display most clearly in Christ Jesus. The more I embrace it, the more wonderful my life becomes even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Today is Sunday, June 21, 2015. It’s Father’s Day. I have a lot of mixed emotions.
My dad still hasn’t reached out to me to try to talk to me, repent, reconcile, explain, or anything of the sort. He did send me a birthday gift recently. I suppose technically it is an act of communication. But it’s not one that feels very good. It’s not an act of communication which opens up the door to further conversation or relationship. To be honest, given how he has treated me and the rest of my family and many of his friends, I don’t see the sending of the gift as an act of love. I see it as him trying to feel better about himself as a father.
I didn’t reach out to him to wish him a happy father’s day. I thought about it, because it is weird after 29 years of having a relationship with one’s father to suddenly not and suddenly on father’s day for him to be absent by his own choice. It would also be disingenuous. I don’t want him to have a happy father’s day. I hope he has a miserable father’s day.
Believe it or not, I don’t wish this upon him because of some quest for vengeance. Some days I want revenge upon him for what he has done. But not today. Not most days. Thank God for the grace and mercy He has given to me so I might be equipped through His love to extend it to others. I do not hope he has a bad father’s day because I want him to suffer miserably. I think having a bad father’s day is what would be best for him.
Really. Imagine you abandon your kids and your wife to go sleep with other women and spend time with them and their kids. Imagine you treat your kids so horribly and then a day comes around which is purposed to celebrate you for the love you have for your kids. Of course you should feel terrible on this day. You should be thinking about the way you broke your relationships with your children. You should be feeling the pain of not having relationships with them. You should be full of regret.
If, in these circumstances, you have a happy and wonderful Father’s Day, then you’re a sociopath. You have no regard for others or willingness to experience the pain of the actions you caused. At least if he has a bad Father’s day, he is experiencing the pain his sinful actions have caused him. Perhaps his heart will become more tender because of the pain and he will be closer to repentance and turning his life back toward God.
Even though I am not too keen on Mitch at present, I don’t throw out the parent with the bathwater. There are a lot of character traits Greg exhibited in the past I am grateful to have experienced. He worked hard. He spent many mornings of my childhood up early reading the Bible and praying. He was willing to help people who needed it, sometimes even over and over after they kept screwing up. He helped out at church a lot, filling whatever roles he thought needed to be filled. All of the qualities are worth imitating, remembering fondly, and being grateful for.
However, when it comes to relationships, the present means a lot more than the past. You can’t have a relationship with memories. Positive memories don’t undo mistreatment of the present. They can’t fix the divide.
Sometimes I wonder on days like today what would I do if Mitch repented? What would I do if he actually was sincere about wanting to follow Jesus and therefore wanting to do whatever he could in his own power to set things right with his kids? What if he was open, honest, and seeking reconciliation? How would I respond?
I still don’t know. While certainly I would offer forgiveness and would be open to a conversation, one on my terms, I don’t know if I would be open to having a relationship with him or not. He is a person who has treated not just me, but those I am close to, love, and care for, with great disregard… that’s a nice word… with great evil. He blew up a family and left everyone else to deal with the consequences of his actions.
He left a young child alone and confused with a mother who was also alone and confused. He left his wife and church family in the middle of a dysfunctional time in the church’s life which he was well aware of. Rather than do something good, like working with his family and friends to bring positive changes to the church (among whom there were very many who would have worked with him side by side to do so), or to bring his family to one of the many other welcoming churches in the Chippewa Valley, he left everyone to deal with the mess they were in and added to it a whole other mess which was even more difficult and painful. He abandoned his wife and kids to run off with someone else, even though he knew they were in a precarious situation. He was well-placed in a position to bring about positive change in his church community on behalf of his family or to protect his family from potential harm by going elsewhere. Instead of this he abandoned his post, his wife, his kids, and his friends and ran off to sin without being held back and restrained by the relationships of those who loved him.
I’m not sure I would want a person who has been so heartlessly mean to those I love in my life even if he did regret his actions and want to change. I’m not sure I could trust someone who did those things. I’m not sure if he would be a safe person to be around, for me or for those close to me. Certainly if I had kids I would feel quite protective of them ever knowing him given his track record. It’s a difficult thing to think about and to know what is right, especially in the realm of the hypothetical.
If the pattern of the last 11 months is any indicator, I may never have to worry about it.
Growing up I always thought that when two people get divorced it is the fault of both parties. I don’t know why I thought this. I am not sure whether I was explicitly taught this or just learned it through observation. I remember when I would see people divorce it always seemed like there were two groups of people who took sides, one on the father’s and one on the mother’s. Additionally, I recall most of the kids I knew whose parents got divorced spent time with and seemed to blame both of their parents for what occurred. I recall also hearing one story where one of the spouses had an affair, but the other spouse took some responsibility for growing distant before that. That particular story stuck with me. Regardless, for whatever reason, for many years I kind of assumed that when there was a divorce, it was always the fault of both parties.
This doesn’t actually make sense. It takes two people to make a marriage work and have a good marriage. If it takes two people to make a marriage work, then one party choosing not to make the marriage work is enough to destroy the marriage. It only takes one person to destroy a relationship.
Why did I consider this worth writing about? I’m actually still figuring that out while I type. One, it’s a good reminder for me as an individual. I have had many relationships go away in my life, to my dismay, and I’ve always assumed it was that we just grew apart, or we just got distant from each other, or we both made mistakes. Those assumptions are a great way of taking some of the responsibility off my shoulders, which makes me feel better about my actions or inactions. Those assumptions may also take some of the blame off of the other party in the relationship, which makes me feel better about the way they treated me because I assume we both are at fault and I don’t take on the pain of being mistreated by others. It is wrong to assume that both parties are to blame when relationships end. The truth is that any individual in a relationship has the power to ruin that relationship, even when the other individual would rather that relationship continue.
Two, I think I want to write about this because the one-sidedness of the present circumstances feel extra tragic. The reason I don’t have a relationship with Greg is not because we drifted apart or because both of us made some mistakes and we’re having a hard time reconciling. The reason we don’t have a relationship is because of him, not me. We don’t have a relationship because sleeping with women from craigslist was more important to him than his wife and kids. I don’t have a relationship with him because he didn’t want a relationship with me.
That’s not to say I handled everything perfectly, but how does one handle such evil behavior perfectly? I don’t know. I spoke truth. I expressed grace. I offered hope through repentance. I offered him a room to stay in at my house. I offered him my support to walk with him out of his affairs and his seeking of affairs and into a better way of living. I offered him as much light as I knew how. He ran from it.
I suspect he probably wants a pretend relationship with me. He would probably like it if I spent time with him, but only in a fake way. He wouldn’t be willing to actually engage with me. He wouldn’t be willing to actually talk to me about things that are important like why he left, who he is sleeping with now, what his plan is to make things right, whether he is still seeking out women on craigslist, if he liked the other families with single mothers he was hanging out with more than his daughter, or if he would come clean about the many lies he has told. He may want a buddy to play with and talk about fishing, but he doesn’t want someone near him who wants connect with him, who wants him to repent. He’s not interested in me.
It would actually be a relief if his actions were my fault because at least it wouldn’t be because he prefers sin to relationship with me. As it is, I am rejected because my father isn’t interested in me. It’s not because of what I’ve done, but because of what he has done.
Third, seeing how one sided the dissolution of my parents’ marriage has been is surprising. Even before the affair, Jenn was seeking the improvement of their marriage. She wanted to go to marriage retreats or marriage counseling or read a book together or something of the sort. She was concerned about his growing distance. She pursued him. She tried to connect more with him. She was willing and wanting to fight to be with him. She wanted to grow closer. She didn’t want to be with anyone else. Of course she would honestly admit that she didn’t handle the relationship perfectly. But imperfections are not why marriages break up. They break up when one or more parties give up on the marriage.
Mitch was the one who was at fault for the breakup of the relationship. He chose to isolate himself from his wife and kids for many months. She wanted to be around him, he wanted to get away from her. He is the one who wanted to, and did, go after other women. She just wanted him. He wanted her to divorce him, she wanted to work things out with him. He gave up on her and abandoned her. She would have done everything in her power to be with him and make the relationship work (as long as she could maintain her own integrity).
This feels more tragic than two people deciding they don’t want to be together anymore. It would be nice to look at their relationship and pretend it ended because they just grew apart. It would be nice to say that they just fell out of love. I would like to think that they had a mutually respectful ending of their marriage so they could both be free to pursue other things. But that’s not what happened. Jenn wanted to be with him, but he did not want to be with her. He wanted to see what it was like to be with other people regardless of the consequences to his marriage and his family.
Fourth, it kind of reminds me of the way that God is with us. God is always wanting relationship with all of humanity, with every individual. He loves people perfectly, but his love is often rejected. God knows what it feels like far more deeply than we do to love and not have that love returned. God has felt the pain of rejection and abandonment more than I ever could. The Bible talks about God’s rejection in Isaiah.
I spread out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
and making offerings on bricks;
who sit in tombs,
and spend the night in secret places;
who eat pig’s flesh,
and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels;
The picture here is of God reaching out for his people. His people are in the middle of worshiping other gods. His people are disobeying him at every turn. They are defiling themselves incessantly. The people of God are cheating on Him; they are in the middle of having an affair. God knows what it is like to have someone choose their sinful desires over you. He understands what it is like to have a broken relationship with someone you love through no fault of your own, but because they have rejected you and cheat on you continuously.
Not only can I take comfort knowing that God knows the pain I feel far more potently than I ever could, but I can also find solace in how much God loves. What is especially beautiful and unique about how God deals with a one-sided relationship is that God still holds out his hands toward those who reject him. God still loves them. God still wants them. God still wants me. God still wants you. Even if we are in the middle of rejecting Him.
In case you haven’t been keeping up with the story, a few months ago my father had an affair and then abandoned his wife and kids. It’s been pretty brutal. It has been painful and sad and frustrating and confusing. The whole situation feels pretty evil. In my experiencing of this, I’ve had a lot of unanswered questions.
In a circumstance like mine it is common for people to blame God for what happened or ask questions such as, “Why God? Why did you do this? Why did you let this happen?” I think the urge to either blame God or to wonder to God about why he would allow something to occur as if God is responsible come from a misunderstanding about God.
Some people view God as a cosmic Lego Master and us as the lego men and women. God constructs the world that we live in and controls everything that happens within it. Nothing can happen without His willing it to happen. Humans are the lifeless lego guys, who cannot so much as move an arm without God desiring the arm to move and acting to make it move. God is the Lego Master who decides exactly the way the world will be and exactly what he wants his toys to do, they have no real volition of their own.
If this is the case, then God really is to blame for my father’s affair and abandonment. In the God as Lego Master scenario, my father’s affair was all a part of God’s cosmic plan. My pain then becomes just an execution of God’s will. If God is actively controlling everything, then it makes perfect sense for me to blame Him. It is His fault.
Another understanding of God that is different on the surface but similar in practice. This understanding of God assumes 3 things: 1. God created everything. 2. Before God created everything, He knew the future. 3. The future already exists as a set of inevitabilities that just haven’t happened yet. In this scenario, God is not actively controlling His lego set to make sure His cosmic plan is executed perfectly, but God creates the world knowing all of the inevitabilities of the future and thus sets into motion His cosmic plan without having to actively control it because everything that occurs was inevitable anyway.
With these assumptions, God is more like a watcher of a movie he has already seen and memorized. God’s creation of the world is like He picked out a movie he knew by heart and pushed play. The movie was already recorded before God put it in, and so God was the ultimate cause of everything that occurred on the screen because God picked that particular movie. God could have picked out a different prerecorded film and watched that film and so caused a different set of scenes to play out on screen.
In the same way, when God created the earth in the way He did, knowing what the prerecorded future was, He becomes the ultimate cause of everything that occurred. He chose to create the earth in such a way as to cause this set of circumstances to occur. Of course God could have created the earth differently so that a different set of circumstances would occur. Because God chose ahead of time exactly what would occur from the beginning to the end, God is responsible for everything that occurs.
If this is true about God, if God knew ahead of time that making the world the way He chose to would inevitably lead to my father’s affair and abandonment, then God is still to blame. Even if God isn’t actively controlling the actions of my father, God is still the cause. He could have created the world differently so that my Father didn’t have an affair. He didn’t. He chose to create things in such a way that my father’s actions were going to happen. In this scenario, it was God’s will and desire that my father would do what he did because that’s what God chose for him to do. The decisions my father made were just inevitabilities caused by God since the creation of the world
But God is not like this. God wouldn’t orchestrate the world in such a way so that my father has an affair. God would never want something like that to occur. God wouldn’t will something like that to occur. God’s didn’t plan for my father to abandon his wife and kids. A God who, through whatever means, would cause my father to treat his family the way he did is not a good God.
But He is a good God. When God created the world, He did not create a bunch of lego guys for whom he would control their every action and movement. He did not create a world where He chose ahead of time for humanity what their every action and movement would be. God created a world of choice. Immediately after God created humanity He set before them choices to make. He gave them choices where there was no moral component, where there was no right vs. wrong, like, “you decide what to name the animals.” God also gave them moral choices like, “don’t eat from this tree.”
God gave humanity choices. He gave people the ability to accept Him, trust Him, be in relationship with Him, and follow Him. He even gave people the ability to reject him. Why would God give people the choice to accept Him or to reject Him? Because God is love and love cannot be coerced. If God has already determined what we will and won’t do, then we can’t love because our entire lives are just a series of inevitabilities that God forced us to do. Love cannot be forced. Love is only possible if it is voluntary. God created a world of love, and thereby, a world where people have the ability choose. By creating a world of free beings who can make a multitude of different choices, God made a world of possibilities.
One of these possibilities was that my father would have an affair and abandon his children, his friends, and his life. One of these possibilities is that my father would have humbled himself before God, taken every thought captive, and submitted even his most minor lustful thought underneath the reign of Jesus and in so doing, would never have even considered engaging in the behavior he did. The former is what he chose, but he could have chosen the latter. God is responsible for creating a world of choice where love is possible, but Mitch is responsible for rejecting God and choosing selfishness over love. God is not to blame for my situation, my father is.
Of course God wasn’t caught off guard by the choices of my father. God never wanted him to make those decisions, but God knows all the possible decisions he could have made. God would never plan for Mitch to do what he did, but God does have a plan to bring good out of what my father did. God knows all the possibilities and He is equally prepared to bring good out of all of them. God is not to blame. God is the one to cling to when things don’t go the way we wanted them to or the way He wanted them to. God is not the one to blame. God, with us, also wishes this never happened.
This is another post in my series regarding my father’s affair and abandonment of his family. The day I found out a lot about what my father had been up to, I left the house where he was and went home. I was going to sleep there, but I just couldn’t. My stomach felt too sick, I just had to go home.
When I got home, I didn’t know what to do really. I talked to my wife about everything. I didn’t really know how to feel. I didn’t really know what to feel. I knew I felt sick. I didn’t know how to process what should be going on in my mind and in my soul. God used two events to help.
One of my toilets clogged the day after I found out about my dad’s crap. I spent a couple of hours trying out draino and a couple of different snakes to unclog the toilet. I couldn’t get it. I went into the basement and spent some time in the crawl space evaluating the problem. It turns out, when the sewage pipes were installed, some went at a slightly upward angle. This almost always creates issues.
After diagnosing the problem and trying to think of a creative and clean solution, I couldn’t. I used a skilsaw with a metal blade to cut out the section of the pipe where it flowed upward. The whole section was full of feces and toilet paper. I cleaned it out and fixed the problem. This whole process, partially due to being in a very cramped space, took several hours.
I spent the day dealing with human crap. Some of it was mine, some of it was others’, but it was all disgusting. I felt so gross. In a weird way, it felt degrading to be full of human feces. I felt a little embarrassed. All I could do in the moment was to keep going, to move forward to fix the sewage despite how gross it was. Later on that night, I was very frustrated.
I was so frustrated with having to endure all that grossness. I was completely exhausted. First, I had to deal with my dad’s crap, and now I had to deal with actual crap. Both were frustrating, angering even. I even felt a little frustrated with God, as if he was the one who made my dad seek out an affair or as if he installed the plumbing in my house. I started expressing everything that was going through my head and heart, and then I just broke.
The frustration was overwhelming. I wept because I was overwhelmed. Everything that was happening was angering. I wept because I was angry. I was embarrassed by what was going on. I wept because I was embarrassed. The future looked impossible and I only saw difficult and painful solutions. I wept because I didn’t know what to do. It was painful to find out about the crap in my dad’s life that had been building up and to find out about the crap in my drains that had been building up. I wept because I hurt.
That night I had a dream. I dreamt that I was my 8 year old sister. I wasn’t actually her I guess, but I was experiencing her thoughts and feelings. In my dream, I had just found out what my dad had been up to. I found out how he had treated my mother. I saw him, and recognized him as someone different. It was as if the dad I thought I knew had died.
In this dream, experiencing the thoughts and feelings of my little sister, 3 things were overwhelming. I was very confused. I didn’t understand why this was happening, how it had happened, or if it was my fault. I was very afraid. I didn’t know what the future would hold. I didn’t know how I would make it. I didn’t know who else might leave. I was very sad. My protector betrayed me. My loved one abandoned me. My world was falling apart. I wondered if I deserved to be treated this way.
When I woke up I prayed. It then felt as if God responded, “You know those emotions you felt through her, it’s okay for you to feel that too. You were hurt in the same way as she was. You didn’t deserve to be treated that way either.”
So, those things helped me figure out what I was feeling about my father’s actions. Of course it is okay to feel however I felt, but for a day and a half, I didn’t really know how I felt. There can be a great relief in recognizing emotions for what they are, and even though they are pretty crappy, experiencing them and all the crap that comes with them. Walking through the pain can clear the emotional drain so the new crap flushes easier.
A few months prior to my father’s infidelity, he reached out to me more than he had in the past few years. He started texting more. He offered help. He frequently invited me to spend time with him at the cabin. He asked me out for coffee. He would engage with me in conversations about things we disagreed with and remain in the conversation.
He invited me to do a book study with him. I was not very excited about the book, it just was not the type of book I usually enjoy. Still, with all his reaching out, this was one of the ways I was going to reach out to him. I thought that meeting weekly would be good for us and, even if I didn’t like the book, it provided us some spiritual material to talk about.
It was a good time. We had a lot of really good conversations and I felt he understood more about my view of God and how that shapes the say I see the world. He also shared a lot more of his frustrations with me about other people. From my perspective at the time, he was not sharing his frustrations in a gossipy way, but in a personalized manner about the way things that happened in his relationships with others affected him.*
I also reached out to him. I invited myself on a men’s retreat, even though I wasn’t a part of the church and deliberately engaged with not just him, but also his community. I was enjoying our time together. I think we were legitimately having more fun together than ever before. He was learning to interact with me more like the peer I have been treating him as since 15. I was reaching out to him and he was reaching out to me. I actually enjoyed being with him. I hoped that at some point we might connect at a substantive level.
We were spending more time together and being more deliberate with each other, something felt off. There were times when he was sharing things that were at least somewhat intimate and I was sharing intimate things, but it felt like we were absent from each other. All the appearances of the conversation were that we were connect, but it didn’t feel like we were connecting. It was as if we both reached out our hands to touch each other, and I could see our hands touching, but I could not feel the sensation of our hands touching. Something was not quite right.
The weekend I discovered what was going on I was actually hoping to find out what was going on. I did not think I would discover what I did. I had a few suspicions, but none of them were quite as substantial and heartbreaking as what was actually happening. I did not expect to find what I did. Of course, when I did find out, some of our inability to connect made sense.
But then, I had this problem. He had been reaching out to me. He had been asking me real questions about my life. He had been spending time with me and kind to me and affectionate with me. And then I find out he was trying to cheat on his. And then he abandons me. And later I find out he had been growing distant from most other intimate relationships in his life.
I’m having trouble figuring out how to explain the problem. It’s an emotionally confusing one. I felt good about the way he was reaching out to me and about our conversations and hopeful about our future relationship, but then… all of this. So, my problem is: how do I interpret his past reaching out to me?
Was it that, despite everything that was going on inside of him, he really wanted relationship with me? Did he really care about me? Did he really value me, my thoughts, my desires, my feelings? Was he reaching out to me because he loved me? Or was he putting on a show to hide his heart and behavior? Was he trying to do something good with his relationships so he didn’t feel so bad about his past actions? Was he feeling lonely because he was growing distant from his other relationships because of his sin and so he attached himself more to me as somewhat of an outsider to his daily existence? Did he use me so he didn’t feel so lonely? Was he telling me his frustrations with his life and with others because no one else would listen because they knew better? Did he see the breaking of relationship with others that was coming and was trying to get me on his side before everything came out?
I don’t know. I don’t know why he reached out to me. I don’t know how I should feel about his pursuing a relationship with me. Should I look back and remember fondly the time when he sought after me or should I look back and remember with sorrow the time when he used me? I don’t know. I don’t even think he knows why he did what he did. It’s probably a complex combination of many reasons and motivations.
Life is just like that sometimes. We are often left wondering what happened, what caused it, why it occurred, and how we should feel about it. We don’t always get the answers we seek. I’m sure I could look back at what happened and come up with a few different explanations as to what occurred and why in order to make sense of the whole situation to myself. But, even if I did that, I still wouldn’t know for sure. I might be able to make sense of the situation, but just because something makes sense doesn’t mean it’s true. I don’t know that I’ll ever have a real answer.
And that’s okay. It’s okay to have things remain unresolved. It’s okay to not know all the answers to the “why”s. I’m okay looking back and saying, “I just don’t know” because of where I am in the present. I’m okay. I’m good. Because I am not alone. I am not unloved. I am not undesired. I am not unwanted. I am as close to my true Father as I have ever been, and He will never leave me, never stop loving me, and never stop pursuing me.
*In case you are reading this and suspect you might be one of the people who he was expressing frustrations about, I want to make a few things clear. First, when people are expressing negative things about other people to me, I usually consider it to be people venting their frustration and putting words to what was frustrating to them about a situation. I don’t really trust their perspective on the circumstances or others. I do not then proceed to think poorly about the person they are talking about. If you were talked poorly about, I think no differently about you than I did before you were discussed.
Second, I very frequently make suggestions on how the person venting can see it from the perspective of those they have a problem with. I nearly always suggest they express their feelings and frustrations to that person directly in a loving manner. I regularly defend those who are being talked poorly about, but are not there to defend themselves, even if I have never met the person (ask my wife, sometimes it drives her crazy. If you think you might have been talked poorly about, I probably defended you, I most likely provided a way of seeing things from your perspective, and I assuredly suggested he speak to you directly.