Archive for March, 2010

Acts of Bloggery

Still thinking through what it means to use our gifts (in my case writing, for example) to be a blessing to others. Every so often I feel this overwhelming need to justify my blog. It’s probably guilt because I assume I should be doing more writerly things on here. So here’s another reset on my blog.

Now, don’t get me wrong, blogging is sooooooo 2003, especially in the age of FaceBook and Twitter. There’s a discipline to writing and it’s probably the only disciplined thing I do in my life. I’ve watched my blog morph over the years. Lots of random essays (a smarter writer would just sell them) and for a long time a series on singleness and dating (which a smarter writer might have packaged as a non-fiction book … and sold). It’s pretty much whatever I’m thinking about at the time:

-writing related stuff (which at the moment would boil down to my incessant need to procrastinate with projects when there is no looming deadline)
-race related stuff (which considering that I’m leading a discussion on this topic at a church in a couple days would explain why various issues are on my mind)
-random interviews and profiles (which gives me an excuse to talk to interesting people)
-pop culture stuff (I still write reviews for HollywoodJesus.com)
-church/religion (every time I get out, they keep pulling me back in)
-life stuff (since the Interwebz are forever, I figure if I write enough gibberish, my kids can get a sense of how I think after I’m gone)

Again, a smarter writer might have spun these out into dedicated blogs. Especially when said writer is astutely aware of the fact that he has two very different audiences: one largely comprised of followers of his spiritual musings; the other a fan of his fiction (with the two usually overlapping at Mo*Con)

But I’m lazy.

So I can get all angst-ridden about this being more writerly, even though I know that it is. I write about the stuff that interests me and undergirds the worlds I run in. Plus, if I’m thinking about it enough for it to end up in a blog, chances are it is a theme in whatever fiction I’m writing.

Suffering and the What, Why and Who Questions

Guest Blog by Sally Broaddus*

So I’ve listened to 7 sermons in the past 3 days, (that is not listing the two I heard on Sunday either – so 9 sermons in the past 4 days, but 7 on a certain topic). It’s been a bit much to hear, but actually exactly what I needed to hear and talked about exactly where I am in my life. So it was a good thing, however so very not normal for me to do.

Last month I finally got plugged into a prayer group… now hold up, I personally don’t get all fired up about prayer groups and I don’t think they always help… there is so much fakeness and BS that you have to deal with and just saying “Trust God” and that “God never gives you more than you can handle” and “if you pray everything will be all better.” Nah I don’t buy it…. I need more.

But I took a chance and showed up to the prayer group. (by the way I found it by doing a Google search on random topics, the flyer popped up, ( http://www.yourchurch.com/mediafiles/river-of-hope-prayer-group.pdf) so I found it on my own, I wasn’t directed there by anyone, nor did I look under the church website) and I was glad I went…. Truthfully I was at my wits end and was just ready to not care about anything anymore…. Basically I was tired of life and all the crap I’ve had to deal with this past year.. so anyways, I stumbled across the flyer and wasn’t too excited about it but said I’d give it a shot.

The prayer group was very helpful….. I was actually around people that understood my pain and anger and knew how to help me, encourage me, pray for me, and pray with me.

One of the ladies there, tried to encourage me to attend their church and I declined saying even though I am currently looking for a good church for me and my family, I have my reasons of never going to be able to attend their church, and then I asked to make sure I was still going to be able to attend their once a month prayer meeting and they said it was fine. She then pointed me to a sermon series that happened last January – February (2009) and I said I’d think about checking it out…. Deep down I was thinking “Sure, this sermon series is going to do any good, like it’s going to answer any of my questions, and it’s going to right any wrongs that were done to me.”

So I listened to the first sermon on Monday…. and then kept going until I heard the 7th and last one in the series today.

They did answer a lot… I have been stuck on the “What” and “Why” questions, and trust me I have a whole ton of those questions.

Here are just a few of them:

Why did this take place in my life? What did I do to deserve all this? What did I do wrong? Why is it too much for others to handle? Why can’t some admit their fault and give me some closure? Why does it feel like I was pushed out and I lost my church? Why do I lose and they win? Why am I supposed to be the better person? Why do I have to feel all this pain? Why am I reminded daily about it? (little things bring back memories) Why did both me and my husband lose our jobs at the same time? Why is life so hard sometimes? Why do you keep piling more and more on my shoulders? How come you don’t hear me say enough already, I’ve had enough, it’s too much for me to handle?

The sermons I listened to told me, told me that “Why” and “What” questions in the midst of suffering are normal, (it is a common human experience, everyone has suffering of some sort, we live in a sinful and fallen world and people are not perfect) so questions are normal, but they are not satisfying. Even if I got a real answer. We have to learn to let go of the “What” and “Why” questions. The Real question is Who…. Who is in control of my life? Who can I trust? Who will in the end resolve everything and restore everything? (oh course the answer is God)

While going through suffering or trials we don’t need glib, petty, and harsh words. Friends tend to say the wrong things. Sometimes those that suffer need to be free to Lament, a lament is how people feel with deep and honest emotions, and it’s about being honest with what’s going on deep in your soul. (the Bible is filled with laments – just look at Psalms) Many people confuse the cry of pain with the cry of rebellion. (there are times that we will yell to God “Why are you doing this to me”) Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is listen to them, comfort them. Don’t think your friend will always be in their lament, they may get angry at God but they get through it. Don’t be a miserable comforter and a worthless physician to them.

Suffering is not fun, it’s not easy. God uses our suffering for our own good. So we can be more Christ like. Suffering is so our faith can be refined. Do we care about God? Everything happening in our life is there to help form us and make us more Christ-like. There is a story behind our story, we can’t always see the end, that there can be some good that comes from this. That all takes times to see, we will get to the end.

Even when our suffering is not a direct result of our sins, our suffering gives evidence that how sinful we are. It exposes our self-centeredness, our pride is exposed. It doesn’t take much before our sinful side comes out.

If we get cut off in traffic though we did nothing wrong (were driving the speed limit) we got cut off and what happens, and how do we react, we get angry, or for some even more happens. Our sinful side is exposed, how quickly it can come out. We were barely even wronged. Yet there it is.

To wrap this up , the question is not “Why is this happening to me?”, but rather “Can I trust the hand of God? Can I trust that I will be pulled through this?” We need to Submit, Rest, and Trust in God rather than Complain, Contend, and Exalt ourselves above God.

As hard as this is to do, I must pray “God I don’t know what you are doing in my life, but I choose to trust you, you have my best interests in mind.”

PS: Here are the sermons I listened to – All about Job:
http://www.yourchurch.com/sermon/the-reverence-and-relevance-of-job/
http://www.yourchurch.com/sermon/pain-filled-worship/
http://www.yourchurch.com/sermon/beware-of-shallow-answers/
http://www.yourchurch.com/sermon/the-confusions-of-god/
http://www.yourchurch.com/sermon/why-do-the-righteous-suffer/
http://www.yourchurch.com/sermon/the-eclipsing-answer/
http://www.yourchurch.com/sermon/sufferings-ultimate-ends/

*My wife has her own blog over on Xanga (dude, seriously, Xanga? That’s sooo 2003, high school girl). I have her permission to cross post her blog post over here (I resisted the urge to edit her use of ellipses which she knows drives me nuts).

Church Planting and Mission Drift

I’ve had a front row seat watching a flurry of church plants plan, launch, and close. It may be my inner Pollyanna speaking,* a question that always struck me as curious that if several teams are going into the same area, and if we’re all about unity, why couldn’t they join in or join together?

I know, I know, the answer is manifold and cooperative church planting in the name of kingdom building is an ideal. There are fiscal realities (where they are getting their money from), those who are pastor as vocation (that’s their main income), and different visions/specific expression of the church they want to try. The cynic in me has to give a head nod to ego: THEY want to do it. Human nature wants to carve out their own empire and rare is the pastor that admits that they want to be a huge church or speak to large crowds or be on television or radio.

So we get more and more lone wolf communities.

And I get that. Planters have a particular vision, set of values, and a way of “doing/being church” which the vision person wants to try and his launch people/planters buy into. Churches start off with grand visions of who they want to be and what they want to do, called to a particular area for a reason. I think one of the big bugaboos of church planting is mission drift.

A friend once warned me that there was a “danger” when it came to getting a building to house your gathering. The danger was that once a community got a building it could become about the building. Having/owning/renting a building means utilities, rent, insurance, salaries, and repairs. It’s bad enough when administrators view their congregants as “giving units” or otherwise reduce their people to their utilitarian functions. And love is rarely cost effective.**

In a world more worried about production and attendance (“giving units”) and sermons and bottom lines, there’s little room for the eclectic, the square pegs for the round holes reserved for pew potatoes anxious to hear the latest bit of ear tickling, as we’re written off as trouble makers or drama bringers. Suddenly, pastors who didn’t care about numbers start to really care about numbers. The “great commission” becomes “a pretty good suggestion.” Crisis management becomes about how to not lose people. Grand notions of growing a church through winning new folks become reduced to sheep stealing. Because they have bills to pay, they play not to lose. Their communities retreat, become little more than social clubs who play at church.

I’m sure I’m way oversimplifying complex dynamics. And you know what? It’s not bad for a community to step back and reassess itself. After all, the mission was set out by Christ to go forth and make disciples. How each church body does it is up to them. There’s mission drift and there’s a change in focus or a re-prioritization. Not all change is bad and sometimes communities need to accept that’s what they are now and strike a new vision. Of course, I always like the idea of church plants joining together and both communities being blessed. Which is easier said than done.
*and as you know, when you think “Maurice Broaddus” you think “Pollyanna”

**Although, I’d be the first to admit that I tend to come at things as an “artist”, as in, I will blow up a budget. Which is why churches should have administrators who buy into their mission and DO care about numbers.

A Lenten Meditation – Peter Rollins’ The Prodigal Father

Peter Rollins book, The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales, has been supplemented with seven new parables for Lent. In Pete’s own words, this collection of original parables, “represents my own attempt to explore and testify to the impossible Event housed in faith. In that sense they are deeply personal and relative to my own life.” With permission, I share one of the parables.

The Prodigal Father

There was once a rich and kindly father who lived with his two sons in a lavish mansion. But late one evening, in the very dead of night, the father packed a few small items and left quietly.

The first son awoke the next day and, upon discovering his father’s disappearance, continued with his chores religiously. Days passed into months, and these months gradually dissolved
into years. Through toil and rationalization, this son successfully repressed the haunting fact that
the father had abandoned them. Instead of facing the pain, he allowed the reality of the situation to fester silently in the depth of his being.

The other son also refused to face up to the pain of his father’s midnight exodus. In confusion
and fear he withdrew his share of the father’s inheritance and ran away, losing himself in worldly distractions of all kinds. But he found that no matter where he traveled, he could not escape the sorrow in his heart, and no matter what activity he engaged in, the amnesia it offered was not enough to cloud the memory of his father’s disappearance. In addition to this, he soon found himself utterly destitute and poor. After only a few years he found himself without money or
friends, working on a pig farm, where he would have to share the scraps that he fed to the animals in order to supplement his diet.

After many months of this pitiful existence, he decided to face up to his father’s disappearance
and return home.

When he finally reached the great mansion, he found his brother still caring for the property,
still toiling on the land, and still suppressing the memory of their father’s exodus. The brother who had never left held resentment in his heart against the one who had squandered his inheritance only to return empty-handed. However, the other brother paid no heed to this animosity, for his gaze was set upon a deeper concern. Each day he would carefully ready a calf for slaughter and lay out his father’s favorite cloak in preparation for a great feast of celebration. Once he had done this he would then sit by the entrance of the mansion and passionately await the father’s return.

He waits there still, to this very day, yearning for the homecoming of the prodigal father with
longing and forgiveness in his heart.

Commentary by Peter Rollins

This story was originally written on a scrap of paper while I was attending a Quaker meeting. As I sat in silence that Sunday morning, it felt as if I were in the presence of people who were faithfully waiting for God to show up. Indeed, on that dark and cold Sunday morning it seemed as if those gathered were prepared to wait their entire lives for God if that was what it would take. As I thought about this, my mind wandered to the prodigal son story, in which God is portrayed as waiting for the return of His wayward offspring.

But being among this small band of believers, I began to wonder what form the story would
take if written from a human perspective, from the perspective of those who remain faithful to
God yet who feel that God is distant. The story thus became a personal reflection on the theme of
divine withdrawal.

Reflections on the idea of God’s withdrawal span the Christian tradition and have been
baptized with many names, such as the “dark night of the soul” or the “cloud of unknowing.”
That tradition was poignantly mined in much of the theology that emanated from those who
experienced the horror of the death camps during the Second World War.

Many theologians have pointed out that God, by God’s very nature, always transcends our grasp
and so will always be experienced as withdrawn from our understanding and experience. This view seeks to respect the wonder and majesty of the divine, and draw out how God’s presence is never full presence, not simply because of our limits, but because of God’s uncontainable nature.

Yet, there is another sense in which believers have reflected on the theme of God’s withdrawal,
one that has nothing to do with the nature of God as transcendent but rather with the sense that God has abandoned us. We see this theme poignantly expressed by Christ on the cross when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The absence of God as testified to in this prayer is not the result of God’s being perceived as transcendent, but rather derives from the sense of God’s withdrawing from us in our hour of need.

It was this latter experience I had in mind as I wrote the above story. For I was intrigued by how remaining faithful to God in the midst of God’s seeming infidelity to us is actually a deep and unique aspect of the Judeo-Christian tradition, one that spans the entire biblical text, from Genesis to Revelation.

From the angry accusations of the psalmist to Christ’s anguished cry from the cross, such prayers are not condemned by the text but celebrated. In these broken prayers we find a singular depth of commitment, intimacy, and struggle. For these accusations of abandonment address God directly and thus affirm a resolute longing for God in the very expression of their loneliness.


The seven extra parables are available from now through Easter as a free download to anyone that purchases The Orthodox Heretic online at www.paracletepress.com.

Loving Your Enemies … Sorta

“He has honor if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.”

-Walter Lippmann.

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” -Psalm 133:1

Blah, blah, blah. So I’ve been looking at the love your enemies passage trying to find loopholes (because, as you know, that’s what Jesus would do. He was ALL about the letter of the law and not the spirit of it). I’m bouncing back and forth between verses like “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28) and the expert in the law asking for loopholes, like “who is my neighbor?” (and getting the Good Samaritan parable for his troubles). So in fully “expert in the law” mode, I’ve rationalized that it’s easy for me to live in unity if I cut off relationships.*

This is a simple workaround that JUST skirts those pesky “carry his coat an extra mile” type sentiments that define what it means to go out of your way to love your enemy. I’m all about convenient theology. Look how easy this is: you only have to love your enemies if you’re around them, ergo, don’t spend time with them! Oh, I can “pray” for them (for the double win, I can proclaim that I’m praying for them and look twice as spiritual).

Unity is as simple as the relationship in front of you which means you have to be in their presence to love them and that’s its own commitment. I have little enough time for the people I love today.
True unity means to deny the values of our culture, our sense of independence, our sense of self-reliance. And there are plenty of valid reasons to not pursue unity: our own sense of rightness, our own woundedness (even hurt feelings from people not pursuing you), doctrinal differences, or even apathy. All perfectly valid reasons to cut off relationships (and even allow your heart to hardened).

To love our enemies is the most mature form of love and the hardest crucible to test and refine what it means to live out one’s Christianity. In short, it’s the crux of what it means to love. It means we have to die to ourselves, our wants, and our egos. Conjuring love up doesn’t work (the same way some folks like to conjure up “forgiveness”). Acting loving isn’t enough.
But I ain’t there yet.

Don’t get me wrong, for the bulk of us, we define enemy as someone who says mean things to us or unfriends us on Facebook, but nonetheless, let’s wallow in our convenient spirituality. It sure beats doing the hard work of continuing to pray for God to change our hearts. Anyway, I’ve got no lost love for people I don’t like or no longer wish to be around.

This message brought to you by the Broaddus Institute of Theological Convenience, where the inmates run the asylum.

*Think of it as a break up with all of the attendant feelings: All those years we spent together, all the good times and feelings, all wasted now, overshadowed by fighting and ill will. Was it something I did? Am I in the wrong here? And the thought, in hindsight, that maybe I should have left a long time ago.

The Thin Yellow Line

So BFF Jon and my co-editor, Jerry Gordon, were over for dinner. My boys, ever eager students of male bonding conversations, were in rapt attention as we discussed the simple rules to going to the bathroom (we’re talking “away games”). Ultimately, this left them more confused than when I tried explaining race relations in this country. Plus, I’m not sure I knew all of the rules. Apparently there is as much ritual to this as a Japanese tea ceremony. Anyway, to wit…

The two most important rules:
1) No talking. There’s nothing you need to talk about in there. This is a sacrosanct moment, filled with doubt about your shortcomings and subtle homophobia.
2) Maintain the pee line. This means keep your eyes straight ahead, never dropping down. You know where your equipment is. Just reach down and handle it.

Keep those rules in mind at all times. However, there is a protocol one must maintain. Upon entering and facing the row of urinals, one must go to the furthest empty stall. When the next person comes in, they must go to the opposite end of the row. Should a third person come in, they should go to the middle. However, this is where things get a little tricky. That third person has to figure out if there IS a middle urinal. It’s important to leave space enough to leave the every other urinal space between men. Therefore, you know if a man has designed the bathroom, because there are an odd number of urinals.

The only acceptable time to go to a stall (other than to poo) is when there are no available urinals. Similarly, you’re not supposed to use the kid urinals unless there are no others available (but you still need to maintain proper spacing). Use your best judgment when it comes to these.

And now, troughs. This is a lowest common denominator pee event. It’s nothing less than a free for all/Lord of the Penises, er, Flies. Simply space yourself out as best as you can. If you know you will be facing a trough situation, remember, no open-toed shoes, flip flops (especially at the Indianapolis 500 track – if your choice is that trough, it’s better to stand outside and piss where everyone can see you).

There should be no handshakes or celebratory gestures of any kind while in the bathroom.

Do NOT cross streams. Under ANY circumstances.

There was some question about stalls and how to handling a no toilet paper situation. This is easily enough avoided if you simply check your stall first, but sometimes you just have to go and don’t think to do your due diligence. In the event of no toilet paper, you have a few options: 1) if the bathroom is not busy, you run to another stall or make a break for paper towels (pulling up your underwear is optional); 2) if you’re a man’s man or in a crowded bathroom, you sacrifice your underwear to wipe with and then go commando for the rest of your evening.

And as I told my sons after this informative and instructional seminar, “now today, you are a man. Or at least you will be once you’ve mastered the art of crop dusting a room.”

BFF Jon and Co-editor Jerry are available for school lectures and Boy Scout meetings if you need them.

The Fellowship of the Doers

“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance— isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ –Matthew 7:21-23

This has always been one of those warning passages that always lurks in the back of my head. It’s a stop-check/measure on your spiritual walk and how you’re living it out. Most times, the only way my faith makes sense to me is when I’m doing. I like the image of being a soldier.* On the front lines serving, sometimes getting wounded (because as I was reminded, even self-inflicted wounds are wounds), treated, ready to go back out on another tour of duty.

Those times of treatment can make folks feel antsy. It’s the anxious time of “what next?” It’s hard to be in a place where we’re called to just listen and wait. To heal and be. Half the time wondering “how long?” and often missing the fact that the waiting itself may be the answer. To mix in another analogy, they can feel like they’ve been benched. Yet such seasons of rest are absolutely necessary. They are a redefining season, a time of transition, realigning, refocusing, and reprioritizing. To assess where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what hasn’t worked, and where you go from here.

That’s not the only aspect the propels this need to DO, nor is it the only danger. On the one hand, we want to DO something for the kingdom. We see problems in the world around us and want to fix them. Be it an appeal to our inner white knight/super hero complex or simply a matter of our hearts breaking and we’re moved to action. Yet on the other hand, we don’t want to be so about DOING that we forget for whom and why we DO those things.

There is another inherent danger to the need to DO something. During times of reflection, we may realize we were DOING for the wrong reasons. Wanting to please. Wanting to fix. Wanting to be a blessing. Maybe we were doing it to impress another, be it the approval of a pastor or the respect of a friend. Win the praise of people. We want to DO something, we want to prove our love, we want to show our devotion. Clinging to a very American set of values, our identity wrapped up in what we do. I know that a quiet part of me believes that I’m not worth being loved if I can’t demonstrate my worth. But I have to ask myself, “Is that what pleases God?” Just like part of the anxiety stems from living in and with a fear of being rejected, by people AND by God. Our hearts cry out for our Father to be patient, not trusting in a time or need for rest, because we’re afraid He’s going to give up on us. We believe, but we haven’t overcome our unbelief.

The thing we know but don’t always believe (or believe but don’t always know) is that we’re already accepted by Christ. Our failings, falling short, or addictions don’t make us displeasing to Him. That’s not how love works. Those things do keep us from intimacy with Him and get in the way of our striving for deeper knowing of Him. My friend Seraphim** tipped me to a book by Henri Nouwen called Inner Voice of Love and this passage:

Know That You are Welcome

“Not being welcome is your greatest fear. It connects with your birth fear, your fear of not being welcome in this life, and your death fear, your fear of not being welcome in the life after this. It is the deep-seated fear that it would have been better if you had not lived.

Here you are facing the core of the spiritual battle. Are you going to give into the forces of darkness that say you are not welcome in this life, or can you trust the voice of the One who came not to condemn you but to set you free from fear? You have to choose for life. At every moment you have to decide to trust the voice that says, “I love you. I knit you together in your mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

Everything Jesus is saying to you can be summarized in the words “Know that you are welcome.” Jesus offers you his own most intimate life with the Father. He wants you to know all he knows and to do all he does. He wants his home to be yours. Yes, he wants to prepare a place for you in His Father’s House.”

If we DO, it should be from the overflow of what Christ has done for you. If we DO, it should be us working out what it means to join in God’s mission to reconcile the world back to Him. If we DO, it should be from the wellspring of love. There’s no searching for redemption in our acts of service. There is only thinking of others as more important that yourself and serving them.

Then again, my current prayer is “Lord, this stuff is hard. Could you try testing me with wealth?”

*qualified because sometimes the “in the army of the Lord” business goes too far. I have no intentions of invading Islam or going all Jack Bauer on a wiccan.

** if I have a friend named Wrath why WOULDN’T I have a friend named Seraphim?

House – “Broken” (Part II)

(continued from Part I of An End of Self Confession aka “Physician Heal Thyself”)

“I’m out of plans.” –House

Only after a terrible tragedy, House begins to realize how much deeper his emotional problems lie than a Vicodin addiction. This marked his final stage of fully bottoming out. To finally reach a place where he is tired of fighting, worn out by the struggle to do better, losing hope that you’ll ever find wholeness or the light. Feeling broken, beyond repair, as if something is fundamentally wrong with you and you don’t know if you’ll ever be fixed. Afraid to be around others for fear of saddling them with all of your baggage; or worse, letting your disgust and anger with yourself pour out over them. You’re not where you wish to be, realizing the clash between what you believe and say you are about versus how you are living. Your life and circumstances not playing out the way you had imagined. Hitting bottom means we would rather die that continue to live the way we’ve been living. Reaches the end of his self, sense of independence and need to control when he admits that “I need help.”

“I want to get better. Whatever the hell that means. I’m sick of being miserable.” –House

Only from this place could he face his demons, or put another way, sometimes you have to lose everything to find the “ground of your being.” For one thing, he had walled himself off from everyone one around him. The thing about walls is that you can’t live behind walls and love as you should. Feel loved like we should. People can’t experience you loving them from inside your walls. You can’t living behind them grow closer to God. But you have to come to that conclusion on your own and decide that you want to risk living life in a broken and fallen world that could hurt you. You have to risk experiencing the pain that comes with that world. And that’s a scary proposition. You have to risk knowing and being known. And the more you experience someone who knows you, especially in your sinfulness, it exposes the lie. And that’s a scary proposition.

There is also the core belief that we can’t live without the self-medication. Life shifts. Gaining and losing people, places, and things leaving feelings of resentment, anger, self-protection, and abandonment in its wake, losses remind us that all isn’t as it should be. They remind us that life is painful. How do we experience and react to that pain? Sometimes we numb ourselves, medicate, act out sexually. Old wounds, be they lies we’ve come to believe about ourselves or quietly trying to please a distant father (because his opinion of you has shaped who you are and how you are) need to be confronted. Expecting something from certain relationships that never materialized, disillusioned with losses. Each loss presents a choice: passage to anger, blame, depression, resentment or passage to a greater life and freedom. Growing in love.

“You need to get better.” –Dr. Nolan

The thing is, brokenness can be redeemed. Real love risks and offers redemption and when loved well, we’re taught about God. In all of our brokenness and (self-) deception, in all of our brokenness and desperation, we can come before the Lord and be fully accepted. Fellow writer, Carole McDonnell, said this about laying things at the cross of Christ: “I’ve learned to not ask God to make me what I would’ve been if life hadn’t gone as badly as it has. In Christ, we are restored from whatever pain we had…but the restoration is not to bring us back to the great might-have-been self. True restoration carries the pain and brokenness still, but also Christ’s light. For those in dark to know that we understand some of their pain, and that God-with-us.”

There is a power to putting our feelings to words through prayer, sharing our stories of woundedness, and finding healing as we push one another forward. Moving forward is the key. As Dr. Nolan reminds him, “You’re not God, House. You’re just another screwed up human being.” Apology and confession allows him to acknowledge his failure, move on, and maybe begin feel better about himself.

So he sets out on the path of figuring out how to get from the place where he is to where he wants to be. It’s like starting life all over again: learning how to trust people, how to open up to people; trying to make connections rather than deflecting. Because as House raps (yeah, you read that correctly) “if you don’t make connections, then your whole life is a mess.” Because he can’t do it alone. Eventually he will need the support of others to walk alongside him along the path (not the false piety that comes from an inability to let go of past griefs and hurts).

And even as he goes through the process of shedding the lies he’d wrapped himself in and other people’s expectations of him; at the same time, he (re-)discovers who he is and what he was meant to be: a healer. The thing about wounded healers, is that they understand the pain so intimately. They know what to ask and they know when the “pain meds” aren’t working. They are living reminders to not let the past define you, but to always be working toward who you were meant to be. And that there is hope of becoming whole.

“We’re proud of him, we wish him well, and we hope to never see him again.”–Dr. Nolan

In short, “Broken”, which feels a lot like House M.D.: the movie, may be the best episode in the show’s five-plus season run. And that’s quite a bar that it’s clearing.

House – “Broken” (Part I)

An End of Self Confession aka “Physician Heal Thyself”

From its debut, House M.D. has been a great show. It’s medical mystery plays as in as formulaic a way as any episode of Law & Order or C.S.I. and on that level of procedural, it’s been fine. But it has always been the character of Dr. Gregory House himself, played by Hugh Laurie (Black Adder) who makes the show remarkable. He’s been a fascinating character study, a blend of arrogance, brilliance, charm, wit, and selfishness; a man in pain, who heals others pain.

The two hour opener of season six makes for an interesting departure episode for the show. Other than a brief appearance by Robert Sean Leonard as Wilson, Laurie is the only regular cast member to appear. There isn’t a medical mystery, per se, to solve. There’s just two hours of watching one of television’s most fascinating characters at his most vulnerable and finally facing up to his brokenness.

It’s easy to play armchair psychologist as his wounds keep piling up. He has long term unresolved issues with his father. He’s in constant pain due to his leg and has been self-medicating (drugs, porn, and prostitutes) for years. He’s lost the love of his life and hasn’t figured out how to open himself up enough to love. Broken mind, broken heart, broken body, broken spirit, broken sense of self … sometimes you have to realize the level and depth of your brokenness before you can begin to heal.

At the close of season five, we see House bottoming out. It had been coming for years: the Vicodin abuse, risking jail, his license, a downward spiral of self-destructive behavior. By the time he checks into the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital, he was suffering delusions (including a sexual encounter with his boss, Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein)). As the season opens, House is going through drug withdrawal. Once the meds have cleared his system, and the accompanying hallucinations gone, House is ready to check out. However, despite his voluntary commitment, it isn’t as easy for him to leave as he thought.

As the episode is directed by longtime “House” producer Katie Jacobs, she brings in the star of her previous medical drama Gideon’s Crossing, the great Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Streets), as Dr. Darryl Nolan, the head shrink at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital. House needs Nolan’s support to get his medical license reinstated and Nolan wants House to get truly well. The two begin a spectacular game of cat and mouse–that much greater with two powerhouse actors going up against one another–with House plotting con after manipulation while Nolan lets him know that he can’t con a con man.

“You need to stop fighting the system. You need to let me do my job.” –Dr. Nolan

“Broken” is a journey towards redemption: the first step in a very long and non-linear path. It’s a risky gambit because part of the appeal of House has been all of the things that make him so dysfunctional, his woundedness is part of what makes him tick: his emotional unavailability, his inability to love and the denial of his own problems, all of which his colleagues put up with or gave him a pass on because he did such good work.

A lot of folks don’t know what to do with folks who are truly hurting. They are quick to label them crazy or drama queens, accuse them of self-aggrandizing behavior. To be fair, condition not always easily recognized, hidden behind walls, and people who are hurting aren’t always the most cooperative of “patients.” Often scared or indifferent and stubborn, or whatever else their posture of woundedness, they are unable to give voice or words to their state of despair or hopelessness. Burdened with the weight of guilt and shame, and self-contempt, they might pull away from people, not wanting to let others see our wounds believing them to be too ugly.

“They didn’t break me. I am broken.” –House

House needed to bottom out in order to get to a place of true, restorative healing. However, this came in stages (and throughout the series his friends often wondered “is this is? Have you finally hit rock bottom?”). When he first arrived at the Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital and even after he had kicked the drugs, he hadn’t reached his bottoming out point. He was still an open wound spewing wherever he went. An uncooperative patient more content to scheme and get out on his terms in his way, constantly alienating people with his arrogant behavior and pushing them away before they could abandon him (not trusting them to be there because that’s what his father and life had taught him).

This is where House had found himself. Narcissism and anti-social behavior were just a few of his self-destructive behaviors, often screwing up relationships as if that was the goal. That’s the thing about addicts and addictive behavior: they scheme, lie, and take others down. They take advantage of their friends, seemingly valuing failures more than his successes, not quite being able to get out of their own (self-destructive) way, and never quite being honest to those around them. And in House’s case, he trusts in his intellect and ability to read people over making actual connections with them; using his intellect as a defense as he pulls away from people.

So House keeps trying to do things his way, finding a measure of healing in dealing with his own pain by helping others … as he schemes. He develops a close relationship with his new roommate, Alvie (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and a frequent visitor, Lydia (Franka Potente). Alvie helps him uncover incriminating information about Dr. Nolan for a blackmail scheme and convinces Lydia to loan him her car to sneak out a delusional patient, Freedom Master, in an attempt to undermine Dr. Nolan’s course of treatment.

Easy to wallow in lostness, trying to fix rather than move on; or become caught up in machinations and manipulations, creating scenarios of crisis so that one can swoop in and play the hero. It’s still about trying to maintain a sense of control, to manage something in order to create the illusion that things are still okay.

to be continued …

Ghost Writer – All I Need is a Flaming Bike

[<–Ghost Rider … Ghost Writer? Get the pun?!?]

I’m a vain person.

I’m either slowing coming to grips with this reality or am re-discovering the depths of this truth anew. Now, to be straight, part of “living the writer’s life” is an act of ego and vanity. Ego to believe that something we’ve written ought (DEMANDS!) to be read by others and vain enough to want to see our name on our work. How many of us day dream about walking into a library or a book store and seeing our name on the shelves?

This moment of revelation has been brought to you by elance.com. You see, I’ve been on the site grabbing up the occasional bit of freelance work. I’m about to submit a bid on another ghostwriting job. And once again, my mind is calculating how much time and effort I am going to spend, how many (good) words I am going to use … for someone else’s name to go on it. Then Sally reminds me that bills are due and I prepare the proposal.

The name of the game is managing expectations. The client attitudes may vary, but too often there’s this attitude of “anyone can do this” and that we writers are interchangeable commodities/trained monkeys filling in because the client is too busy to do it themselves. Or because writing is boring, tedious work which they don’t enjoy nearly as much as the coming up with ideas part of writing. One reason, as Nick Mamatas pointed out, is “because everyone can write… So what if the sentences are boring or ungrammatical; outside of real spaghetti, most people can pretty much grasp what a sentence is supposed to mean.” They may not know or understand what they want or are asking for. Or, to be more on point, they may not know what they’re doing. But they are the client. Still, it can grate … I’m imagining as much as me self-diagnosing myself via teh interwebz then going to my doctors to tell them their business.

So just like in collaborations, communication is key. The more thorough the communication is up front, the less bumps there are down the road. Not that there won’t be bumps, but it helps. There are a few things that have to clearly spelled out:

-Deadlines. There are benchmarks of progress that have to be spelled out. How much would they like to see by when?
-Target audience. Who and/or at what level am I writing for?
-Creative input. How much does the client want? Do they want to provide the skeleton of the work and you build on it? Do they just have a title/topic and want you to write it?
-Cost. Yes, I can be quite mercenary when it comes to writing (or “Maurice-nary” as Lon Prater calls it). I need folks to clearly understand that I’m a professional, I know what I’m doing, writing doesn’t happen by magic, and my time and effort are worth not only paying for but paying well and on time for.
-Distribution. For my own sake, I like to know where the book will be available.

After that, it’s about getting the story they want out of them. My agent, Robert Fleck, told me that “ghostwriting is a tough gig and the better you do it, the less the person thinks you’re worth. The more you make it sound like them, the better you are, and the less they believe you’ve done.”

Sigh.

I don’t know … if creating a work is like birthing a child, ghostwriting is like giving it up for adoption. Part of you knows it’s still yours and will always be yours, and you may want to occasionally go check up on it. But it’s part of another’s family now to make their own.

So I make sure the check clears.

(And, wow, does that “child” metaphor break down at this point. But nothing soothes my wounded sense of vanity like a check. Or a paypal deposit, because I’m all kinds of convenient.)