Lovers, Not Thinkers

When we place the entirety of our value on how well we can store and recite information from our minds, we miss out entirely on who we are. We miss out on how we are actually constructed. There is an entire part of ourselves found within our hearts we, and others, end up discrediting because of the lack of interaction with our own inner-heart.

We are lovers. As in, we are beings worthy of love.

My natural tendency is to construct logical arguments based on volumes of facts and ideas I have circulating in my mind. What’s great about the culture I grew up in is how it applauds and rewards thinking. School reinforces my value as a thinker for 25 years, because I can remember facts for a test and can construct a term paper by creatively combining ideas I lodged in my brain over the course of a semester.

I’m a thinker, and I’ve been rewarded as a thinker. Even in church.

Within the confines of Western society’s tendency to favor memorization and regurgitation over experiential and relational, the church is rewarding thinkers as well. The mediums we engage in clearly favor an earnest note taker like me who records volumes of sermon notes from the lecturer who stands on the pulpits speaking to the class. My N.T. Wright and C.S. Lewis books sit highlighted on my shelves. My blogroll continually feeds me daily on things currently happening in church culture.

But if instead I am primarily constructed as a lover, if I am worthy of love, where do I experience this? In very personal one-on-one times with God? In a prayer closet tucked away inside my home? At an awkward social-media-length distance from friends?

Silent Planet is quickly rising to the level of my favorite band. Ironically, they are named after a C.S. Lewis book. And the lead singer Garrett Russell is no ordinary metal-head screaming lyricist. Garrett is a deep thinker who is extremely well read and profoundly poetic.

In the following interview, Garrett starts off by describing why he refers to his fans as lovers:

We call our fans lovers because we believe that human beings are not so much primarily thinkers as we’ve been taught to believe in Western society . . . but instead that we are not thinking beings but relational beings and that our true identity is found in our relationships that we have.

Garrett is speaking profound wisdom. We are not thinkers only. There of course is tremendous value in being good at thinking. There is true worthiness of learning as much as we can with the abilities we have been given.

But at some point…at some point we can’t just hang our hats on what we think we know. We have to place everything on the line with Who we know.

If we know Jesus within the context of relationship then the dynamics begin shifting. We realize our volumes of books can only go so far. We realize our notes can only be studied over so many times. We even realize our bibles can only be underlined to the point of breaking through the pages.

As primarily relational beings we need to be willing to get real with ourselves and with each other. As images of God, either broken or restored, we have to be willing to plumb the depths of our relational selves. It is how we will connect with each other. It is how we will heal with each other. It is how God created someone right next to you, in community with you, to show you how they overcame a terrible situation you thought only you went through.

How beautiful it is Silent Planet calls their fans lovers. It allows me to take that little step more towards realizing I am loved.

It helps redefine my true self as primarily someone to be loved rather than someone to be thought about. It gives me permission to enter further into relational community with others knowing my words will only go so far. My thoughts can only carry our relationship to a point. But it will be seeing us all as lovers, all broken and scared images of God, which will strip away mere thoughts.

Layers And Systems

If you knew me, you didn’t know me.

I can barely make the claim I knew myself.

I’ll maintain I don’t really know all that much. I have a couple pieces of paper from a university saying I do. But I don’t. It’s sort of a humble brag but I mean it.

But I know the following. What I realize is we all have put layers on. We will do our best to maintain the layers, to shield who we know we really are from everyone else now that we’ve placed our layered foot forward already, having dug deeply into a commitment which is, in our minds, impossible to reverse from.

What’s more, we are committed to the layers because for a lot of us they’re justified by the momentary rewards we seem to glean from obtaining successes. Wear a layer, get a reward. There is a system rewarding us for a while. It’s also pulverizing us because we know we are not ourselves. All the while the layers are built stronger because they are reinforced by systems.

We feel we must keep up with the system we identify the most with. We give all our energy towards what is expected by the system of our choice (which gives us a sense we made some sort of autonomous decision, which the system encourages) versus giving all our energy towards the Way which is narrow. It’s so narrow. We know it is a struggle if we take that path.

Which is why we collapse into maintaining systems we are ideologically opposed to in order to assure we have a slice of pie which we can see and taste in the here and now. We feed a paradox where we show up to our spiritual centers one day a week to plead for relief from the system we keep feeding our energy towards. Leaving our spiritual center in a momentary euphoric sense of peace, prepared to be crushed once again by the onslaught of a system we know in our heads to be contrary to what we just heard about for an hour.

We literally hear about an entirely new way of life, of actual life, of living to the fullest, of serving others, of casting away fears, of subverting unjust systems, of loving relentlessly. Then we go on shrugging our shoulder to the layers we keep which only fester the internal wounds.

“I was dead for 6 days, and then I got a hit off hearing about how things will change some day! Back to being dead for 6 days.”


If I knew me, I didn’t know me.

But I know only one thing above all things. And I knew it a long time ago. Only one thing to this day. It’s the only thing I can maintain, because it is the only thing which maintains me.

I am loved by Jesus. That’s it. It’s the only thing I know to be true. I don’t really know what else is going on at all. And I come to realize no one else really does either. We’re either committed to our layers or we are committing to taking major chances in admiration of this great love with all our energy.

Pleading for relief from devotion to systems and our layers lasts only so long. Sometimes, only for an hour out of the week.

But doing the hard work of allowing love to become our system we function completely through while love strips our layers away? It’s the only thing I’ve ever perceived.

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This Is Not A Before And After Picture. This Is A Journey Worth Taking.

There was a reason for the photo I took on January 7th, 2016. But maybe there were two reasons, and the other reason would begin showing itself later as the calling collided with action.

I asked my roommate at the time to take the picture in 2016 because I was updating my LinkedIn profile and wanted something more professional looking. I never took pictures of myself back then.

I thought the 2016 photo and several others I took that evening looked great. And they did. They were some of the better intentional photos I took of myself in recent times back then. I had a fresh haircut earlier that evening. I had a nice pull over on. I was forcing a smile.

Not at all during that night did I consider this a before picture. It wasn’t just a poorly lit attempt at a more professional looking picture of myself. It would in fact take on the role of a before picture.

In the weeks following I began shedding my first few pounds as I was hitting the gym every day during the week. It was a lot of weight lost at first actually. That may have been all I needed for momentum, because I was addicted at that point. I was finally putting in the work in gaining energy. It’s all I wanted to do as a goal really. Workout, get the workout high with the oxygen flowing and the heart pumping. I certainly was putting in work to back up what I knew needed to happen for a long time.

But the ‘work’ to change happened a long time prior to this early 2016 picture. That’s kinda why it’s not really a before picture to me in some ways. It is an in the middle of picture.

The ‘work’ prior to what was about to unfold physically was ‘work’ instilling a sense of value, a sense of purpose, a sense of beloved-ness back into me. It was a small community of men going through life together, becoming vulnerable with each other, and coming alongside each other where my predicament was given a space to be voiced out loud, as funny as it sounded out loud to me.

In this group of guys they steadfastly, with immense compassion, allowed me to not only voice how I was aware I had gained a ton of weight (because its physical anyway, we can all see), but begin for the first time figuring out why. But more important than the why, more important and vital than the forensic analysis of figuring out and tracing and decoding the faults, shame, and lack of personal disciple was the compassionate message voiced out loud every time we would meet.

You are greatly loved by Jesus.

Of course I knew that growing up Christian. Of course that was a matter of fact. But little did I know how much I needed to hear it from friends out loud. Not just read it or ponder it or even hear it verbally from someone standing on a stage. I had no idea how much I needed to hear from people who I call friends say out loud in the same room to me ‘Father, Papa, Abba, Daddy, He loves you. He really does.’

The strength in this consistent message is profound when it comes from those you call friends. It is nothing to read about anymore. It isn’t a sermon to study notes from. It isn’t a study bible highlighted over and over. It was verbally communicated across a room from friends getting real with each other. And profoundly, getting real with their rescuing God, Who, lovingly wants us to know our value with our hearts and not just our heads.

That was the ‘work’ setting itself up for what follows. What follows is only a physical manifestation as well, like how you could see I was out of shape from the outside previously. The physicality changes dramatically and that’s what we get to see and celebrate in our culture and that’s it. Or so I thought.

I didn’t get back to where I was physically once before. I blew past it. The shirt I am wearing on the right in the January 2018 picture today, two years to the exact day from the before picture, is a shirt I bought ten years ago. And it sort of barely fit back then. It’s thermal wear, but it didn’t matter, it was going to be worn underneath anyways. Today though, it fits like a glove.

I also didn’t get back to where I was ten years ago mentally. I feel like I am 20 years younger actually. My mind is sharper than it’s ever been. It’s kinda scary how mentally focused I am now a days. Like good scary.

There is much ‘work’ still to be done. That is what life is for in the here and now. I don’t want to kid anyone in thinking everything is fine right now as I type this out. I don’t want to say hey, workout and that leads to healing. That was my story. It is my story. But even that is only a sliver of my story and merely a physical manifestation of my story.

But I know the following now more than ever. As Viktor Frankl maintains in his book Man’s Search For Meaning, there is profound meaning inside the suffering of life. There is redemption available from the suffering. And there is the opportunity to help guide others because of the sufferings we face.

Jesus offers a Love so strong it will go to the most amazing lengths and depths and heights to reach where you are.

I never knew it was going to be a before picture. That wasn’t it’s reason. Maybe it will serve many other symbolic ‘befores’ in my life.

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Confidence

As I surface from depths I never anticipated, I couldn’t help but notice I finally came-to somewhere I was never before.

Your expectations for me are expectations I never placed on myself, and never could I if I ever tried.

A world breaks in filled with nonsense to everyone not me but I can relate to this alien-rationale.

Anxiety mounts to perform in ways that will break me even as I finally breath the freshest of air and taste the most nourishing fruit.

As I justify my existence by the words others speak but don’t themselves practice, I suddenly realize no one knows what is coming out of their mouths.

I lean in further to the foreign land’s ways as I wash ashore now, not to be welcomed in the way I thought but instead further burdened.

The only sense I can make of it all is we are always never listening to others and we are always ever speaking to ourselves.

My only wish I have left is to speak as confidently about myself as others wishfully do for themselves.

The alien-rationale softly grips me tighter: Love your neighbor as yourself. As yourself. As yourself.

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Embracing Weaknesses/Unrefined Strengths

When I was in elementary school I had to go to speech therapy because I couldn’t talk correctly.

In elementary school I had to wear prescription shoes to cure myself from walking tiptoe. They basically looked like dress shoes. Imagine wearing dress shoes but prescription dress shoes in elementary school. Go ahead, imagine.

I was told I was lazy by several teachers because I couldn’t focus at all, but I got good grades (and that is a tip to where this article is heading).

20171001_093324I say all these things slightly against the advice of Ramit Sethi’s pointed article on the trappings of vulnerability culture. I first heard this in detail on the James Altucher Show when Ramit said he’s tired of people being vulnerable ahead of being excellent at something, basically spilling their guts on the Internet without having tasted the sort of success which gives credibility to their exposed vulnerabilities. I totally agree.

When I began overcoming my conflicts by coming to grips with the incredible God given value I have in me, I started to see shortcomings as superpowers society was beating out of me. Only recently have I seen them as assets, value God gave me. Challenges to refine, not discard.

By not becoming vulnerable, or let’s call it honest self awareness, I enter too many situations where I’m trying to fit into a world that doesn’t really know what to do with a Misfit like me. By putting on a mask and trying to fit in I just make things worse for myself because then I think there’s something wrong with me when things are not working out. They’re not working out because I haven’t dared enough to be more myself and double down at getting better at perceived weaknesses. The weaknesses are actually strengths in disguise.

It’s refreshing to know there are James Altucher’s out there who yes, after success, can write about their most intimate shortcomings, their most intimate flaws.

It’s great to hear from Richard Branson that he’s dyslexic. It’s ten times more refreshing to read how he overcame it in spite of it being there, embracing it is a part of him, and figuring out how it actually is a superpower of his.

They are encouraging because they are the aspirational leader. What I find most encouraging about their stories is weakness came before excellence. They began harnessing their shortcomings prior to excelling. They didn’t enter into the comfort of success and then faced shortcomings. Misfit nature came when they were born. Their misfit nature was given to them. Their weaknesses were gifts, but they had no idea what to do with these gifts initially. Neither did I.


Having not become a Branson, Altucher, or Sethi yet myself, should this post even exist? Yes it should. Because I believe I need to reach out to my fellow metal head misfits so we can move along in confidence with our true gifts.

Over the past three years, in close community, I’ve gone through the process of slowly waking up to who I really am. This process sparked the awareness I needed to begin losing the weight I gained. The weight gain and lack of self-care was a mask I put on without realizing it because I was miserable ignoring my weaknesses (unrefined superpowers) while attempting to bolster societal strengths which I don’t posses.

If I don’t shed my weight by first focusing on what is really going on inside of me, then I don’t release any of these words to the world.

And this doesn’t happen.

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A friend recently told me my weight loss encouraged him, realizing he too can lose weight. Then he went about doing it. I didn’t have to say much at all to him before, I just joyfully shared how I had to work on my inner value, and gave a couple food and exercise tips here and there (maybe a lot of tips with my hyperactive mind).


First I know I am a walking talking speech impediment, then I practice over and over the art of clarity in communication, knowing my sporadic mind is actually a gift when I refine it, not discard it.

First I know I walk on my tiptoes as a kid, then I realize come time for sports in high school I can run as fast as the more athletic kids because I run on the balls of my feet, something the coaches have to constantly teach the other kids.

First I am told I am lazy by teachers, then I realize it’s because I have this racing mind thinking of a billion things at once and I need to simply harness this power and focus intensely on a few things I really care about. Like getting into shape.

First I know I am loved as I am, then I have the freedom to change.

We’re supposed to be misfits. And together we’re suppose to excel. We’re meant to succeed together as ourselves by sharing our shortcomings so we can lead to the excellence in front of us.

The Pain Of Doing What You Love

I love the do what you love mantra. Gurus pounding their fists on tables saying do what you love right this moment so you can establish it as the thing you keep doing, the thing you do more of.

But what if there are painful reminders attached to what you love? Deep wounds which leave you completely paralyzed? Do you do more of something you love which has hurt you tremendously?

I think we have to do more of what we love even if we are hurt in the process. But not the exact same type of more.

If your passion or love died off at some point because the baggage of failing at it attached itself to your identity, stop this very moment confusing that failure with your identity. It’s not who you are at all. You just didn’t get it the first, second, or seventeenth time around. But if it is something you love tremendously then it is all the more reason to keep going further and see what you can do differently the next time around. Not to pack up and quit all together.

We shouldn’t place ourselves in the same scenarios or with the same people which resulted in the wounds either. It is really tough if the wounding came from people close to us, or people in general for that matter. It sucks because now we begin to attach the longevity and livelihood of our passions to people who are not us. They are not us. You are you.

And if the people are close to you then it presents a bit of a challenge moving forward for sure, but it must be forward movement. If the people are not close to you anymore, then allow this distance to be the ultimate signal that your object of love, the thing you love to do so much, doesn’t have to be attributed with them anymore.

The mind sucks at this because it thinks we are going to carry these people and those failings with us forever. But if they wounded our passion and they are not in our lives anymore, start a new forward momentum. They are not in our lives anymore. If they are people who are in our lives still, we have to be incredibly intentional by sitting down and taking the time to create boundaries between the amazing things we want to do and the people who have hurt those things. It has to be a therapeutic separation. Otherwise we will carry around a blurred future vision of what we love to do mixed with the pain inflicted by others.

We have to envision a future where, by the work we put in today, we inch closer to the incredible pursuits we have plastered to our hearts. The very things we love to do. The plaster, after all, is holding our damaged hearts together.

Dying Too Fast

You are killing yourself when you intentionally stop doing things you are good at and enjoy doing. There is no way to soften the language. You are allowing a part of yourself to suffocate slowly. Death may not come tomorrow but it’s accelerated now.

I know. I saw the results up close and personal.

For reasons I am only scratching the surface in understanding, I stuffed things I enjoyed inside a ‘to-do-later’ box. Of course the intentions were to open the box when convenient. Maybe after I earned X amount of dollars. Maybe when I gained middle management status type security. Probably by the time I forgot what I liked and was good at all together.

The side effects of this? Well you end up having to fill your void of what you love with something. I got real fat, I didn’t personally grow, and I used my ‘free-time’ and those X dollars on things I ‘liked’ such as video games, beer halls, and fast food lines.

I’ve conducted a lot of research on this recently, having read several people who express a very similar message: most of us end up placing things in a box we had a child-like faith and love for. Things we scoff at now because we don’t think we are that good at it. Even though we are good at it. Things we deeply love.

Some of the most common themes in explaining this curious behavior are the following:

We are most afraid of what we love.

It sounds counter-intuitive, and if you are afraid of spiders you may have a point, you actually don’t love spiders. But what several authors have pointed out which is true is we are afraid of failing at what we most love.

In a vain attempt of keeping ourselves safe, we preserve our current state of having never risked anything in order to not experience potential ridicule messing up something we love. It’s kind of like plastic covering your couches to prevent people from sitting on them. Seriously, what on earth is going on there.

We can’t do what we loved and were good at doing as kids because we are not kids anymore.

Well, right. But the problem with that line of thinking is you stop at applying the reasons why you would flip through baseball cards for hours, diligently categorizing them by card number, memorizing the patterns of each page as you flip through the thick binder because of your photographic memory, and being pleased Alex Rodriguez and Mark McGwire’s rookie cards are in your collection (I’m a child of the 90’s, so much hope in all those pure home-runs paying for college).

Unless you own a card shop and need to flip through baseball cards still, that’s not what you are suppose to be doing now. You are suppose to be categorizing items, putting them in their proper place, creating order out of mess, recalling things with your photographic memory and being an on demand human Google resource by putting ideas together.

We have created a mess by now and are slogging through triage just to maintain.

Sure. But. Here is an incredible discovery in the midst of triage. If you start piece by piece, a moment here and there, to let back in the thing you love so much and are good at, it not only starts to establish itself again but actually helps in the process of triage.

So we’ve made a mess by taking the wrong career path, or creating obligations we must tend to (ahem, creating offspring), or signing up to volunteer for things society or someone outside our selves said was a good thing to sign up and commit time and energy to. In the midst of all that, you have to intentionally carve out time (which you have if you actually love the thing) to get what you love going again.

Or better yet. You start applying what you love and are naturally good at to the commitments you’ve made. They may be not ideal obligations, but today is literally the time to start applying what you love to do towards what you do now. Maybe your kids never knew you were a woodworker until you pick it back up and teach them how to use a wood lathe.


If you don’t pick whatever your ‘it’ is back up, you might as well hire a woodworker to build your casket. You’ve essentially said no to living out what you are good at and love.

Stop dying by doing. Become a kid again. Put it to practice even in the middle of the mess you are in.

The Pilgrimage

The rhythmic pilgrimage cycles back today,
A ritual imprinting itself onto my heart
Not as relief but as duty,
My life as I have known it depends on it.

Surrounded by others settling into the camp,
We will come with our burdens, our expectations,
Our hopes which were spilled out across the grounds,
And love will rise from shattered pieces.

If this is only an autumn occurrence
Somehow I was not told of its ending in the winter,
Nor last spring, nor this summer,
As the place I journey to on this day forgot to stay
Inside its autumn home and wandered with me
Through seasons I’d wish upon not a single soul.
This ritual, this holy event, it haunted all year.

This day, this pilgrimage, hitched a ride back with me
It journeyed with me to come to my holy place,
And never let me alone till I finally said:
“Here is my crushed self,
Here is my true self,
Take it, I hope others will take it too.”

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