On Sunday, June 28, the day of gay pride parades in Chicago and around the world, millions celebrated the recent United States’ Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized gay marriage at the national level. But David Wichman took his personal Pride rally to the General Admission (GA) line at the United Center.
With his hand-decorated rainbow flag in tow, he wanted to get a place close to the stage. His flag simply said: “IN THE NAME OF LOVE – THANK YOU!” Wichman wanted Bono and the band to know their work as allies had not gone unnoticed.
Dozens of fans bring their banners and signs to the GA floor on each night of the tour — but not every fan has their banner or sign lifted high by the lead singer onstage. As Bono had done in Arizona in May after the news of Ireland’s successful marriage referendum, he turned this spirited Sunday night show into a celebration of marriage (his wife Ali was in attendance), and a joyful tribute to the civil rights advocates who worked to make marriage equality a reality for the whole United States.
It was a rough week at work. It got off to a bad start and didn’t improve much. Maybe you’ve had one of those weeks.
It all started when one of my supervisor decided to observe me talking with a client. In my view, the conversation went really great. In fact, in the middle of our discussion, I literally thought, “I’m so glad my supervisor is witnessing this! I’ve built great rapport with the client, I’ve elicited his story, and he’s talking about his emotions and his relationships!” I decided that the universe was clearly on my side, because as we left, the client said, “Thank you so much for this conversation. I feel much better. You really brightened my day.”
In other words, I nailed it.
Then my supervisor wanted to debrief and provide some “constructive criticism.” After asking what I thought was good about the conversation, he proceeded to “should on” me. Have you ever been “should on?” It’s no fun. He said things like, “You should have done this,” “You should have done that,” “You shouldn’t have pushed so much with this,” “You should have noticed when he said this.” He said nothing positive about the conversation. Except at the end when he claimed, “You’re doing fine.”
Then I started to get critical.
“I’m doing fine?!?” I thought. “What does ‘fine’ even mean? Is that some kind of backhanded compliment? Fine is bland. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s like the word ‘interesting.’ I hate that word. Tell me what you mean by ‘INTERESTING!’ Well, in the context of this “constructive criticism,” fine apparently means that I’m not good.
And that’s when the voices came. I’ve had them before. I’m sure you’ve had them, too. It’s the voice of doubt that says, “Do you really think that you can do this? Well, you can’t. You’re a joke. You’ve been studying this and practicing this for six months, and you’re still making rookie mistakes. Even when you think you are doing great, you fail.” Then comes the kicker, “You aren’t good enough and you will never be good enough.”
I’m not sure, but I think my daughter, Zoe, is Jesus. For a couple of reasons. But before I talk more about her, let’s talk about me. You know, since I’m not Jesus and I like talking about myself.
I hate failing. Really hate it, even when it’s partly out of my control. Just a few days I wrote about how, for My Jesus Project month in which I’m working on “Jesus the Ascetic,” I was fasting from solid foods, giving away half of my possessions, practicing a new spiritual discipline each week, and reading through the Gospel of Matthew with an ascetic perspective.
A couple of days later, my doctor and dietician pulled me off of my fast because seizure symptoms had re-emerged. I felt like I had failed, and it took me a day or two to muster the courage to even write about it. Yes, part of the practice was about listening to my body. Yes, another part was to learn to distinguish between my wants and needs. But I had pride at stake — as evidenced by the bruising of said pride when I had to change my diet.
So in a way, the pride at the root of my practice actually was the bigger shortfall. I’m still eating vegan all month, abstaining from alcohol and refined sugar, but I had set a goal and made a public statement about it, and I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t do it.
Further, my mentor for the month, Reba Riley, called me out — not so much for the shift in diet (well, a little bit), but mostly because of my motivations behind the overall My Jesus Project practice and my motivations. I was struggling, not just with the perceived failure and resulting embarrassment, but also with the fact that I was busting my ass in this practice — far more so than I’ve ever done for a previous book. Despite grandiose expectations (always the seeds of premeditated resentment), the traffic and overall public response has been pretty lukewarm.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked.
“It seems to me,” I said, “that we talk a lot about following Jesus, but most of us don’t put a lot of serious energy into figuring out what that really means, day to day, myself included. So I’m taking a year to try and figure it out. And I’m trying to do it in a way that invites other folks to figure it out along with me.”
“And you’re writing about it.”
“Yeah,” I said.
"Let me put it this way. If no one else was watching, if you were doing this only for yourself, would you still do it?” she said.
Does “meek” mean a Uriah Heep-like unctuous humbleness? Does it mean softness or gentleness or weakness? Are “the meek” the powerless, or perhaps the poor? Is their meekness to be displayed toward God, but not toward people? How meek is meek, and do you always have to let bullies kick sand in your face at the beach?
Let those who boast, boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:24, NRSV)
Pride has taken many forms in my life, but most dangerously in this: I have taken myself far too seriously. You wouldn’t think that a neurotic worrier who spent eight years in therapy would be full of pride. But for years I was utterly consumed with anxiety over what would happen in my life, because I believed that it should go a certain way and that I had both the responsibility and ability to bring that about.
So there’s nothing like having your worst fear come true — 19 months* of unemployment in a bad economy — to show you how small you really are, especially compared to God.
It was kind of amazing.
Editor's Note: This post was adapted from Sunday's message at The District Church in Washington, D.C.
Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck writes in his book The Road Less Traveled that one of the stages of growing up is “giving up the distorted images of one’s parents” — in other words, realizing that they’re not perfect. This also holds true for other leaders in our lives. We learn that our political leaders, our youth group leaders, our mentors, our teachers aren’t perfect. This isn’t always a bad thing, because sometimes we feel like our leaders let us down, but it’s actually because we had unrealistic expectations of them — such as being perfect, such as never making mistakes, such as not doing everything you want them to do.
(Pretty much nobody I know does everything I want them to do. That doesn’t make them failures; that makes me have to examine what kind of expectations I’m putting on them!)
So I’m not talking about that kind of let-down. I’m talking about those situations we’ve all experienced where we’ve been let down by some kind of failure on the leader’s part. Just this week, Pastor David Yonggi Cho, the founder of one of the largest churches in the world — 750,000 people, and he’d been pastor there for almost five decades — was found guilty of embezzling almost $12 million . I’m talking about that kind of let down. I’m talking about:
- a father who wasn’t present—physically or emotionally,
- a pastor who had an affair,
- a youth leader who ended up turning away from God.
Those are the ones that are most devastating, right? But it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic. It could be a small group leader who wasn’t present when you were going through something, a supervisor or boss at work who doesn’t listen or seem to care.
Two weeks after we arrived in Portland, Amy (my wife and new senior pastor at First Christian Church in downtown Portland) decided she needed to do something meaningful to express her voice as a person of faith in the community. There already were the folks handing out tracts down on the campus of Portland State University, which is definitely not us. There were plenty of community leaders to meet, hands to shake and even media outlets to connect with so we’d have a better handle on key circles of influence.
But none of what was really what we had in mind.
The annual Pride fest was taking place that weekend along the banks of the Willamette River, and we knew we should probably go. Folks in our new congregation are in various stages in their journey of discerning where they are with regard to sexual orientation, but overall, it’s an incredibly open and loving place for all people. There are gay singles and couples who attend regularly, and who participate in leadership and other ministries like everyone else. But the fact of the matter is that most people outside the walls of the church don’t know that. And honestly, how will they ever know if we’re not willing to tell them?
Better yet, why not show them?