A Fantastic Therapist

I don’t even remember the context of the conversation I was having, but I was talking with my friend Jack via Facebook messenger a couple of weeks ago, and as part of the conversation, he said “I’m a fantastic therapist.”

Knowing Jack, I don’t have any reason to doubt him, or think it was just empty bravado. He’s an accomplished therapist who is doing great work in his field. I’ve heard him describe how he works, and he does sound fantastic. Getting to know him, it is quickly clear that he is very good at what he does, and loves what he does.

What struck me was that he said it, just like that. Creative people, and/or people in my social circles, are so often haunted by imposter syndrome and self-doubt. This ranges from beginners, who might have reason to doubt but who shouldn’t let that stop them, all the way to incredibly accomplished and skilled individuals – people who might be better at what they do than I am at anything.

We spend so much time rehearsing and repeating how we are inadequate and not up to the challenges we face, or only get where we are through luck, or whatever. It is what is expected of us, what we expect of each other. To hear something else is jarring.

My friend Jack is a fantastic therapist, and he simply said so in a matter-of-fact way. It was a weirdly radical act, surrounded as I am by fellow self-doubters and imposters.

At what point, when one of us is good at something, do we just say “I am good at this thing” and leave it at that? Why does that seem like such a huge thing to say?

Prayer (Goodbye Zu-zu)

Tonight our hamster died, so I decided to tell a story about prayer.

When we first got our hamster, Zu-zu, my daughter was so excited. She was 6 at the time (now 7) and was just enamored with this little creature. We had seen her at the pet store that afternoon and gotten her on an impulse, as we tend to do. We go to the pet store because it cheers us up, and is something we can do for free, but sometimes we come home with a creature.

Not long after, Zu-zu escaped her cage in my daughter’s room right around bedtime (Zu-zu turned out to be an elite escape artist). We went through the entire upstairs part of our house, but to no avail – the hamster was nowhere to be found. My daughter was really upset at the loss of her new pet. Eventually, hours after bedtime, she fell asleep, still tearful. I felt a lot of sympathy, and also had my own situation to feel bad about – I had stood up two wonderful women from my church with whom I had a lunch date.

I tried all I could think of to contact the two of them and apologize, and try to find a way to make amends, but they weren’t responding. I felt miserable about it because these were two genuinely good people whom I had just failed. They were the kind of people who would be really hurt by this kind of thing, as well.

That night, upset on my daughter’s behalf, and on my own behalf, I prayed. Now, I have a well-documented ambivalence with regard to prayer. Suffering from depression and anxiety, I’d been told many times that I could just pray these things away. They were all in my mind, after all. If it wasn’t working, it was because I was a failure – not faithful enough, secretly evil, too full of doubt, whatever. And working in a hospital as a chaplain, I had seen plenty of good people pray and still suffer for no discernible moral or theological reason. Balance that with the many stories of answered prayers I’ve heard as a pastor and a Christian in general, as well as the painful stories of unanswered prayers.

But, anyway, I prayed. I prayed that we would find Zu-zu, and that my two friends from church would forgive me. I didn’t know what else to do, and even I pray when I’m desperate.

That night, my daughter had a dream. She woke my spouse and I up to tell us about it. In her dream, she found Zu-zu in her room, standing on her hind legs and cleaning her face and smiling at her. So I thought, OK. I went into her room, looked around for a while by the light of my cellphone, and there was Zu-zu, standing on her hind legs, cleaning her face with her little paws.

The next day, my two friends let me know that they forgave me, and we made new lunch plans.

Prayer is weird and doesn’t make any sense. When put to a rigorous test, it tends to fail, yet billions of people believe in its efficacy. I wrote a whole book about not praying, but there it is. I prayed, and that’s what happened.

I remember the flood of thankfulness that I felt, the wonder that things had turned out OK after all. And my 6 year old having a predictive dream about finding her hamster – that was genuinely weird. Yes, sure, she could have just seen her hamster while half-asleep, thought she dreamed what she had, and told us about it. The hamster was in the dark and behind a dresser, but sure. That’s what could have happened. And my two friends might have just chosen that day to let me know that they forgave me. Just a coincidence.

Prayer is like that. It’s frustrating.

Goodbye Zu-zu.

On Being A White Male

I know, no one cares. Way too much is about being a white male already. That being said, I can’t fully understand what it is like to be anything else. And being a white male is distinct from whether I understand what it is to be a white male – which I continue to try to do. 

My dangerous TL;DR: it is clearly easier to be white and male than non-white and non-male in American society. That being said, I think it is common to overestimate how easy it is to be a white male.

One way to sum up American society would be: America is made by white males, for white males. I’m not arguing that point, it is clearly the case. What I do want to do is to add two Mad-Lib blanks to the statement and then fill them in and explain why. So the statement would become America is made by _____ white males, for white males _____.

I would fill in those blanks with the following, to make a more accurate and telling statement: America is made by rich white males, for white males to destroy ourselves and everything around us.

If you are not rich, America is not for you

Why is race as a social construct not overwhelmingly rejected as obviously false and harmful? Perhaps at a time when ignorance let us pretend that it had some basis in science, 100 or more years in the past. But why isn’t race categorized with phrenology, where it belongs?

One short answer is that the social construct of race is enough to divide poor white folks from poor people of color, so that they don’t realize that they have the exact same interests, which are in complete contradiction to the interests of the wealthy and ownership class. This is why millions of white Republicans vote against their best interests, and have for four decades solid. You can sit a white Republican down and point to how their votes lead to policies that materially make their lives measurably worse in every way, and yet there is no change. Why is that? Tribalism is part of it, but race is a huge element. Why do Red States publicly, vocally detest public assistance while simultaneously needing more public assistance than Blue States? Because public assistance is, in their perception, racialized. It is something lazy black and brown folks get from the Democratic Party, which is of course why they overwhelmingly vote Democratic, in this view.

Why is Silicon Valley doomsday-prepping? Why are they researching how to create Gault’s Gulch on Mars, or how to automate their home defenses, or how to mind-control their employees? Out of the understandable fear that a large segment of the population will realize that this whole system is designed to harm the vast majority of us for the profit of a few.

If you do not destroy yourself, America is not for you

The moment you decide to stop participating in societal self-harm, you will be pushed. As soon as you stop over-working and under-sleeping and self-medicating and emotionally anesthetizing, things start to fall apart fast. As soon as you ask, “Why would I sacrifice for a company that won’t sacrifice for me?” the cracks begin to show. Right when you decide that productivity and efficiency are not moral values – that they may very well be immoral ones – America turns ugly, is revealed in its ugliness.

Even dipping your toe in, asking, “Wait, what would a good life look like? What would flourishing look like?” brings a swift answer – it looks like nothing  you have ever experienced thus far. Asking that question, you are in uncharted territory. The system is not designed for you to flourish, and when you start trying to flourish, the system will push back.

Clearly, our society is made for white men, but it isn’t made for us to find joy and flourish and live good lives. It is a “blueprint for self-destruction”, to quote Utah Philips as I often do. It is a hand-grenade with a slow fuse, but the pin is pulled.

If you do not destroy everything around you, America is not for you

In 2018, it is impossible to even participate in our economy without materially contributing to the destruction of everyone and everything around us. With tremendous effort, and insight, and sacrifice, and planning, it might be possible to live a zero-sum life where the good you do and the harm you do are balanced out. I’m saying it is possible in theory, but it is so difficult that I’m not sure how one would do that. People who try end up looking absurd to those around them.

The system we have now is rocketing downward at such a break-neck speed that our brains haven’t evolved to even comprehend it. 21 Trillion dollars unaccounted for in war spending; species going extinct up to 10,000 times faster than they would be without us; ten football fields of rainforest burned and clear-cut every day; gallons of water wasted to produce every pound of meat – we are not capable of understanding the damage we are doing. The facts of our system beggar the imagination.

And as white men, what we’re offered is the chance to be in charge of this absurd horrorshow. That’s the carrot; that’s the dream. Someday, if I work  hard and keep my nose clean, I can rise to the upper reaches of this charnel-house of misery, exploitation, and the destruction of beauty.


America is made by white males, for white males, but not by the vast majority of white males, and not for our flourishing. It’s like being born as Edward Scissorhands. As long as you are called upon to cut or stab people and things, including yourself, you are well-suited, even rewarded. This is just what we built you for. The moment you try to stop cutting and stabbing people and things, you find out that you have a serious problem on your hands (pun intended). You have been shaped in a way that doesn’t let you flourish, and that even keeps people around you from flourishing.

I think this is where some of the bitterness that white males express toward Feminism and Black Lives Matter comes from, the push-back and hostility when some people talk about “White privilege.” Because 99% of white males, just like 99.9% of everyone else, are living in the midst of a society that destroys them, and pushes them relentlessly to destroy the people and things around them. Occasionally we snatch some joy or meaning from life, but it’s such a battle. It seems like only a judgmental asshole would call this privilege, especially at first. (I get why that response is infuriating to everyone who isn’t a white male, too.)

The big disadvantage of being a white male

There are innumerable advantages to being a white male – sort of. Advantages in a horrifying system that is destroying all of us are…still advantages. But the big disadvantage of being a white male in America is that nothing I’ve said so far is intuitive or obvious. In fact, it is profoundly counter-intuitive and only realized with significant struggle. What is probably screamingly apparent to people who are not white and male is genuinely not apparent to us without some degree of effort – sometimes a ton of effort. We are white, and the world is bleached. We are male, and the world is chauvinized (enjoy my neologism).

At first glance, and at two-hundredth glance, America seems like just the place for us. Just look at it! We’re represented in all media. We’re in control of everything. We’re assumed to be competent when we are not, and assumed to be extraordinary when we are merely competent. If there is any place where we should be flourishing, surely this is the place!

Only we’re not. More of us are giving up on life, and committing suicide, and becoming nihilists. It’s shitty here and the fight to make our lives anything but shitty is a real one, and many of us lose that fight. If you take the “Red Pill”, then the reason for this lack of flourishing is “because Feminism.” If you are racist, or racist-adjacent, then the reason for this lack of flourishing is “because minorities.” Neither one is at all true, but figuring that out takes another whole round of struggle.

If you aren’t a white male, I imagine that it is much more apparent that this place is not for you and your flourishing. You’re under-represented. You’re not in control of anything, or hardly anything – not even your own body! An obviously shitty situation that is unfair, and infuriating, and dystopian, and claustrophobic – but easier to see clearly from the start. Or so I guess.

One response to this is clearly, “I demand a seat at the table.” And you fight for generations, and perhaps get that seat. And then you have a seat at the table where they create a world that pushes us to destroy ourselves and each other. I imagine it takes a while to realize that, and then what? All that long struggle to be at or near the top of the dystopia instead of the bottom.

But this is a post about white males.

The only way out

The only way out I can see is for white men to join the movements for liberation of women and people of color, not as self-sacrificing Saints of Woke-ness, but for our own survival and self-interest. Not so that we all have a seat at the table, but so we smash the table and burn down the shitty building it’s in, and build something else that doesn’t drive us to destroy ourselves and each other. Misogyny and racism are weapons used against us, just as they are weapons we are taught and encouraged to use against others.

And in the short term, maybe the foreseeable future, this will probably have to look like getting everyone a seat at the table. Because there is no way forward, no hope at all, in smashing this table, this system inimical to human flourishing, without the help and leadership of those who are not white and who are not men. And there are absolutely those white men and others who act in bad faith, climbing the ladder and pulling it up behind them, for reasons ranging from bigotry to perceived self-preservation.

This place is really fucked up, and it wasn’t made for 99% of us. We can’t flourish here unless it changes. And we have so many allies in fighting for that change, if we get our heads out of our collective asses and realize that it’s long past time.

I was going to write about the White Ethnostate and MGTOWs, but I’ll leave this here. I imagine I’ve said something here to upset everyone, so that’s fun.

Some Things I Like About My Life

Is this really worth writing about? I think so. Will anyone care? Doesn’t really matter. Last week’s post was kind of rough to write, so here’s one that’s on a happier note.

As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I can always provide a deep, thought-out list of all the things that are wrong with me, my life, and the world around me. It is a lot harder to talk about good things, or even think of them and ennumerate them, but I’ve had some consciously-thankful moments lately, and I thought I’d write things out.

Brown-Thumb Garden

We call it a brown-thumb garden because of our method – plant things randomly and toss seeds around and then see what comes up in the spring and summer.

Our brown-thumb garden is in its third year, and it is a legit ecosystem at this point. Butterflies, moths, at least three or four species of bees, dragonflies, ladybugs, sunflowers and a profusion of a dozen other kinds of flowers, strawberries, and occasoinal beans. I like that when we step out the door, or come home, we often pause to excited talk about what the bees are doing, or whether new sunflowers have opened, or whether that wasp is building a nest and do we need to try to discourage it.

I should say her. I also like how we talk about animals. When we see some seed shells scattered on a leaf, we say that “someone” has been eating our sunflower seeds, meaning one of the local birds. I like that we talk about animals as people – how comfortable my daughter is in talking about humans as one kind of animal, not as an insult, but int he sense that animals are beautiful and interesting and wonderful to learn about.

And sometimes scary and dangerous. There’s that too.

D&D Group

This past session, not only did we add a brand-new player to an 8th level campaign (21 sessions in) but we also had the first session where a friend who moved would be present digitally – Max Headroom style on a computer screen via Google Hangout. These are two big challenges, on top of providing an entertaining four-hour gaming session for five other adults – and it went great! We got lucky, and the new player seems very cool, was patient, and then jumped right in. The technical difficulties with our Max Headroom player were minimal. It was a blast. Our weekly game continues to be what keeps me sane.

Dungeon World Group

In one of my few moments of social extroversion, as a college freshman, I kind of invited myself into a character-creation session in our dorm lounge for a Vampire the Masquerade game. At the time I was not a fan of Vampire, but I really wanted to be in a game, and knew I needed to meet people and make friends, and jumped at the opportunity.

20 years later, I am gaming with some of those same people from that college group (which would range through Vampire, Mage, Changeling, LARPs, GUPRS, AD&D 2nd, 3 and 3.5E, and more recently Fate Core and now Dungeon World). Our game is very much the kind of silly, surprising game that Dungeon World seems to point you towards. Vivid, zany things happen, and it’s a ton of fun.

Bodhana Group

Jack Berkenstock, Executive Director of The Bodhana Group, is a wonderful person, and a friend, and I’m getting to know other wonderful Bodhana folks through participation in Save Against Fear, our annual gaming convention and fundraiser. I’m honored to be on the board and able to help with their book and RPG setting and also things like editing and improving fundraising letters and brainstorming ideas.

What’s The Bodhana Group? It is a nonprofit that focues on using games in therapy, especialy with children and adolescents. We’ve had people in tears because of the power of games in therapy – kids opening up who never open up otherwise, having fun while also receiving therapeutic effects and help with serioues challenges like social anxiety, Autism Spectrum Disorder, trauma and grief.

I am so thankful to be able to help with something like this.


My 6yo daughter is signifcantly more gracious than I am. She is paying attention to what Julius Junior and the Octonauts and Daniel Tiger and My Little Pony are trying to teach her, and is become wise about friendship and working together, learning to be resilient. She decided to take Julius Junior’s advice and celebrate someone in her life – in this case, me – with a special party. She did her own Chinese Dragon Dance (forgive the cultural appropriation, she loves dragons and Chinese restaurants) and then we went out for Thai Food, together with her stuffed elephant, who very much enjoyed the elephant-themed decorations. She’s just a thoughtful person, and she reminds me to be more thoughtful.


I just enjoy writing. The things I want to write about are not focused enough to make much progress, and I can easily name a bunch of writers who are better at it, but it is one of the few things I can just work on, every day, and continually enjoy.

I’m happy with the ideas that are going into my OSR hack, and into my Dragonblade setting. I like Charts of Darkness, and am kind of stymied in terms off getting it ready for the Storyteller’s Vault, but it’ll get there at some point. Occasionally someone even still buys a PDF of Parsec!

As I said talking with a friend recently, writing means twenty thousand hours spent creating things that no one else will ever see. That’s true, but I can’t help but feel it’s been twenty thousand hours well spent, with many more to come.

“He Was Mostly Dadequate”

When we found out my wife was pregnant, I experienced fear like I had never experienced before. This is speaking as someone who has always been wracked by anxiety and has multiple phobias (darkness, heights, water where I can’t see the bottom). This was something different. This was whole-body fear, day in and day out. It was near-suicidal fear, to be honest. One time I had a very strong impulse, and vivid fantasy that actually made me pull over, of just turning the wheel and driving into oncoming traffic. It would end the fear, and my wife and daughter-to-be would get the PCUSA death benefit from the Board of Pensions, which I was pretty sure would be significantly better than having me for a dad. It felt very much like a win-win, but I had the presence of mind to pull to the right instead of the left and stop the car and just sob on the shoulder while cars and semis roared by.

It didn’t help that my wife had a lot of complications with this pregnancy, including trips to the ER and weekly stress tests and all sorts of things. The time is largely a blank from all of the fear crawling through me, but I can’t imagine I was much help. I tried.

When my daughter was born, my first words to her were something very much like, “Hello Poppy. I’m really sorry, but I’m your dad.” My thoughts about her life were all about what I could do to mitigate the damage I was inevitably going to inflict on her. How could I bring her into the world and have her grow up a healthy and well-adjusted human despite me?

(This whole time, there was a part of me in the background saying “Hey some of this is probably your mental illness distorting your perceptions of yourself and the situation” but it was a faint voice easily drowned out by the roar of panic.)

This constant fear didn’t go away when she was born. I think it was just subsumed under exhaustion through three months of colic, and the anxiety and depression of my first ministry job falling apart, and failing to find a new ministry job, and realizing that I was not only going to be the father of a baby but I was going to be the homeless father of a homeless baby. We moved in with our wonderful friends, setting up in their basement. My wife found a job as a preschool teacher, and so I ended up being a stay-at-home dad.

I think this was a life-long low point – one of three or maybe four I can think of. I had failed in the ways that I had to measure myself – as a pastor, as a provider, as a husband, etc., and now I was going to fail as a parent as well. Every single day, all day, the relentless drumbeat of my failure, and this helpless baby the victim. The competent extraordinary parent was going to work, and now the baby was stuck with me.

And my thoughts got way worse than that.

So here’s what happened – I survived. My daughter survived. Every day that ended with her intact, I took as a win. People often laughed when I said that, but I meant it very earnestly and literally. I had to set some kind of standard, and that standard was “the baby did not suffer lasting harm today.” That was it. Everything else was negotiable. Either one of us, or both, could spend the day screaming and crying, but if she didn’t suffer lasting harm, I had to chalk that up as a win.

The interesting thing here is what all of this came together to mean. Wracked by fear, I could easily have avoided most parenting by being a pastor. It’s a job that takes all of the time you give it and more. Years could have gone by that way – I am sure of it. I am actually sure I would have done just that, feeling like it was the only way to survive emotionally. My child could have been essentially a stranger – I’d be the emotionally distant provider that is the bedrock of so many father issues and tragic character arcs.

But this was rendered impossible by my double failure, as a new pastor and also as someone seeking a job as a pastor to replace the one I was failing at. I had to lose what I had worked for years to earn, and had spent two and a half years trying to build and then salvage, and then fail to find something else in time before the money ran out. Then I had to be literally stuck in a house with the original source of this paralyzing fear that had filled me for the past 18 months of my life. There had to be no way out, because if there was, I would have found it.

As a result, I eventually became something approximating a father. Not a good father by any means, but in time I would coin a term for what I was shooting for: “Dadequate.” I was not going to be a great dad, and I was not going to be a good dad, but the line I drew was at being an adequate dad. An advanced version of “the baby did not suffer lasting harm today.” Dadequate.

Is this helpful, fellow shitty dads? You know who you are. Long past the point where you’re supposed to have slipped into a dad-groove, you still feel like an awkward idiot who is barely jumping from island to island floating in a sea of hot lava. You held your newborn in your arms, and far from the rush of warmth and certainty that family members told you you’d feel, you just kept screaming “This is going to end so badly” over and over in your head. I don’t mean good dads with imposter syndrome or false humility – I’m talking to the crappy dads here. Not fishing for compliments, but acknowledging that this is not my strength. It is not my wheel-house. And a lot of things about me make it more difficult – some my fault, and some not.

Maybe it’s helpful to read about someone setting the bar that low and coming to terms with that being the bar. Should I set the bar higher? Of course I should! But my starting point is a shitty dad, so dadequate is actually a serious challenge. It’s like weighing 500lbs and being uncoordinated, and deciding you’re going to be an adequate gymnast – a non-trivial problem to solve. Or like being functionally illiterate, and deciding you are going to be a published novelist. Not a New York Times bestselling author, just published. Somewhere. Again, no small feat, considering your starting-point.

And you know what? The world is full of some seriously messed-up dads. And so I’m working hard not to be one of them. Of course the world is also full of great dads, but I’m not in their category, any more than I am a potential semi-pro ball player or millionaire. That is literally another league, and I am OK with that. If someday I die and my tombstone says “He was mostly dadequate”, I’d be proud of that. That will have been a job well done.


The Importance of Boredom

Video games are my drugs. (Sleep deprivation is my alcohol, but that’s another story for another time)

What I mean when I say that video games are my drugs is in reference to one of the negative things that drugs do. Addiction is a complicated topic, but I’m not talking about addiction here. I’m talking about how drugs make you comfortable with boredom. What else could make you feel great about sitting around doing nothing important for hours on end?

I say this as having most often been the sober person in a room of people drinking or doing drugs. It’s incredibly boring. All those deep-seeming thoughts you have while on pot? They’re not deep. They’re stupid. Sorry.

But what happens is you become comfortable with what would normally be boring, and boredom is important. Boredom is discomfort with doing nothing. It is a basic motivation to go and do something with your time in this world. Otherwise, most of us wouln’t go do the interesting things we end up doing. We wouldn’t try, if not trying was comfortable.

Video games function this way for me. I have a recent example: I uninstalled Civilization V from my laptop about a week ago, and since then I’ve written a couple thousand words in a setting and campaign guide I’m working on for 5E D&D. I did this because I play a LOT of Civ V, but when I made myself stop, I was suddenly productive because when I sit there and feel some boredom, I do a little work on something I enjoy. Next thing I know, I’m a thousand words in and feeling a bit better about myself.

It’s something to think about, if you are creative, or trying to be productive – what in your life makes you OK with being bored? If you can remove that thing from your life, what more might you be able to accomplish?

Died By Suicide

This is a repost.

A clergy friend of mine asked on Facebook how one should refer to a person who commits suicide. What’s good terminology for that, since it is something a lot of us (clergy and otherwise) are talking about right now.

A question like this comes with innumerable questions attached to it:

  • What kind of disease is depression?
  • Is depression treatable? If so, what kind of depression is treatable, and with what interventions?
  • Do we have free will or the illusion of free will?
  • Is suicide a selfish act?
  • Or is suicide like dying of heart disease – succumbing to an illness?
  • Is it even helpful to generalize much about suicide? What do the numbers and research say?
  • How do we talk about suicide without causing an increase in suicide rates?
  • What can we do about a lack of mental healthcare in the United States?

It can become very tempting to weave all of these questions into how we answer a question about how do we refer to a person who died by suicide. We could say that they succumbed to their illness, like having heart disease, or that they took their own life, like someone making a choice and acting on it, or that they completed suicide, indicating the need to talk about suicide attempts versus successful suicides. We could add a theological element and say something like they returned to God, or something I would never condone, like God called them back home.

The problem I see with these terminologies is that they demand a particular kind of conversation right there. They pre-frame the discussion one might end up having, and kind of push a discussion on people who might not want to have it. In a way, these responses beg the question.

So when I’m talking about suicide, which God help me I’ll continually be doing as a person and as a pastor, I’m just going to say that someone died by suicide. That’s the simplest, most factual way to put it I think. Then for the other questions: how did they die by suicide? What preceded the suicide? How will it impact the people who love them? What is the nature of suicide? and so on, the door is open for that too. It has to be.