Under the Big Blue Sky

[This review of Rectify Season 3: Episode 1 originally appeared at libraryofimpressions.com]

“The best show nobody’s watching” kicked off its third season this past Thursday on the Sundance Channel. I have been a faithful fan of the show since I first heard the first promo for it. There’s so much I love about the show – though it’s like being in high school and knowing all about an indie band that no one else has ever heard of. I don’t know many people who have seen the show, or are fans of it, but those who have, love it. And there is a kind of instant camaraderie that comes from finding someone else who watches the show, like finding that one other person who has heard of that obscure indie band you like.

I’ve always been a person who appreciates a good plot, but for a show to really stand out, I want to see deep characters and well-written, consistent character development. I want to know how they think and why they think it. Usually that means a slower paced show, but TV lends itself for that. It allows for a deeper connection to the characters, if the writers and actors are able to pull it off. No TV show that I can think of has really mastered the character development while still maintaining an interesting plotline as well as Rectify has. It also helps when you have a cast that really knows how to act and writers who can make awkward scenes and dialogue feel very real.

In “Hurrah,” season three picked up right where season two left off. And for a show that has one of the slowest timeline advances of any show (besides 24, I suppose) they really cut right to the chase. Daniel signed a confession and Ted Jr.’s decision to press charges against Daniel came just moments too late. It works out, though, because as Ted Jr. said, he didn’t really want to press charges in the first place.


As soon as I saw Ted Jr. at the vending machine I just knew whatever he was buying would get stuck. Of course it would. That’s just Teddy’s luck, isn’t it? At the same time the scene really kind of fell flat for me. It was the weakest of all the scenes of this week’s episode. What, has Teddy never had anything get stuck in a vending machine before? I get it. Teddy has bad luck, and the sheriff does something he probably shouldn’t do. But it just didn’t really work for me.

The best part of the scene was when Sheriff Daggett mentions that Daniel will have thirty days “to get his affairs in order” and Teddy is shocked by the wording and exclaims, “affairs?!” – clearly thinking about Tawney.

The scene at the dinner table and the conversation between Teddy and Daniel afterwards really seemed to be the focal point of the episode. That scene was Rectify at its best, really. The pacing was about as slow as anyone can handle. The dialogue and overall feel of the scene was tense and awkward. The way that the whole scene was visually framed just off center seemed to be a good visual metaphor for what was going on. Then Teddy shows up unexpectedly, slowly proceeding through the uneasy darkness of the room to join the Daniel, Ted, and Janet while they’re having dinner.

The dialogue between Teddy and Daniel was great. Don’t you love how Aden Young handle’s Daniel’s responses to Teddy? Anytime that Daniel and Ted Jr. have interactions with each other, I generally think it’s the best part of the show. Both actors encapsulate their characters so well you can’t help but fall in love with the show, no matter how uncomfortable the dialogue may be.

I also love the set up surrounding the details about the BBQ place, Willy D’s. Janet specifically got this meal because it was one of Daniel’s favorite places. She told this to Ted Sr. before dinner, and even though he knew it was not true he didn’t say anything to Janet. Surprise, surprise. He probably figured it wouldn’t really be much good to upset Janet, and that it wasn’t really information that she needed to know. It was best to just let her think that she was doing something especially thoughtful for Daniel.

Daniel handles the situation in the most Daniel way possible when she tells him that she got this food for him because it was one of his favorite places to eat. “Maybe so. I just don’t remember.” That kind of response sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Is it a foreshadowing of Daniel’s innocence of the crime that he’s just confessed to? Maybe I’m just reading too deeply into this scene.

But when Teddy shows up and gets excited that they are eating Willy D’s BBQ it adds that twist we weren’t exactly expecting, and it really makes us look a bit differently at Janet. Then later she rightfully gets upset at Ted Sr. for not telling her and letting her believe that it was one of Daniel’s favorite places. It was a neat moment in the show to see Teddy’s response and the boy-like cheeriness that was brought into the scene at the memory of going to Willy D’s for the first time, yet at the same time it makes you cringe because of Janet’s mistake. That story carried a lot of weight with it in how we are to view Janet and her feelings for Daniel and of Teddy. And it even snuck in some rare feelings of empathy for Teddy.

I love the scenes between Teddy and Daniel – and the scene after dinner is no exception. The way Daniel talks – is it honest to a fault? Is it a sneaky way of being patronizing towards Teddy? Is it just a lack of social aptitude because of his 18 or so years in prison? Perhaps is it a mixture of all three? I honestly don’t know.

Ted Jr.’s accusations usually seem a bit stretched. Though I’ve always found his suspicions generally warranted and pretty understandable for someone who doesn’t really know what’s going on with his wife, and who has had coffee grounds poured down the back of his pants by a man who just moments before was baptized in a Christian ceremony. Teddy has built up a narrative of what has happened, though. And this narrative is full of projections and conjectures that’s he’s formed over the weeks that Daniel has been out of jail. He’s heard the confessions of his wife saying that she had inappropriate feelings for Daniel. He’s seen how Daniel acts around and looks at Tawney. Mix that with his own insecurities, especially about his masculinity, and I think the accusations just make sense, and they’re reasonably well thought out.

Side note: I find it fascinating that being choked out and having coffee grounds poured down the back of your pants is almost as shameful for Teddy as if he were raped or something. The way he’s reacted has always seemed a bit disproportionate with the offense. Which could be why those that he’s told assume that it was more than just coffee grounds down the pants. (But don’t suggest that! He get’s really upset when that happens.) He must be VERY insecure about his masculinity. He feels he is constantly having to prove himself to his wife, who has rejected him sexually a number of times (many men’s worst nightmare) and to his father, who just doesn’t seem to think he can be a successful businessman of his own right. And then there’s Janet, who clearly doesn’t really see him as her son, although now she seems to regret that. (“I wish I hadn’t asked you to call me Janet.”)

Daniel doesn’t help dissuade Teddy’s narrative or projections. Daniel really doesn’t stick up for himself beyond, “No…that’s impossible.” The narrative that Teddy has built up continues to be strengthened because Daniel really seems to allow for himself to take the blame for things that he isn’t truly guilty of. Maybe to a fault.

At the same time, we do know that Daniel has feelings for Tawney. He isn’t just an innocent friend. He has feelings for Tawney, and Tawney has had feelings for Daniel. This isn’t simply an innocent friendship. And Ted Jr. has picked up on that and amplified and projected all of his insecurities into the situation.

The scene of the jail workers prepping Daniel for execution wasn’t a flashback, but rather a fantasy. That’s something I don’t think we’ve experienced in this show as of yet. And this fantasy had some great underlying emotions attached with it. Was it anger? Grief? I’m not really sure exactly what it was – but it was good. This isn’t a memory like in the scenes of the jail that we’ve seen before. This was more of a projection of how he is feeling right now. His punishment was the result of his confession of the crime – and that punishment was the killing off of his life from the rest of his family. Perhaps most significantly to his mother, who seems desperate to believe that Daniel is indeed innocent.

Daniel’s scene in the park continues to show his ineptitude in social interactions. This time amplified because it’s a mother with her child at a merry-go-round. (Do they still have those? I haven’t seen one for years…) Daniel is a gentle giant in many ways, but boy is he awkward. But this show can pull off awkward like few shows can, and that’s almost purely due to both the writing of Daniel’s character and Aden Young’s ability to pull it off in such a remarkable way.

I kept figuring since this is such a small town the young mom would be able to connect the dots about who this creepy over-sharing dude was and figure out that this was that killer that was released from prison just weeks ago. But no, she was very patient and kind in her interaction with Daniel and instead of scampering off with her daughter in fear (which I think most shows would do) Daniel is the one who eventually walks away. I loved that scene.

There was a glimmer of hope that maybe Teddy would become a decent man, and be willing to do whatever it took to reconcile with his wife. But…of course not. He’s too stubborn and insecure (although Tawney really did try to phrase things the best she could for him to consider therapy of some kind).


Also, Teddy only admitted earlier to Janet that he and Tawney were having marital issues out of necessity. She was standing on his front doorstep asking where Tawney was. So add that to the shame wagon that Teddy is carting around with him all the time. But when Tawney told him that Beth, the woman whom she has found refuge with during this time (btw, why did Tawney tell Teddy where she was?!), has had two miscarriages of her own, Teddy responded with a cold “Good for her!” It’s such a despicable response that even Tawney failed to believe her ears. “What?!”

So much for any hopes of therapy or reconciliation. At least for now.

And then there’s Amantha. She needs to make a decision. Should she stay in Paulie? Should she take a managerial position at Thrifty Town?


She seems so lost. What is she going to do? She devoted herself to her brother and his case and now she feels betrayed by him that he took the plea deal. But, at the end of the day, when Daniel says needs a place to sleep, she says “of course” he can stay with her.

Amantha seems so downtrodden now. She was a fiery defender of Daniel. Her devotion to Daniel, and by association her own family and name, has waned a bit since he’s gotten out of jail. That was her entire purpose of living for years it seems, and then he got out, and now she’s sort of aimless. She’s also frustrated and angry with Daniel that after all that she has done for him to get him out of jail, he takes the easy route and says he “did the deed.” She gave her life to clear his name based on the belief that he didn’t do it. But the fact that he admitted he did it, even if only to stay out of prison, I think nags at that deep feeling of doubt that everyone is carrying with them – Did he do it?

Perhaps we’ll find out for sure this season whether he “did the deed.” We the viewers know a lot about the characters in this show, but at the end of the day we don’t really know if Daniel did the crime that he confessed to. (Although I am still haunted by that scene where he chokes that rag-doll in his bedroom.) And honestly, we don’t even know if Daniel knows if he did it or not. How much longer can this show carry that tension so successfully? Is there a breaking point? I guess we’ll find out together.

Stray Thoughts:

  • In AV Club fashion I thought I’d include some meandering thoughts or observations I had while I watched.
  • It’s come to be that I’m shocked when Amantha isn’t smoking during a scene. She’s got to have lung cancer by now, right? Someone should count how many cigarettes she’s smoked since season one. I know people did that for alcoholic drinks andMad Men.
  • The last scene with Senator Foulkes was definitely interesting. Is it a way for the show to point to an overarching sense of “justice will prevail”? When I was watching this with my wife she noted that many people fear a stroke over death itself, and interesting contrast to Daniel’s fantasy of his own execution.
  • Am I wrong about my reaction to the whole Twix getting stuck thing? I mean, they have vending machines at their tire store. Surely this is not an uncommon occurrence. I’m pretty sure Teddy would know how to get the Twix unstuck “due to its ridges” or whatever.
  • Am I the only one who thinks that Amantha’s (ex?)boyfriend/Daniel’s (ex?)lawyer constantly looks like an extremely exhausted Mark Ruffalo?
  • I didn’t talk about anything related to Jared in this review, but something tells me there will be plenty of opportunity later this season, even though his appearances up to this point have been quite sparse.
  • I didn’t mention anything about the DA, but it seems clear to me that she’s very conflicted about this whole thing. She doesn’t seem to believe that this case is closed. And Senator Faulkes can see it, and he suggests that she not go down any of the paths of doubt. The whole dead body and the details surrounding the stuff being dug up at the river just goes to show that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than is apparent right now. We already somewhat knew that because of very short snippets of scenes that has made us aware, but it seems that maybe those storylines will finally be developed this season. And I’m looking forward to finally putting some of those puzzle pieces together.

Paid to Support the Death Penalty

how Nebraska is attempting to bring back the death penalty

The other day I went to the DMV to get a Nebraska driver’s license and to register to vote. As I was leaving there were two people standing outside with large clipboards asking people to sign a petition. Usually I try to ignore such people (a skill I picked up while walking past many of the very determined and seemingly indefatigable Greenpeace advocates throughout the streets of Chicago), but this time I was interested in what these two people were trying to get my signature for. They didn’t fit the stereotypical description that I have been used to seeing over the course of the last few years in Chicago. One was a male, probably in his late twenties or early thirties, wearing that classic black Tool t-shirt from Hot Topic and baggy black jeans. If this weren’t Nebraska I would have thought maybe I went to high school with this guy or something. He kind of had that look. The woman that seemed to be with him, and I’m sorry that I can’t think of any better way of putting this, looked like someone from the “after” side of an anti-meth advertisement poster. She was kind of wandering around talking to herself, sometimes deciding to engage with someone leaving the DMV. Those whom she decided to try and talk to did their very best to avoid eye contact while promptly power-walking to their vehicle.

When the guy asked me if I had signed the petition, I asked him what the petition was for.

“Oh, it’s for the death penalty, man. This is to get it on the ballot so the people can vote for it instead of the government doing it for us.”

I hadn’t realized yet that people were petitioning for this.

“Oh. Sorry, I don’t think I can sign that.” I said.

“Oh, ok. Thanks, man.”

The woman simply continued walking in circles, kind of mumbling to herself.

I walked back to my car feeling a bit down that there were petitions for this already. I knew that there was some vocal groups of people against the repeal of the death penalty, but I hadn’t anticipated that there would be people asking me to sign petitions to bring it back. I was elated that Nebraska repealed the death penalty at the end of May, and I was so thankful that Nebraska provided a decent example to other conservative states that yes, Republicans and Democrats can come together on a political issue and pass significant laws.

I knew the governor was strongly against it. He was making national headlines over his energetic support of the death penalty, despite it being repealed. He even made it on a segment of John Oliver’s show, Last Week Tonight. But I didn’t realize that meant there were going to be people standing outside DMVs and standing on street corners trying to get signatures. I’ve even seen people “dancing” with “Support Death Penalty” signs on the street like those Liberty Tax people dressed up as the Statue of Liberty, or like the 16 year old kid who works for Little Caesar’s dancing around with a “$5 Hot and Ready” sign like there’s no tomorrow. Only this time it wasn’t a Statue of Liberty (thank goodness) nor an enthusiastic 16 year old kid at his first job. It was an older (maybe seventy or so), white haired man pointing at cars and directing them to his booth to sign the petition.

This particular scene was at the parking lot of a Target down the street from me here in Omaha. I was a bit shocked by it, honestly. It was above 90 degrees. It was sunny. This is how he wants to spend his day? This is what he puts his energy into? I didn’t get it. And it bothered me a bit.

My gut reaction was to judge them. Why do they want to fight this so hard? What could possibly make them this motivated when there are so many other issues which are focused on saving lives or helping people. There is just so much riding against the death penalty here in the United States that I just don’t understand why people fight for it so hard.

But my judgment was soon dispelled by my genuine sense of curiosity. Why do they fight so hard for this? What makes them set up a tent in the parking lot of Target to try and get signatures? Maybe they have a good reason? Maybe they have even lost a loved one due to a brutal murder or something? Who knows?

[Side note: I have been trying to live into some of the values I hold more consistently. I have values of empathy and of courage and of authenticity and honesty. I am NOT the type of person to engage in a conversation with strangers, especially ones that are politically motivated. But I thought this might be a good example of a time to live into some of the values I hold.]

After thinking about some of these questions, and realizing that it really did no good for me to come up with narratives of my own, I determined that I would take the time to ask them myself. So, after stopping at Target for some things, I drove over to the back of the parking lot to ask a few questions. I was unnecessarily nervous about the encounter, but determined it would be good for me, and perhaps I could learn something. I wasn’t there to persuade them against believing in the death penalty, but rather to learn why they are so motivated to be for it, so much so that they are spending their time in a tent in the parking lot of Target on a hot summer day trying to get people to sign a petition.

When I got out of the car a man came out to meet me, clipboard in hand, and I engaged him with some questions. The man was a guy I’d estimate to be in his mid to late 40s. He was wearing a bright yellow shirt that said, “Support the Death Penalty.”

The following is an abridged version of my conversation. I’ve also edited a bit of the conversation for it to flow better, but I have not taken away whatsoever from the integrity of the conversation:

Me: Hey. I have a few questions about all this. I find this whole thing kind of fascinating and am amazed by how passionate people are about it on both sides of the issue. I am curious as to why you guys specifically are so invested in it — enough to set up a tent and ask people to sign [the petition] and things like that.

Him: Yeah, yeah, I know. There’s Jenkins for instance. [A man who is on death row in Nebraska.] And I think about it, and you know, I think ‘what if that was one of my kids or my family?’ You know? That’s the thing right there. It doesn’t have to be for all of them, but the worst criminals, I believe yes. You know? Because they’re sitting pretty in there. And then they talk about how the injections are expensive and everything. Well, isn’t it an expense to keep them in there for thirty years, or whatever time they have?

Me: Yeah. I think that’s the practical thing, and I think a lot of the Republicans, I was surprised by this, have fallen down on this issue and are against [the death penalty.] It’s the practical side of things. It’s actually a cost benefit. It’s actually more expensive to have [the death penalty] because of all the court appearances and things related to that. Some of these things…

Him: I know. They’re trying to dispersuade you to not, you know…

Me: I know, but do you believe that “life means life”?

[NB: This a phrase used by anti-death penalty advocates. At this point I was holding a flyer that was given to my wife when she left the DMV by a person representing Nebraskans for Public Safety which had bulleted out a number of strong arguments against the death penalty.)

It was also around this time that I realized that I’m not a good interviewer, and I asked too many questions in a row and brought up too many details in a row and should have been more patient. But this is literally the first time I have ever tried anything like this before, so I know how to improve for the next time I try something like this…]

Me: And the victim’s family is dragged into the appeal process over and over again. And what that looks like. Or how [supporting the death penalty] looks like compared to something like the Charleston situation where the families boldly came out and said, ‘I forgive you,’ you know?

Him: I don’t know. I’m kind of both ways. But then again, for the worst criminals, like I said, if it happened to one of my family members I’d probably just shoot them myself, you know? If a kid was molested and killed and everything, what would you do, I mean? You would think about it.

Me: Yeah…

Him: That’s what I’m talking about. So that’s what I, I’m for that. For the worst criminals, you know? So basically, that is what this [petition] is for, I think, because they don’t do it for everybody. It’s the worst criminals. I mean, Jenkins. Look at that dude. So…it’s up to you. All it is, is to get it on the ballot to vote and that’s about all it is. It starts next year, in November or something like that. Get all these signatures on the ballot and we get to vote on it, so…that’s entirely up to you as to what you want to do.

Me: I’ve been curious about this whole thing myself. I moved here from Chicago a few months ago and I’m still getting used to the whole Nebraska political environment. I’m trying to understand better what it is like here.

Him: Oh, ok. So you’re not registered here?

Me: I just went to the DMV a couple days ago and registered to vote.

Him: Ok, it’s up to you.

Me: How did you get involved in this level of it?

Him: Well…I support it, but I’m getting paid too.

Me: Oh, ok.

Him: I was laid off and a temporary service brought me here. But I do support it.

Me: Is it a non-profit supporting this or what is…

Him: I’m not even sure. (A few chuckles.)

Me: Oh, that’s interesting.

Him: I don’t force anyone to do anything. It’s up to whoever wants to sign.

Me: Ok. Well, I appreciate it.

Ok, so that was my conversation. In a way it reminded me of freshman speech class in college because of how nervous I was. And also similar to how I felt after my speeches in college, I looked back and wondered why I was so nervous and why I skipped so much that I had wanted to say. But this was a learning experience for me.

I had played out a few scenarios in my mind as to how it would potentially go, but I hadn’t thought about someone who really didn’t know the arguments for or against very well. When I pulled out the flyer from the anti-death penalty group he sort of rolled his eyes and thought that all the arguments on the flyer were things just being told to me to “dispersuade” me from believing in the argument. (He’s probably right, because I agree with all their points…)

At the same time, he wasn’t really willing to engage in a deeper level beyond how he would feel should a person kill one of his own family members. And I get that. I can respect the empathy of that. But at the same time, that’s about as far as he goes. He implied that if it weren’t for the death penalty he’d want to just shoot the criminal himself. I think a lot of people share that sentiment.

I intentionally brought up the Charleston situation to counter or maybe challenge that sort of thinking, but I didn’t really leave any room for a real response — and I really wish that I had. It was the one point in our short conversation that he said “I’m kind of both ways.” So I guess the “worst criminals” would not include a white-supremacist going to a church and killing nine black church members at a prayer meeting. I assume he has rape or torture in mind when he says the “worst criminals.” But that’s another topic for another day, I suppose. And maybe I shouldn’t assume.

I wasn’t really prepared for someone to be there because they were being paid by a temp agency. He’s just there to get paid, and if he gets a few signatures, great. But he didn’t seem too invested one way or the other. He supports the idea of death penalty, but clearly that’s not what really motivated him to be there.

My goal, like I said before, wasn’t to persuade him, but rather to listen and see what his motivation was for being there on a hot summer day. In the end I found out that it was simply a job, and a way to get some money after being laid off. I get that. I will say that it feels a bit strange that people are paid to get petitions where the end goal is the government using the death penalty to kill our own citizens, even if they are the “worst criminals.”

It was an enlightening conversation, albeit brief and clunky. But I did learn some things and I hope to try something like this again in the future. Being a good interviewer and listener is something I want to improve at. The more I do it, the more I’ll learn.

I think finding out why this person was at least involved at this level gave me a real narrative to work with, rather than making up one of my own. I’m glad I challenged myself to do this and that I was encouraged by a few friends that I brought this idea up to.

I’ve included some details about how the death penalty was eventually repealed here in Nebraska. See below for a sort of timeline of important details that led to Nebraska finally repealing the death penalty.

It may have taken 37 tries over the course of 40 years, but Nebraska on May 27th officially abolished the death penalty, becoming the 19th state to do so, along with Washington D.C.

Here’s the quick rundown of how things went down:

  • Despite a last-minute emotional appeal from Governor Pete Ricketts, state lawmakers voted to pass Legislative Bill 268 on May 20, 2015.
  • The bill replaced the use of lethal injection with life in prison.
  • This repeal effort differed from the many attempts of the past because drew support from a significant number of Republican senators.
  • Reasons given for the support of the bill were “the higher costs of carrying out a death sentence versus life in prison. Some said they have come to oppose the death penalty for religious reasons, while others said it’s pointless to keep a punishment on the books that’s rarely implemented.”[1]
  • On May 26th, 2015 Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill, sending it back to lawmakers who now had the opportunity to override the veto with a minimum of 30 votes.
  • On May 27th, 2015 the legislator overrode Gov. Ricketts’s veto with a vote of 30–19.
  • Gov. Ricketts responded: “My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families. While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.”[2]

Other relevant info:

  • Nebraska hasn’t executed a prisoner since 1997, when the electric chair was used.[3]
  • The veto came two days after one of Nebraska’s 11 death-row inmates died in prison of natural causes.[4]
  • It does not apply retroactively to the 11 men on Nebraska’s death row. However, it would leave the state with no way to carry out their executions.[5]
  • Gov. Ricketts donated $100,000 to Nebraskans for the Death Penalty in an effort to restore Nebraska’s death penalty.[6]
  • Between Ricketts and his father, Joe, the founder of TD Ameritrade, the two have given $200,000 of the $243,866 in funds raised by the group.[7]
  • “The anti-death penalty coalition, Nebraskans for Public Safety, reported raising $400,000 in cash in one donation from the Proteus Action League, an Amherst, Massachusetts, social justice organization.”[8]
  • “Nebraskans for the Death Penalty must collect about 57,500 signatures of registered voters to place a referendum on the November 2016 general election ballot. If it can collect at least 115,000 signatures, the repeal of the death penalty would be put on hold until voters decide the issue.”[9]
  • Ricketts has said he may donate more to the referendum drive, which has already been collecting signatures on street corners and parking lots across the state.

Responding with Grace

The SCOTUS ruling and announcement about same-sex marriage blew up my Facebook account.


Lots of people have lots to say. Most of it isn’t all that helpful. In fact, some of it is simply hateful. But here are two examples of responses from two friends of mine on Facebook. One’s a Christian, and one’s not. But they both gracefully acknowledged the tension and spoke with grace towards others they might not fully agree with. I love that I can call these two gentlemen my friends.

From my Christian friend, Rory:

“Marriage can be hard. In a marriage, love only wins when you consistently, over a long period of time, make the sort of choices that don’t always feel “lovely” or “winning.” It requires commitment, a long-term perspective, humility, a willingness to consider someone else over yourself, a willingness to prepare for the possibility and responsibility of raising children, a denial of consumerism and selfishness and cheap promises, and an investment into and from your community.

Above all it requires the conviction that there are very, very few things, perhaps only death or sustained / serious infidelity, that truly amount to acceptable reasons for ending a marriage. This might mean that over the years you discover that you’ve actually married a few different “people” rather than the one person to whom you spoke vows. It is only under these conditions (and more) that marriage truly acts as a fundamental building block for society, as the SCOTUS mentioned in their ruling yesterday.

So, to same-sex couples who can now marry: sincere congratulations, but also, welcome to the long, good, hard struggle. I hope, for the sake of our children and grandchildren and societal flourishing, that you are in this for the long haul, and that as a result of more people having access to legal marriage we can start to see more of the benefits to society that marriage provides. It will be good to have more allies in the struggle against broken commitments, no-fault divorces, and children who are orphaned / parentless / shuffled-around-between-warring-parties / all that.”

From my non-Christian friend, Eric:

“To those who are disappointed by yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the legality of gay marriage, I hear your anger. I don’t share it, but I hear you. I understand that you feel disgusted and horrified at the sin you feel this country is permitting, and that you may not feel the same pride in our nation as so many of us do at this moment. You have every right to these feelings and to continue disapproving of homosexuality, although you will likely face significant challenges from others each time you express these thoughts. I expect that these challenges will become stronger in the months and years to come. I truly hope that you won’t use these challenges as a reason for extricating yourselves from our collective society.

If you can find it in your hearts to forgive those who you feel are misguided, sinful, and deceived in their feelings of love for another person, I hope you will do so. It will bring you peace. I also hope you may find the courage to direct this anger and disgust toward other fights. Your anger and faith are ideal weapons for fighting poverty, sickness, violence, and hatred in our own communities and across the globe. I’m certain you will find many more allies in these fights than you have in your fight against gay marriage — you would have my support and my allegiance, at the very least. If you can bring the same level of organization and dedication to these other battles, I guarantee that we will have every chance of creating a truly just and loving world.

To my friends who are thrilled with this ruling, and especially to my gay friends for whom this changes everything, congratulations! This has been a long, and difficult, and uphill climb from the start. It’s so incredible to see these accomplishments come into being, when they often seemed so far from the realm of possibility. Your expressions of love, tolerance, and acceptance are a joy to have in this world, and I am so happy that you now have these equal rights in the eyes of the law. Whether or not you choose to marry, keep this spirit of love in your heart for all people. Celebrate this ruling, and celebrate your love. Please remember that those who oppose you will not change their hearts and minds by being told they are wrong. Their hearts and minds will only change by seeing you love and be loved. Stay vigilant, stay beautiful, and let us continue our push for equal rights and opportunities for all.”


What I’ve Learned in Five Years

A week ago my wife had a simple surgical procedure done. As we were getting ready to leave the hospital, and while she was still under the fog of general anesthesia, Sarah’s nurse asked her how long we have been married.

“It will be five years next week.” Sarah said (with a bit of a slur, and a smile).

“Wow! That’s great. So…what’s the secret?”

“The secret?”

“Yeah, the secret to a happy marriage.”

I didn’t know if this was some kind of test to see if Sarah was able to think clearly before she left. I though that maybe this nurse gets very truthful answers right after people come out of anesthesia and this is a question she likes to ask. I remained silent, because I too was curious as to what Sarah’s response would be. She looked like this was the most important question she had ever been asked. She wrinkled her forehead, lost in thought, and stared out towards my general direction.

She looked at me for a while, still lost in thought, thinking through the catalog of the last five years of our marriage. I too, then thought through these last five years: the laughs, the dates, the arguments, the compromises, the transitions, the times of plenty, the times of scarcity, the times of fear, the times of peace, the times of immense joy, the times of miserable exhaustion, the happy looks, the tears of sadness, the times of just the two of us, then the three, and then the four. I thought about how we’ve grown from being two silly teenagers in love eleven years ago, to the love we have for each other now. Is that really the same kind of love? Is it fair to call it the same thing?

“Vulnerability.” she finally replied.

The nurse had a surprised, yet satisfied look on her face.

“Oh…hmm…that’s interesting. I’ve never heard that one before. But I like it.”

I’d have to agree. Learning to be vulnerable with each other has created such a place of trust, security, empathy, and deep love for one another that it has strengthened our marriage in ways that I do not believe any other “secret” really could.

Of course we’re still working on it nearly every day. And we fail some a lot of the time. It seems you have to wake up every morning and remind yourself that you need to be empathetic, kind, and vulnerable. These things don’t usually just come easily. Through trial and error and through daily reminders, we try not to be people who attempt to be kind or compassionate, but rather attempt to become kind people, compassionate people, vulnerable people. (There’s a difference – be the type of person who is kind, not a person who says or does kind things).

We’ve learned that it’s tremendously worse to bottle something up or to keep it under the surface. It becomes the fuel for aggression, anger, bitterness, general grumpiness, and leads to disconnection. Donald Miller posted this on Twitter the other day, and I thought it was on point:

Recently I’ve been reading an incredibly helpful book by Dr. Brene Brown entitled Daring GreatlyShe puts words to so many things that I’ve felt as I’ve grown as a person, a husband, and a father. Brene Brown is famous for a couple of her TED talks about vulnerability and shame. She’s a shame researcher and has really captured some amazing truths about shame, vulnerability, and what it looks like to be a “wholehearted person.” (It’s quite the empowering book, by the way, and I can’t recommend it highly enough).

In the book she briefly mentions her own marriage, one that she’s been in for 18 years. This is what she says is the key in her own relationship:

If you asked us today what we believe is the key to our relationship, the answer would be vulnerability, love, humor, respect, shame-free fighting, and blame-free living.

— Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, p. 105

Looking back on these last five years of marriage with Sarah, I’d have to agree completely with Brene. Something that really stood out for me in her list  was “shame-free fighting” and “blame-free living.”

Those are the things which are the hardest for me. Fighting? Yeah that can come pretty easily. It’s not hard to get upset over simple things when you live with another human being (and another two young, rambunctious ones for that matter). But I think it’s great that she says fighting is key to the success and health of her marriage. But it’s not simply fighting. It’s shame-free fighting. Now that’s hard. We are conditioned in this world to constantly feel shame and to shame one another – it comes so easily, especially when you know the person you’re fighting with so well. You know their weaknesses and they know yours. You know their struggles and they know yours. But shaming one another never accomplishes anything productive. Learning to have arguments and fights without shaming is a challenge, but necessary for growth.

Blame-free living is also incredibly hard. Shifting blame, pointing fingers, and getting defensive is super easy to do and is my basic default. I rarely want to take ownership if something fails or goes wrong. But I’ve begun to learn that is not helpful in any relationship, and especially within a marriage.

Blame-free living demands empathy and it demands humility. If Sarah did something which I typically would want to point my finger at her for, I have learned that pointing that finger or blaming her for whatever has happened doesn’t really strengthen our marriage. It strains it. It pushes us away from each other. It discourages partnership, empathy, and intimacy. And it encourages shame, guilt, and disconnection.

If I did something which caused a problem or messy situation or hurt feelings, I typically in the past have wanted to blame shift. I have wanted to blame the circumstances, or other people, or whatever it may be. The fault lies in anything but myself.

But obviously that’s not usually the case. I have been learning to own up to the mistakes and failures that I make throughout a day as a husband, father, friend, or even human being. I’ve had to learn what it looks like to be humble and own up to the times which have caused disconnection, shame, or guilt. And that’s really hard to do. And I’m only starting to understand what that looks like on a consistent basis.

Recently, Sarah and I were in a fight and I was being miserable to deal with. I was disengaging, distancing myself from Sarah – not wanting to address the issue at hand. I was angry at her for ignoring a request that I had made earlier in the day and then later for  hurting my feelings by how she was responding to me. At first she didn’t understand where my anger or hurt feelings were coming from. It seemed to come out of nowhere for her. At the time, I thought this was ridiculous and that she should have picked up on it way sooner than she did, hence my hurt feelings and distancing. But she was patient. She stuck by me and told me she wanted to hear what was making me so upset, and why I felt the way I did.

I originally didn’t want to talk to her about how I was feeling. I was angry. I was upset. But her empathy broke down my defense and disengagement and gave me the space to say how I really felt. Her vulnerability encouraged me to be open and honest and vulnerable about how I was feeling.

[Side note: We learned long ago not to say statements like,
“You made me feel ______.”

We are responsible for our own reactions and emotions. Other people don’t make us feel anything. Instead it is much better to say,
“I feel _____ when you _____.”

Saying things like that may sound elementary or even silly, but it doesn’t put the responsibility of how I feel on the other person, and it allows for me to take the responsibility for how I’m feeling. And it still lets her see how my feelings correspond to what has been said or done (also leaving room for empathy). This is a part of blame-free living, too.]

Anyway, I spoke my mind. I told her my frustrations and why I was angry and why I felt hurt. After she listened to everything I had to say (she didn’t interrupt or get defensive) she told me that she was sorry. She didn’t shame me for how I was feeling. She didn’t try to pass the blame. She humbled herself and owned what she believed was wrong of her to do or say towards me.

And that meant A LOT to me.

She asked me if I would forgive her, which is such a vulnerable thing to ask. What if I said no?

But I said yes.

And then she asked if I was still angry with her.

And I thought about it. And no, I wasn’t angry anymore. It kind of surprised me. I had been very angry just five minutes beforehand. But I no longer was angry. And it’s because she was honest, allowed herself to argue with me, but not shame me or blame me, or get defensive.

She told me she’d let me be alone as long as I needed, so that I could continue to cool down and recalibrate. (Another kind and thoughtful thing for her to do). And she left me alone.

But it only took me a few moments to really feel at peace again. And when I walked back downstairs to be with her I felt completely reconciled. No baggage. No anger, resentment, or bitterness.

But having a fight like that has taken five years of having fights not like that

I recently heard a man speak to a group of leaders at my church. During the question and answer time of the evening he was asked about his marriage and what he has learned throughout the years. His response was interesting.

“We’ve learned to not be naive enough to think we’ll get tot the place where we won’t hurt each other. We will. But we have learned to repent quicker.”

We’re still learning what it looks like for two imperfect people to live in the same space while trying to raise (and keep alive) two small imperfect people. We’ve grown a lot in five years of marriage, and mostly through trial and error.

Going through life with someone I’ve known and loved for over eleven years now has been a lot of fun. It’s incredible to look back, but exhilarating to look ahead.

Happy fifth Anniversary, Sarah. I love you.


An Example of Vulnerability and Empowerment

Recently at my church here in Omaha, we had a video presentation from a married couple at our church. It was a very honest and vulnerable story of their marriage — and the brokenness they have experienced in it and the lessons they’ve learned through it.

Here it is:

After the video played there was a definite sense of heaviness that filled the room. I doubt there was a dry eye to speak of. People clapped in appreciation of their transparency and their vulnerability. When the pastor got up on stage afterwards he recognized the sense of heaviness that was present in the room. He appropriately told us to all take a deep breath in, and then a deep breath out.

After the sermon we have communion together as a church. There are about six stations where two people hold a loaf of bread and a cup of wine/grape juice. I noticed that Roger and Denise were at one of the stations. I thought that was a beautiful thing.

I thought it was beautiful because it exemplifies what I believe to be empowerment. They put themselves in a vulnerable spot. They bore the darker moments of their lives with us as a congregation, and now to the world via the internet. Yet, vulnerability is not simply sharing personal, shameful, or embarrassing information about yourself. It is a reaching out for connection while telling such information, not knowing how others might respond. But having Roger and Denise serve communion (a sober celebration and reminder of the death of Jesus Christ and an anticipation of his coming again), it allowed them to serve the people of the church to whom they just bore their souls. It allowed the church to affirm them as our fellow brother and sister despite their messiness. They were empowered as they served communion to others in the church and spoke “this is Christ’s body, broken for you” and “this is the blood of Christ, shed for you” to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

A beautiful thing. And an example of what empowerment looks like. The leaders of the church created the environment for this couple to be empowered, and the congregation truly empowered and affirmed them as they came up for communion.