The Popeye Defense

What’s fascinating about the Popeye defense [“I yam what I yam.”] is that when it’s used, it comes across as some healthy self-acceptance that everyone needs to adopt. “I can accept me for me — why can’t she?” On the surface, in our pop-psychology-riddled society, this may have the appearance of wisdom. But dig deeper, and this attitude is not only unwise, it’s actually harmful to both you and your marriage. And it certainly cannot stand up to our understanding of “I love you” and “I do.”

Just think about it for a moment. You want your spouse to accept you for who you are? Really? Even if you’re lazy? Even if you totally let your body go and become weak, fat, and unhealthy? Even if you drink too much or watch too much TV or read too many romance novels? Even if you neglect your kids, spend without discretion, complain about your spouse to your friends instead of addressing the issue directly? Your spouse is just supposed to sit back and accept all these behaviors as the honest, unchanging you he/she is stuck with forever?…

Now, if your answer is yes, that you believe your spouse should just accept you fully, warts and all, then I want you to listen carefully. Your problem is not your spouse’s efforts to change you. Your problem is that you don’t respect yourself — at all. You don’t even like yourself. Anyone who respects herself is going to actively work to improve herself, rarely sitting back and remaining satisfied. Anyone who even likes himself is going to nurture his God-given desire to grow in wisdom, and build on his skills and abilities. Instead, you’re wallowing in atrophy, using your emotional muscles only to defend yourself against your spouse’s efforts to change you. And you’re wondering why even the good things in life just don’t seem to be as pleasurable as they once were. That’s because you’ve “accepted” yourself and demanded that your spouse do the same.

— Hal Edward Runkel, ScreamFree Marriage, p. 229-230

Redemptive Punishment

“Do you mean that God never punishes anyone for what he cannot help?”

“Assuredly. God will punish only for wrong choices we make. And then his punishment will be redemptive, not retributive: to make us capable — more than merely capable; hungry, aching, yearning to be able — to make right choices, so that in the end we make that one supreme right choice our wills were created to make — the joyful giving up of our wills into his!”

“How do you prove that?”

“I will not attempt to prove it. If you are content to think of God as a being of retribution, if it does not trouble you that your God should be so unjust, then it would be fruitless for me to try to prove otherwise to you. We could discuss the question for years and only make enemies of ourselves. As long as you are satisfied with such a god, I will not try to dissuade you. Go on thinking so until at last you are made miserable by it. Then I will pour out my heart to deliver you from the falsehoods taught you by the traditions of the elders.”

— From The Landlady’s Master, by George MacDonald


All we can give back and all God wants from any of us is to humbly and proudly return the product that we have been given — which is ourselves! If I am to believe the saints and mystics, this finished product is more valuable to God than it seemingly is to us. Whatever this Mystery is, we are definitely in on the deal! True religion is always a deep intuition that we are already participating in something very good, in spite of our best efforts to deny it or avoid it.

— Richard Rohr, Falling Upward, p. x

Fighting Cynicism

As soon as I begin simply asking for help, I have become like a little child again. I’ve stopped becoming cynical. Oddly enough, my prayer is answered almost immediately because in the act of praying I’ve become like a child. The cure for cynicism is to become like a little child again. Instead of critiquing others’ stories, watch the story our Father is weaving.

To hear a good story, we need a simple, childlike wonder…. The cynic is never fooled, so he is never delighted.

— Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life, p. 86-87

Empowerment in Letting Others Go

The gift of empowerment comes every time we let someone else decide his or her fate. Even the tiny decision someone might be struggling with doesn’t need our input unless asked for. This is not an easy realization to come to grips with. So much of our persona may well be tied to having our friends or family members mirror our choices. And yet, when we lay that expectation on them or simply hold that expectation quietly within, we will experience chaos. No one wants to be controlled. Even when we are subtle about it, it’s recognized and resisted.

You may be wondering what empowerment feels like if this is a new concept to you. It’s probably best understood in terms of synonyms. It’s freedom. It’s peace of mind. It’s not feeling absorbed by the antics of others. It’s clarity of thinking. It’s a feeling of lightness throughout the body. It’s having the time to be joyful and unencumbered.

— Karen Casey, Let Go Now, p. 25

God’s Colorful Will

“Thy will be done” is not the mantra of a joyless life. We are not signing up for a life that boils down to one long tour of duty. “Thy will be done” has more color in it than that. God’s will has a great deal of color in it. Looking at the natural world, this diversity and color should not surprise us — and yet it does. Our idea of God is shockingly drab and colorless. We act as if The Creator has only a few colors on his emotional palette and that they fall into the sensible range — dull grays, browns, maybe olive drabs.

What if God is more colorful than that? What if we look at the natural world and begin to consider the actual power and diversity of what we are dealing with. What if we begin to see that “Thy will be done” is an expansive and not a constrictive concept, what if we start to realize that God’s will for us is that we get larger, not smaller?

— Julia Cameron, Faith and Will, p. 136

A Better Story

Many people find Jesus compelling, but don’t follow him, because of the parts about “hell and torment and all that.” Somewhere along the way they were taught that the only option when it comes to Christian faith is to clearly declare that a few, committed Christians will “go to heaven” when they die and everyone else will not, the matter is settled at death, and that’s it. One place or the other, no looking back, no chance for a change of heart, make your bed now and lie in it . . . forever.

Not all Christians have believed this, and you don’t have to believe it to be a Christian. The Christian faith is big enough, wide enough, and generous enough to handle that vast a range of perspectives.

Second, it’s important that we be honest about the fact that some stories are better than others. Telling a story in which billions of people spend forever somewhere in the universe trapped in a black hole of endless torment and misery with no way out isn’t a very good story. Telling a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they didn’t do or say or believe the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn’t a very good story.

In contrast, everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served, and all the wrongs being made right is a better story. It is bigger, more loving, more expansive, more extraordinary, beautiful, and inspiring than any other story about the ultimate course history takes.

Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it. We can be honest about the warped nature of the human heart, the freedom that love requires, and the destructive choices people make, and still envision God’s love to be bigger, stronger, and more compelling than all of that put together. To shun, censor, or ostracize someone for holding this belief is to fail to extend grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied perspectives for hundreds of years now.

— Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 110-111

Reading as Technological Revolution

This is the conundrum, the gorilla in the midst of any conversation about literature in contemporary culture, the question of dilution and refraction, of whether and how books matter, of the impact they can have. We talk about the need to read, about reading at risk, about reluctant readers (mostly preadolescent and adolescent boys such as Noah), but we seem unwilling to confront the fallout of one simple observation: literature doesn’t, can’t, have the influence it once did. For Kurt Vonnegut, the writer who made me want to be a writer, the culprit was television. “When I started out,” he recalled in 1997, “it was possible to make a living as a freelance writer of fiction, and live out of your mailbox, because it was still the golden age of magazines, and it looked as though that could go on forever. . . . Then television, with no malice whatsoever — just a better buy for advertisers — knocked the magazines out of business.” For new media reactionaries such as Lee Siegel and Andrew Keen, the problem is technology, the endless distractions of the Internet, the breakdown of authority in an age of blogs and Twitter, the collapse of narrative in a hyperlinked, multi-networked world. What this argument overlooks, of course, is that literary culture as we know it was the product of a technological revolution, one that began with Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of movable type. We take books and mass literacy for granted, but in reality, they are a recent iteration, going back not even a millennium. Less than four hundred years ago — barely a century and a half after Gutenberg — John Milton could still pride himself without exaggeration on having read every book then available, the entire history of written thought accessible to a single mind. When I was in college, a friend and I worked on a short film, never finished, in which Milton somehow found himself brought forward in time to lower Manhattan’s Strand bookstore, where the sheer volume of titles (“18 Miles of Books” is the store’s slogan) provoked a kind of mental overload, causing him to run screaming from the store out into Broadway, only to be struck down by a New York City bus.

— David L. Ulin, The Lost Art of Reading, p. 4-5

Discover Joy

I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I’ve seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks.

— Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p. 58