November 19th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

This morning, as I read all the anti-refugee garbage spewed by so many Christians and others, I began thinking about my friend Dan Stults, who I wrote about here. Dan was always ready to defend the weak and offer love in the face of dogmatism, fear, and bigotry. In the evangelical Christian world I grew up in, where “love” is usually prefaced by “tough” and hating the sin is more important than loving the sinner, Dan stood out in stark contrast.

Dan, for those who don’t know, was a youth pastor at my ultra-conservative church when I was in junior high and high school. Dan had long hair and tattoos and piercings (all of which were considered sins by many in that church). Once night after youth group, Dan and another youth pastor took a small group of kids, myself included, into downtown Boise to meet the homeless teens he was helping. These kids were tough, and I was both terrified and in awe. A frightened, sheltered home schooler introduced to the “evil” world. But Dan didn’t seem to think these kids were evil sinners, he saw people who were hurting and needed a friend.

That night, Dan did something very small, very insignificant that changed my worldview and influenced how I have interacted with homeless and downtrodden people ever since. What did he do, you may ask? Only this: He took out a cigarette lighter and lit the cigarette of a person who wanted to smoke.
He didn’t make a fuss about it, most probably would not have noticed it, but I did. You see, Dan was not a smoker. He carried the lighter because he wanted to be the friend who offered a light in the darkness.

Smoking, like tattoos and piercings and long hair on men, was totally taboo in my world. It was more than just bad or unhealthy, it was evil and sinful. It was desecrating the holy temple, our body. To be clear, Dan was not advocating smoking, if any of these kids had wanted to quit smoking he would have been the first to help. He did this in order to meet people where they were at, not where he thought they ought to be.

Dan did not “love the sinner, hate the sin”. He did not even “love the sinner”. He just loved. Full stop. Without exception and without caveat.

I do not share Dan’s faith, but I do share his ethics. At least, I aspire to them. I’m looking for ways to help the refugees here in Washington. I’ll never be able to do enough, but maybe I can offer someone a light.


November 5th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

The house is quiet in the morning when I am alone.

It’s so quiet I can finally hear all the noise.

The dog sleeping near me breathes out through her nose in a long sigh. The ceiling fan whirs in perpetuity. The joints of the house creak constantly. Faintly, I can hear the noise of a car on the street outside. Sometimes I can hear voices from pedestrians, mostly children walking home from school or joggers returning from the trail behind our house. All these sounds are indistinct, easy to ignore; easy to forget. These are the sounds I hear when everything is quiet.

What is quiet? The total absence of sound?

‘Be quiet’ we say, but what do we mean? We don’t mean stop all noises, all heartbeats, all footsteps, all the tiny, indiscernible, inevitable rustlings of life. We mean stop talking.

Once, in some frustration, I told five-year-old Natalie to be quiet. I was trying to work and her constant chatter was distracting. She stopped talking for some moments, then picked up a book and began reading aloud to herself. I told her again to be quiet. She pondered for a few moments, and then looked up at me.

“Megan?” She queried.

“Yes?” I asked, trying to keep irritation from edging my voice.

“What does ‘be quiet’ mean?” She asked.

I was taken aback. All these idioms that we use daily that we think are self-explanatory are sometimes literally nonsense. When I ask her to be quiet, I am asking her to stop living, and she’s justifiably hurt by this.

I ponder how to explain this grown-up phrase to a little one. Finally I say, “it means no talking”.

This answer seemed to satisfy her for a moment. Then her eyes widened as if she’s just realized some horrifying truth.

“No talking ever again?” She gasps, genuinely concerned about the fate of the rest of her life. Will she suffer under the commandment ‘be quiet’ into infinity? Is there an end to the madness of this grown-up quietness?

I turn to look at her, and suppress a smile when I see her serious face.

“No, love,” I say, “But I need to focus on my work for just another 15 minutes.”

That finite definition calms her briefly.

Then she throws her hands into her lap and sighs dramatically before exclaiming, “but 15 minutes is forever!”


January 20th, 2015 § 4 comments § permalink

I’ve been trying to find a way to express what Dan Stults meant to me since I learned of his passing early last week. I wish I could tell him these things myself, but I missed my chance. I hope he knew, at least a little, what a difference he made in my life. I am an atheist, but I catch myself wishing I had a God to rage against, to pin the blame on for taking someone so young and so dedicated to changing the world. But I don’t have a God, neither the loving one Dan believed in or the angry one I knew growing up, so I have to make sense of the nonsensical on my own.

I met Dan when he and Jenny began attending the church I grew up in. Both Dan and Jenny immediately became very involved in church activities, especially with the youth group, which was mostly composed of sheltered, naïve homeschooled teens. Dan was the leader of the Junior High Boys Bible Study, but he made an unforgettable impression on all of us in the youth group because he loved, valued and challenged us.

Everything about Dan rocked the boat at our ultra-conservative church: His long hair, tattoos, and piercings were unforgivable enough, but he combined those with a willingness to stand up for the outcasts, and show, not just tell, the leaders that their dogma was stifling. He was as unacceptable to our church as the Jesus he loved would have been, had that Jesus happened to have wandered into a service at Community Church of the Valley in the early 2000s.

Dan once told me that of all the kids in the youth group, I was his favourite. I don’t know why, because I was a notoriously difficult teen. I had never been anyone’s favourite anything. Dan made me believe that I, a deeply depressed, angry, suicidal, self-harming teenager was a valuable person, worthy of being the favourite of the coolest person I had ever met.

Dan often engaged in long theological discussions with me, particularly about Calvinism. We both hated that unforgiving doctrine, but he believed it was a false teaching, while I believed that it was the only true interpretation of the Bible. That was a debate we never resolved.

At a youth group event, Dan let me lead a Bible Study for the other teens—including the boys. This was unheard of at our church, where adult women were not even allowed to teach teenage boys because it was believed that women should not hold any sort of authority over men—even when those “men” were still going through puberty. I’m sure Dan faced backlash for this, but he did it anyway.

In a church that preached that women must submit, could not lead, and were not even trusted to have intellectual discussions about the Bible, Dan told me that I and my female peers mattered. Our opinions mattered. When girls were praised for meekness, for gentleness, for submission, Dan praised me for my independence, passion, and my unquenchable yearning for truth.

A Memory:
I am lying on the floor of the church nursery; the floor is cool concrete, covered only by a thin layer of rough, industrial carpet that prickles my skin. I’m sprawled out like a petulant child—and really, what’s the difference between a whiny toddler and an over-tired 13-year-old? I hadn’t slept at all the night before and I was exhausted. We had had a church sleepover that Dan and Jenny had coordinated and supervised for the youth group, the first of its kind in our church (one of the many firsts Dan gave that uptight congregation). Now in the early afternoon of the day after, all the other kids had been picked up by their parents and I and my two brothers were the only ones remaining. The room was a mess, and there was no one else to clean up.

“It’s not fair that we have to clean up other people’s messes,” I was insisting.

“Sometimes we have to do things that aren’t fair in order to help others,” Jenny patiently explained.

More grumbled protests followed, but I grudgingly joined the clean-up efforts, feeling somewhat foolish for my outburst. Dan cocked his head slightly to one side and looked at me.

“What?” I said, expecting a rebuke for my childish behavior.

“You know what your problem is, Megan?” He asked, rhetorically.

I certainly had more than one problem, and I dreaded to know what this man who had always made me feel worthy really thought of me.

“Your problem,” he continued with a smile, “is that you have an overdeveloped sense of Justice.”

Where others would have only seen the poor behavior, Dan saw a strength that needed to be honed.
That phrase, “an overdeveloped sense of justice” stuck with me. It helped me to begin to understand myself when I was little more than a bundle of tumultuous impulses.

Dan taught me so much about myself and about life. Long after I left the church and divorced myself from all religion, I still kept in contact with Dan. I know it hurt him that I didn’t believe, but I could not (and cannot) reconcile the God of the Bible with the ideals of truth, justice, mercy and love that Dan held dear. But, despite an irreconcilable difference in the foundations of our individual beliefs, we always shared those same ideals. Ideals he lived by passionately, ideals that I hope to better exhibit in my own life.

I do not believe there is a God—angry or loving—directing the cacophonous opera of our lives. A God who let one of the best people I’ve ever known suffer and die far too young. Instead, I embrace the chaos, and vow that the kindness, justice, and mercy Dan showed me will be carried on.

I will always remember you, Dan.