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For the last 3 months, I was bleeding out
Sometimes, you're supposed to stay really fucking angry.
Hello. This newsletter is where I write things way too big for tweets and way too navel-gazey to pitch to outlets. Business since I last posted here:
New Vacation Bible School episodes on Joshua (the Bible’s war-dad novel that’s slightly less worrisome, once you learn how made-up it is), Judges (with internet hero Jon Bois), and the first part of Samuel (because Sunday school didn’t just oversimplify the concept of “the messiah,” it also failed to even mention the five golden tumor rats).
New VBS Patreon bonus episodes on whether white conservative Evangelicalism counts as a cult-ass cult, fighting book bans by banning the New Testament, defining 68 cringey Christian-ese terms, drafting the Bible’s dozen best characters so far, and interstellar end-times warlord Billy Graham.
Against everyone’s better judgment, the Shutdown Fullcast has returned, now part of Meadowlark Media and officially a seven-figure product for premium consumers of digital media lol lmao.
And my first solo novel has entered the (potentially extremely long and grueling) finding-a-literary-agent stage. If you know of any who might be interested in a funny, heartfelt, furious, honest, Y2K-nostalgic, theological, anti-patriarchal, fast-paced, slow-burning, and funny (repeated, because it’s definitely funny) coming-of-age story about oddball Evangelical youths escaping indoctrination, please consider putting us in touch!
My granddad was my best friend.
By all accounts, he’d been a grumpy grouch most of his life, but I happened to show up right when he started mellowing out. Among his billion grandkids, I was his little sidekick, by total luck of the draw.
I never knew him as a linebacker-sized police captain or a grumbling Depression-baby miser or an aging Southerner who’d had racist opinions. As a child, I only ever saw him as the guy who taught me to appreciate what he called “high culture” (monster trucks and pro wrestling) and “quality groceries” (Taco Bell and Waffle House), talked to me about girls like he was the only grownup aware I was already in love with all of them, and took me on long walks throughout Atlanta (as I realized all his friends were black, which my heart has always cited as evidence he’d rejected his old racist opinions, though I’ll never really know).
He died when I was in fourth grade. Heart attack on a Sunday morning while eating breakfast at McDonald’s. Only 64, and in good shape, other than the previous cardiac issues that’d left a long surgery scar down the middle of his chest. He’d always thought the funniest thing in the world was taunting me into punching that scar with my tiny fist. (No, I didn’t punch his heart at McDonald’s. I wasn’t there. The punching produced laughter that was good for his cardio, thank you.)
The night before he died, when my parents picked me up from his Center Street duplex for the last time, his eyes were shimmering, and his face was all but glowing with peace, goes the story. Maybe the story was true! I really liked the story. Especially because another story, whispered by family members who thought they were beyond earshot of James Kirk’s youngest grandchild, revealed some people doubted the lifelong Scrooge had ever actually received Christian salvation.
Some things, you can’t ever really shake outta your head.
Every time a doctor’s ever asked me about my family’s medical history, when I’ve replied, “My granddad died of heart disease,” I’ve felt like I’m confessing something shameful. There was a flaw in him that might also be in me. It’s probably half the reason my brain chose running as my exercise of choice. Many times, I’ve fallen asleep while thinking, “I ran six miles today, so I’m probably healthy enough to wake up tomorrow. Yay!”
This year, running suddenly became harder and harder and impossible. Hour-long jogs turned into barely making it halfway up my neighborhood’s first hill. By late April, even walking up hills had become too much. One day, while mowing the lawn, I had to stop and lay on my back for 15 minutes before I could continue. I invested those 15 minutes wisely.
All I felt was embarrassment and guilt about the mysterious condition that was all my fault. Obviously, the reason I was winded by walking up a flight of stairs was that I’d neglected my cardio1. I tried to push through it, bought some new shoes (I don’t even like exercising in shoes, but somehow diagnosed shoes as the problem), and vowed to work harder until I was back to the old me.
Also, I couldn’t sleep. Every night, all my skin became flushed and fully aware of itself, irritated and twitchy. Also, a dozen other random symptoms, like way more hair falling out of my head in the shower than usual. I was numb all over, inside and out, too tired to care about much of anything2.
By mid-May, if I stood for more than a few minutes, I got dizzy. Every time I stood up, my head spun and my eyes throbbed. I could hear my heartbeat all the time, the sounds of blood pounding in my head, like holding a pulsing garden hose right beside my ear. A clock counting down, every second announced at unavoidable volume.
After I collapsed while trying to walk across the front yard, I admitted I needed to see a doctor3. At urgent care, a man took one look at me and decided the problem was a slightly bad ear infection. (Urgent-care doctors are in a big hurry. It’s kinda in their job title.) After I emphasized my debilitating fatigue, he looked closer at my pallid fingers, at the skin around my eyes, back at my hands, and into my eyes. Lunging into my face like he’d fight me unless I obeyed, he said, “You’re severely anemic. Emergency room. Go. Now.”
Me and Emily had some big laughs about how oblivious I’d been to the pretty obvious diagnosis. And a few hours later, it was determined I had a small rupture somewhere in my digestive whatever and had spent months losing blood, bringing my iron whatever and my hemoglobin whatevers really dangerously low. Two liters of transfused blood, an iron IV, and some stomach-coating stuff later, I remembered, “Whoa, this is what it feels like to be alive. Interesting.”
Every symptom quickly diminished, even stuff I’d only barely noticed or would’ve never imagined being potentially related. I’d even had zero ear wax while I was anemic. What a random symptom of bleeding to death!
Twelve days ago, when I thought I was about to die in my front yard, I felt shame for letting myself crumble despite being warned by my granddad’s death. I felt regret for how much of my kid’s life I was about to miss. But everything I felt was muted and cloudy. Somewhere in there, I felt frustration, because I have a long list of creative projects I want to publish before I’m out, stuff I believe would be good for at least a few people, but it’s difficult to finish any projects once you’ve died in your front yard. “Somebody out there needs to feel seen in a story, and now they never will, and that’s my fault,” I kept thinking.
Iron supplements and rest brought me back to the world where people really feel things. And, hours after I left the hospital, I read the third-party investigative report on the Southern Baptist Convention’s two-decade coverup of sex abusers. So the strongest thing I remember feeling, upon regaining the concept of “feeling” for the first time in months, was rage.
The report revealed the SBC had kept a secret list of 703 church leaders who’d been publicly accused of abusing women and children during a 15-year period, despite the SBC insisting for years that its decentralized hierarchy made such a list impossible.
And that’s just one denomination. And, based on what we know about sexual abuse within patriarchal organizations, the real number of abusive Evangelical leaders within our lifetimes must be orders of magnitude higher.
The report’s other biggest news was a 2010 sexual assault allegation, judged credible by investigators and corroborated in part by a counselor and three others, against former SBC president Johnny Hunt, the megachurch pastor who baptized me when I was 15, the second or third time I tried to publicly become a Christian.
(Hunt has since released two statements, both of which alter the story he gave to investigators. In the report, Hunt is cited as saying “there was no contact,” he “never entered her condo,” and the woman “had never come on to him.” Yet in his longest statement, released on a Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend, he said, “She invited me into her condo,” but he “stopped” a “consensual encounter” after he “chose to enter her condo.” So there was a “grievous sin” that was “consensual,” but nobody touched anybody, and it non-happened in a liminal space that was and wasn’t her condo? What is this, LAN-party cybersex? Hunt then declared he’s telling “the whole truth,” “with God as my witness.” He expressed embarrassment, but zero sense of reckoning with the wildly skewed power dynamic between a mega-denomination president and a subordinate’s spouse, the fact so many of his biggest ministry accomplishments would’ve never happened if he’d been honest with his peers in 2010, or the hypocrisy of his public moralizing. He did, however, claim the scandal has cost him “basically everything,” except for his millions of dollars and at least one classic Camaro purchased directly from his church’s treasury.)
Reactions to the SBC report included a sense of vindication for the survivors, including the women who’d been publicly shunned for seeking justice, along with heightened anger. Right there, on the page, was the tip of the iceberg that so many people had been reporting for decades. The SBC story’s so very much not about me (but this newsletter is, unfortunately), because I’m just some guy who used to go to bad churches, but this weird thing happened: my recovering body immediately equated simmering fury with feeling alive again.
And two days later, an 18-year-old was allowed by Texas police to terrorize an elementary school with his legally obtained mass-murder weapon. It was America’s ninth multiple-death shooting of the month, and soon followed by more.
Worn down by sickening routine, everyone reacted the same ways as usual. Posting the Onion article (or the Garry Willis article) again, retweeting the tweet again, making all the same arguments again, running into the anticipated bullshit again, and declaring the battle already lost again, because surely everybody else’s anger would quickly diminish. It’s an exhausting pattern, as millions of people are forced by conscience to rage over and over and over at the well-worn Republican playbook, despite being taught by experience that they’ll make so little tangible progress.
But maybe there was something beyond fatigue. It registered for a lot of people as extreme fatigue. In part, yeah. Obviously.
Maybe there was also anger that didn’t die down as quickly as we feared it would, the tiniest hope that people might keep justice in mind this time around, because lots of countries are experiencing high gas prices, but only one is experiencing school shootings.
For most of last week, my first week as a healthy person in a while, the only sensation that made its way back into my body was a paralyzing anger at moralizing institutions that don’t care about the safety of children, women, or any vulnerable people. Anger wasn’t consuming me, but animating me, even if all I accomplished last week was doomscrolling and getting in arguments and entering rooms in a way that felt honest, but made people look up and lean away a little bit.
So what happens if we hang onto that anger, even after the doomscrolling is done?
We’re taught anger is weakness and surrender. Since even before Cam’ron defeated Bill O’Reilly in a debate by declaring O’Reilly “mad,” to be pissed off is to be less cool than your opponent4. You cared? You got caught caring? Sincerity? You want the world to be something it isn’t? How embarrassing.
Some of us, introverts and resting bitch faces and everyone who doesn’t fit the only demographic mold Americans are allowed to fit, learned to hide anger at an early age, or to frame it with elaborate politeness presentations and lengthy preambles full of cavernous caveats for the easily offended. (This has irritated me my entire life, despite me being a straight white male who’s only distinct in less-obvious ways, and I’ll never be able to imagine how enraging it is for women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and those who represent multiple of those groups.)
I don’t have any big wisdom to offer here (haha sorry you’ve read all this way). I just wanna say anger is often really fucking good, actually, just like happiness can sometimes be bad. It is good to be mad at bad things, and it’s good to stay mad at them until they are goddamn eradicated. I’m conflating emotions and physical health, because it’s been a strange month, but that’s not the only reason anger feels healthy.
You probably spent the previous week pissed off at arms dealers, lawmakers, cops, and/or religious leaders, institutions we’ve given license to prey on children, women, and the otherwise vulnerable. And you probably also spent that same week dreading the moment when the general public lost its anger, the thing that happens about 72 hours after every religious and/or criminal scandal ever.
So many marginalized people rarely get the opportunity to opt out of indignation. Round-the-clock anger is already known by so many people this country is designed to bear down upon.
It’s long past time for more of us to opt in and share the burden. Because pissed-off people are not just alive, but often the ones seeing this world most clearly.
“God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day,” says Psalm 7, a prayer for justice, even if justice turns out to mean the psalmist himself being trampled into goddamn dust.
I dunno how else to put this: I am not a person who’s used to being tired. An extremely long attention span and lack of need for caffeine are my only physical gifts. Being tired sucks, it turns out! One-star review!
Psychoanalysis provides one answer about why I waited so long to see a doctor, but at least as revelatory is remembering how much medical stuff costs in America, even with insurance.
To be clear, Cam’ron will always be on the right side of history in any debate against Bill O’Reilly.