The Christian Ombudsman

An ombudsman is usually someone hired to be an impartial observer of an organization’s practices and to bring to light certain situations that require special attention, either positive or negative. In other words, an ombudsman is someone who watches an organization and says, “This is good, keep doing it” or “This wasn’t so good, here’s a correction.”

We live in a world of factions; forget the mainstream media’s portrayal of things and look to the news feeds of your own friends and family–you’ll see that many people run to one extreme or the other in order to find security. As a result, people share distorted (at best) or untrue (at worst) portraits of those who disagree with their positions.

As a Christian, I find that most of the people I know struggle with sharing who Jesus really is. In fact, most of the people I know don’t actually share Jesus–they share political opinions disguised in religious rhetoric. I’ve wasted plenty of time in the past trying to attack people on both sides of the aisle for their statements and ended up with nothing but heartache (and in many cases, heartburn). So the goal of this blog isn’t to hatchet either Christian polemic.

Instead, this blog will look at things through the lens of Jesus and the rest of Scripture. I won’t pretend that some posts will seem to lean toward one political direction or another; it’s practically a given since we’ve made that language an intractable part of our daily discourse. But my focus will be on what Jesus said and did, or what his followers said and did, in contrast with what many believers are saying and doing today. And my goal isn’t to convince Christians to change their positions–though, if that happens, all the groovier–but instead to help those who find themselves weary of the religious rigmarole altogether. I will share thoughts on faith and Jesus as a safe zone for those who don’t have a faith of their own.

As a result, I’m open to questions from the curious. I’d love to speak to those issues you find mystifying, troubling, or flat-out disturbing. Sometimes I’ll share my thoughts, other times I’ll share the thoughts of others. The goal will always be to stir your thinking and answer your questions with gentleness and respect.

What I’m not open to are attacks from the dissenting, or bullying from those who find their security stems from having everyone agree. You have the rest of the Internet for that.

So that’s the goal. Honest answers from a practitioner of the faith, which is what the Bible says we’re supposed to do anyway (1 Peter 3:15-16). I’ll figure out a way to create a form that allows questions to be submitted, and if I get one, I’ll answer it the best I can. If I get none, then I’ll just start with what’s top of mind.

I’m looking forward to blogging on a regular basis again, and for having a purpose that keeps me inspired. Hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Living a Better Story

Every day is its own story; with the rising of the sun comes conflict, twists, turns, and, if we’re paying attention, character development. The ultimate author of each day is God, but within our individual spheres, we are the ones at the keyboard. It is our will that shapes our days, filling them with something meaningful and interesting or with whatever happens to happen to us.

In college, one of my least favorite writing exercises was writing about whatever happened to be closest to me. This was assigned by one of my professors as a week-long project in a writing for publication class; the theory being writers should be able to take the boring and infuse it with meaning. Now that I’m almost 40, I can understand the exercise and even practice it on a regular basis (as anyone who’s read my blogs can attest). But in college, all the exercise produced were pained descriptions of Coke cans, beer bottles, empty Chinese cartons and the ennui of people who weren’t old enough to navel gaze but didn’t let lack of experience get in their way.

Sadly, the stories many people tell with their lives are similar to those college writing exercises. There’s a lot of detail, a lot of observation, but very little in the way of meaning. So many people just drift from day to day.


I walk with my kids to the bus stop almost every morning. We talk about a lot of things, mostly stuff that I consider inane but means everything to them in the moment. Whether it’s the recreational habits of squirrels, the strangely friendly cat that roams around our house, or the odd pink thing with veins lying in the middle of the road, my kids are intentional about asking questions that help them understand the world they inhabit.

As an adult, I occasionally (okay, frequently) find this incessant questioning of the world to be uncomfortable. Not because I don’t want my kids asking questions, but rather because I don’t want them asking questions of me at 7:15 in the morning before the coffee kicks in.

But in my more lucid moments (or when I’ve gotten enough coffee) I appreciate and marvel at their curiosity. In those times, I enjoy hearing how their brains work, enjoy hearing their made up hypotheses and fairy tales, enjoy the fact that they choose not to live in a world of drudgery but rather a world of magic and wonder. My morning is made better by the visits of their fairies and robots and heroes and horses, but it only lasts until they get on the bus.

Then, all too often, my world turns back into mindless detail: bills, work, chores, worries. The magic disappears with my children.

It’s my own fault, naturally, because I too often choose to see the world as drudgery. I’m just as capable as my children of seeing magic in the world but I don’t give myself permission to do so. I resign myself to living a boring story instead of a better story, because that’s the grown up thing to do. Grown up people don’t daydream, don’t have imaginary conversations in their heads, don’t invent different worlds where things are not as they seem.

But we do. Ashley Madison. Fantasty Football. Facebook. TMZ.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it’s not that we shouldn’t have stories; it’s that we settle for crappy ones.


I read a quote this morning that struck me, and I want to share it as a way of encouraging you to live a better story, to choose something beyond the dull sheen of a standard life.

“The story of our past cannot be rewritten.”

That’s from J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership. And while Sanders’ context was different than my own application, the idea remains true–we cannot rewrite our stories. We may go back into our yesterdays and try to infuse them with meaning posthumously, but we cannot change the events, cannot change the outcomes, cannot change the words on the eternal page (depending on your view of time travel, that is).

Instead, we have only one option if we want better stories. We must live them today. We must live our lives with eyes open, ears attuned, hearts prepared for the magic that comes even from something as simple as a trip to the bus stop in the morning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s to keep writing, to stay at the keyboard with discipline and persistence. Not everything will be gold, mind you, but if you don’t write junk you’ll never get to something worthwhile. Inaction doesn’t prevent bad work; it prevents good work from developing.

So today, make a choice to do things differently. To have a better attitude. To see a different perspective. To imagine another outcome. The power is in your hands to make magic happen anywhere.

Live a better story.

It’s possible, today.

FREE Kindle Downloads This Weekend

Yeah, that was a bit clickbait-ish, but it’s still true. Starting midnight on August 29th, every one of my books will be FREE in the Kindle store. That’s a total of six books, all available for download on your Kindle, all for free.

So what’s the occasion?

Four years ago, my dad’s dad passed away. My family was able to stand at his bedside as he left this world behind. My first book, Blue Like the Sky, is a collection of the blog posts I wrote during his final months, and I felt it would be fitting to give the book away in honor of Pop Harold.

But why stop there?

My book, You’re Still Here, is a guide to help parents after the death of a child. Couldn’t people use it?

Both of my short story collections, Bulldawg (detective stories set in Athens, GA) and Warm & Weird (a collection of 20 stories) could help someone pass the time in a pleasant way this weekend.

And if someone is in need of a laugh, they could certainly benefit from my essay collection, Just Pretend You’re Dead, or my illustrated Christmas classic (for those with sick minds), A Stick-Boy Christmas.

All I ask is that you download them and enjoy. If you want to share the link to any of the books, or to my Amazon author page, that would be lovely, but if not, no big deal. I’m happy to share. Part of the legacy that Pop left behind is of generosity and an open hand. This is the least I can do to honor him.

Remember – this doesn’t start until midnight on the 29th, but after that you’ll have until midnight on September 1st to get your copies.

Hope you enjoy them.

Defeating the Scarcity Mentality

A scarcity mentality is the perspective that there’s only so much good to be had.

Like a pie, or a pizza, there are only so many slices, and once they are gone, that’s it. There is no more.

This mindset comes out in people in different ways; for some, it creates a hyper-competitiveness, an insatiable need to win at all costs. For others, it creates a deep-seeded selfishness, manifested in a refusal to share or be generous.

For me, it resulted in fear. Of almost everything.

That fear–of failing, of letting others down, of not being good enough–took over my life at different points along the way, resulting in me accepting life instead of living it. When doors of opportunity opened to me, I passed them by because I was afraid. When people encouraged me, I shook them off because I was afraid. When I wanted something more, wanted to BE something more, I remained passive because I was afraid.

Of all the constants in my life, the most debilitating has been that scarcity mentality.

Because God is merciful (and persistent) with me, I’ve been tackling my scarcity mindset over the last two years.

I stepped away from a job and lifestyle that kept me comfortably helpless, and I’ve spent each day learning to be dependent on God and the talents and passion he gave me. As a result, I’ve done things I didn’t think possible: published my own books, started a community news website, even taken a job as a full-time writer with a nationally renowned company that focuses on an area about which I’m passionate.

I have learned that you defeat the scarcity mentality by choosing to see the world differently.

Leadership experts Steven Covey and John Maxwell talk about that perspective shift. They call it an Abundance Mentality. It’s the belief that the world is not finite in its goodness; that even if the pie runs out, all you have to do is bake another. And another. And another. It’s the choice to look for the good in life, instead of looking for the bad.

There is goodness, beauty, and wonder all around us–if we’ll choose to see it.

Photography has taught me that lesson. With a camera, I tend to look at the world differently; instead of seeing only what’s in front of me, I find myself looking for different perspectives, for beauty that would otherwise escape my notice. The practice of trying to document that beauty with my camera is exactly what trains me to look for it.

Being a writer helps too. Small moments with my kids become life-affirming gems (or, in some cases, massive growth experiences).

But nothing has helped me embrace abundance like surrounding myself with people who share that mindset. I had no idea how impactful my surroundings were until I changed them. I’m constantly around people who strive for excellence, see things from a positive perspective, and encourage others to live the same. As a result, I find I am defeating the scarcity mentality on a daily basis.

Being with people who see the world as a blessing instead of a curse is essential to living a life of abundance.

You can’t see what’s good in life if you’re surrounded by people who are afraid of that goodness going away. By nature, you end up focusing on the diminution of goodness instead of what is actually good. It’s a subtle thing, this mindset, but it’s powerful nonetheless.

If you find you’re surrounded by people who talk about what’s good only when they lament its gradual (or sudden) loss, then you are in a scarcity environment. You will find your growth either stunted or entirely halted, simply because you can’t grow when you’re stressed all the time.

You change your life by changing your mindset, and you can change your mindset by changing your environment. It’s hard, and you may be able to think of a million reasons not to do it, but I promise you it is worth it. The freedom you’ll feel by looking at the world as it is–full of promise and wonder–will heal you more than leaving your old world could ever hurt you.

Beauty, hope, and fulfillment are out there. You don’t have to live afraid.

90% Failure Means You’re Doing Great

I heard an incredible interview today on WABE, the local Atlanta NPR affiliate.

Radio host Lois Reitzes sat down with Matthew Diffee, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, to talk about Diffee’s new book “Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart, Attractive People.”

During the interview, Reitzes asked Diffee about his work process, and Diffee explained that, on average, he submitted 10 cartoon ideas per week. And if he sold ONE of those ideas he considered it a great week.

“Ninety percent [rejection] means you’re doing great,” Diffee said.

Diffee went on to explain that many artists come up with three to five ideas and little more. Some, he said, only have their one cartoon–and if (or, more likely, when) that one is rejected, they have nothing else in the pipeline. They have no recourse for dealing with the rejection.

It reminds me of Seth Godin’s approach to shipping your ideas: you have to consistently come up with ideas–good and bad–before you land on something great.

Rejection is part of the creative process. It’s part of finding your way to where you’re meant to be.

Personally, this resonated with me because I haven’t written much for publication lately. I’ve been hiding behind contract work and the excuse of “not having anything important to say.”

But the truth is, I’ve had lots to say–I just haven’t wanted to go through the hassle of writing something, believing its good, and then going through the process of having people say, “No thanks.”

Sadly, that’s the life of a writer. Or a cartoonist. Or an actor. Or a musician. Or anyone else who creates things of beauty and value.

If you create, you must understand the inevitability of rejection as well as its value. Because each rejection has within it information to make you that much better the next time out.

Or, as my boss says, “Experience isn’t the best teacher. Evaluated experience is.”

The key is to keep submitting. Keep creating. Keep putting your work out there, and continually learn from each rejection.

Every artist is rejected; only those who keep creating and submitting make a difference.