On the Utility of Faith

For those of you who don’t follow the majesty that is @sphughes99 on Twitter…this sort of stuff pops out from time to time…

Thread on the utility of faith.

Most of the intellectual energy around faith and people of faith is focused on the institutions of faith. And it’s pretty negative. Rightly so as the institutions are riddled with bigotry, abuse and hypocrisy. So little else gets said.

Beyond that though, it’s hard to overstate the positive impact faith has on people on a personal level. That people endure the negativity of institutions to organize around their faith is telling.

For me, faith is foundational. And it’s worth unpacking the mechanics of that a bit.

I’m a parent and caretaker of of a special needs child. The grind that involves is consuming. I write this, not coincidentally, at four in the morning, the time he decided to get up today. I’m up with him because he’s not entirely safe without some supervision. He’s 12.

Hence some reflection on the utility of faith.

The grind of this life is consuming. And like all grindingly tough things, hard things with the added aspect of having no end in sight, the notion of unfairness plays a central role in the battle for your state of mind.

What my family lives through is unfair. It’s unfair to my child. It’s unfair to my family. It’s unfair to me. Over time, focus on that unfairness turns healthy & honest sadness to bitterness. It’s not unique to special needs parenting. It’s a common cycle because life is hard.

Special needs parenting is just a certain type of hard that makes for an acute illustration. There is difficulty. And there is no way out of it. And there is no end in sight. No end until the end.

In such instances, faith and it’s central role is clear.

I asked BJ Miller of Zen Hospice about the advice he gave to the caretakers of long terminally ill loved ones. It occurred to me that much of the emotional pattern I was experiencing with my son was similar to what my family went through with my mother’s 3 yr battle with ALS.

He told me that one of the central enablers of sustainment for caretakers was the ability to see themselves in the suffering and need of others. And to see themselves in the care they gave. It’s an intentional frame of mind. And without it, fatigue eventually yields resentment.

And resentment yields the bitterness. And so the critical shift is to move yourself out of the center of the problem, the unfairness of it all, and into the care being provided.

It’s easier said than done. The amount of times I’ve patiently whispered “quiet voice” to my son since 4 this morning so he didn’t wake up the rest of the house, eventually starts to draw on me. And so there’s some energy I have to put into seeing myself as an expression of the care I’m giving. In my experience, that energy is best focused on faith.

The central message of my faith as a Christian is simply put, to put God at the center of your life. And that the application of doing that is through loving others.

I’ll pause for a second to acknowledge: So many churches are horrible. And so many Christians hare horrible.

And so much bad has been done in the name of religion that the hypocrisy on an institutional level is bad enough to turn anyone away. Try, if you can put it aside. Because one of the great tragedies of that horribleness is that it blocks people from their faith.

But if we can put that aside and focus on that message of service & love & the underlying messages of grace, it takes us back to the critical utility of my faith. The world needs me to see myself in the care I take of others. The application of my faith reenforces that message

It reenforces a message that I am not at the center of my world. And that this world is unfair and cruel and fallen. But mine is not to spend much time on what that means to me. But instead to serve and to give and to love. And in that service and love, is where I find myself.

And finding a community of people who believe similarly and fill my days with encouragement and reminders of the message makes it easier. Saying out loud what we believe, together, makes it easier. It keeps the wolves of bitterness and self outside the camp.We’re wired for it.

And I know that there’s plenty of smart people who think my belief in God is a silly superstition that is at odds with my analytical Bayesian views of the world. I simply don’t know how to get through the day without it though.

I came to this belief through exhaustion and surrender. And it has changed my life to look the only way it can to survive. Therein lies the utility of my faith.

And now, it’s 630. And it’s time to start today. And this small version of outward expression of faith an 18 tweet prayer thread if you will, has helped. Enjoy your day everyone.

If you know anyone struggling to keep up on the journey of special needs parenting, tell them to check out what we do at Care For Us. It’s all free. And we’re always here.


God and Politics

January 4th, 2010.

That was my hardest day. It’s not close.

In a parking lot behind SEAL Team One I said goodbye to my wife.

It had been a month since my 3-year old son Aidan had been diagnosed with Autism. He stopped talking when I left for Iraq that summer. The Team sent me home to be with my family for Christmas. That had passed. And it was time to go back. Continue reading

Crisis of Faith

When you say the word Christian, do you mean your faith? Or do you mean your tribe?

Let me ask that question in a different way. When you hear the word Christian, do you see a person? Or do you see a way of life?  Is it a noun? Or, an adjective?

It’s an exercise in semantics right? Well, in as much as the teachings of the Christian Bible are semantics, I guess it is.

Our world is full of semantics. “Our country is great” can mean a lot of things. Great means powerful. It means rich and full of opportunity. Great could mean familiar and sustained. Great can mean free from tyranny and overburdensome rule. Great could mean a place where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness win out. Or, it could just mean a decent place to live in peace and quiet with the space to live with your own thoughts.


For me, great means the place that every living human soul in the world wishes they were born, but even more, wishes they could die in. Or die for. That’s what great means. And once, not too long ago, maybe even last week, that’s what America was.

The dreams of the world happen in American. My first ancestor came here as an indentured servant, to Brooklyn before it was even a British colony.  My last came here over two hundred years later, from Ireland, working in the steel mills of Pennsylvania. For centuries, people came because of the promise of great. Because greatness meant one simple thing. All were welcome.

We wrote it down and it changed the world.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We screwed it up from the start. We didn’t include everyone. And we paid the price. We fought like hell over the last 240 years to get us to equal. And welcome. And we’re damn close. At least we were. It’s changed though.


About that first question I asked. When you hear the word Christian, what do you hear? I’ve heard the wasteful debate over whether or not we are a Christian nation with Christian values. We are. But we are more than that too. At our very core, we are a nation built on the fundamental value that all are equal. It is not at odds with my faith. My faith tells me all are loved. All are forgiven. All are welcome.

We are every bit in the middle of a great crisis of our faith and culture. But for a different reason than perhaps they’ve led you to believe. Our way of life isn’t at risk because more people want to come and live it. Our way of life is at risk because we’ve answered that first question wrong. Christian isn’t a thing. It’s not a tribe or a people to be protected. It’s a beautiful word that describes a bold fearless way to live. And the crisis isn’t that the knock on the door came and keeps coming from those in search of our shelter. The crisis is what we’ve decided to do when we heard it.

The teachings of my faith are clear and unambiguous. Matthew 25:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

In my faith, my God doesn’t ask. He commands. And he does not qualify my safety as a condition to obey. You can fool yourself into thinking that closing the door is protecting us. Maybe for a little while. And maybe from outsiders. But it can’t protect our way of life from the only enemy who could ever take it away for good.


This is not our way.