Losing a Child, Parental Guilt, and Cooling off Our Hot Takes

Three years ago on a Sunday afternoon four adults scrambled frantically around my In Laws property and surrounding neighborhood scouring for the signs of a two-year old little boy who had been missing for less than five minutes. That little boy was my son, Gideon, and those less than five minutes felt like an eternity of getting punched in the soul by Mike Tyson.

Fortunately, I found him a couple of houses down, on our front porch playing with the water faucet wondering what all the fuss was about.

Three years before that incident with Gideon a similar situation happened with my oldest, Josiah. Another case of a Daniels two-year old who had taken off quietly and unwittedly, a sly escape from his briefly distracted adult caretakers. Out the door he went, and halfway down a busy street he walked pulling his little green Playskool wagon behind.

Fortunately, observant neighbors stopped their cars and redirected Josiah back to his fraught mama who by then had sprinted out roadside screaming out his name and expecting the worst.

Our children weren’t neglected at any moment during theses incidents, but their caretakers were briefly distracted. Not for days or hours or even minutes, we’re talking distracted for seconds.

Moments like this are few and far between for us, but they happen to even the most careful helicopter hovering parents. The most doting parent has likely experienced this blood curdling parenthood rite of passage: The terrible moment we lose track of a young child’s whereabouts. Fortunately, for most of us, almost all of these experiences were only temporary scares that ended with us finding, running to, and embracing our little lost one like they were a lifetime missing prodigal child.

But, not all of these parental moments end in a crashing emotional conundrum of joy and tears of relief. As with the news of the gator snatching and drowning of a two-year old at Disney World Resort last Tuesday, some parents will get no respite from the eternal weight of a million gut level soul punches. A child lost under a parents direct care produces a guilt I’m sure that is unimaginable and inescapable.

For those of us who are shocked social media spectators to these tragic moments it may be helpful to take a few deep breaths and feel the hurt (before we feel the anger).

In our culture of fast food and quick easy Googled answers we need to slow down. We need to take a moment to collectively breathe. We want to assign blame for such tragedies too quick.  And inevitably the parents (who are victims in a tragedy too) end up in the crosshairs of society’s self-righteous indignation.

Whether it’s an alligator attack where the child dies.

Or a zoo accident where the child lives (but gorilla doesn’t).

Or what tragically happened last year to a local elementary school teacher and mother. Her sleeping baby girl forgotten in the midst of a morning rush, changed routine, and left in a hot car all day.

I. Can’t. Imagine. The. Heart. Break.

Yet it is not an exaggeration to say: It could happen to anyone.

Why my sons survived my moments of parental amnesia I don’t know. Some may say lucky or #blessed or providence. I bet those answers ring hollow to the parents currently being punched in the soul by grief. Where that bone chilling moment of immense loss replays in their mind like an unavoidable infinite video loop from hell.

And my knee jerk hot take on the matter may only serve to make that hell hotter for a grieving parent. A crass burn on top of a fresh gaping wound. A message that is thoroughly anti Christ in its effect (Isaiah 61:1). Maybe when Christ says the “first shall be last” he’s also talking about our propensity to form and offer an opinion in haste. To be the first to break the news and give groundbreaking commentary. Maybe, in certain situations, we can better proclaim the gospel by shutting our mouths.

I know I’m guilty.

But sorrow and empathy and prayers I’m sure are the order for such heartbreak; not judgment or guilt or shame.

Because as parents this much is true: we’re all five seconds of distractedness away from being the lead story on the evening news.

Yes, let’s pray that nightmare doesn’t happen to us and ours. But even more: let’s pray for the poor souls living that nightmare, with heartbreak and understanding.

“Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15)

Bryan Daniels

We Don’t Have To Elect A Donkey for President (Never Trump/Never Clinton)

GK Chesterton once wrote, to the chagrin of those who demand a person’s political and religious views remain in the private sphere, this:

I never discuss anything except politics and religion. There is nothing else to discuss. Nothing of importance can be separated entirely from its social effect, which is politics, or from its ultimate value, which is religion.

As a tandem post to my last political piece, “Never Trump and Never Hillary (Letter To Those Stuck In Two Parties)”, I wanted to add a small political and religious addendum (which may grow).

Many well meaning conservative Christians have thrown in the political towel this election cycle. They admit the two major choices aren’t inspiring. They concede Trump has many character deficiencies as a candidate and is likely not as conservative as he lets on during his speech rallies. But all those glaring weaknesses matter little compared to this: He’s not Hillary Clinton at least (overtly pro choice progressive).

The fragile hope of these reluctant Trump supporters is that at bare minimum he seems open to the conservative view of things, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll appoint brilliant political minds around him to cover his deficiencies. Maybe even God will knock him off his high horse like Saul of Tarsus and he’ll grow to be an unlikely champion of Christian ideals (different post). Even if no personal epiphany occurs, look at Scripture they may say:

God used evil kings like Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1)

And Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 43:10).

I mean, shoot, God can use a donkey if he wants! (Numbers 22:28)”

The following is why I believe we can reject such fatalism in our current political climate.

As the American electorate we’re in a unique position the ancient Israelite citizens never were. Our constitutional republic affords us certain rights, one of the greatest is our ability to vote concerning our political leaders. At the birth of the US, the power was placed in the hands of individual people, “We the people” specifically, not an over-reaching central government leader.

Israel’s political climate was much different and typical for its time. As a monarchy Israel was given a king or a judge (1 Samuel 12:13). You don’t vote in a monarch you simply submit to it. God preferred to be the only King of Israel but reluctantly conceded the Israelite people’s impatient urging and gave them over to Saul (1 Samuel 8). Saul wasn’t voted in. World history shows kings in other nations gain their position by family lineage or outright violence but the greater populace has little to do with his position of presumed power. Kings are not voted in. In contrast, Americans, and hat tip to the collective genius of our constitutional forefathers, have an active role in voting in the most principled men and women of character we have available to us.

Never Trump and Never Hillary

I am a strong believer in God’s sovereignty in human affairs, even the current wonky political affairs that make my stomach churn (Daniel 2:21). He can and does use whomever he pleases for his glory.

But the fact that God used an unrighteous Babylonian King for his glory 2800 years ago is no reason for his people to clamor around modern day unrighteous Babylonian authoritarians. Ancient autocratic political structures limited the involvement of the masses to mere recipients of the given King’s graces. Modern democratic political forms seek (or at least should seek) to energize and empower the masses to actively participate in the process of electing their given leaders. Electing especially those leaders who would consider authoritarian power to be anathema to the founder’s ideal.

We have a litany of choices before us. Not one. Not two. But many.

And yes, God used a Donkey to speak on his behalf once. But 1. That is not the normative way he wants to get his message across, and 2. That is not license for us to vote Donkey’s into the highest office in the land.

To the donkey’s defense, he’d probably be less of a jackass than the limited choices now before us.

And it goes both ways.

To apply ancient Israel’s governance to the modern American model will lead to hermeneutic headaches.

If God can use evil Kings and donkeys, why care whether Trump or Clinton is elected? He can use either of them right? Such a view inevitably leads to an impotent fatalistic view of personal ethics. Christians should not be forced to make choices that sear their personal conscience just because one candidate is better at pandering to them than the other. The same could be said of every evil totalitarian this side of Nero. God can use them, right? So let’s just wait and see what happens. This logic is a slippery slope that will leave everyone paralytic and tumbling down a ravine of shrugging inaction.

I still plan on voting in the general election. As far as president, I’m still not sure who that will be. The Libertarian Party and apparently David French are becoming more viable options as I write this. Who knows, maybe I’ll even write in a literal donkey as my choice on election day.

God uses donkeys

Couldn’t be much worse than what we’ve produced thus far.

Bryan Daniels

The Sound of a Hero Dying (World War II Memorial Day Poem)

[I wrote this after my Papa Shep (grandpa) died eleven years ago. It’s about his last few days on earth. He was a World War II veteran marine who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima]

Calloused hands that loved little dogs

and showed little boys how to hook a worm

Tremble now, involuntarily and soft

Armchair politician with a dagger wit

and humor more arid than the August Mojave

Forgets now, wets his own bed

Broad hard marine with a bulldog tattoo

and played keyboard for the church of st. waltz

Withered now, Hospice choir sings

First the grandson became nephew

the nephew a Japanese conspirator

The sponge was a razor

the nurse a war criminal

Escaped his cell block while sleeping

He always preferred the back door

No national day of mourning

No brash parade in his name

Just my hold it together sobs

The only sound left of another hero dying

Bryan Daniels

Never Trump and Never Hillary (Letter To Those Stuck in Two Parties)

Dearly Beloved Voting Americans,

I am writing this as a voter who does not shy away from the “Christian” or “conservative” political labels. Pro life and pro family are positive titles to me I’m proud to wear as a committed pro human (pro human on most days). Given those personal predilections, it is rightly assumed I would never vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming presidential election. I empathize with both the #neverTrump and #neverHillary social media movements. But, since I’ve always been a registered Republican voter in my voting lifetime, I feel the need to speak to the deficiencies found in my own “home team” before I speak to the away side.

This will be the first year I will not be voting for the GOP nominee in the general election.

The first objection raised with this statement from Republican adherents is inevitably, “Don’t you know not voting for Donald Trump is a vote for Hillary Clinton?!” (Or “Killary, Billary, Or Hitlery” or some other witty* alt right modification on the name)

To which my knee jerk reply is,

“Don’t you know a vote for Donald Trump is indeed a vote for Donald Trump?”

It’s not just that he has a nasty public persona: Yes, his whole faux tough guy veneer, his jingoistic rhetoric, his misuse and abuse of Bible texts, his 7th grade girl Twitter tirades. All those are bad enough. But what’s worse is this: we don’t even know what he really believes about the Constitution or how executive powers are limited by it. He wants to fix the nation like he can buy and fix a dying hotel property with his brand of CEO style authoritarian leadership. But the office of president wasn’t designed to work that way.

It’s apparent he’s making up important public policy and platform decisions on the fly, like a contestant on “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Except this isn’t funny anymore and the points do matter this time around. Once you get past his talking points about a wall, China, and bombing oil fields you realize his chamber is spent. And we’ve gotten to the point where his unprepared incoherence is actually endearing to many voters. Oh, he’ll figure it out later, he’s smart. He’ll fix America.

Bush and Obama are examples of what it looks like when the left or right uses unconstitutional executive powers to “fix” things. Bush used executive decrees that gave way to Obama using executive decrees that will gave way to Trump/Clinton using executive decrees. And that magic scepter will forever continually be passed down the line until the peasant democracy rebels with their vote.The issue isn’t with the partisan team one identifies with, they both are to blame in this game of thrones.

We need a statesmen who will keep the government restrained from it’s natural impulse to fix everything. As the old Reagan adage goes: The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

The government just wants to help you like a young Kylo Ren just wants a hug from his daddy, Han.

There goes American voters falling off the cliff of two party moral oblivion.
There goes American voters falling off the cliff of two party moral oblivion.

We don’t need those types of hugs. Nor do we need in the most powerful office in the land

a King,

a CEO,

or a celebrity obsessed with his own exploits.

The next objection in line will be, “So what, Hillary doesn’t care about the constitution either? We KNOW that from her decades of political experience.”

And I concede that. That is why I’m not voting for her.

To which one might respond, “We only have two dominant parties, so we only really have two choices.”

This is where I’d diverge:

We will always only have two choices for president for as long as we passively believe we will always only have two choices for president. For now, I’m leaning voting Libertarian but that can change. It may be true that a third party candidate has little chance to take on Democratic royalty and a billionaire Republican celebrity. But that is not the point. “Of two evils, choose neither,” Spurgeon advises us from the grave. You can choose the candidate that closest fits your principles and values. They just may not reside in the currently anointed two parties.

It is not so much about winning this election. Right now the choices between the two major parties are marginally different this election cycle. The line between Democrat and Republican has disappeared and the true line is between authoritarian and libertarian. And one thing, other than authoritarian political philosophy, the two parties also have in common: People’s disenchantment with these two presumptive candidates is historically high. The unfavorable ratings for both are astronomical. One would have to go back decades to find such  a parallel hatred for both dominant candidates on the same election year.

A third party is primed to make a serious statement. Not necessarily win. Is the magic vote number 10, 15, or 20+% in the general election to begin a movement that lasts? I don’t know. But my hope is a enough noise will be made by a principled constitutionally coherent third party, that, maybe, down the road, a three party system can develop. When a Trump/Clinton term gets done crashing and burning in a brilliant display of attempted autocracy in 4-8 years then maybe a libertarian republic can rise from those ashes.

Maybe 8, 12, or 16 years from now the two party system will be broken for good. Dream with me here. Maybe when all three of my sons reach voting age they will have more than the two viable presidential choices their daddy did in 2016. Can I get a witness? Maybe those choices won’t violate their conscience and make them physically sick to their stomachs at the prospect of voting for only the “top” two candidates.

Protesting with our collective vote and waiting for that to happen will be difficult. It may be a long shot and I know it’s not the most expedient sexy revolution that can happen. Fox News and CNN will probably not even televise it. But maybe that’s when America will be great again.

At least that’s my hope for this 2016 election, beloved.

Bryan Daniels

*Not really

Gobsmacked By Grace: The Charleston Massacre’s Shocking AfterMath

Most of us have been following the tragic Charleston church massacre story the past two days. The victim’s families made heart wrenching statements today at the bond hearing of the racist terrorist, Dylann Roof. They all courageously confronted the evil degenerate who murdered nine of their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and friends. And all who spoke in some way gave the same shocking message to the gunman:

“I forgive you.”

They were honest about the hurt and pain Roof inflicted, and through tears they lamented the loss of their loved ones. The curious element was this: Every statement had another kind of lament in it. A lament not just for what Dylann Roof had done, but a lament for Dylann Roof’s soul. A grief not just for lost family members who are deeply loved, but a grief for a lost young man who is blinded by hate.

It shook me up. And media members, who were called to react to it on live TV, were left grasping for categories.

Greg Gutfield, a typically sarcastic conservative commentator with razor wit, was visibly moved by the statement on the Fox News Show “The Five”. Never at a loss for words, Gutfield almost was this time:

“That might be the most powerful display of human emotion I’ve ever seen in my life. I will never be that good. They just witnessed unmitigated pure evil. But that (response) might be the best example of what is ‘good’ I’ve seen in my life….”

The next portion of Gutfield’s statement I found particularly heart wrenching (for a different reason):

“I’m not a religious person…But I can’t begin to understand. Does religion make great people? Or do great people go to religion? I can’t even comprehend this…I’m gobsmacked.”

There was a great act of grace displayed today in the words and tears of the victim’s families. And if they were to expound on what’s behind their radical statement I wonder if they’d point away from themselves. Maybe the foundation of radical grace isn’t found in “great people.”

Maybe they know the deep need of forgiveness they have before a holy God, and they’ve experienced all that forgiveness and more in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They know the bent of their own crooked heart towards hatred, bitterness, and anger. Because of their self-awareness they know the only place where healing for those dark gripping emotions can be:

At the foot of the cross of a gracious Savior. The God-Man who made himself a victim of the violence and blind hatred of man.

I’d bet the families of the Charleston victims have prayed the publican’s prayer many times before this tragedy, maybe even during the prayer group the found themselves in last Wednesday night: “Lord be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

The families are primed to be striking ambassadors of God’s goodness towards Roof because they intimately know the God who covers their badness with grace. And Gutfield’s right. We can’t “comprehend” supernatural grace with fallen minds. This has nothing to do with whether we are religiously predisposed or not.

Does religion make great people?

Not at all. Largely it ruins people, as most religion treats its traditions as proud badges before God and man (Mark 7:13).

Are great people attracted to religion?

Not at all. There are no great people. Not one. Just a great God Who forgives great sinners like us (Romans 3:10).

But there are normal people apprehended by a counter worldly gospel of grace, as the hurting Charleston families have attested today. And there is a great God who shows up in the midst of mindless suffering to give victims their voices.

The world is listening to these strong broken voices. And what He’s saying to them, and through them, is beautiful.

It’s beautiful because it’s mirroring the silver lining of good news even with a backdrop of horrifically bad news. It’s the living word of the gospel He speaks to us everyday, through the blood of His Son shed for us.

The Law of God has proven we’re guilty.

We stand condemned in an eternal court.

A Father stands before us with a statement.

His only Son’s blood is on our hands.

His words to us, the perpetrators:

“You’re forgiven. I love you.”

Amazing Grace. Should leave us wrecked everyday.

Or as some would say: Gobsmacked.

Bryan Daniels

The Duggars and Hypocrites Like Us

Scandal hits the Duggars

The Christian world was “shocked” such a lurid act could surface out of such a pristine family. They were paragons of conservative family values and modesty. Homeschool heroes.

Disclaimer: This isn’t really a post about a fifteen year old Josh Duggar and his young victims.

This is a post about our meta reaction when tragic news like this breaks upon our collective preconceived notions.

The only thing that’s shocking in this situation is that we continue to be shocked by these situations. Even after the Catholic priest scandal. Or Bill Cosby scandal. Or Ted Haggard scandal.

Fallen people gonna fall (Romans 3:23).

The more perfect, and nice, and homeschooly the Duggars were on-screen, the further the fall seems to us. But that’s because we falsely believe we’re adept at judging distances from God based on surface behavior. The Duggars are in the same sunk ship of humanity we all find ourselves in. They’re likely guilty of protecting their family name at all costs just as we would be given the same circumstances.

There’s only really two types of folks in the world: 1. Those high-profile figures who will fall publicly because of their sin and 2. the rest of us who aren’t high profile enough for it to matter when we fall.

That’s not to say our darkest blots would have heavy legal ramifications. Or that our misdeeds would scar the innocent in the same way Josh Duggar’s did. There should be definite legal consequences for such crimes. It’s just that we’re not very in tune with our own wicked thought patterns if we’re sucker punched every time a new scandal comes to light. I bet if every nefarious thought that popped into our head on a daily basis were projected on a public screen we’d be in a familyless friendless plight pretty quick.

The nicest most religious Midwestern values family you could write into a Mayberry neighborhood is as screwed up as the broken Detroit family with a crack addicted mom and transgender prostitute dad. The former is just better at hiding it.

Part of our cultural Christian church culture we in the Bible Belt have ingested is that we at least know how to act in public. It’s subversive and not overtly taught. But it’s there: We clean up nice, put on a good smile, have our kids under control, listen to Christian radio all day, don’t drink or curse in public, etc. We’ve conflated shining our gospel light with cleaning our cup on the outside (Luke 11:39). And we’ve become Christian actors, which is just a hop and skip away from becoming full-blown hypocrites.

In our hurried hiding of this hypocrisy we don’t realize this: it’s okay.

This is the freeing reality: Everyone is a hypocrite. Every. One. I expect my two sons to keep their playroom organized and clean. But they only have to look at the back seat of their daddy’s car/gym locker/office to see I’m selective with demands. There are petrified gym shorts in the back of my Honda that have been carbon dated to the paleolithic era.

The only unforgivable  place we could stay in the world is failing to admit our own hypocrisy. Which would be staying in our insulated safe world of Christian radio, Christian friends, Christian bumper stickers, Christian breath mints and acting for one moment like this behavior gets us one baby step closer to God.

The broken hypocrite who knows their own sin is closer than the blind hypocrite oblivious to it. (Luke 18:9-14)

The gospel of Jesus is for hypocrites. Because hypocrites are all there are in the world.

So come:

Actors and addicts.

Impostors and Irreligious.

Victims and Victimizers.

Duggars and Drunkards.

There’s a place at His table for all of us scalawags. Repent and believe that His grace in Christ alone is the scandal that can save even you.

Bryan Daniels

Like a Baby: Doing Nothing Is Everything

My son, Judah O’ Grady Daniels, is an incredible blessing to our family. At 10 weeks, he can’t do much as far as practical contributions to the household. He can flash the occasional crooked smile and offer a cute “goo” to you. But otherwise he’s an eating, pooping and sleeping machine. And he’s dependent on his parents for every bottle, diaper change, and bedtime routine. More accurately, with my full time teaching and coaching schedule he’s largely dependent on my beautiful hard working wife for all those things.

Judah’s value to us as his parents have nothing to do with what he does. Because, really, he does nothing.

And I think we lose this child like dependence with adulthood, where what we do is interchangeable to who we are: How much money we make, our job title, our washboard abs (or lack thereof), where we live, our reputation in community/church, our children’s good/bad behavior, who we know, etc. All of this activity gets conflated at the soul level. Our badges become our identity.

And this mindset seeps naturally into our spiritual activity. When our prayer life lags we feel we’re lukewarm. When our Bible study falls off we curse our lack of discipline. When we trip over our pet sin for the thousandth time we fall into a cycle of self loathing. When our three year old throws an epic tantrum in the cereal aisle of Publix our parenting competency is assaulted.

What we do is who we are saith the law written on our hearts.

But because of the gospel, this isn’t true.

Like a baby, we really don’t have any inherent practical worth to God. This may be a blow to our already fragile egos but it’s true. To God the Father we’re like an agitated infant who can only poop our pants, fuss about lack of sleep, and whine incessantly about empty stomachs and basic needs.

We may be fooling our church communities and Facebook friends with some fine acting and accoutrements but our Father knows the real deal. The well has been dried up on all our self salvation projects since the beginning of time.

We have value because of who we are. Not because we’re successful hardworking family oriented super citizens and church members. But because we’re His. His children. His kids. And this is nothing we have earned or merited with our own doing. We can only sit in His lap and receive this favor like a squirming half blind infant.

We’re wholly dependent on the grace of the Father purchased through the Son Jesus. And because of that only, we’re wholly beautiful to the Father. We’ve been chosen, adopted, and had lavish love and care put on us by the one we once declared war against (Romans 5:10)

Our sworn enemy has become our Dad.

Children of wrath have become children of a gentle King.

We came into the family contributing nothing. We stay in it by contributing nothing. Just sit and receive and be dependent on the Father’s arms. And we can rest and sleep peacefully in this position.

Like a baby.

Bryan Daniels