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An Open Letter to Myself

Dear Michael,

Let me leave any accolades aside (as it might seem self-serving). Besides, as the old saying goes, nothing matters before the word “but” so I will spare you of having to skim through all that stuff. There are a few things that I would like to encourage you about. Please take this as iron sharpening iron as I expose what I see to be the pitfalls, Achilles heels, and weaknesses about which I think you need to be aware.

Arrogance

You have been told on more than one occasion, by people you respect very much, that you are arrogant. And you know what, you may be too arrogant to consider whether or not it is true. Here are some things to think about concerning arrogance:

First, you write and/or teach about theology every day. Every day. I know that this might seem like a good thing and in many contexts it truly is. However, what you must continually ask yourself is Who do you think you are? Do you really think you have that much to say? From teaching three nights a week (and many times on Sunday), to blogging, to new theology courses and Boot Camps, to Credo Clips, to book writing. And then there is this blog. You pride yourself that your blog is a “content” blog. However, maybe others don’t have content blogs because they are humble enough to respect the subject. They point to others, don’t you point to yourself? Again, I ask, do you really have that much to say? That much to say about God? Do you have that many good ideas that can’t wait? What ever happened to the discipline of silence?

Second, let me ask you a question: How many things have you started? When you were fifteen, you started Blade Runners, a lawn mowing business. How long did that last? When you were twenty-one you started Shape Fitness. Again, how long? Then there was Areopagus for Christ, All-American Bible Study, the DTS E-Team, Adopt-a-Prisoner, and countless other dreams and visions that are no longer around. Of course, you have been in your current ministry for over a decade now, but maybe that is because it worked, not because it was right.

Third (and please don’t take this the wrong way), who do you think you are being in ministry? Do you really think that you are qualified? Doesn’t it take a pretty large head to do what you do the way that you do it? Seminary graduation does not a pastor make. You mother told you many times that you were not tender or sensitive enough to be in ministry. Yet you plunged forward. Your wife continually tells you that you are too harsh (at least with her and the kids). Does harshness and ministry have anything to do with each other? Though you have tried to distance yourself from many of your father’s failings, harshness is an apple that did not fall far from the tree.

Transparency

I know that you value transparency in others. And I know you well enough to know that you second guess whether your transparency is always a good thing. Let me give two examples about how your transparency may be having a negative effect:

First, concerning your recent struggles with depression and doubt: I appreciate you being open and candid about such things, but there is a reason why many mature believers don’t share such things (at least not in such abundance as you). These things can disturb the faith of otherwise stable people. I think that you could be normalizing something that should not be normalized. You have talked about how emotionally stable you used to be before you turned 35. Now that you are nearing 40 you say that you are emotionally volatile. I understand and sympathize with depression and fatigue. However, are not those of us in Christ supposed to becoming more and more like him? Is not the joy and peace that passes understanding supposed to characterize our lives more today than they did yesterday? Are you not, with these bouts of depression and doubt, going in the opposite direction? And to add to the problem, you put it up on a billboard, normalizing (or worse, canonizing) something that may not need to find such support. I know you think that you help people when you are more “see though”, but could it not be that you are hurting more than you are helping? At least it is something to consider.

Second, I have read every blog post you have ever written. I have read your book. I have been though every course and every class you have ever taught. Obviously, I am a follower of Michael Patton. I appreciate the pain that you and your family have been though and are going through. I hurt along with you. Your sister’s suicide and your mom’s paralysis are indeed terrible. But I am starting to get the feeling that you wear these things like a badge of spirituality. Be careful with this. People do care about you and what you are going through, but your continual referral to these events can make you sound like you have no other platform upon which to speak. You may need to move on. “Moses my servant is dead . . . now you be strong and courageous and move on.” Just temper the use of personal sufferings in your teaching. It may be coming across as self-serving. In fact, maybe you should be humble enough not to talk about them unless absolutely necessary. Again, just something to think about. (But bringing them up just now was a bit self-defeating for my advise and illustrative of the problem!) As a matter of fact, this entire “open letter” seems to illustrate some of the things I have been saying, doesn’t it?

I have many other things about which to speak to you, but I will let you dwell on these for now.

12 Responses to “An Open Letter to Myself”

  1. I don’t normally comment on your blog (though I read almost every post) but I felt that this post was…. different.

    Thank you for your transparency. Thank you for being real, and thank you for airing your internal dirty laundry.

    In these days of professional bloggers, “image is everything” is the siren call. Thank you for resisting.

  2. Hey Michael, this is why I like you, man!!

  3. Michael…what do you make of your weakness’s and strengths…

    As someone who has deeply suffered and went through what you could term a severe mid life crisis. paralysed right side and hospitalised 2 months, haven’t worked for 4 years, marriage broke up from abusive wife, separated from kids, black banned from church and told had lost my salvation etc I understand a little of the experience of personal pain and confusion and what this does to ones faith. Though of course, pain is deeply personal and isolating and I cannot know what it is you are going through, nor can I know the full extent of your own experience….such is the isolating factor of experience.

    The truth is that 1/3 of the Bible is based on Lament. It’s based on grief. It’s about pain, confusion: deep, personal and isolating pain within the framework of faith….where God is questioned, faith is questioned and the meaning of life is question. And within this framework of life, life is meant to be experienced, God is meant to be experienced and faith is meant to be experienced… in the good and the bad.

    I read a Bible that shows many of the faithful who progressed through a journey of thinking they knew God, to questioning God, their faith, and their life and who God went with them and they moved into a position of true faith…

    Abraham, Noah, Joshua, Gideon, David, Isaiah, Elijah, Job, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter..and many many more.

    The fact is that Scripture records their faults as well as their strengths and we are to learn from their experiences…and in the same way they were real before man and God…I mean think of Jeremiah..the weeping prophet… We too are to be honest before God and man…because this is what true faith really is.

    Any thing else is but a farce.

  4. Michael,

    Interesting that you should write about the struggles with sharing your struggles and where the balance is there. I’ve been contemplating this recently in my own writing. On one hand, I want to be authentic and let others know they are not alone. In fact, this is what prompts me to open up, to encourage others. But I have been cognizant of it having the opposite effect. Too much can undermine what I seek to accomplish. And then on the other hand, when does it become a vehicle to obsess about our ills and disable progress? Authenticity is good; whining is not. Am I writing to regurgitate hurt and impeding my own progress? There does need to be progress.

    Anyways, just stuff I’ve been wrestling with.

  5. Michael, just continue to be who you are. That’s one of the main reasons I read your blog each day. Something to consider: might the evil one be tormenting you by moving you towards “morbid-introspection?” Just something to consider. Keep up the good work!

  6. “However, are not those of us in Christ supposed to becoming more and more like him? ”

    Yes:

    A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

    I agree with others — keep on being and writing who you are. I think you have good people around you who can help with course corrections if needed.

  7. I have personally benefited so much from this blog. I love that you are hitting on important theological and practical issues in a deep manner. Please don’t stop writing. Even if sometimes you are tempted to write with a less than pure motivation (e.g. pride), there is objective good being done through it.

  8. Briefly-I have benefited tremendously from your openness and honesty in such matters, as I could never articulate the impact these things have on ones’ spiritual walk as you do. It helps me put life’s travails in better focus. Thank you and God bless.

  9. I just want to say that paragraph 2 is absolutely false.

    Doubt IS normal, it should be treated as normal, and instead of sweeping it under the rug people – especially believers – should be embracing it.

    Again, if you ever need to talk….

  10. Hi Michael,

    If more teachers have come to the stage you are at, we would have a better dialogue within Christianity. That would become the foundation for a new platform, moving from Christinsanity to unity. We don’t need more denominations, more division, do we? I believe we need to look at ourselves, see how far we are from how complete we sometimes think we are and come to realize how much we need our Father to become selfless.

    Your public work, the parts available online, has helped me tremendeously finding my way back from the delusion I was dropped into when born in a Christian environment. If you feel you have not completed something, you have at least helped me to rebuild and organize some sort of structure in my like. I want to thank you for that.

    I don’t, and will never worship you, and when I say I am grateful to you it is out of gratitude and not adoration. You have helped me again, by what you have written above, to stop, step back and look at myself. Some of your struggles I can relate to almost with a scary resemblance to my journey. However, the main question to myself is probably a little bit different to yours. However it goes like this: where is the love?

    Bless you mate!

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