7 People I'd Buy Dinner for in 2020

It’s the end of a year and the beginning of another. Thus come the lists of bests and worsts and favorites and least favorites and so on and so on.

I was tempted to do a couple on music (favorite song is Dean Lewis’ “Don’t Hold Me” or Alec Benjamin’s “Must Have Been the Wind”) or movies (“The Two Popes”) or TV shows (“The Mandalorian,” obvs). But as I was thinking about what I really want, what I most desire, it’s not more movies or music or TV. It’s time and conversation with people.

Thus I present you with my 2019 end-of-year list: The Seven People I Want to Buy Dinner For in 2020. They’re split into three categories.

First: People, sadly, I won’t be able to because they’re no longer with us.

Rachel Held Evans: Here’s what I wrote about her when she passed away in May:

As a writer myself, I love her style of mixing emotional self-reflection with life story, biblical application with textual criticism. She was both humorous and intellectual, realistic and self-deprecating. I want to write like her, to turn phrases with emotional impact and spiritual depth while pointedly approaching problems she sees. She wrote with compassion, understanding the reality of life as a Christian and a human, not taking any crap while seeing people’s flaws and elevating them [the people, not the flaws].

By all accounts, she was a wonderful person as well.

I’d want to take her and her husband to dinner with my wife and I. We’d talk about growing up evangelical, being Bible know-it-alls, going through significant faith changes and being a writer. That last part, particularly. Maybe she’d let me write a book with her. Or maybe she’d just read something I wrote and give me a good piece of writing advice.

Jarrid Wilson: Here’s what I wrote about him after his reported suicide in September:

This was a guy who, the day before his suicide was reported, wrote on Twitter, “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.”

He was so, so, so, so right. And he lived that message! He was the guy who more-or-less singlehandedly, just through his presence on social media, helped me believe that it was OK to be a Christian who had depression and anxiety, that my mental illnesses did not disqualify me from being loved by God and loved by Jesus. 

By all accounts, he was a good guy too.

We’d talk, if he was willing, about writing and mental health, our own struggles and how Jesus loves us through it. With his permission, of course, we’d scheme about ways to raise awareness of mental illness and mental health in Christian culture and walk out planning to save some lives.

Second: People who are alive who are way too famous and/or busy for me to realistically have a chance to dine with them.

Andy Mineo: I enjoyed Andy’s music when he first landed on the Christian rap scene earlier in the 2010s, but it’s his latest stuff that’s really helped me appreciate his life and journey and our similarities. Maybe he could give me some writing pointers as well. But mostly, like Rachel, he speaks my language:

Yeah, built my life on this (huh)
Half my adult life like unlearnin’
Lies that I heard in a dumb sermon
What I unearth got me uncertain
More knowledge and more sorrow
Worryin’ that never fixed tomorrow

Andy Mineo, “Clarity”

Jon Bellion: I discovered him and his music this year. While he’s not my favorite, there’s a couple songs of his that just cut to my core like good songs do. I’d want to pick his brain on creativity and the music industry, how on earth he got such a good voice and what the inspiration for songs like “Human” is:

I always fear that I’m not living right
So I feel guilty when I go to church
The pastor tells me I’ve been saved, I’m fine
Then please explain to me why my chest still hurts

Jon Bellion, “Human”

Pete Enns: Pete wrote a book that radically helped shape my perception of the Bible this year. I wrote about it here. I’d want to get into the weeds a little bit on the academic and nerdy side of faith, but also learn how the academic connects to the trusting, spiritual side of things. He also seems like a pretty funny guy. I had a couple minor qualms with the book — that’s what writers do — but I also really liked it. I’d still ask him for writing advice.

Whatever else we do, and especially with issues that generate so much conflict, wisdom must be pursued by all and invited to take a prominent place in these discussions — if only so that they may remain discussions and not an exercise in lobbing back and forth ‘clear’ Bible verses as grenades. Using Bible verses to end discussions on difficult and complex issues serves no one and fundamentally misses the dimension of wisdom that is at work anytime we open the Bible anywhere and read it.

Pete Enns, “How the Bible Actually Works”

Pete Holmes: His book “Comedy Sex God” was one of the more enjoyable reads I had this year. He’s a comedian and actor, but my favorite thing he does is his podcast “You Made It Weird.” He interviews actors, comedians and authors about their line of work and various other things, but he always ends with faith and religion. The conversations are enlightening and hilarious. I’d want to have a similar one. I’d want to talk about growing up a Christian, growing up a white Christian male, where he’s at with his faith now and what marriage is like for him — he was married young, divorced after his wife left him and got re-married a few years ago.

Faith isn’t certainty, it’s adventure, something you’re going to come back from dusty and bruised, having seen and done things you never would have even considered before.

Pete Holmes, “Comedy Sex God”

The last category is the people I know for sure I can buy dinner for this upcoming year.

My wife. No explanation needed. She’s the best.

It Is Not Un-Christian to Want to Kill Yourself. Period.

Jarrid Wilson. Photo courtesy of Google.

I’ve been reading the book “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” over the last few days. It’s very different than the movie made of it — which I love — but it follows the same basic premise.

There’s a kid named Craig Gilner, and he’s depressed and anxious because, well, he’s a teenager and there’s a lot going on in his life. Written in first person, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” begins with these words:

“It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint — it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.”

I’ve found in my life that my depression makes me quiet. Not just because I can’t quite get the words out, but because I don’t want the words to come out at all. I don’t want to scare my wife or my family. I don’t want people to question my commitment to x, y and z. I don’t want to talk about it.

But when the words do come out, they’re not very positive, to say the least. I tell my wife that she deserves someone better, someone who has it all together. I tell myself that it would be easier to walk away, to just disappear into nothingness. I tell myself, “Hey, heaven’s already going to be better than this — why not get there sooner?” 

I’ve never made a suicide plan. But I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about it as I’m driving on a highway and prepare to cross a bridge, wondering if my car could make it through the bridge’s edges if I drove fast enough. I’ve thought about it as stand in my kitchen, looking at the knives stashed in the block on the counter. I’ve thought about it while standing at the top of stairwells, thinking it would probably hurt and would hurt worse if it didn’t work.

I’ve done all this — had these thoughts, spoken these words, held back those comments — while professing Jesus Christ as my Savior. Because it’s not un-Christian to want to kill yourself. 

This evening, before heading out to the local county fair, I scrolled through my Twitter and was devastated.

News broke that Jarrid Wilson, a pastor and author, had committed suicide at the age of 30. He was an associate pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, and a co-founder of the mental health nonprofit Anthem of Hope. I followed Wilson on social media for a long time, and remember when Anthem of Hope started. I even offered to write for the site when they asked for regular bloggers. 

This was a guy who, the day before his suicide was reported, wrote on Twitter, “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD. Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety. But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.”

He was so, so, so, so right. And he lived that message! He was the guy who more-or-less singlehandedly, just through his presence on social media, helped me believe that it was OK to be a Christian who had depression and anxiety, that my mental illnesses did not disqualify me from being loved by God and loved by Jesus. 

This makes two people this year who have had singular and significant influences on my life and faith, two people that have died. Author Rachel Held Evans passed away in May. 

I usually know how to write a lot, and I started this blog post planning to write a long thing, but as I get into this, I’m losing words. So if this doesn’t come out right, I’m sorry.

I never met Jarrid or Rachel. I listened to podcast interviews, followed them on Twitter, devoured their wisdom. But they’re both gone.

Rachel died of a medical condition, but it was still shocking. Jarrid’s was shocking and unsurprising at the same time.

If you’ve ever considered suicide, you know that sometimes the feeling comes suddenly. I don’t know exactly what happened with Jarrid, and I may never know. But the desire to end it all, to kill yourself, to remove yourself from the world, can build up over weeks and weeks or just occur in an instant, and you’re in a place to make it happen.

Why, oh why, would this happen to a Christian?

Because Christians are people too. We are not superhumans, and we should never strive to be. We shouldn’t consider ourselves or other Christians above the fray from things like suicide, depression and anxiety. If we think that being a Christian means we’re immune, we don’t understand Christianity. 

It’s my firm belief that wanting to kill yourself is not anti-Christian or anti-God. Both Elijah and Job, in their desperation, wished they had never been born (1 Kings 19:4 and Job 3:1, respectively), which I think is very similar if not the exact same desire. Even godly men, praised by God Himself in various ways, wished they had never existed.

Committing suicide does not condemn you to hell if you are a Christian. It does not exclude you from God’s love. It does not, I repeat, DOES NOT mean you are a coward. 

Many Christians do not understand mental health. They do not understand the depths of it. They don’t understand. They just don’t get it. 

Over the next few days, I will be posting some writing I did a while back on mental health and being a Christian. I wrote them a few months ago, not even sure what I was going to do with them, but Jarrid’s passing seems like a good time to share these things. Written in better times, those posts will do a lot better helping explain where I am than what I’m writing right now.

In the meantime, if you can, please donate to a fundraiser for Jarrid’s family that’s being held on GoFundMe. Please.