The Squishy, Alien Middle
I hesitate to over-contextualize a post that explains itself well enough already, but I have something fun to share with y’all today, and you can read all about it by watching the video / reading the blog below. I recently began helping my friend Craig edit and assemble some of his upcoming book, which will first be released as a series of podcasts and blog posts made available throughout the course of this calendar year.
Craig and I have known one another since 2009 – the first year I started touring as “Levi The Poet.” Since then, we’ve worked on all kinds of stuff together. I’ve performed at and written for all kinds of XXXchurch related stuff, and he’s supported LTP for the entirety of my time as spoken-word artist. He’s helped me figure out everything from the Correspondence kickstarter to The Fraction Club, and given my wife and me a lot of opportunities to grow throughout the years.
Above and beyond anything “work-related,” Craig’s my friend. Sometimes, for how different we both are, neither of us is quite sure how, but we’re both thankful for it, nonetheless. I wrote a bit about that below, as well.
As a brief forward to the forward, I must say that – in the weeks that have passed since I wrote what follows here – my fascination with and respect for my friend has only grown. To have an ongoing role in this project has given me the opportunity to hear not only the ideas swarming around in Craig’s brain, but more than that: a glimpse at the motives and love harbored in and overflowing from Craig’s heart.
At this point, I have been a witness (at least, in part) to ten-plus years of this man’s life as a husband, friend and father. It’s quite the sight to see. I love watching his kids love their dad. I love seeing him love his family. I love hearing that Jeanette loves her life.
What will follow in this season of Craig Brain is indicative of his heart toward them, and the world beyond that unit. I’ve been brought to tears multiple times during the editing process on these journal-entries-become-blogs, and I’m excited for others to have the opportunity to see why.
Without further adieu – and before this grows longer than the forward, itself (there’s always more to write) – here’s what I have to say about the Squishy, Fast-Paced, Enneagram No. 03, Quick-Starting, Recovering Vacillator, Porn Guy, Business and Soccer Coaching, Bon-Iver Loving, Electric Skateboard Riding Friend-And-Affectionately-Dubbed-“Dad,” Craig Gross…
I met Craig as a nineteen-year-old child who was addicted to porn and writing poetry about it. His organization — XXXchurch — was resourcing people like me with internet accountability and filtration software so that those of us who didn’t want to be addicted to porn could kick the habit.
At some point, a mutual friend introduced us to one another, and I began performing my poetry as a guest at the ministry’s events. I had only ever talked to Craig over the phone. I don’t think we met in person until I’d already completed at least three XXXchurch events on my own, overwhelmed and hoping I was — at the very least — coming close to representing their name well.
In the decade since, Craig has changed a lot, but I’ll tell you what: it’s still in his DNA to move so fast that he hires a man-boy he hasn’t even met to run events for whatever the next thing is that he’s doing. You and I might think that’s something one might describe as — oh, I don’t know… ridiculous — but Craig is a mover, and a risk-taker, and seems to function like some weirdo superhuman — “faster than a speeding bullet.” My wife says that she doesn’t know a single person on earth who moves faster than him. And it’s not just in business. Try keeping up with him at the mall or something — the man may as well be a damn competitive power-walker.
But while Craig is still capable of being that X-Men character whose slow-motion is everyone else’s steady pace, his strength — as goes the cliché — started to become his weakness (sometimes literally, which you’ll read plenty about here), and it was as though the Lord forcibly imposed rest upon him.
I remember one of these “heavy-handed” moments — like “the bitter hand of God” that the Old Testament’s Ruth describes — while attending a conference with the Gross family in San Antonio, Texas, circa 2013. At one point, Craig had to crawl on hands and knees underneath the souvenir table in an attempt to escape one of his oncoming headaches, and his wife Jeanette stood terrified at the possibility of this becoming yet another trip to the emergency room, full of yet another series of unanswered questions…
It tripped me up — seeing someone so previously unstoppable, stopped dead in his tracks — and yet, that season proved to become a catalyst for change that I doubt Craig could have (or would have) ever imagined…
For all intents and purposes, Craig and I are opposites. He moves incredibly fast, and I move breathtakingly slow (it’s a real sight to see me sloth around). Craig tends to take risks, and I tend to worry about whether or not someone will be upset because I chose to write the word “damn” in a sentence four paragraphs ago.
We’ve had our fair share of disagreements throughout the years. I get nervous about stirring the pot, but he’s always got a new ladle in hand, like pot-stirring is his spiritual gift or something. It makes for an interesting relationship, at times, and as person who has made “conflict” synonymous with “Satan is coming to kill me,” I sometimes find it easy to get lost in the fear of separation that pushback threatens.
Nevertheless, I have learned a little something about pushback throughout the years (partially thanks to all of the great opportunities he’s given me to practice), and I must say, he has never validated my fears. Quite the opposite, actually. Our friendship and the work that we’ve been able to do together has only grown stronger — largely because of the way that we compliment one another’s strengths and weaknesses (i.e. — has learned to walk a little slower, and I’ve learned how to jog).
Last year, I introduced Craig to a book titled The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile. The author writes about the way that different personality types — according to Enneagram-speak — function together. Of 9s (me) and 3s (Craig), it essentially reads: “Nines help threes relax, and threes help nines believe they actually have something meaningful to offer this world.”
We both laughed when we read it. If that isn’t a spot-on snapshot of our relationship, I don’t know what is.
I say all of that to say this: you don’t need to be me — or to understand the foreign language that I am well aware Enneagram lingo is — to know that Craig loves to see people succeed. He is a helper, through and through. In all of his quick-start drive, he’s always trying to pull others along with him, demanding that they see their potential, and hoping they’ll develop the kind of confidence that he has in them for themselves. There’s always a new text, a new resource, a new Voxer message, a new something, simply for the sake of helping others succeed.
What follows is evidence of it, and I’m proud to have been a part of helping him tell his stories — many of which I was present for, living in tandem. Some of them stories that I wish we both could have avoided: the death of our fathers, minds exploding (or, in my case, imploding), and the consequences of our own respective proclivities toward a workaholism, bar none.
I’m proud of him, too.
The Craig that I met ten years ago, from what I am able to remember, wasn’t an especially vulnerable person. Granted, you should take my memory with a grain of salt, but I recall thinking that — and this is often the case for anyone — perhaps Craig was better at prescribing the cure than he was at taking it. After all, if it is true that the things we are most passionate about advocating for also just so happen to be the things we most deeply struggle with, then the gap would only be natural. But what Craig has chosen to divulge of himself in what follows is something different than any other pursuit I’ve seen him embark upon. In this place, he doesn’t come as the teacher, or the leader, or the giver of monologues…
Here, he is the peer and the learner — the conversationalist. And if anything that follows is sermonesque, it is dialogical and open to discourse.
Each of these chapters began as a diary entry, or a private letter, or a personal reflection, and we could have made them anything we wanted. A simple shift in tone during the editing and rewrite process could have transformed genuine questions and a man’s wrestling with God and self into teachable absolutes and pithy definites. It’s amazing how easy it would have been to make these process-pieces into Your New Guru’s Ten Steps Toward Success, or some other title from a photoshopped author, primed for clickbait.
After all, the final touch on expertise is as easy as clicking “delete” on a few inconsistencies before you go to press.
We’re keeping them in. Life is all of it, not just the pretty bits.
Craig Brain is more memoir than anything else. It is an invitation to discover and wrestle with and alongside a man who is doing the same.
This is a conversation. Feel free to engage. Whether you “boo” or applaud, Craig is living out his desires to be not just a hearer, but a doer — and especially when it comes to exemplifying the openness, transparency and accountability he has long encouraged millions of others to champion in their own lives.
So, love it or hate it. Or — if you’re like me — sit with it for a while in the murky middle, and the tension that everything worth engaging on this planet seems to be. If you are able to remember it along the way, keep in mind that disagreement doesn’t have to be synonymous with discord. We’re all works in process, trying and failing and succeeding and switching and starting and quitting and living, and waking up to new mercies each and every morning.
CraigBrain is not YourBrain or MyBrain, but neither must unity be predicated upon uniformity, and I would not be the person that I am today without the gross (pun intended), squishy alien matter inside of this dude’s skull.
Take a peek.
This blog was originally published at www.craigbrain.com. You can follow our progress together, subscribe to podcast and more, there.
Before that – perhaps a month or two ago, now – I wrote and shared this forward with members of The Fraction Club. If you have any interest in receiving extra writing and recording from me, personally, including early-releases and member extras, consider this your invitation.