My Self-Indictment

It’s been a while since I’ve posted something on my blog. This was not my plan. But in my own defense against my accusatory self, my life has been unusually full over the past few months. My sons have entered new schools, my wife has begun in earnest a new school program for herself, I’m finishing up a book project and preparing for a Kickstarter launch (stay tuned), and doing my very best to prioritize healthy eating and living practices. All that speaks nothing of my day-job in pastoral ministry which continues, full of joy and frustration, privilege, and very, very heavy weights of responsibility.

Believe it not, however, I think my own tendency toward self-indictment is principle cause for my lack of blog-material production of late. I’m very often my own worst enemy. And that’s the topic of this post: my accusatory self.

A couple months ago, I began writing a piece on despair. I couldn’t perfect it. So, it remains locked on my laptop hard drive. I do hope that it will eventually reach the light of day, but I haven’t yet built the courage to put it out there. At every turn during the writing process, I could hear my inner critic reminding me that that last sentence tapped out on the screen could be interpreted in not-so-flattering ways. I heard its gentle but frantic voice whispering about the few who would take offense at me expressing my thoughts in that particular way. And then, after having re-written it, I heard that troll criticize the new material from the perspective of a hostile community in the opposite extreme.

It’s a curious dynamic.

Precious few of these private voices have ever been spoken to me by others directly (or indirectly). I’m primarily aware of them because of having read the comments (don’t ever read the comments by the way ) on other pieces, or through unbridled conversations in person regarding other people or subjects. Their voices echo and morph in my psyche.

A friend of mine taught publicly this last year on a theme that has great discord among church people. Before the lecture even began, opposition to the presentation began to mount on online message boards. Angry and frightened religiously devout people wrote fanciful conspiracy-theories about the speaker and associated communities of faith. Facebook-grandmas indiscriminately forwarded emails to their tribes. My friend’s best intentions and considerable skill did not save them from attack; and that was only the beginning! Once the material was out in the open, recorded and published for all to see, the attacks began in earnest from other, opposite, perspectives on the spectrum. Many things, from the choice of topic itself, to the speakers’ past, to their credentials, to their race and gender, were brought into focus and thoroughly deconstructed. Before it was all over, the very motive of the speaker, their heart, their intentions, were twisted and interpreted as pure evil. My friend, despite a solid and conscientious attempt at addressing a difficult and contentious topic, had been thoroughly eviscerated from all sides – not self-prophylactically as is the subject of this article, but in the frantic court of public opinion.

It can be terrifying to stand up and say something, anything; to put thoughts to paper or film and post them for the world to see. Even if the critics don’t come calling as they did my colleague, some of us, yours truly included, make sure their voices are felt none the less. Creating in the shadow of self-indictment has been a paralyzing, deconstructive, and obsessive loop for me. It has not been healthy for me or for those I have the privilege of influencing.

"Creating in the shadow of self-indictment has been a paralyzing, deconstructive, and obsessive loop for me."

Now – I could play the victim here. I could finish this article by writing about how terrible those people are who served up oversized helpings of opinion on message boards and blogs. I could write about the anti-social and community-destroying nature of 21st century social media. But I don’t think those tacks would either be constructive or truthful. The fact is that my creative incapacity has far more to do with me than it does with outside forces.

My own story has taught me to make too much use of inner critic. While this dynamic might not be true for everyone, I’m sure I’m not alone. I have experienced very real rejection at certain points in my 36 years, the most hurtful in traumatic ways that were both boundary breaking and therefore outside my control. As a child, adolescent, and even as a young adult, I learned to cope with some of these experiences by exerting control in what little ways I had less. In my mind, I came to believe that the more in control I was over life, the less likely I was to re-experience such painful injuries. Often this hyper-attention translated into me choosing to disengage preventatively: refusing to even try throwing my opinion out or participating in the conversation. My unexamined reasoning held that if I just meekly listen, without taking a position, I can’t be attacked, I can’t be pushed out, I can’t be left behind. Over time, my uber-precaution fed and developed a well-trained inner critic.

In other words, I believe I tend to avoid sticking my neck out there today not because “people on social media are mean” or because of “the trolls,” but because I am only recently learning how to coexist with debate opponents (or downright nasty people) with love in my heart and a skip in my step. I’m only recently developing the skills to be confident in my own identity, my own sense of calling, and in my own convictions – regardless of the push back. I’m only recently learning to allow these to shape my public voice instead of the inner critic. 

For those of you who have gone through this process as an adult, you know how challenging it is. But just as disengagement leads into cycles of paralysis, courageous creativity and expression multiplies into cycles of positive action.

I do also have to admit in all this that at times, my critic has (and still does) serve me well. He’s like my body-guard, looking out for me, and trying to protect me. He’s trying to help, truly. And there are many moments I can point to in the past where he, full of anxiety, has pressed me to produce something much better than I initially made. There are moments where his insistence on refinement, harder work, more hours, something like perfection, created something more beautiful than I had originally accepted. It is simply fact that some of my work has been excellent because of this “bouncer” at the door.

And yet, now, as a grown man, I’m beginning to learn that I, as the artist (to keep the metaphor going), hold the creative power in this relationship. It’s my choice. It’s my decision. It’s my risk to take. I’m old enough to know that wisdom is absolutely irreplaceable, even from the inner critic – and also that cycles of immobilized depression are possible in the absence of all gambles.

In the end, I have hope that my experience with the inner critic will lead me not only to produce better material, but even more, to be a more empathetic reader of others’ material as well. I want this voice I’ve honed over the years to serve me positively. I want him to help shape the tone I take when I comment online and the angle I use when in conversation with friends. I don’t always succeed. But at its best, my critic can be a useful guide.

"We, as a society, have the capacity to be charitable...to assume the best...to interpret with generosity and kindness."

In fact, at times I find myself feeling defensive of others who create – like my speaker friend I mentioned above -- but also of those with whom I disagree. Not only did that person’s experience lead me to self-reflect, and self-critique, it also opened up a path of (for right or for wrong) righteous outrage for me. For many of us, especially those like me, it takes courage to put your work out for all to see. I think the act of bravery alone deserves at least a modicum of respect. We, as a society, have the capacity to be charitable in response to opinion shared publicly. We have the capacity to assume the best, even when the execution is off. We have the capacity to interpret with generosity and kindness.

As a writer myself, I certainly long for that from my readers!

lead_960.jpg

Often when I feel this sense of anger rise up in response to a public disembowelment, my mind is drawn to a scene of the 1995 Michael Douglas and Annette Bening film, “The American President.” At one point, Douglas, who plays the president, finds himself in a heavily critical conversation with his chief of staff. I don’t recall the details of the political situation, but it seems that there were no good options for the administration – no set of actions that yielded minimal political or real-life ramifications. In the conversation, the president’s chief of staff is unvarnished in his criticism; it was a moment of truth. The heated exchange grows to a head as Douglas shouts to his friend, “Is the view pretty good from the cheap seats AJ?”

The insinuation is that it’s easy to pick and poke, attack and deconstruct, from a position of having little to lose, from a place of little to no investment. Without “skin in the game” as it were, critique can really fall flat. Unless you’re actively engaging with the issues, tangling with problems, attempting solutions, putting yourself at risk, your criticisms can come across to those at the table as more than a little hollow. In fact, some of the greatest allies for your cause might be the ones you so easily dismiss as evil, deluded, committee automatons.

After having served on a great many committees and leadership boards, I know all too well how those tasked with making decisions agonize about the many, many factors and consequences that go into them. And I have also been privy to the casual and ignorant conversations critiquing those decisions with great force and ostensible authority, but with not an ounce of empathy, and truly without comprehensive understanding. The “cheap seats” might seem like a perfect place from which to be an expert, arm-chair quarterback. But unless you have or are engaged in the issue, your critique is more likely to be myopic at best. In fact, sometimes our inner critic (and by now you might accurately be renaming this as EGO), from the cheap seats, likes to express him or herself simply to feel bigger, more powerful, and more in control.

There is such a thing as injustice. Wrong is wrong. Evil is evil. Sometimes views are expressed or actions performed that simply are not ok. No amount of self-mind-ninjitsu, or insider self-justification, will transform them into constructive or beautiful actions. But I think the list of truly un-just leaders might be shorter than the frantic voices of social media can lead us to think.

It’s super easy to allow our inner critics to condemn what others are doing. I want to be someone who gives the benefit of the doubt – who gives common courtesy – who lives under mercy as a first policy; this for myself as well as for others. I strive to keep my own inner critic in check: granting both me and you with unearned kindness. I want to be quick to listen, quick to grace, quick to curiosity – slow to criticism. I want to be brave and thoughtful, daring and humble, considerate and precise.

May God grant me the courage to give myself grace - even for this imperfect piece. And may he grant you the courage to give grace just the same. May God bless us all in our creative work that pushes the ball forward, and welcomes into reality the Kingdom of God.

-

For additional reading and reflection on some of this subject matter, I recommend the following:

91LlW46QU-L.jpg

1.     For artists and creators, I’ve recently finished a book by Julia Cameron called “the Artist’s Way.” Many of you will have already heard of it. It’s a classic in the field; I think it’s worth every minute. https://www.amazon.com/Artists-Way-25th-Anniversary/dp/0143129252/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=419VCH8E0Y6KG4KGVDP5

2.     Rob Bell’s podcast has been a blessing to me personally. You likely won’t agree with everything he says, but as I’ve outlined above, I think he models the kind of courage our world needs – the willingness to express ourselves in dialogue, without letting those inner voices shut us down prophylactically. His most recent post on “everyone is your teacher” (episode 166) is particularly apt with regards to this post. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-robcast/id956742638?mt=2&i=1000392953150

tony-with-folded-hands1.jpg

3.     Finally, I’d also recommend a book recommended to me by a good friend. It is really a transcription of a speech given some 20 years ago, but I found the material both touching and challenging. Again, very closely related to the above article. Anthony DeMello’s “Rediscovering Life.” https://www.amazon.com/Rediscovering-Life-Reality-Anthony-Mello/dp/030798494X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507133578&sr=1-1&keywords=rediscovering+life

 

 

Grandpa Wayne's Eulogy

 [My grandfather passed away recently and the folllowing is what I wrote and read at his memorial service, Sunday, July 16, 2017]

Harold Wayne DeMoss was a man of duty, excellence, and integrity. He was born in 1933 on Halloween, October 31, to Lawrence and Millie Stanton DeMoss in Walla Walla, Washington. Over his 83 years of life, he served his country, community, and family with distinction and honor. Wayne (as he was known by his family and friends) died in Spokane, Washington on June 13, 2017 at the conclusion of chronic medical challenges.

A lifelong citizen of Walla Walla, Wayne grew up as a hard working child of hard working parents. His family owned a grocery store located on 2nd Avenue in Walla Walla known as DeMoss Grocery. Wayne grew up living in an apartment “in the back” of the store and learned to work hard at an early age. By the time he was attending Walla Walla High School in the early 1950s, he not only worked for his parents in the family store, he had also taken a job at Young’s Dairy driving milk truck (also a family business, owned by his uncle).

It was only prospect of serving his country in wartime that pulled Wayne from his work. Soon after graduating from Wa-Hi in the Class of 1952, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, in 1953. This, he chose, instead of likely being drafted into the Army. Wayne served as a marine for 3 years, all on the tail end of the Korean War. At boot camp in North Carolina, a drill sergeant questioned Wayne’s platoon, “Who here knows how to type?” Wayne was an excellent typist and skilled at drawing. He raised his hand. That action proved to be something like volunteering. Instead of going overseas for the war with half of his platoon, Wayne joined the other half in California. He would spend his entire military career at Camp Pendleton, working in a high-ranking officer’s office. A poem Wayne wrote and sent home to his mother during this time, is printed as an insert in your program, just as it appeared in its original form. In 1956, Wayne was honorably discharged with a rank of sergeant.

While still in military service in 1954, Wayne married his first wife Sherril Downing. They welcomed his first three children into the world: Kevin, Steven, and Mitzi.They divorced in 1962. Couple years later, in 1964, he married Dorothy Saxby, the woman who would become his wife of 53 years. Dorothy too had been previously married and brought with her four young children into the relationship: Shirley (10), Sheryl (9), Sharlene (8), and Scott (6). Wayne quickly took to the role of step-dad and regarded the four as his own.

Back home in Walla Walla after serving as a Marine, Wayne took to work once again at Young’s Dairy. This career path shortly transitioned to a long-term commitment of selling and delivering food in the Walla Walla Valley for “Walla Walla Produce. Many of his family and friends remember him reporting inside knowledge about the purchasing habits of a variety of area restaurants. In particular, he found it amusing to joke about how certain eating establishments, although they had chicken on the menu, only ever had “the largest possible turkeys” delivered. I, for one, have shared a great many meals of pineapple turkey with my grandfather. :)  After more than 20 years of early mornings (work began at 3am) in that job with Walla Walla Produce, Wayne jumped on the opportunity to purchase his own personally owned retail milk route from a friend, Bob Swenson, who was retiring. Before finally retiring himself due to health challenges, Wayne delivered milk on own route for about five years.

Although he worked very hard, Wayne played hard as well. Before purchasing the property he and Dorothy still own on Priest Lake in Northern Idaho, the family had made it a habit, beginning in the late 1960s, of spending up to two weeks per summer camping on the sandy shores of the Lake. Their forays began at the state campground known as “Indian Creek.” But after purchasing a boat, the family transitioned to more remote camping on one of Priest Lake’s large islands. Groups of up to 100 people from the Walla Walla Valley congregated for these camping escapades on the islands year after year. My cousins and I, our parents, and even our extended families, have strong memories and many emotional ties to that part of the world, in part because of the tradition of play Wayne helped prioritize, and the sacrifice of time and money that Wayne made to make it possible.  Although the future of the cabin, situated adjacent to 8-mile island, is now in some doubt, none of us will forget the formative experiences we all had at “the lake” — and I’m sure many of us will continue the tradition for future generations.

Sometimes people slip into paid work that represents an area of personal passion for them. Other times, as was the case for Wayne, work was a means to pursue his true interests. As an adolescent and young man, Wayne developed an interest in drawing, and even a fleeting desire to pursue architecture. His commitment to military service precluded that education course but he didn’t let his duty keep him from stretching this muscle. When, in 1984, he and Dorothy purchased a small rustic cabin on the shores of Priest Lake in northern Idaho, Wayne began carefully drafting plans to add a second story to the structure. Although it began as a casual creative outlet and fanciful dreaming, it would prove to become reality. When the opportunity presented itself, Wayne’s plans to make the space more accommodating for his growing family were shortly realized when he and Dorothy hired builders to follow his lead in the renovation. Wayne’s craftsmanship and attention to detail came into focus again and again during that process as he hand paneled the interior of the entire addition with beautiful knotty pine.

Because his delivery work began so early in the day, Wayne was off work early enough in the day to frequently catch a round of golf with friends at Walla Walla Veteran’s Memorial Golf Course, where he had his own garage and golf cart parked inside. A lefty, Wayne developed his natural talent for the game to match all his other endeavors: nothing short of excellence. In fact, Wayne scored at least one hole-in-one during his golfing career. All the way to the very end of his life, he remained a fan of the game, following the professional tour almost religiously — and this with a great deal of insight (and opinion) on the skills and strategy of his favorite golfers. I wasn’t old enough to get to enjoy this passed-time with my grandpa — at about the time I took it up, in the early 1990’s, he was in the process of shutting it down. But he was always more than willing to give advice, and ask me about my sketchy game. It was one of several areas we connected over during his life.

In retirement, Wayne took up quite a number of other hobbies in addition to golf. And like most things he did in life, he poured himself into becoming his absolute best. As a woodworker in his basement shop, Wayne remodeled he and Dorothy’s kitchen, outfitting it with new cabinets. He crafted wheelbarrows for every member of his family, designed funny signs for his home and cabin, built dozens of Adirondack chairs (most of which he sold on the side), squirrel feeders, and other furniture and Krick Knacks. When I was in High School, he and I built a wall clock together for a class project — and later for a wall in my mother’s house. I’m certain he did the same for several of my cousins. Just over a decade later, he spent several years learning how to build model airplanes. With great care, patience, and precision, he spent many hours crafting and painting them; always excited to show visitors his latest project. In every case when it came to Wayne’s hobbies, it was health challenges and limitations that led him to hang it up.

No description of Wayne’s life would be complete without mentioning his animals. I know my mom had a little chihuahua-mix dog named BigBoy in the early 1970s. This is an animal that I really can’t imagine Wayne would claim. A second dog is one I actually have memory of from early childhood - “Midge” was a small, pig-like creature that was undyingly beloved by her family - but perhaps yet again, not so much by Wayne. “Heidi” was a miniature doberman pincher that Wayne loved, and who loved Wayne — and I’m not sure anyone else. I remember long caravan travels up to the lake in my grandparent’s red Chevy Suburban; wherein Heidi was granted a custom-made bed that fit snugly in the vehicle’s center console. Later in life, “Cocoa” came along. She was a Siberian Husky, who always had more energy than either of my grandparents, or honestly than anyone else. Wayne loved Cocoa, despite her faults.

As I think about the influence my grandpa DeMoss had on my life, I think about the sheer time and dedication he had, looking out for not only me, but my cousins as well. For years, I remember walking to my grandparents’ house after school let out. Depending on the day or the given year, upwards of 6 or 7 of my cousins would descend on the joint, ransack the cereal cupboard, drop their supplies and baggage all over the house, and blare obnoxious early 90s kids’ television for hours on end. Because his work started so early, he was there to hang out with us in the afternoons. I can scarcely imagine what it’d be like to put in a full-day’s work only to have a clan of rambunctious children descend on my peace and quiet. His quiet dedication in the chaos of our family was a gift.

As a freshman in High School, my grandpa Wayne drove me across town for football practice every single afternoon for three months. He drug me to appointments, fixed stuff when I broke it, and cracked the whip when I was out of control. He more than once commissioned me and my cousins to fill up the basement with cords of firewood passed down to him to stack through a hand crafted wood chute installed in the window. To this day, I see in myself the same unbridled perfectionism he routinely demonstrated while working away in his wood-shop on long school-day afternoons. I can’t help but think of my grandpa Wayne when I hit my head on the cabinet door and mutter at the idiot who built it in such a way.

When I was in college, I sat at my grandparents dinner table once a week - and often more - where we talked about golf, his dogs, school, and the ancient past of Walla Walla. Once Paige and I married, the two of them hit it off talking real estate and architecture. No matter the subject over that table, Wayne could be coaxed to give his opinion. As a great grandfather, he always paid attention to my boys, gave them high fives, teased them, hugged them, welcomed them into his home, and treated them kindly. Toward the end of his life, in pain because of a variety of medical challenges, frustrated at his loss of mobility and function, he could come off as gruff. But even in that state, he still found time and energy for these happy greetings with my sons.

The last day I saw him was a Tuesday in June, he was in the hospital in ICU—but was still alert and oriented. No one anticipated he’d pass away later that evening. Although he was in rough shape, the prognosis seemed to be that he’d be back to normal after some time in rehab. When I left the room after visiting with him for a half hour or so, I told him I’d be back the following day to check in again. “I know you don’t feel well,” I said nodding to his impressive mutton-chop sideburns, “but you look great.” He smiled, and I went back to the lobby to join my 6-year-old son. In the weeks since that day, I’ve had the recurring feeling of regret, for not taking more time, for not asking more questions, for not stopping by my grandparents house for more conversations. This is part of the nature of loss I have come to believe—when those we love die, we never had enough of them. We long for more time. We wish we had taken one last opportunity.

I didn’t know my grandpa DeMoss as well as some - and in some ways, he might’ve been difficult to know, like any American male from his generation. And yet, some things about him strike me as quite clear.  I define integrity as “doing what you said you’d do” - or - “doing what you believe should be done, even if you don’t feel like doing it”. And when I think about my grandpa Wayne, I think of a man who lived with this quality. While we all inherit a great myriad of habits and patterns from our family systems, my hope is that, from grandpa Wayne, I inherit this honorable gift.

 

7 Lessons I Learned Running a Marathon

Over Memorial Day weekend 2017, I had the gift of checking off an item from my bucket list: running a marathon. I didn't cover the 26.2 (my GPS said I went 26.4) miles at a particularly quick pace, but I did, in fact, run the entire course. Looming even larger than the speed at which I completed it is the context in which it comes. As I've indicated on my blog here more than once, I've been on a journey of weight loss and improved health over the past couple years (here's a link to my most popular post from a while back). Two years ago this spring, I was at my all-time-high weight, suffering on many levels and in many ways. I was depressed and discouraged. It's hard to describe how much different I feel physically and emotionally today - my run on Sunday is a positive sign of changes already afoot, and yet a reality. As I reflected on the experience this morning, Memorial Day, some lessons came to mind, some that have emerged over the preceding months: 

1. Judging people, positively or negatively, based on big flashy moments is fraught -- reality is always much more complicated than the surface level (or even well-informed) perception. We hardly know ourselves accurately - let alone other people! 

Perhaps this isn't a lesson I learned exclusively through this experience, but at the very least, it was reinforced by it. I can recall a great number of incidences in my life where, at a sporting event, presentation, concert, or other spectacle, I felt incredibly impressed with the feats accomplished by extraordinary people on stage. Watching in person the winner of an Ironman race cross the finish line, for example, I was in awe of how a human being could do such a thing - and look so relaxed while doing it! What a great person, I thought. How incredible! Feats like this are just outstanding.

On the other end of the spectrum has truth as well. We're all familiar with gawking over news stories of the latest fool who's worst moment made him famous. We pass judgment gleefully on facebook about the moronic lady who locked her kids in the hot car to go shopping, or the maniac who stabbed someone on the subway because someone looked at him wrong. We write these folks off as intrinsically evil. What terrible human beings! How incredible. Only fundamentally flawed people could so something so idiotic. 

The reality, I think most of us know, is that neither great achievements - nor great failures - sum up our humanity...sum up who we are. Nor do they necessarily indicate what it took for us to get there. It's easy to fail to appreciate the years of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) that set the stage for a drug addiction. It's nearly as easy to fail to appreciate the years of training and practice it took for that Ironman winner to prance over the finish line with hardly a hair out of place (from my perspective).

Neither of these vantage points accentuate the incredible importance of grace over it all. 

Many, many situations in life aren't as singular or momentous as they seem on the surface. It's far too easy to judge them in either direction: superlatively excellent or horrible. We love to reduce people to their most common denominators, to narrow causes and effects down to singular details. But reality is always more complicated than that. We know this.

On a much smaller scale than any of the examples above, take the marathon I ran. It was an achievement for me, absolutely. I completed a goal I had set for myself. I feel good about it. And it is certainly an indicator of a positive path I've been on over the past 24 months. But the reason it happened isn't because I'm a superior human being, or have a high pain threshold, or have a lot of willpower. It didn't happen because I'm a particularly talented athlete, or just wired for it. It didn't happen because I'm worthy or especially remarkable in some way. (But friends, surely, thank you for the shout outs on Facebook, your well-wishes are appreciated). 

The truth is that I've been thinking about, preparing for, and training for this thing since last fall. Since then I've run 3-4 days per week, without fail. I've run half-marathons in practice a dozen or more times this spring. Just about two weeks ago, I completed a 4-hour, 20-mile training run in the heat. Through the winter, I ran in the snow/slush/rain more times than I can count. I was that guy out on the pavement with gloves and a beanie, flashlight strobe flashing, trying not to get hit in the 5pm winter darkness. I was the guy hopping over ice-slush puddles and snow banks. Over the past months, I dragged my rear out onto the trail when I didn't feel like it, when I didn't want to, when it was cold and I was warm on the couch in front of the TV. 

"I ran the marathon for 6 months, not 5 hours."

26.2 miles on Sunday was an accomplishment, sure, but it all wasn't about that moment. And it certainly wasn't earned only in that moment. There was so so so much hard work along the way. And there was an incredible amount of grace (at the top of the list has to be my family who tolerated me going out for a 3-hour runs on perfectly good family weekends). 

So that's the first lesson. Resist judging people according to outlier situations, good or bad. No one can be reduced to whatever moment. Lots decisions and occurrences and pain happens along the way to get us to them.

I ran the marathon for 6 months, not 5 hours.

 

2. The real fight is between your ears. Without a doubt, I've been through quite a lot of physical change over the past two years. That bit is for sure. Two years ago, I wasn't even able to run or jog a full mile without stopping to walk. And the truth is that no amount of willpower would've gotten me to 3 miles or 5 or 20 in that state. I had real physical limitations, as all of us do. So hear me, I'm not saying that everything is in the mind, success isn't ONLY willpower. I have lost 80lbs and 20% body fat over the past 2 years.

And now I'm going to use the dreaded conjunction "but," which implies a negation of all that has been said before. 

BUT. What happens in our minds is absolutely significant. And in many ways, that is where the real battle plays out. I know this to be true in terms of eating habits, even post bariatric surgery. As I wrote in some of my original posts on the subject, I came to see surgery (accurately I believe) as a tool, not a magic wand. It was one of many strategies that would prove helpful for me in achieving a healthy weight.

What I learned later was that my dream of coming to a time when I wouldn't have to pay attention to my diet would never materialize. The mind game is with me to stay. And it continues. I have to pay attention to what I eat. Full stop. This dynamic applies to probably the vast majority of areas in our lives where we wish to see growth. As character develops and solidifies, sure, hopefully the decisions we are trying to develop become more automatic. But the battle to get there was always up top. 

Something I experience in living color while running my first marathon is that by far, the most difficult stretch was the final 6 miles or so. It was brutal. Miserable, honestly. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, my training program had me run 20 miles at the maximum. Maybe it isn't odd that I was fine over the period of the marathon for which I had trained. 

I've heard people talk about "the wall" - and I'm not sure I really experienced that. I wonder if it might've been some combination of dehydration and sodium deficiency.  But I'll tell you, I considered quitting more than once in those last few minutes. At one moment, I saw some soft grass in someone's yard and was tempted just to lay down and go to sleep.

The final miles were very painful. Very difficult. My pace had slowed. The spring in my step had weakened. My muscles ached with every clomp. Like I said, I had run 18+ miles several times in training, and each time I came prancing into the house with great positivity and confidence. That last hour of the marathon though, it's a lot. "This is hard," I told myself. Its different than the rest of the training. 

I feel as though the whole race is run in that final window. Training makes it possible to have that challenge available in the first place. 

Marathon coaches (I've enjoyed the Marathon Training Academy podcast over the past few months) talk about the importance of mental toughness, preparing for the mind games, making plans for how to keep your head in the game, etc. I didn't take much of it seriously honestly. I had my audio book (this Sunday, it was the classic "Fahrenheit 451" - I know, nerdy), I had my music playlists, and I had my common practices of reflecting on identity and calling in life while running. I wasn't worried. But especially in those final two miles, all that support went out the window. The music shut off. Fellow racers around me had thinned out drastically. There were no cheerleaders along the trail. I fell back on feeble sounding prayers - just a couple words more often than not. "Help me." "I can do this." "Please." 

When I rounded the final corner, with just a few hundred yards to go, my brother-in-law came running over to report that I had just about a minute left to pull in under my goal time. It was a painful stretch. I might've just walked without that carrot in front of me.

Thinking about the next marathon attempt, I'm already strategizing in my mind, how I can prepare myself for the mental jousting I experienced in that final hour of the race. Is it possible that each day of training should resemble just a bit of sticking with it despite the pain? I had confidence going into the race of my physical preparation. But I wasn't ready for hard mind-work of sticking with it at the end. This dawning reality is both encouraging and clarifying - but also disheartening and confusing. 

Marathons are completed at least in part by means of mental tenacity. This is my conclusion. And the same goes for many aspects of life in general.  

 

3. The right gear can help improve attitude -- and getting the right gear can become an obsessive distraction from the work at hand. I like gear, granted. I'm a techy, I love the hunt, I love a good deal, and I love having the right tool for the job. I like to shop, I like researching. Fine. I own all that. 

Something I was shocked about is just how much money people spend running. I mean, really. It's perhaps the purest physical endeavor for humans. And yet, we've gone and commercialized it. I mean, with a sport such as golf or downhill skiing, the assumption of cost is a little more obvious. Lift tickets, special boots, fancy parkas, country club memberships, custom clubs, expensive clothes, the list goes on and on. It's part of the territory for sports like that. But running?

What more could you possibly need than perhaps shoes and socks?

Well...

A running watch with GPS is hugely helpful, a smart phone for bragging about your run, shorts and shirts with technical fabrics, compression underwear, running shoes at $150/pair (many people have 2 identical sets to rotate runs), longer sleeve clothes for colder climates, rain proof gear, lights, gloves, hats, visibility gear for being seen on the road, nutrition items, special electrolyte beverages, and the list goes on and on and on. Runners World magazine is just the tip of the ice burg on the marketization of such a simple endeavor. Many might join me in my critique. It says a lot about American culture (and perhaps others) that we have found a way to make money on running. 

And with all that being said. I must say that small comforts on such long stretches of athletic effort are hugely valuable. The right fabrics and the right technology are insignificant details that are unnecessary in the end. But they lend a modicum of confidence and improve your attitude while out on the course.

Technology isn't everyone. It can be obsessive. But it can be helpful. (This lesson might be one I already believed haha)

 

4. Training - preparation - rehearsal - in proper amounts - brings confidence. When I lined up amongst the crowd on that Sunday morning. I might've not looked like the other runners around me. But I felt I belonged. I believed I had earned a spot. I knew I could do what was set before me. I wasn't arrogant, I knew it would be hard, but I had a healthy dose of confidence.

It's absolutely true that finishing the race took, in the end and in the moment, more mental toughness and determination than I had ever anticipated. But my level of confidence would have been no where near its point before the race had I not put in the hours of prep over the previous months. Sometimes athletes or performers are asked by the press or whoever about how they were able to do what they did on such large stages, in such big moments. And often it seems like those questions don't really register with the athlete. 

I wonder that observation it has something to do with the preparation ahead of time.

I'm no expert. I'm not elite. Running a marathon was one very small blip along the way for me. I'm not a professional athlete. I'm not exceptional. But my practice did lend me confidence. 

I have close friends who are musicians - I'm almost certain this dynamic plays out in their lives. Hours and hours and hours of practice and preparation might not smooth over all nerves. But when they step on the platform, they know they can play the piece of music. A friend of mine has a quote on the wall of her studio that reads something like: We practice so that what is in our hearts can come out in the music we play. The practice doesn't take the heart out of the performance, it enables the real emotive moment to more readily take place. Practice isn't to make a perfect performance per se, its more about creating a connection, about how we feel and make others feel, its about putting on display the deeper more important thing over and above technical ability. 

I find this to be true in my craft of preaching. When I have prepared well, when I have preached the sermon dozens of times before I step onto the platform, when I have spent hours before the mirror, prayed over the material and had debates about it with friends, when I have submitted my manuscripts to critiques and painful cuts by trusted advisors, I have a sense of peace and confidence when I step on stage. The moment becomes far less about me as a person - me as a performer - me earning adulation. And likewise, I find that in these circumstances, my heart feels more free to express what God has put there. The message has been internalized and a calm confidence and authenticity shows itself.

I love that feeling.

And in a sense, that's how I felt when I got to the starting line. Calm. Happy. Few nerves. Light. 

 

5. Setting goals - with real deadlines, with real consequences attached - is incredibly motivating. Duh, right? How many times in my life have I heard this? How many times have I been to seminars or sat in class or had conversations with people I respect who have rattled off the importance of the practice? In this experience of running the marathon, the lesson sunk in a little more fully. 

What I have observed in myself over the past couple years, is that without a hard goal in front of me, it's far too easy to not do the little things along the way that are necessary to achieve it. If the goal is etherial or "it'd be nice" in nature, the dynamic doesn't take hold. Without the race on the calendar, I'm way more likely to keep my rear end on the couch when its cold and rainy.

But if there's a deadline, a date, a financial sacrifice, and preferably a public demonstration, my level of motivation changes. This might be personality, granted. I got bit by the performance/achievement bug while in high school and the thought of not living up to expectations gives me the hives. I turn projects in on time. I get A's if at all possible. I show up on time. I do my best not to disappoint. And so in the area of fitness, I'm much much more likely to practice and prepare and train if I know there will be a test at the end of the rainbow. And that's true even if the pot of gold is 5 hours of suffering.

Not all of us are wired this way. But I know that if I want to continue the lifestyle of regular exercise, I need to plan on an event. Don't ask me what that is at the moment, one week out from my marathon. But in the coming month, I plan to settle on the next event: cycling, running, triathlon, climbing, or whatever. This is something I've learned over the past 6 months. 

I, for one, need the goal to put in the time. 

 

6. Running a marathon is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. This is something I've already hinted at in this article. And it's something that sounds ridiculously cliche. And yet I've found it to be true. Honestly, much of the marathon itself was a blur. The day flashed by. I have memory - but it was all so quick, easy to miss. By the time I got 4 hours in, I'm pretty sure I was in low-sugar, low water, low-something stupor for more or less the rest of the day. I wasn't the best conversationalist with all my friends and family members who showed up to greet me over the line. The truth I found is that, if running a marathon is mostly about that experience, it's probably not worth it. I didn't find it magical per se. It was fleeting. It was over and then I was in the van driving home.

As I've mentioned, a couple years ago, I could hardly string together one mile of continuous running. For the bulk of my life, I've told friends and coworkers that in order for me to run, I would have to be chased - or I needed to be in some kind of competition whereby the running was disguised. Sunday morning basketball for 90 or 120 minutes felt like another thing entirely to me than just going out to pound the pavement. I hated running. It hurt. It was uncomfortable. And the only thing I could think about while doing it was, "when can it be over?" 

Many of my readers might be nodding their heads. This is the experience that many have around the sport/activity/torture.

That is no longer the case for me however. I relate to it entirely differently today. In all honesty, I've learned to enjoy running. I like how I feel after a good workout, I like the fresh air, the freedom, the moments of silence or audiobook listening. I like being a fly on the wall, getting to people watch, or getting out in nature. I love it. In fact, today, post marathon, I miss it if I go more than a day or two without it! The first week after the race was particularly hard because most guides say that you shouldn't run for a week AT MINIMUM after a marathon, to ensure proper recovery. Some trainers insist on a 26 day recovery of no/minimal running. 

Far from requiring discipline for me to get out there on the course. It's taking discipline for me NOT to run. 

The lesson I see in this is that the journey has a lot in it for me. I didn't adopt this new orientation because of the sunday marathon, the destination. I adopted it because of the training, the journey. And although the destination was valuable to me, and brought good things to my life (see the section re: goals above), the greater gift overall arguably came through the training over the months. A genuine enjoyment of an athletic activity like running is a gift to my life, I can't be more grateful for it.

 

7. Finally - trust. Over the course of the training and prep for the marathon, I listened to a ton of different advice. And honestly, there's a massive amount out there. Just as with any subject, the opinions of experts and armchair-experts alike span the gamut. What I ended up doing, what we all do, is taking the advice of one person, one school of thought, and ignoring or eschewing the advice of another. By taking one path, I rejected the other options. I made a decision and chose, CHOSE, to trust it. 

Listen - for those friends of mine who are religious and highly sensitive to choosing the right path out of all the options, I get it. And I'm not advocating just mindlessly picking an option. But life is full of different paths that are inconsequentially different, or simply too numerous to adequately and fully explore. We can't be experts in everything. We have to trust someone's advice - we have to submit to coaches - we have to give ourselves over to the better judgment of people who know something more than we do. It's unavoidable. And if we don't, the paradox of choice (see Barry Schwartz) will fill us with anxiety and overwhelm us in the mean time.

There's probably a dark side in this somewhere: we can infantilize ourselves and try to shuffle off all responsibility by outsourcing our decisions to authorities. But that's not what I'm describing as my lesson here. 

The thing I discovered is that at some point, I had to make a choice. And in this case, i found the choice stress relieving. I found it peace-giving. Choosing a plan and sticking to it's point of view helped remove some of the mental energy I needed to make an endless parade of smaller decisions. Once I started my 16-week training, the outline was laid out. 3 runs a week. One short with intervals, one mid-length and quicker than my marathon pace, and one long but slow. Cross-train in between. Rest at least one day a week. (this is the one I used, if you're curious, recommended by a local coach I approached on twitter). I could pencil the whole thing out in a day and it'd be set for weeks to come. When I got to the given week, there was my plan. I didn't have to debate for hours in my mind whether it'd be better to follow up yesterday's run with another run, resting, or a bike ride. The plan laid it out for me. 

In this, I learned once again the incredible value of trust - and reliance on someone else, one someone higher/bigger/better than myself. In Christian spirituality, we talk often about trusting God - of whom, I believe, it is an understatement to say is bigger than myself. This process of training for and running a marathon taught me anew that I can't be an expert in everything. I have to choose a plan to follow, I have to follow in someone's footsteps. Yes, I'll be pioneering here or there. I'll experiment. But its absurd to assume that I can live my whole life and not be in anyone's debt. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and so do you. We must trust to live well.

 

And that's the end folks. Until the next goal finds its way to the calendar...

Book Review - WHen scientists sound like ancient writers of scripture

Over the past month, I've been working through Elizabeth Kolbert's history of extinction on planet earth, entitled "The Sixth Extinction." It has been a challenging (intellectually, I'm not a biologist or even a scientist per se), thought-provoking (philosophically, and the reason for this post), and (honestly) discouraging read. The thesis is that we are currently living in the midst of what is dubiously named "the sixth" of a series of mass extinctions suffered by different sets of creatures on earth. Unlike other extinctions, Kolbert writes, the sixth one is principally being caused by humans as opposed to asteroids or other such cataclysms. For the sake of this article, I'm not going to debate with the author's (or my readers') short-earth or long-earth geological chronologies. Clearly, this book is built upon the prevailing scientific viewpoint that the history of earth is in the billions of years, not thousands. Furthermore, I am not going to recount the details of her thesis, how she goes about discussing it, or even the flow of the book -- I encourage you to read it yourself.

Instead, I want to make some observations, and then riff a bit on themes that emerge in my mind from them. As I read, I found myself surprised at how many times the author sounded in tone like ancient near-eastern poets, or even apocalyptic mystics from the time of Christ's death. More than once, she rattled off conclusions, judgments, or observations about life, culture, and the nature of humanity - all based on her scientific viewpoint - that sounded incredibly similar to judgment's I've read in the scriptures for years that come from a decidedly different rationale. When evolutionary biologists begin sounding like the ages-old writers of spiritual tomes, my ears perk up. 

Without further ado, some ideas that the author of "The Sixth Extinction" suggests: 

1. That humans have NEVER lived in harmony with the land/planet.

Over the course of her retelling of the history of homo sapiens, Kolbert repeatedly highlights ways in which people have affected the planet and other species on it. She writes extensively, for example, about a disease spreading amongst and wiping out bats across the planet. This, ostensibly, has been caused by human influence. She writes about the isolated ecosystem of Guam, and how invading species brought by people has led to the extinction of several animals. The case studies from past and present, go on and on in the book. Humans fundamentally change all other species around them seemingly without exception. 

"People change the world," she writes, without qualification. And this dynamic began far before the era of modernity. Kolbert goes on, "This is indistinguishable with what make us human in the first place." She suggests, without much judgment or fanfare, that intrinsic somehow to our humanity as expressed in the world today, is the capacity, drive, inclination to destroy other species. In other words, unlike other species, humans cause destruction wherever they go. They've brought death into the world in unique ways. 

You can see where I'm going. The oft-quoted account in Genesis about "the fall of man" and sin entering the world carries with it similar weight and implications. For generations, religious people have read Genesis and come to the conclusion, as the Apostle Paul explains in the letter to the Roman church, that through the sins of the first people, sin entered the whole world. That because of their decisions, the trajectory of the entire planet had shifted. That rather than a harmonious relationship, the first humans set the stage for a contentious one between homo sapiens and all other species. Later, theologians have discussed how this sin is indwelling in humanity from generation to generation, functionally intrinsic to our being. 

In the broadest and most uncharitable of brush strokes, it can be said that liberal theologians or Christian practitioners tend to minimize the reach of sin in practical life. We who are more progressive don't like to emphasize the fallen state of humanity, but instead seek to affirm the intrinsic value, beauty, and goodness in people. This is a good thing overall in my opinion, emphasizing the fallenness of humanity over the intrinsic goodness has its negative consequences. However, when scientists begin saying essentially the same thing as inspired poets from thousands of years ago, it makes me take notice. Perhaps the observations we make of our world verify the wisdom that has now been passed down for thousands of years. 

 

2. That Shopping malls and consumerism is bad for us.

Early in the book, Kolbert discusses the impact of consumerism on the planet - how entire ecosystems being converted into parking-spots, and others transformed into mines or fields to make the things sold to people who park in those spots has ravaged many species. She implicitly suggests that the rampant and vapid consumption humanity exhibits across the planet is not ideal, creates more harm than good, and should be eschewed in favor of a more simple life. 

I hear the voice of Jesus seeping through her words like rays of light peeking through afternoon blinds. "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear..." Focus on bigger things he implies, calling, joy, fellow humans, your work. 'Live simply' this teaching from the Sermon on the Mount seems to call out. Our basic needs will be attended to. If we seek out and worry about all our whims being fulfilled, nothing good will follow.

For generations, a life of simplicity has been idealized by people of many faiths - Christianity notwithstanding. Jesus, the one who didn't even have a home, "a place to lay his head," is the prime example of this kind of life. Of course we have perverted this vision over the years. The Joel Osteens of the world have baptized conspicuous consumption, pointing us forward to a different world, a better world, one those who are saved will escape to. However, a spiritual death occurs when we slip into the rat-race of consumerism. Again, for generations, many of those who follow Jesus have pointed out the value and spiritual blessing of living a simple life, having fewer things, giving away more, eating less, and effectively having a smaller footprint.

Yet again, we find postmodern scientists sharing wisdom that sounds a lot like old things I, as a theologian and pastor, have read for many years. Live a simple life. It is better for the planet - and it is better for our souls.

 

3. That "the end of the world" is inevitable.

Implicit in the title of the book, and underlying the thesis of Kolbert's book, is the message: "the end is coming." 

I remember the first time I preached a Seventh-day Adventist style evangelistic sermon based on the book of Daniel, Chapter 2. For many, if not most Adventist Christians, the theme of this particular sermon is familiar. Often preached on the first or second night of 19th century camp-meeting style big-tent evangelism events, Adventist pastors have been using these texts to invite people to read their Bibles seriously for over a century. The basic message is almost the same as Kolbert's: Daniel 2 tracks through history past, identifying kingdoms and events in the ancient-near east, before it points forward to the future...the second coming of Jesus. The first time I preached one of these Daniel 2 sermons was in Zambia, Africa. I can recall fervently asking the audience of hundreds, "are you ready? Jesus is coming. We are almost at the end. We are almost there. Time is about to close." etc.

Read through any of the apocalyptic letters and stories in the Bible and you'll get a similar vibe: "the end is just around the corner. Change your ways or it will be too late. The die has been cast, but you still have good choices you can make."  John the Revelator writes in his famous book "Revelation of Jesus Christ", "Behold I am coming quickly" with a reward in hand. The end is coming. The end is coming. 

And so one final time, a well-educated, intelligent, and highly informed scientist, makes observations of the physical world that sound incredibly similar to those many Christians have made from the scriptures for millennia. 

 

When I hear the same thing coming from different sources, especially from different sources typically envisioned as coming from vastly divergent points of view, I take notice. Truth is there. As a progressive pastor, I can have the tendency to dismiss what sometimes sounds like shrill warnings or judgments from my more conservative brethren. And those brethren can also have the tendency to dismiss liberal, educated, atheistic/agnostic (I've no idea of Kolbert's theological worldview in this case) academics. When everyone is saying the same thing, we all ought to take note. Perhaps there is a reason our studies bring us to similar conclusions...they are true.

Book REVIEW - "All the light we cannot see"

I recently finished Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, "All the Light We Cannot See." Dubbed with the accurate moniker "instant New-York Times bestseller" because of the author's former critical success, I had seen this book at the top of several must-read lists around the internet for the past couple of years. I think I finally decided to pick it up after an interview with the author on an NPR show. 

The 2 sentence synopsis of the book is that it tells the parallel but separate tales of two young children living in WWII France. Marie-Laure, a blind daughter of a museum locksmith has her life upended by the war in unspeakable ways, and yet proves astoundingly resilient and resourceful. Werner, a German academic and engineering prodigy is conscripted into the German war-effort. The two stories finally collide in the closing scenes of the book which is near the end of the war. The novel is relevant both as a modern reminder of the lingering and overlooked effects of war, but also as a portrait of how children live through ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences as named recently by authors and researchers).

Aside from the many messages and ideas the story communicates, I found it to be simply a delightful and engrossing read. Doerr's technical ability as a writer is excellent. Of course, perhaps it could be argued that a blind protagonist lends herself to the medium of writing because to paint the world from her viewpoint requires very careful descriptions. The other side of that coin is that if an author's protagonist is blind, the writer better well be dexterous, careful, and descriptive because the risk otherwise is high. Doerr pulls the reader into the world particularly of Marie-Laure and for certain also into that of Werner. 

For me, a mark I look for in identifying good storytelling is whether or not, by the end, I care about what happens to the characters. If I'm disinterested or dis-impassioned, for right or for wrong, I lay that at the feet of the author. Perhaps I ought to judge myself as not being empathetic or loving enough - as I analytically believe that every person is of the utmost value and has a story worth telling, celebrating, protecting, and learning from. However, it's possible to undersell, to under appreciate, to do disservice to an otherwise inspiring and powerful story. In this case, Marie-Laure and Werner were served well by Anthony Doerr's masterful work, I was drawn in emotionally to their lives - and by the end of the story, I cared about the outcome (which I will not reveal here :). 

The most striking line in the novel for me came near the end of the tale as Werner finds himself in a state of existential (and literal) hopelessness. Starving, waiting, alone, and abandoned, the author makes the observation (which to me seems to come from the little boy inside him): “God is only a white cold eye, a quarter-moon poised above the smoke, blinking, blinking, as the city is gradually pounded to dust.”

I have felt this kind of despair in my life before. Hopelessness is its own kind of grave. Dark and stifling. 

I have experienced this kind of doubt at times before. Where my worldview is called into question, where even the notion of the spiritual or the divine is in the air, hanging in the balance. There is something freeing about admitting it; and also something terrifying about it. 

As a theologian, I can't help but critique the implied conception of God in this utterance. I realize it may just be the despair underneath taking hold of the philosophical wheel, but this notion is something I come into contact with often as a pastor. God is not, in my mind, nor I would argue in the portrayal of the scriptures, an old man in the sky as this quote envisages. God is not, another being, like a human or a fish, a tree, a planet, a could of ions, or even sub-atomic particles moving through dimensions. God, as David Bently Hart writes in his book "The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss," is being itself, not a being alongside others, but the source, essence, and beginning of being. As he writes, sometimes those who would take the role as evangelists for non-belief set up the same kind of straw men that unscrupulous Christian proselytizers do, casting down any notion of the divine, let alone Theism, on the basis of incomplete pictures of God. Doerr's quote, while true to human experience, is not true to solid orthodox Christian theology, that criticizes a theodicy that paints God as a kind of superfluous puppet master who controls all that happens on planet earth, good or bad, and thus purports to claim no responsibility. Any robust philosophical system, in my mind, dismisses this childish picture at the start.

We can certainly say and believe that God is all powerful; but I don't think we can flippantly say it in the sense of God as a genie. All that happens is decidedly NOT according to his will. This is the story of the Christian scriptures, which in the broadest brush strokes paints a picture that has God working with, shaping, molding, creating in a world that resists his influence at just about every turn. Trusting this God, who is in control and yet who is not, is perhaps the most recurrent motif in the Bible. God is not a white old man staring down like the moon, entirely able to set every evil right in every moment, and yet coldly, unsympathetically, mysteriously, refuses to act. 

Of course, at the core, the point of the observation by Werner (or the author) isn't to make a theological treaties about the nature of God. He simply is being authentic. He is stating what is true for him in that moment. And this is what is tragic to me, as a pastor. While I might come across as all attached and intense about theological hair-splitting, the reality is that I care about people - and certain notions of God create real and avoidable suffering. Our worldviews matter - they shape how we think and feel and move through the world. Inferior perspectives on God as the bringer of all good and all evil into our lives do not make the world a better place to live in. And in that sense, I couldn't agree more with the critique of non-belief. 

The conversation could, and does, continue on. I highly recommend "All the Light We Cannot See" despite my critique/triggering illustrated above. Quite obviously, it is deeply thoughtful, stirring, and powerful reading. 

Every Pizza is a Personal Pizza...if you work hard and believe in yourself

Too soon? (At least from a guy who had bariatric surgery just 15 months ago?)

The other day amongst some friends, the conversation floated to the subject of ice cream. We chatted about our favorite flavors and cafes. One person remarked how they could eat this certain brand every day if it were available. Everyone chuckled and nodded affably, myself included.

I have quite a long history with ice cream. I love the stuff. And I happen to be quite a discriminating consumer; at this point I literally won’t waste the calories, money, or time on low-quality product. Part of...

Read More

unBeatitudes: Blessed are the Winners

This is the second post in a series dubbed "UnBeatitudes" - click here to read the first post of the series.

Blessed are the winners, for they will be celebrated. You're blessed if you haven't lost, if you now have what you always wanted, if your heart's desire has never been under threat - because you've never been forced to try to piece together a ramshackle after catastrophe. 

You're blessed if you've not suffered the emotional inconvenience of loss;

Read More

unBeatitudes: Blessed are the Successful

Blessed are the successful, for they earned what they have.

Blessed are those who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, who work harder and smarter than the rest, who outlast the field to earn their slice of the pie. Blessed is the early bird, who stands before other achievers to claim to the best, biggest, juiciest worm. Blessed are the victorious, who withstand all challengers to conquest.

Blessed are the the self-confident, the audacious, and the unapologetic, for they command attention, well positioned to get what they want. Blessed ar

Read More

Bonhoeffer: Eric Metaxas

I set out 2016 with the hope of reading more than I had in previous years. I've always been a reader, but something happens in the middle of early parenthood that slides out leisure/entertainment reading time. Add in the constant draw of Facebook, electronic gadgets, home projects, work projects, and reading gets pushed to the back burner pretty quick. At least that's what it looks like in my house. My hope for 2016 was that I would reignite the reader bug I had caught back in high school. This happened to some degree, but perhaps not as much as I'd initially dreamed.

My initial thought was that I would complete "a book per week". This didn't pan out although I did log quite a number of them including some classics (two by Hemingway in a single year !). 

Around the end of fall, I finished Eric Metaxas' ostensibly monumental work on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I am neither a Bonhoeffer expert nor terribly familiar with the work of Metaxas. Just about all that I knew of the famous German was that despite his commitment to non-violence, he never-the-less attempted to assassinate Adolph Hitler during WWII. All I knew of Metaxas was that he was a historian. 

I went into it a rather blank slate. 

The following were among my reactions:

1. Surprise. In a very real sense, I felt dwarfed by the scope and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This was a human being of considerable substance; far more complex, knowledgeable, committed, and remarkable than I appre...

Read More

New

I don't always begin January with a resolution. Last year at this time, I was in the throughs of recovery from bariatric surgery. I had lost about 50% of my excess body weight and the hope was that my surgical intervention would live me a leg up on the next half. The following twelve months were a blur: filled with joy and celebration, disappointment and discouragement, determination and hard work. 

Part of me loves the idea of newness, of starting fresh, of commitment to change, of hope in a better life and better pat....

Read More