Posted on | March 19, 2013 | No Comments
Posted on | February 8, 2013 | 1 Comment
I have the ongoing privilege of savoring a day of cancelled school. As much as my Alaskan arrogance wants to roll my eyes at what a pathetic showing of white stuff this is, today I have no complaints. I know my students need lots of extra time in the classroom to set them up for the best possible opportunities in life, but I am also a firm believer in the unparalleled life that abides in your classic “snow day.” For me, it’s the simple unexpected pleasure of space that means the most… all the thoughts that spin around above my head seem to lay hold of the opportunity to pause and slowly settle around me. Often times these are the moments that songs are born. And thus, “The Promise of Spring.” Sorry for the rough recording, but you get the idea…
I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves:
December came, the snow had changed everything
Brand new beginnings
Our eyes were wide, our spirits sighed in their deepest part
Let it be
Then we lost our footing and fell to the ground
Our hearts turned heavy but our hope proved sound
You, our brave little boy
Strengthened our souls with your joy
And promised the spring
Snow disappeared, what seemed so clear was all gone
Where have you gone, little boy?
You’re home where you belong
Your heart is beating strong
You know it won’t be long ’till I can look you in the eyes and sing this song
We miss our baby, and we shake in this ground
We ache to hold you, but our Father will do that now
Brave little boy
You strengthened our souls with your joy
And promised the spring
His story’s good
His love is true
His faithfulness is forever in perfect view
Posted on | August 23, 2012 | No Comments
Here’s a new diddy pondering the timeless art of getting older. My advice: embrace and enjoy the unraveling of life and try not to go to bed too early too much.
Posted on | March 3, 2012 | 4 Comments
The week following my 29th birthday I began to think obsessively about the final year of my twenties, the approach of a new decade in my short window on the earth, and how I was shaping up to all the expectation of turning 3-0. I walked to the Watertown Public Library and wandered the vast rows of biographies, looking for some new incredible standard of a person I could compare myself to.
Nolan Ryan? No, I never was a big baseball fan, and besides, I’m generally skeptical of people with two first names. Hilary Clinton? Nah, probably too political (notice how I refrained from millions of possible punch-lines there?). John Adams? I saw the HBO series in preparation for my move to Boston a few years ago… pretty much have his entire life down now. Plus, that book is so thiiiick…
I left the library without a new book in hand, but when I returned home, I spent another hour searching Amazon for something with the age “30” in the title. Not ready to make the commitment of a purchase, the next day it was back to the library to pick up a newly reserved copy of 30 Things to Do When You Turn 30, a series of essays from thirty different authors and their personal take on reaching the monumental age. The font was printed at a magnified size that caused me to review the cover and confirm that I hadn’t checked out a “large letter” copy. What does this suggest about the thirty-year-olds that are meant to be reading this stuff?
As it turned out, there were a few good stories in the book, and some even more impressive mini-biographies about the contributors telling them. You know, the type of background stories in which you end up comparing yourself to the age at which the incredible person founded their groundbreaking company or wrote their first Billboard single or lost their right arm in a ski accident before becoming a famous artist. In general, the book read like Chicken Soup for the 30-Year-Old’s-Soul. I mostly found myself shocked by my own all-too-familiar tendency to contrast my success with other people’s.
I’m not sure where exactly the impulse comes from, but it seems to be shared with most of my peers, many of whom have recently hit thirty or will soon do so. Whatever the case, it seems like we should have something great to show for ourselves. Settled deep into a dynamic career, raising a few little munchkins, or at the very least, maintaining a decent knowledge of self. Why is it, then, that we never seem to live up to the self-inflicted hype? Is it that maybe we actually shouldn’t?
I was cruising Facebook some time ago, catching up on other people’s lives as told in witty <100 character sound bytes. Ahhh Facebook. It’s the perfect proponent for unnecessary comparison. At least in its imaginary world people can put their best foot forward for all to see… and judge. There are so many words that simply add to the already cluttered Internet. And still, everyone has those “friends” who expose themselves rarely enough to still spark interest. Many of the “friends” I’ve blocked out of sheer “update exhaustion” could learn from these standard-setters. Therein lies my friend Neil.
Neil is one of those people who is clearly smart even before you see his test scores (which, by the way, thoroughly prove the point). He wears his curly dark hair with Einstein similarity (or as he prefers, the “eccentric designer” look), though not for that reason. He’s got small, perfectly circular glasses he pushes back up his nose with an occasional flare of the nostrils or squinting of the eyes.
I used to think that everyone who had glasses was smart. That’s why Sarah Johnson always beat me at times-tables in second grade during Math. Then in third grade I got glasses but felt no reformation in my intelligence. What a shaft to my theory.
Fortunately, 14 years later I met Neil and realized my hypothesis was still in tact: here was a genius that coincidentally wore glasses (one can only wonder what happens when he takes them off at night). And if the glasses and the wildly intellectual-looking hair wasn’t enough, Neil played the accordion. Unarguably genius. The successful pursuits of Neil’s life showed the fruit of a life lived on purpose. Most undeniably genius.
That’s why I got a strange sense of encouragement the day I read Neil’s (ever-rare and always insightful) status update:
By age 30, Michael Jordan had been a 4 time NBA MVP, Michael Jackson had released the best selling album of all time, Michael Bloomberg had graduated from Harvard Business School, Michael Phelps was Michael Phelps and Michael J Fox had Parkinson’s. I’ll be 30 in two months and my name isn’t even Michael. I’m a crisis waiting to happen.
I noticed there was a long string of comments, primarily from well-wishers whose responses were filled with encouraging words obviously copied and pasted from Hallmark e-cards. If Neil was such a genius, shouldn’t his friends have some decent insight into his quandary? Initially I tried thinking of other “Michaels” I might sarcastically add to his list to improve it. Then I felt even more pathetic because of my inability to do so. Regardless, if Neil felt this way, surely I was justified to feel the same. Then I saw an especially long comment from a friend who clearly lived up to Neil’s standard.
On the other hand:
1. Rodney Dangerfield – He sold aluminum siding for years while he struggled as a writer and comedian. He didn’t get his first big break until he was 42.
2. Al Jarreau – The famous jazz vocalist didn’t release his first album until he was 38.
3. Julia Child – Her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published when she was 49. Her television debut came a few years later when she was in her early 50s.
4. Charles Bukowski – The famous novelist/poet worked at the post office for years. He was 49 when his first book was published.
5. Laura Ingalls Wilder – Her first book, Little House in the Big Woods came out when she was 65. It was the first of her 8-volume Little House series.
6. Stan Lee – He was in his early 40s when he created Spider-Man and most of his other legendary superheroes. His partner, artist Jack Kirby, started drawing The Fantastic Four when he was 44.
7. Colonel Sanders – Didn’t franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was 65.
8. Robert Duvall – He was 40 when he acted in The Godfather.
9. Raymond Chandler – The famous novelist published his first short story at age 45. His first book, The Big Sleep, came out when he was 51.
10. Buckminster Fuller – The visionary architect and inventor didn’t truly begin his career until he was 32. Instead of committing suicide after going bankrupt and losing his daughter to pneumonia, he decided to conduct “an experiment…to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all of humanity.”
Wow. No “Michaels” in this guys rebuttal, but impressive nonetheless. Maybe there’s hope for me after all. Sure, I’m looking at entering my 30’s much the same way I did adolescence – with not much to show for myself – but it seemed like there were a few others in the same boat.
Legend has it that Julius Caesar, sometime in his early thirties, was serving as a low-level public official in Spain when he came across a statue of Alexander the Great. One of his companions took notice that Caesar was about the same age as Alexander when he died. Caesar paused, then burst into sudden tears, depressingly contemplating Alexander’s conquering of the known world at age thirty and lamenting his own seemingly failed attempt at existence.
Julius went on to do alright for himself, despite being murdered by his closest friend… (little downer there). The opposite of my friend Neil, Caesar was balding, and chose to wear a wreath around his head for most of his life to hide the fact. I would love to be wrong, but I’ll bet if he lived a few more years and ventured back to Spain, Caesar would have still cried at the foot of Alexander, unsatisfied with the extent of his empire and unimpressed with the length of his hairline. Most of all, still stuck in the quicksand of comparison.
That’s not where I want to be when I’m an old man. Nor as I turn 30.
Two thousand years ago there was a no-name man around my same age living just off the Sea of Galilee in Roman-occupied Israel. People must have whispered about his extreme potential and the lack of success he had to show for himself… doing the same menial manual labor his father did before him, no wife to call his own (let alone kids), and no books to show for the wealth of knowledge in his head. But that was what made Yeshua so incredible. From what we can piece together in our limited knowledge, he wasn’t anxious about turning 30 and making sure he had proof that he was something important. As a young man, he knew an anxiety-free rest in his soul that most people don’t discover over a lifetime of strife.
Looking back over the past 30ish years, I’m feeling thankful for amazingly rich memories with all sorts of friends in all sorts of places, overwhelmed by my wife’s incredibly lavished love, perhaps even beginning to settle into a career that seems to fit me better than most things I’ve tried up to this point. But much more than all this, I’m searching myself for the contentment that marked that no-name Jew in his no-name village, happily hitting nails into a piece of wood for a living. I want to be defined as a 30 year-old at rest in my own present-state, brimming with assurance that the best is yet to come.
A fresh update from Neil a few months after his previous one, just in case you were curious:
I’m about a month from 30. I shaved my beard, which bought me at least 4 years. Next, I’m going to quit bathing, buy a scarf and a fixed gear bike. I’ll be a college kid by September, just you wait and see.
Posted on | December 22, 2011 | 3 Comments
I was recently checking in on a friend who has been pushed to his mental, physical and emotional limits as of late. He mentioned that he had gained some perspective in the notion that although he is concerned with being comfortable, God is more interested in building character. On an unusually warm morning in late November, I started scribbling thoughts about this concept in my journal. A few minutes later I found myself singing the ramblings in a new melody. This morning I was humming it and decided it just might be worth sharing. Excuse Marisa for making me laugh at various points throughout… ahem.
Enjoy the song, the margins that Christmas time helps to create, and the character that is steadily being built in us all.
Posted on | June 16, 2011 | No Comments
I have the pleasure of currently chilling in Beirut with some old and very dear, most legendary friends: Drew & Mary Caldwell. Actually, Mer and I have been here about a month now. I’ve got to see quite a bit of the city, taking a walk most days for a couple hours and wandering through areas I probably shouldn’t but am able to because I look Lebanese. Yet nothing beats the view from the Caldwell’s 9th story balcony, overlooking east and west Beirut, the distant mountains and out across the Mediterranean. It’s the site of slow dinner conversations each night as the setting sun peeks through skyscrapers to let us know it’s not quite done for the day. It’s also the type of view that inspires the soul in all sorts of directions. Yesterday, it gave birth to this little diddy. I thought I’d share it since I haven’t offered much in the way of music recently. Hopefully you can feel the mood of the view from here, and find some of the same heartbeat wherever you might be…
Posted on | May 15, 2011 | No Comments
Last night I took the final final of my undergraduate degree. Today I’m thousands of miles away, celebrating my newfound liberty somewhere above the Pacific Ocean on my way to Northeast Asia. That’s about par for the way our modern world operates.
It took me eleven years and four institutions in states from farthest points American west to east, but it all worked out in the end. I nabbed a few credits from high school and the local community college in Palmer, Alaska. I survived the fall semester of the turn of the century as a student-athlete in a private college near Seattle. A state university in the heart of the Midwest accepted me on academic probation, allowing me to work and study at the same time. Yesterday when I finished my last exam, it was in one of Boston’s oldest institutions. The university experience is a pivotal one… that’s why I chose to drag it out for over a decade. It was an odd route, unconventional at the least; but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I have a fresh degree in education – a field of study that offers a very natural self-evaluation of my own learning process. A myriad of teachers and books have taught me many intriguing things, but I believe Mark Twain said it best when he defiantly declared (much to the chagrin of mimetic academia), “Never have I allowed my schooling to interfere with my education.” Since my education has done a lot to inform my perception of my schooling, I thought I’d pass on a few of the lessons I learned along the way, both in the formal institution and in the margins that have surrounded it. In no particular order, and with no particular number in mind:
1. Live as if the “real world” is right now… because it is.
“One of the greatest fallacies of the collegiate years is the idea that ‘real life’ begins sometime after you finish university.” – Trent Sheppard (Living Room Dialogues, 2010)
Many of us have effectively spent our lives focused on the past or the future, but he who understands how to be successfully present is one who will bypass a million other battles. Ironically, it seems that the students who are most at home in the here in now are the stereotypical partiers who left home for that very reason. But anyone who is engaged and thinking about how to truly love and change the world should also recognize the importance of the present moment. Especially in the West, we like to talk about things so much that we actually think we’re doing them. This danger is particularly ripe in the university years, and we must keep ourselves from growing callous by actually dreaming and doing, plotting and pursuing, analyzing and acting on the blank canvas before us. The world’s not going to wait for you to finish four years of schooling.
2. Courageously embrace moratorium.
“Growing up is not merely an additive process. It involves getting rid of the shaggy excrescences that were put upon your own un-challenged acceptance of a long-reiterated environment.” – Alan Gregg (Travel & Its Meaning, 1950)
I took a class called “The Psychology of Adolescent Development” a year or so ago, and in the thick of our discussions of all things pubescent we approached a term called “moratorium.” Now I know this word is all-too-easily associated with “mortuary,” but stay with me for a moment beyond the cemetery. Moratorium is used in legal terms to describe a temporary prohibition of a certain activity. For instance, offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is currently (for good reason) under moratorium. In adolescent psychology “moratorium” refers to a stage of development in which an individual hits identity crisis, exploring with a variety of idealistic outcomes but slow to commit to any one of them. I see the college years as one such period… a temporary pause enabling students to reevaluate and purposely choose the life they want to live. It can be an especially fragile time for a person, but it also has the potential to be incredibly fruitful. The grand idea of the university is to establish an atmosphere conducive to such sanctioned exploration, and that facilitation should not intimidate us. Parents win incredible battles for their children, but any good mom or dad also knows they can’t mandate their son or daughter’s future. Allowing, and even valuing moratorium will teach both the parent and the child the intricate balance between taking and losing control, a faculty demanded by anyone desiring a sincere existence.
3. Remember that your professors are humans.
“Meek men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson (The American Scholar, 1837)
As an educator, I would love universities to require every professor to take a few fresh courses in teaching from time to time. I have sat through way too many classes counting the dollars I’m paying per hour as the tenured mind of the resident instructor is content to keep its tedious mouth moving, unknowingly making the information stale and the knowledge impossible to obtain. These teachers are brilliant thinkers, but often that expertise is lost in translation. Yet 3 hours a week in a classroom is no way to judge a person. I never did it enough myself and I never saw it done enough by my peers, but going to a professor’s office hours is one of the best opportunities available to university students. These professors are people who, in various forms, have given their lives in active pursuit of the curiosity they seek to impart to their students. Coming to understand the motives and the narrative context of their expertise brings the professor near the present reality of the student. (p.s. Treating all people with grace and honor is a good idea all of the time.)
4. Watch out for cynicism.
“I know idealism is not playing on the radio right now, you don’t see it on TV, irony is on heavy rotation, the knowingness, the smirk, the tired joke. I’ve tried them all out but I’ll tell you this, outside this campus—and even inside it—idealism is under siege beset by materialism, narcissism and all the other isms of indifference.” – Bono (2004)
University trains us to criticize the world. At times the world deserves a little scrutiny, and investigation produces good change. But too often we are left with an inability to see with hope. It is so very easy to deconstruct an idea, but to be a builder in the midst of the deconstruction is the highest calling and the greatest need of our generation. I absolutely loved my Intro to Anthropology course; it caused me to healthily evaluate more of my presuppositions than any other class I had taken up to that point. And yet, toward the end of the semester I began to realize that all this dismantling had no end in sight except more dismantlement. Post-modernity is defined as the absence of a meta-narrative. Such absence creates a society full of fragments, with no foundation to hold them up and no adhesive to keep them together. Dare to believe in possibility, and to act on that belief with a constructive response to critical analysis. Otherwise you’re simply adding to the noise of disenchanted chatter.
5. Create intentional gaps in your formal schooling.
“…then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” –JRR Tolkien via Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit, 1937).
In order to cram 4 years of schooling into 11, I had to take a few breaks along the way (I also successfully suffered through my last math course 4 years ago). Out of high school I went straight into college because that’s the obligatory route. For some reason our society is well accustomed and deeply content in meeting unspoken requirements like college within a specific time frame. So many of my recent classmates have no experience with which to contrast or apply the information they are consuming, and most of them will quickly lose what little interest they entered with before it’s all over. Still many of them endure for four years; worried by the constraints they have built for themselves. My freshman year I lasted a single semester and took an “incomplete” in soccer for never returning the school shorts. At the end of the autumn I appeased the itch in my feet and set off with a ticket around the world. I spent the same amount of money both semesters but gained invaluable (and much different) maturity from both. Obviously I took this to the extreme, but it can be as simple as taking a semester to study abroad. Volunteer for a non-profit. Attend a character or leadership school for a season. Anything that gives you an intuition with which to combat your growing intellect. Anything that makes your desire less of a taunting stranger and more of a friend. Anything that widens your perspective and helps you realize the world is bigger than your world… that’s a wonderfully transformative thing. It’s going to bring actual function to the factual framework college creates for you.
6. Ask bigger questions of your life and learning.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” – Albert Einstein
This past semester I spent student-teaching several classes of high school freshman. I felt an unusual amount of affection for these teenagers I had gotten to know over the few months, so I gave them a final charge of sorts on the day of my departure. The crux of my monologue: “Engage with the difficult questions in life that most people try to avoid.” The worst thing in the western world is an apathetic person – a problem our parents didn’t face when they were in college during Vietnam. We face unimaginable distraction. We suffer from temporal myopia. We live with few concrete answers in a world that demands 9 to 5 decisions. The university years should establish an appropriate comfortableness with the notion of mystery, or as a revered Jewish rabbi once said, “losing your life” in order to truly find it. We must rediscover and protect the wonder that naturally first led us as children. And we must remember that a vital part of good inquiry is the necessity of great listening. Don’t get overindulgent in your own growth. Make sure your personal transformation is always headed to the outside of you, and toward those who need to feel its reverberations the most.
The geography of my university pilgrimage has taken me from America’s west to east, though in many ways the existential path went much the opposite. It is my hope that the two worlds can effectively collide, and it is my conviction that they must. We desperately need the mind of the west – creative and individualized – to interlock with the heart of the east – a disciplined development of character – drawing together the best of both traditions and giving the university back its purpose.
I believe in education because I believe in learning. I believe that curious, questioning students, filled with awe and wonder, will find meaning and help define it for an ever-changing society. Take it from me… I have a college degree.
Posted on | April 26, 2011 | 2 Comments
Each year around late spring, my feet feel particularly itchy and my lungs get the sudden urge to breathe in a little more deeply. Living life awake takes a bit of adventure every now and again. Here’s a few videos that have recently got my heart beating a little faster…
Posted on | February 19, 2011 | No Comments
I’ve run into several videos recently that have challenged and/or provoked the accuracy of my worldview. I love the idea that Paul the Apostle suggests – that we’re raised and seated with Christ in heavenly realms (Eph 2.6)… I’m continually aching to see that my perspective aligns with His. Grapple with your own view as you watch these:
Posted on | January 7, 2011 | 2 Comments
My bride and I recently celebrated 9 years of legal love, which has been amazing. One of the traditions we’ve managed to uphold is the creation of an album of the year composed of the songs that meant the most to us throughout the past 365 days. Some of the tunes on the playlist were newly released this year, but many were simply rediscovered by us in some form or fashion. These are the songs that have sound-tracked our year, so it’s a good view into our happenings. Much Chud love!
p.s. I welcome the sarcastic comments bound to follow some of my cheesier choices… ahem.
|West Wing Theme||The West Wing||The West Wing, Season 1|
|Lifeline||Mat Kearney||City of Black & White|
|Forget You (feat. Gwyneth Paltrow)||Glee Cast||Forget You – Single|
|You Got The Style||Athlete||Vehicles & Animals|
|Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)||Shakira||Waka Waka – Single|
|Beautiful Things||Gungor||Beautiful Things|
|Dream About Flying||Alexi Murdoch||Time w/out Consequence|
|Young At Heart||Landon Pigg||Coffee Shop – EP|
|Awake My Soul||Mumford & Sons||Sigh No More|
|Love Came Down||Brian Johnson||Love Came Down|
|Here Comes the Sun||The Beatles||Abbey Road|
|Horchata||Vampire Weekend||Contra (Bonus Version)|
|Young Forever (feat. Mr. Hudson)||Jay-Z||The Blueprint 3|
|The Longer I Run||Peter Bradley Adams||Leavetaking|
|Old Cape Cod (Single)||Patti Page||Patti Page: Golden Hits|
|I’d Rather Dance With You||Kings of Convenience||Riot On an Empty Street|
|If the Stars Were Mine||Melody Gardot||My One & Only Thrill|
|Hosanna||Paul Baloche||7 Essential Easter Songs|