Monday, December 23, 2013

Alt Christmas post



Ah, Christmas time, that glorious time of year of over-indulgence, gluttony, greed, materialism, unbridled excess and an overall wanton disregard for the needs of others, especially those less fortunate. But not around here, that kind of stuff only happens in big cities like L.A., Seattle and Bend.

Interestingly, over the last several years I have witnessed a change in the hearts of humanity. While Black Friday still kills at least a few participants each year, I have noticed that many more are now staying home. This should be a welcome observation but what it has meant instead is closeted society, one that does not play well with others, so to speak. I have come to know many folks who are content with simply staying home and staying inside, not venturing out at all, except to maybe do a few things around the house.

What does this mean? That we seem to be losing the ability to interact with each other except in very isolated situations. I know a couple who has 2 kids. This couple has one or two close friends who they see at church and on a rare occasion around town. One of the sets of grandparents lives nearby so they see them a few times a year. The oldest child is involved in a couple of different activities, but oddly the parents don’t attend. The youngest child is a home-body and rarely comes outside to play. This wasn’t always the case but it certainly has been for the last few years. I don’t say all of this to condemn this family, but they are a perfect example of the interaction we are losing because of choices. This little family has not always been like this and it used to be common to see them out and about all the time.

Many a study has been taken that shows how as Americans have spread out across the map, we are losing our ability to interact with each other and are instead becoming more isolated. The trouble with each and every one of these studies is they never address the issue of why people become more insulated and don’t instead choose to reach out. I have yet to meet a family that moved into some distant corner of America, only to discover there wasn’t a single neighbor near them, within say, 5 miles. Instead, I am finding that more and more people (not everyone) move and then become as homogenized as possible and then have the audacity to claim that they are only protecting themselves. I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt, that humanity is what YOU make it, not what you hear on AM talk radio.

As we pass another Thanksgiving holiday and approach another Christmas season, we need to do better than simply remember that at the end of November we give “thanks” for everything we have (in abundance) and then look forward to December where we should be “giving” of ourselves and of our abundance to those around us, especially to those in need. However, in order to accomplish any of that, we have to step outside to see what needs to be given. We have to move outside of our comfort zones and choose to see others around us.

Not really



I don’t really want to write about Christmas, about this season that doesn’t seem to mean what I think it’s supposed to mean. I don’t really want to sit here and talk about the things I see every year that lead me to wonder about humanity. How hordes of shoppers descend upon stores to get that one indescribable thing that will be out of style, obsolete, broken or simply unwanted come the following year. I don’t want to talk about the war we wage on each other all in the name of materialism, just so I can say I got what I wanted, wrapped and under the tree. I really do not want to put one more word to paper in favor of, or against the use of, such phrases as Happy Holidays versus The Christmas Season.

It would be infinitely easier for me to take a vacation to a monastery in Tibet than to witness the same carnage year after year. It’s not that I become depressed or anxious. I don’t get angry or frustrated or flustered. It’s more of being disappointed, really. I want to believe that in the deepest recesses of the human spirit there is something far greater than just another wasted trip to the mall to stand in line for the latest temporary fix. My heart and my head tell me to hope, so each year I continue to do so. Each year I see a few things that lead me to believe that we are indeed capable of more than this.

In a world where everything happens so quickly and what happens winds up online even quicker, there is little time to react to most things properly. Yet, Christmas is something that comes every year and following Thanksgiving we typically have at least four weeks to prepare ourselves. My concern is that we seem prone to forgetfulness regarding the insanity that arrives on or around the first of December. Also, unlike any other major holiday, we spend weeks preparing as opposed to just a couple of days. And all of this preparation would be OK, if, in the end the reason why was different from what it seems.

How amazing it would be if we spent four weeks asking those around us, family and stranger alike, what they really needed for Christmas. And instead of mere gifts that come from a store, what if we gave the gift of time or energy? If you’re going to spend the money anyway, take a day off of work and spend it with your kids or with your parents, or God forbid, your neighbors.

To me, first and foremost, Christmas is about the birth of a child. Christmas represents an opportunity for me to give Him something, even though He doesn’t need anything. So, I give Him my heart, just so He can give it back, that I might serve those around me. What I’m left with is a desire to help, serve and love, at a time of the year when it is so easy to wonder what I’m getting.

In the end, Christmas was never meant to be about us anyway. It has always been about someone else, even when we’ve gotten caught up waiting in lines; or writing about it.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shoe review - Brooks Pure Connect 1

For those that know me well, this was the shoe that began the whole "bright shoes guy" phenomenon. I got so many comments about these shoes, which were super bright, neon orange, that it would have been excusable for me to have become self conscious about them. Seriously though, Brooks did a wonderful thing with the roll out of this minimalist set of shoes. In spring of 2011, Brooks introduced the Pure Project as a way to break into the super lightweight, barefoot feel, minimalist movement of shoes that were hitting the market. At the time, I was doing a lot of research on the barefoot movement and relative minimalist shoes that were available. I was running and racing in a pair Scott T2 Comps and loved them for how light they were (9 oz) and the 8mm drop, which was the least I had run in at the time. I was hoping to transition to a 4mm drop next.

Along came the Brooks and my initial thought upon trying a pair on was no way. While they felt a little like a tight fitting pair of slippers, they had way too much instability when simply standing, as if I would just roll an ankle. But the feel was amazing and based on the design features, I felt compelled to run in them.

First, here are some particulars:
The Pure Connect is the lightest of the 4 shoe options in the Pure Project line, weighing in at 7.2 oz.
4mm drop from front to back. 10 mm forefoot, 14 mm heel.
Narrow design for a tighter fit, incorporating something that Brooks calls a Nav Band, which is located under the laces and helps lock the foot in place.
Ideal Heel, which is designed to move your heel forward, improve your center of gravity and help you to be more of a midfoot to forefoot striker.

I was certainly leery about these shoes initially, especially given how narrow they felt. I have slightly wider than average feet, primarily at the balls of my feet, where a narrower shoe can be a real pain. The first few runs with these were concerning as I was afraid I had made a mistake in buying them. The fit was so secure that I was sure that I would develop some wicked blisters. Instead, the shoes never moved on my feet while running, providing an almost glove like experience. One of the most noticeable things is the weight, simply because at 7.2 oz, you are much freer in your stride because your muscles are working less to bring each foot forward.

At the time I got these, all my races were on road so most of my training was on road. By that fall I began to run a lot more trails and as a side note, I bought a pair of the trail shoes from this line called Pure Grit. I wore them 3 times and gave them away, they did not work for me. As I hunted for a good pair of trail shoes to wear, I began wearing my bright orange Connects on the dirt. While these shoes were certainly made well, they were not made for the trail and within just a month, they were toast. That first pair netted 560 miles, which isn't bad, but I needed to test a pair strictly on road to determine longevity.

I bought my second pair in the fall of that year and chose the electric blue color. I didn't do a lot of road running that winter and the shoes were just 100 miles in when spring rolled around. By summer I had more than 750 road only miles on them and was also doing a tremendous amount of trails. I decided to turn them into a backup pair for trails by that fall and today, they are still in my closet with about 1200 miles total of road and dirt. However, I still wondered how many miles I could get on a pair if I was good and just ran road in them.

So in March of this year I bought pair #3 and had to go with the bright orange ones. As I rehabbed a stress fracture, they collected a bit of dust until May but to date, they have about 870 miles on them and have strictly been on road only. Until recently, I would have thought this would be the only pair of road shoes I would ever want to wear again, but even with that discovery (see Merrell Bare Access 2 review), the Connects are a simply amazing shoe. I have turned several runners onto them over the past couple of years and highly recommend them to anyone looking to transition into a 4mm drop shoe, especially one that has amazing longevity as well as the fit and feel.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shoe review - New Balance MT1010 Minimus Trail

New Balance was one of the first major shoe manufacturers to jump into the minimalist trend. When they first did it, I remember friends who bought the first pair. We all had a good chuckle later when they had to go back to something with more of a heel because, quite simply, they did give their legs and feet a chance to acclimate to the minimal heel drop.

With the Minimus line, New Balance went right after the natural barefoot feeling and after some initial success with a couple different road shoes, introduced a good looking trail shoe option. When I saw the first road shoes that were offered from this line I scoffed. But when this trail shoe came out I thought seriously about giving it a try. When it was time to buy a new pair specifically for trail, I picked these up for a fairly reasonable price on Amazon when New Balance was introducing their second version of the same shoe.
Currently, these are in my closet with about 250 miles on them. Before I get to how they perform, here are some specs:

4 mm drop from front to back. 10 mm forefoot, 14 mm heel.
7.8 oz weight per shoe. Super light weight.
RockStop rock plate that runs from the toe to the midfoot. Good for rocky terrain.
Designed to be worn without socks...no, seriously. (I wear socks with mine)

When I first got these shoes and tried them on, I noticed the tongue was very different in how it was integrated with the rest of the shoe. I am still not sure I like it in how it sits on top of my foot, but that is a minimal issue. The lace holes are as I like them, with 2 options at the top for best fit. The arch support is like most shoes in this style, meaning there is some but not much. The one plus for me was the toe box. Being a guy with slightly wider feet than average, these fit very well in that area. As far as colors go, I went with a muted red and black option but noted there were several color schemes available, which I always think is cool...I like the bright colors usually.

As for running in them, I was not terribly impressed. From the word go, they have always rubbed in a way that leave me with wicked blisters after every run. I dutifully game them a firm 100 mile break in period, believing that they would soften or work themselves in to a point where the chafing would subside but after more than 200 miles they still rub. I will honestly say that I have no idea why this is and I am fully aware that thousands of runners wear these and do just fine. It could also be due to the fact that the shoes were designed to be worn without socks. As of yet, I have not tried running in them without socks and am not in a big hurry to do so since I don't want my shoes to absolutely reek to high heaven.

One positive note is they do well on trail in regards to their overall grip and handling. They were definitely built with rugged trail running in mind and are very capable in any off road terrain. They also do well on both short trail runs and long ones. To date, they have been used on short 5 mile jaunts and a couple of 20 plus runs. Because of the chafing however, the longer runs tend to be a little more painful, so I tend to minimize my runs in these shoes to 8 miles or less, which is in my opinion, tragic.

I have also noted that I can transition from trail to paved on the same run with ease. Trail shoes can sometimes be clunky when run on road and yet these handled well and were comfortable to do so. They are wearing well though, as far as mileage, which is always good. The tread is still strong on both shoes and should last me for at least 200 more miles. If I can somehow manage to run in them without the rubbing, I would suggest that everyone try them.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More than one way to skin a cat


I have heard it said that there is more than one way to skin a cat. As curious as that statement is, I have never had the need, nor the desire, to skin a cat. I am also quite positive that some animal rights group would camp out on my door step and build tree forts in my yard for weeks in protest. That visual alone is worse than actually skinning a cat. I’m also fairly certain that any attempt to skin a cat would result in losing as much skin as the cat

And while I certainly understand the metaphor, I would rather consider how many wonderful ways there are to cook a turkey, something that is indeed useful. One of the more trendy ways to cook a bird for Thanksgiving is to deep fry it. If you think I’m kidding, try typing the words deep fried into any search engine of any browser. This is America, we love things deep fried, as often as possible. Deep fried turkey is amazing, especially if done right. The skin of the turkey is fantastic and all the meat is juicy, not just the dark stuff (which is way better than white meat).

Another fascinating concept is that of beer butt turkey. Again, if you doubt this, just check it out online, it’s where all the best information is at. Inserting a can of beer into the center of a turkey and then BBQing it is apparently another great way to get a moist bird. And seeing as how I am responsible for cooking the turkey on the BBQ this year, I might have to try that. Are you supposed to drink the beer afterwards?

One idea that I am intrigued by is turducken. If you are unaware of this phenomenon, let me enlighten you. First, you take a duck and stuff it with stuffing. Then you shove it into a chicken. Next, you stuff the chicken into a turkey. Any open pockets are to be filled with more stuffing. Then, when you can’t stuff anymore, you bake it. Apparently, after that you eat it. All of a sudden I’m hungry, not sure why.

If there is one thing that will definitely not be served in our house, it’s tofurkey. Tofurkey is the equivalent of a Milli Vanilli song. There is absolutely nothing you can ever do to make it sound good to me; it will always be a fake.

At the end of the day, if you want to really impress your friends and make your mother in law look at you funny for more than three hours, you need to spatchcock your turkey. Don’t look at me like that. Basically, you butterfly your turkey before you cook it and in the process, you can eat in an hour and a half. I’m thinking that spatchcocking is starting to sound pretty good, instead of just really weird.

Whatever way you go this year, save me some dark meat, unless it’s tofurkey. In which case, you might try deep frying it…or feeding it to the cat.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Shoe review - Merrell Bare Access 2 Barefoot shoes - 1st review

Okay, most of you who have been reading my stuff for any length of time know that I have written about politics, religion, faith, family, sports and such. What you might not know is that nearly 3 years ago I decided to start running. What started out as a kind of joke between my wife and I, since I had turned 40 and she laughed that I was no longer a spring chicken, has since become an absolute joy for me. Simply put, I love to run and I run a lot.

With that said, I have gone through a fair amount of shoes in the last 3 years and have determined not only my own personal running style and shoe style, but have also become fairly adept at understanding the shoe world, the brands that do a good job and the costs associated. It is important to note, right here and now, that every runner out there has a different opinion regarding shoes. So, for this post and any subsequent post about shoes, please understand that I am writing from my perspective. What works for me may very well not work for you and that is something you will probably not get from your local shoe store. If you are serious about running, you MUST try on shoes and actually take a short trot in them before buying them if they are a brand you have never worn prior. The risks involved are serious and can ruin your joy for running with injuries that are preventable. So, buyer beware, my reviews are going to be based on my perspective and opinion only, please bear that in mind.

For my first ever review, I would like to start with a pair I bought last night from REI. I like to check them out occasionally because they will sometimes have very good prices on a few things and this was one of those times. I was actually shopping for a new pair of trail shoes and first tried on the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove. I loved them but alas, they were not on sale and I'm kind of hard core about buying shoes on sale, so I put them back. I did notice, however, that they currently have the Merrell Bare Access 2 Barefoot shoes on special for $64.93 and available in 2 colors; carbon or charcoal/orange. I went with the carbon pair in size 8.5, which is small for me but they seemed to fit very well. With a group run planned for in the morning, I definitely left excited about breaking them in.

First, here are the specs:
0 mm drop. This is a big deal for me and for all those who do not want a heel in their shoes.
7 oz weight per shoe. Super light weight.
13.5 mm stack height.This is the thickness of the sole. The smaller the number, the less between your feet and the road. These shoes are uniform front to back.

Given the specs, the number one thing I noticed when I put them on the first time was the width of the toe box. I happen to have wider feet than the average guy so narrow shoes are tough to wear because they rub. These are amazingly comfortable for the space that the ball of my foot takes up. They remind me of my Keen shoes in how the front of my foot fits in the shoe.

The next major thing I noticed was the arch, which is longer than in any shoe I have ever worn. The arch extends from the center of the ball to the center of the heel in these shoes and provides for added comfort when running. Where I noticed it most was as my foot came forward to make contact, the shoe supported my foot in a way I have not experienced before. Part of that may be the fact I went with a half size smaller than usual. Either way, this particular arch support was not expected for a minimalist shoe and while it surprised me, it was a welcome benefit.

Lastly, the weight, or lack thereof is especially nice. The shoes fit like slippers in that they are extremely light weight and comfortable. They happen to wrap my feet nicely without any added toe or heel weight. Ultimately, they are extremely well balanced.

Typical for most good running shoes, these give you two options for the final lace hole for tying the laces. This is critical for a tight fit so there isn't any slop in the shoe while running. If you like your shoes to fit just a little loose towards the top, you can tie them in the second to last lace hole. I like a slightly tighter feel overall and so I usually use the very last lace hole and skip the second to last one. If this seems like more information than necessary, again consider how different we all are. For me, this is an important feature because I expect my shoes to take a ton of abuse.

The initial run was a success, although there was a moment in there where as I ran downhill, the choice of size became an issue. By the end of the run, the shoes seemed to stretch out a little and my toes felt great, but during that down hill, my toes on my right foot were screaming at me because of the tight fit. My plan at this point is that most likely I will end up getting the next size up.

As a runner who lands exclusively fore foot (I land on the ball of my foot and my heel never touches the ground), my foot splays as it makes contact, so a slightly tight fitting shoe can be uncomfortable. Be careful to take this into consideration for any shoe, but this really comes down to determining how you run, how your foot makes contact, whether you are pronate or supinate (how your foot rolls as it comes forward to land) and how many miles a week you plan to run.

These shoes are definitely a pair I would buy again based on how I run. I am curious to see if I can find the Merrell Trail Glove shoes on sale given the comfort of this pair, but at the moment I am loving my initial foray into the Merrell brand (pro Brooks/Vivo guy here).

In the coming weeks, I will post a follow-up once I get a hundred miles on these or so. It's important to break a pair of shoes in and determine if they are worthy. The other important thing will be the total mileage I get out of these shoes. For that, I will do my best to make note of that and mention it in the future.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Not so fall



Ah, fall. Sigh. That beautiful time of the year when the leaves turn colors, flocks of geese fill the air and the sun sets a little earlier each day. Oh joy.
Such a lovely season...that lasts for 3 days. No, seriously, fall comes and goes around here like the World Series hopes of my beloved Seattle Mariners; which means, they're fleeting.

The leaves on the two trees in my front yard changed color one day and then two days later the wind had ripped every leaf off. The next day it was 34 degrees and snow was imminent for that night. Now would be a good place to mention that three days before the leaves had turned, it had been 74 and sunny. Welcome to fall in Central Oregon, glad you like it. Now, welcome to winter. Suck it up until May, maybe June.

I have spent enough time out here in the High Desert to know that spring and fall are only seasons in name and they mean nothing on a calendar. In other parts of the world, fall represents a period of at least a couple of months where the temperatures drop from summer time highs, ushering in the coldness of winter. Truly that sounds so delightful but the reality of this region is that the season of fall lasts for exactly one week every year. During that week you are well advised to prepare your home, your car and your wardrobe for the immediate change that is coming. And by change I mean 50 to 60 degree shifts in temperature and the threat of snow.

So while you put away your shorts and flip flops and pull out your thermal underwear and snow boots, all before Halloween, remember that it could be worse; it could be raining every day. Seriously though, aren’t you glad for the way it rains around here? I do appreciate how the rain seems more like intermittent spit as opposed to a constant deluge. It is simply one more reason to be thankful for this place. Still, the lack of rain fall does not leave me accepting the fall and spring seasons. I long for a summer that stretches until the middle of October and a spring that starts in March, instead of June 10th. I know; picky, picky.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

consideration



I’m sitting here, eating a bowl of ice cream, and I’m trying to determine if I am angry a lot or just sometimes or what. There are times in my day when I am alone with my thoughts and often they turn to conversations between me, myself and I. Occasionally I let God in but mostly He just listens. Over the course of the last several years I have discovered there are several things that set me off, so to speak. Sometimes I wish it were just one thing, and then maybe I could just avoid that and move on with my life, but alas. I am sure there are multiple people who concern themselves with my sanity, but trust me, I’m good, thanks.

Typically, the things that bug me the most are things outside of my control, like the economy and world hunger. Other times, it’s as pithy as the way I see people treat each other, specifically regarding how inconsiderate some folks are (that one eats at me a lot I’m afraid), or the way people drive. Mostly, I am too often saddened by watching people claim to be one thing and live lives that clearly speak to something very different. It’s more than hypocrisy, really. To suggest mere hypocrisy is to suggest there is a single topic or characteristic that can be singled out. Instead, what I see are people who on a wholesale level have painstakingly gone so far as to add the bumper stickers, buy the t-shirts, watch the right TV shows, listen to the appropriate radio stations, hang out with the right people and publicly declare their agenda on social media and yet in every action they are screaming something completely different.

It is ridiculous how truly sad we are as humans. We indeed have the power to build up or tear down everything and everyone around us, in most cases simply with the words we speak. And armed with that power, we tend to tear down more often than build up. This goes for the words we choose not to speak as well. How many times have you caught yourself wishing you would have simply spoken up but you chickened out? Sometimes our silence does as much damage as our voice. This is certainly true in the arena of politics, where yours truly has opted out of being a part of, ever again. At least that one thing doesn’t seem to cause me the drama it used to.

I like the word humanitarian, because it makes me think of doing nothing more than bettering humanity one human at a time. Today I read a blog post regarding changing our perspective on how we treat those around us and if we were a little more diligent and intentional towards those closest to us, we might begin to understand how we could deposit into their lives, especially in a way that would leave them better than when we found them. That very concept is so simple and yet so deeply profound. Why on earth would anyone wantonly choose to leave someone worse off than how you found them? Is it our goal to wreck people? Is it our aim to rain on a person’s parade so much so that they lose hope?

And yet look at the very fabric of society here in America, where if you don’t vote a certain way or believe a certain way, you must be the enemy. You’re not even viewed as alternative or different anymore, you are simply viewed as the enemy. This is what our politicians have done to us; they have turned us against each other. Interestingly, I have not noticed a very large contingency arise from this and declare that we will not be ruled by fear. Instead, I see large swaths of the population casting judgment on those less fortunate, all for the sake of some sort of misguided principal that was dictated by a well spoken political leader. Meanwhile, millions of people are suffering daily because of the hatred of fellow humans. The word humanitarian is off the table at this point, replaced not with egalitarian but instead with something very insidious, and that is egoism.

People have personally elevated their own statuses to reveal that the most important person in the world is themselves. In these cases, there is no room for anyone else. Not a spouse, not kids, not immediate family members, not friends but mostly, not anyone who doesn’t explicitly agree with their political views and agendas. Let’s stop right there. You catch my drift, of that I am sure. To beleaguer the point is only going to irritate you as much as it already irritates me.

Think of one person near you. It could be a neighbor, a co-worker, an old friend, a brother. What is one thing that would bring a smile to their face, one thing that you could do to brighten their day, one thing you could do to literally leave them better off than when you found them? This is not a difficult task, in fact it is quite easy, but it is going to take some changes. For instance, turn off the talk radio, where egoism rules. Stop participating in water cooler chats that involve politics unless you think you can learn to do so in a civil manner.

In short, we all need to grow up. And while we’re doing that we need to grow together, not apart. And the only way to do that is to water, or nurture the person next to you. To do so will only make us stronger. To do so will teach us what it means to be considerate, or more appropriately, to sit up and take notice of the people around us.

No place like home



I love this little town. I love the way it changes slowly from season to season, as businesses come and go and people move in or out. We certainly don’t see a major influx of new people and shops but they do indeed change and when they do, this town seems to come alive a little more. Truly, for a town that boasts the population it does, it certainly does not live like it. Instead, you can walk into the grocery story and know a fair number of people within. I love that.

Looking back on all the places I have lived, I can honestly say that there has never been a place like this for me. This place is home unlike any other. As I think about what makes this place special I realize that it’s everything, not just one significant event or person or thing. Notably, the people here all seem to be my friend and that is certainly worth mentioning. Also, the scenery is simply one of a kind. I wake to some of the most amazing sunrises every single day, with five mountains that rise higher than 10 thousand feet to the west and a rocky park to the north that means more to me than nearly any place I have ever seen on earth. Add to this the fact that we get less than 8 inches of rain and more than 300 days of sunshine per year. In addition, the humidity is ridiculously low, we live at 3000 feet above sea level and there are smells here, like Juniper, unlike anything I have ever come across.

Simply, this town provides for me a few of the trappings of city life that I have grown accustomed to while giving me a simplicity that I could only find in a small(er) town. I will be honest and admit that I could probably not make it in a town of less than a thousand for long. The romanticism of it is appealing but there are certain amenities that I appreciate that would simply not be found in a town of that size. I’ve driven through hundreds of little towns like that too, and while they seem charming, or cute, or even intriguing, none of them has ever screamed out to me that I should live in one. Maybe it’s too homogenized, maybe there are too few choices on where to go out for dinner, maybe there’s not enough diversity, all of which I am unsure of. I could certainly speculate but given that I have never lived in a town of that size, I cannot speak to it with certainty.

Redmond is my home. I may not be from here but I like to fantasize that I was born here because I love to hear the stories from people who grew up here, went away for awhile and then returned to raise a family. There is a tangible value associated with living here and it seems that a lot of people come to that conclusion at some point, so they come back. Having moved here in my mid 30’s, the value for me is written on the face of my kids, who love this place and don’t want to live anywhere else. I certainly echo that sentiment.

God willing, I think I’ll stay here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Improving my attitude



I need to spend some time writing happy thoughts and expressing ideas that make me glad to be alive. Simply, I find it too easy to write about that which bothers me but never enough time talking about the things that are positive in my life. That needs to change.

It’s not that my life is devoid of good things or even funny things to write about, I can name many, for truly I am a blessed man. But my thoughts seem to fade away to that which irks me on a regular basis, so I just start writing. It has been that way for many years and I suppose it is simply my way to vent but it doesn’t have to be.

So much has changed over the last 10 years that writing about it seems like I’m cheating that time. Most appropriate would be some sort of video, but maybe a movie is the way to go, or I could write a book! Who knows, but one thing is for sure, God has changed me so many times over at this point, I can hardly believe I am still the same person. In a way, my old self has finally died and my new self is just starting to breathe. This is essential, really, because who I was, is not who I was meant to be. Even today, I feel that God is not finished with me yet and there will be more pruning that has to take place.

Looking back and realizing how awful I was for so many years, it pains me to think of how I wasted so much time that could have been spent living differently. Instead, I was painfully selfish, unabashedly arrogant and shamefully cruel and condescending to many, including my own family. My outlook was simply to live for myself and no one else. Thankfully, much of that began to change about 16 years ago and especially in the last 10, like I mentioned above. I believe that the dominating force behind this change is God’s Spirit within me, but even more specifically I believe that the brevity of this life has started to sink in. To say we take much for granted is quite possibly the understatement of all lifetimes.

More than living as if we could go on forever and even more than living as if we are the center of the universe, it seems fascinating to me to think that the majority of all humans will be forgotten in a matter of weeks following their death. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be memories and pictures and accomplishments and such, but after a couple of generations, even those fade and disappear or are eclipsed. The truth is that we live like we’ll go on forever but that just isn’t the case. I know, I know, get back to happy thoughts.

But seriously, this life is silly with all its pretense. Even the most anti religious people I know agree that we live this life all wrong. There has to be some point to it and yet we seem bent on missing that point for all eternity. I am convinced that if we took our eyes off of our own needs for just a few minutes each day and instead turned our eyes to the needs of those closest to us, this world would change dramatically overnight. We would stop living lives full of indulgence and greed and instead we would live specifically to please others. And maybe pleasing others isn’t exactly the verbiage I was looking for, maybe it’s more about serving others, or simply filling a basic need in someone’s life. I want to believe with all my heart that God created us to live this way for each other but somewhere along the way we got it wrong. Somewhere we decided that this life was meant to be lived for ourselves only and if there was any shred of time and love left at the end of the day, we might pass it along to one or two people.

And so, this is what I think about regularly. I want nothing more than to meet people where they are and help meet a basic need. Even if that need at that moment is simply to laugh or to smile. Maybe they need a hug or a high five, who knows, but it has to start with turning our eyes away from the mirror and out into the world. And here’s where it gets good; when we turn our attention to meeting the basic needs of those around us, our lives get better. Don’t believe me? Try it, just once, and let me know how it goes.

This world is literally dying around us, filled with people who want nothing more than to please themselves. At the end of the day, we have a society of sick men and women who are broken, hurting, depressed, chemically imbalanced and rotting from the inside out.

You have a few choices which can and certainly will include a) fending for yourself or b) paying someone else to care for those around you who have needs. Or c) you could jump in and do something yourself. The first choice leads you to isolation. The second leads you to believe you are above such thing, that’s why you pay someone else to do it. The last option will not only improve the lives of those around you but it will dramatically improve yours.

These are the thoughts that make me happy to be alive, knowing that I have a chance to make a difference. I don’t need to be remembered for anything, that would take too much foresight and planning. Instead, I can only hope that by working to make small contributions to those around me, I can help to improve attitudes and outlooks.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What's the point?



Over the weekend I heard what seemed to me to be a fundamental truth, or at least a sound statement of faith. The statement was actually in the form of a question and it asked; “if there is no life after death, just darkness, then what is the point of life?” A comparison was then made between a person that spends their life in the sex trafficking trade picking up little girls to be sold and used as slaves versus Mother Teresa who spent her life rescuing, loving and protecting those little girls. Both of those people would live their lives and then nothing. Both would simply be done with nothing to look forward to but darkness. Does this seem OK with you? Would you accept that as a truth, believing that there is literally nothing after this life, there is nothing to live this life for, there is no purpose to your life whatsoever?

I wrestled with that for quite a while that afternoon, especially in light of conversations I have had with outspoken atheists. I want to believe that I have always been open minded enough to accept what others believe, or don’t believe for that matter, and carry on deliberately fair and non-judgmental conversations with anyone. I have discussed religion, sports, politics, psychology, science and other topics with a broad range of opinionated individuals over the years and not once have I stopped and simply walked away, condemning a person for their ideals or opinions. This is not some hats off, kudos for me moment. This is simply a statement that over the years I have been fortunate and honored enough to have been engaged in some rather enlightening conversations with some neat people. And some of the neatest people I have spoken to have been atheists. The caveat I place on that, however, is that the atheists I enjoy talking to are the ones who share a passion for open minded conversation. I am not terribly enthralled by those persons who wish to do nothing more than tear people down for their beliefs. This serves no one but the person who wishes to do the tearing down. And in fact, in the end, it truly serves no one as even the person who tears down will eventually be humiliated by someone else.

This concept of discussion with others that respects and values opinions is valid in this case, and I painted this a certain way on purpose because of how I started this post. In this, I am trying to find answers to some interesting questions. While I can certainly open my Bible and glean certain truths from there, it is valid to discuss something as prescient as this with people who see things quite differently than me. Certain beliefs would suggest that we are reincarnated after death. Those who claim to be agnostic or atheist would suggest that our bodies are simply returned to the earth to begin the process of biodegradation. Upon our death, we simply cease to be, there is nothing else that takes place, no magic, no spiritual removal of a soul, no reincarnation; nothing. This takes us back to the beginning of this post and the tough questions that were posed. What is the point of life? Why in all the world would anyone in their right mind choose to do what is right, what is noble, what is lovely, what is best? Commonly, those paths are more difficult than those of less moral choices. It is not easy to do what is right, but then again, who determines what is right?

If the point of life is simply to do your best, then we should ALL strive to do our best. But many don’t. If the point is to be good, then everyone should desire to good, in all cases, at all times. But many don’t. Determining the point of life is an exhaustive exercise that I do not begin to fathom gracefully. My attempts to declare any point might sound trite depending on the ears that heard them. Even using my faith as a backdrop seems hollow at times because all I can do is say that I am compelled by what I feel. Is that enough? For many, it is not.

As I stop and look around at the beauty of this planet we live upon, I am humbled. I am thankful for what we have here and I don’t ever want to take it for granted, but we live lives that seriously jeopardize that pursuit. Seeing this amazing planet from space and admiring the pictures that are shared fills me with awe and wonder. And yet, there exists a suggestion that this life is pointless. Because, if when we die there is nothing but darkness, then this life is truly pointless. If you commit your entire life to the welfare of the poor and destitute children who live in slums, you die in vain; your life meant nothing.

Wait.

You could live your entire life for nothing? Rich, poor, ugly, beautiful, strong, weak, tall, short, fat, thin…it doesn’t matter?

In the end, nothing at all?

No hope for anything beyond this life?

If you think there’s no point, then why bother? Why do anything else? Just stop, there’s no point, right?

Isn’t that kind of sad?

And you’re OK with that?

Well, I’m not OK with that. There has to be more, there has to be a point to all of this, there has to be more of a reason for our existence than the idea that one day, one fish decided that walking would be better than swimming.

I believe in hope, because hope tells me there’s something far greater than you and I can even imagine, but we get so caught up in the here and now that we stagger about trying to grasp it.

I believe in faith, because faith is what says to me that it’s OK that I don’t understand it all. There are some things I cannot GET and having a faith in things unseen is convicting when I look around me at the greatness that is His creation, including all of us.

Lastly, I believe in love, because love explains everything, even when I am too ignorant to listen, look or think. Love simply is, and instead of accepting that truth, we fight constantly for what we want, instead of simply stepping back and realizing we could all be happy if we would learn to love each other.

For me, the point to this life is in understanding that there is so much more after this short layover. Our lives here in this moment are but a blink in the span of time and yet, your life has a point and a meaning and a purpose, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.

There would be no point.

Right?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A little grace



There is a song on the radio right now which has lyrics that I really appreciate. The line is the bridge and goes “My sin has been erased. I’ll never be the same”. They remind me of another powerful bridge in a great worship song called Here I Am To Worship, which says “I’ll never know, how much it costs. To see my sin, up on that cross”. To me, both lyrics are reminders of just what I have been given, by grace, from my savior. Something so powerful that I will never again be the same person, the same hopeless wreck of a man. But all of this got me thinking, specifically about whether or not I truly grasped what it meant to be saved by grace.

I began to work around in my head, a metaphor that would help explain what it all meant. I needed something very powerful but something that would be understandable, especially something relative, so I could imagine and truly fathom this awesome gift. As I pondered on this I realized that most likely, very few Christians truly understand what it means to be saved by grace. To be fair, I’m not sure there is anything else in life that could really come close to comparing so how would anyone know except from reading the Bible, searching their hearts and asking God to reveal this fundamental truth. No other event in life could ever compare to something so earth shattering as what Jesus did for you and I and yet, we throw around the term of being saved by grace but we don’t seem to live it out.

So, do this for me. As you read this, I want you to imagine that you are sitting in a chair. It is no ordinary chair however. You are sitting in the chair at the prison for those who are about to be executed. You are on death row and you have about 5 minutes before you are injected with the lethal dose that will kill you. You are strapped down completely including your ankles, your thighs, your waist, your chest, your wrists and across your forehead. You have also been blindfolded; you are immobile and blind. There is no escaping this, no stay of execution. You are guilty as charged and the penalty is death. As you sit there, waiting for the inevitable, you are fully aware that this is warranted. There really are no arguments to be had for you as you deserve this punishment. You wonder where you will go after the injection but you already know that answer and while it scares you, there is nothing you can do. Your eternity is sealed.

You begin to think about the injection. Will it be instant or will it take a few minutes? Will there be a little pain or a lot of? You sit there, strapped down, unable to move, anticipating the prick of the needle. Finally you hear the medical examiner declare that it is time and without so much as a warning, the needle is in your arm. You feel the pain of the shot and you tense up, hoping you can fight it, then your body releases as something takes over.

At first you are confused because this shouldn’t be pleasant, but within seconds you can’t help but realize that it feels as if you have been injected with liquid sunshine. For the first time in your life you feel joy like you have never experienced, you feel hope and you feel love. This euphoria is beyond anything you can explain, it is something that completely takes over every sense of your being. A smile forms on your face and you feel as if you could fly.

You open your eyes to a new day. You realize you should be dead but you’re not and instead you are very alive. You struggle to grasp what was in that syringe but there really are no good explanations. You have been given new life, a second chance. You know you don’t deserve it, you deserve instead to be punished, to be put to death for everything you have done, but instead, for some unknown reason, you were spared.

This is what Jesus did for you and me. He gave us a second chance. He was the unknown substance in the syringe. He took our place in that chair and in His death and resurrection he filled us with a hope that only comes from knowing what He has done for us. And He did all of this because of His great love for us. If you have ever struggled to grasp what it means to be saved by grace, know that Jesus did something for you that you truly cannot repay, you didn’t earn and you didn’t deserve. And yet, that single act of love should propel us forward with a similar love. That same love can be shared and Jesus asks us to do exactly that.

Sit back and close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to know you were seconds from death.

Now, open your eyes and see the people around you who are awaiting that same sentence because they have no idea what Jesus did for them. These people are on death row and they are living without hope. Let’s spread a little grace.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A little rain



I made a lot of mistakes today. This is an apparent declaration, but it could be any day really, it’s just that today seemed noteworthy enough to write about it. As I reflect on this past day I know the places that I lacked either sense or knowledge or both. Earlier today, I thoroughly enjoyed the sermon I heard. In fact it was convicting enough that I listened twice. Usually I skip the second time but today was different. I needed to hear it a second time, to let it seep in and maybe take root.

You see, I am one of the worship leaders at the church I attend and we have 2 services each Sunday. Because both services are identical, I am there for both. Typically, I sit and listen to the first sermon but escape outside of the building for the second. For some reason, today was a day that needed something extra, especially in light of my mistakes.

Mainly, I think I felt disappointed by the performance of the group, mostly my contribution. We are a newer group with some newer members who are doing their best, especially now that we have navigated away from using back up tracks to play and sing to. We have been live for a few months but new musicians have begun to take their places. With those advents, there have been some growing pains. Today was one for me. I want nothing more than to make a joyful noise but it is a day like this that leaves me wanting to simply relent and suggest that I’m not cut out for this. However, I love being up there. I love to sing and now I am having even more fun learning to play guitar and do the 2 together.

As I sat in our cafĂ© following our second set, I had an image pop in my head of trying to erect a thousand ladders in order to reach God so that I could talk to Him and explain my morning of mistakes. As I sat there with that image, I realized that no matter how many ladders I stacked up, I didn’t need a single one because God had come right down to my level and He didn’t seem to mind my mistakes, or at least not as much as I did. For a moment, I actually seemed OK. But like usual, I picked that baggage back up and decided to hold onto it for a little while longer.

After I got home, I had lunch with my son and we both changed so we could go for a mountain bike ride on a trail we both love. We arranged to meet a friend of mine at the trail head and we set off. When we got there it began to rain but seeing blue sky coming, we decided that the rain would only provide us with an opportunity to get a little muddy. We saddled up and took off on what should have been a 1 hour loop. About halfway into our 11 mile ride, sickening clouds began to form all around us and lightning touched off on 2 sides. We rode on hoping to escape most of it, but we anticipated a little rain. Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

As we turned onto a new section of trail and made our way uphill through a winding area, the rain began to fall. Within 30 seconds it was hailing, the wind was gusting to 60 mph and the rain was coming down so hard it created flash floods on the very trail we had been riding on. We sought refuge under a spindly Juniper tree and I shielded my son from the most intense quarter sized hail and wind gusts. But after standing there for about 5 minutes, we agreed that we had no other choice than to make a run for it. Oddly, I had not pulled my headphones out of my ears and music continued to play. The first song that came on as we began to make our way out of there, was Oceans From The Rain.

We headed back the way we came; riding in what had now become a surging creek instead of a trail. We managed to make it about a mile and a half when my friend’s tire blew out. I know that my face was probably covered in mud so it might have been tough to tell just how exasperated I was at that moment, but I remained calm and knew that what we would have to do at that point was to have my son and I ride back to the truck and then return for my buddy.

My son and I wrestled with washed out trails and roads to make it back to the truck. When we got back I realized I had locked my key inside but with a bit of quick thinking I was able to get in. Obviously that could have been disastrous, but I began to piece together that ladder image again in my head and realized that everything was going to be OK. I had been thoughtful in having both of us grab a sweatshirt just in case, plus I had a large towel, so when we got back we were able to dry off and put on something warm. Fifteen minutes later we had my buddy securely in the truck and we were out of there.

As we drove back towards town, we remarked on the massive pools of water that had formed in the wake of the storm. Several roads appeared to be washed out as well and we were happy to be headed home. After warm showers and clean clothes we were able to really break down the ride and how it had all happened so fast. In the end, my son was able to say that our ride had been epic. And as I took that in I realized that even though I ride myself so hard for mistakes, not everyone feels the same way, or sees things the same way.

This morning was certainly a challenge, but as I gained perspective on the day I was left holding onto something much bigger; God is so much greater than all these little trivial thinks I stack up. So what, there was a little rain in my life this morning and then there was a literal ton of it this afternoon. In lieu of that rain, God made something bigger for me; an observation that He is greater than all of it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It used to be



It used to be, that you could hop on your bicycle and ride all over town with your buddies. Somewhere, there was a corner store where you could get soda and candy. Also, possibly in the same location, there was an arcade where you could spend hours playing your favorite video games. In between there and where you lived were parks and schools and trails and all the places your friends lived. All told, if you were like me, you put thousands of miles on the tires of your bike during a 3-4 year period in your life. What’s funny to me is that those places were found because you explored them with your friends. Your parents didn’t drive you there first. They didn’t ride around with you to check out the trails and parks to make sure they were safe. They didn’t take you to that arcade and show you how to play Galaxian. Or at least I hope not.

We joke about the state of things in the world today on a regular basis, when compared to when we were young. Like the old joke about having to walk uphill both ways to school, in the snow, with no shoes on; we love to reminisce about those days. For those of us that have kids, we let them venture out so far but in this day and age we send them out with a phone so they can call if there’s trouble. Right now I’m making this face that wonders where all these phones were when we were kids. Oh, right, they didn’t exist….that’s it. I guess there were rudimentary bag phones back then but can you imagine slinging that over your handlebars? And don’t get me started about smart phones. If we would have wanted a computer with us it would have required hooking up a trailer. And then, if we wanted power to said computer, we would have had to hook up a second trailer for a generator! Hopefully you appreciate the visual I created.

It seems to me that things were much simpler then. I am sure my parents could echo the same sentiment, of looking back to a time when there were less pressures and stresses and no schedules to keep. Of course, this would suggest they could remember back that far. We can all do it to some degree and make comparisons of then versus now. Of course, my kids think the weight of the world is on their collective shoulders because they have to pack their own lunches each day for school. I think we call those, ‘first world problems’, and truly, I think my kids often lose sight of just how good they have it. Oh crap, I probably sounded like my dad just then.

What I remember the most though, is how much fun we had. There was always a group of us and we did so many things together. We climbed fir trees that were as tall as skyscrapers, we swung on rope swings that probably should have hurt us badly, we raced down steep hills with no helmets, we played tackle football in the snow, we biked and skated on homemade half pipes, we rode five to six miles away from home at age 12 just to go fishing, we drove golf balls across a baseball field just to see if we could clear the busy street on the other side and we played Jump 21 like there was a championship on the line. We did all of this and more and at the end of each day we went home, got some food, slept and did it all again the next day.

More than anything, I wish I could bottle those experiences and give them to my kids. Personally I have nothing against video games since I enjoy them myself, but as a kid, they didn’t exist, so they were not a draw for us that would have kept us inside as opposed to out. Truth be told, we might have all been gamers had Nintendo been around when we were 11 but honestly, I am thankful we didn’t have that distraction. This is not to suggest that my kids just sit at home and play games all day. Fortunately, I am still incredibly active so my kids are so by proxy. We have biked, hiked, run and camped together more times than I can count. My kids both love to play hard and be outside, but they are also drawn to the electronics of their generation. The allure is strong and at times I wonder if the benefit of convenience is outweighed by the toll it takes on a soul that doesn’t experience what the world has to offer beyond the glow of a screen. Balance continues to be the key to such things.

A couple of days ago, we let our son walk to the store with his buddy. The store is about a mile away and the two of them have shown themselves to be rather responsible so this seemed to be a good opportunity. My 10 year old did just that. He got a soda, walked home and it was as if this were a regular occurrence. And this did my heart good, for it reinforced the idea that kids do well to “fly away” for brief moments only to quickly return to the nest, and that by doing so they not only develop proper independent thinking skills but they discover the freedom that comes from being outside the immediate vocal reach of their parents.

Maybe this is all just a rite of passage and what I am seeing now is the beginning of my son finding some new freedoms. For him I am excited and I look forward to the next couple of years as he discovers little things that will set his generation apart from the next. I’m pretty sure Galaxian won’t be involved.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I like food



Think of that one thing you really like to do. You know, like running, or shopping, or driving your car really fast down the hill into Prineville. I like those things too but what really gets me is food. I like to eat. No really, I really like to eat. More than just the necessary eating too, you know the kind where you put food in your mouth for sustenance because it’s what you need to survive? This is more like Imelda Marcos and her obsession with shoes. If you need to Google that, I can wait. Go check that out and come back, I’ll be here, waiting.

Glad you made it back. During the downtime I got hungry so I fixed myself a snack. It happens all the time and I find myself snacking a lot. But what I really crave is trying all different types of food. I love eating at different restaurants; although I certainly haunt my favorites, just ask the fine people over at Smith Rock Brewing, or Madeline’s, or Baldy’s, etc. Food to me is more than just this thing I ingest. I like to think of it as a hobby, or maybe a sick obsession. I’m not sure which but I will keep you posted.

Did you read that part about how Imelda’s shoes have been destroyed over the years by storms and termites? Sheer craziness I tell you. At one point, the woman had more than 3,000 pairs of shoes and had to leave a huge portion of them behind in 1986 when she and her husband fled the Philippines. This is a warning for all of us. Whatever you do, don’t hoard shoes. Also, don’t hoard food; eat it and enjoy it, especially with others. While it’s true that I really like food, I really really like eating food with friends and family, especially good food. There’s something special about eating good food with good friends. It actually dispels the notion that you can’t please all the people all the time. In those moments, everyone is happy.

The truth is, food makes me happy, or at least most of the time it does. I’m still on the fence about Brussels Sprout, you can keep all the coconut, and mixing peaches with shredded cheddar cheese and Miracle Whip is wrong. Seriously, stop trying to convince me, it’s messed up. However, after that short list of inanity, if you offer me food I will probably eat it. If you hint at food and make the mistake of letting me know where it is, I will probably eat it. If I know it’s there, and you know it’s there but you don’t want me to get into it and then you go in the other room, I will probably eat it. If there is good food to be had, you will surely find me ready to help make it go away.

Basically, life is too short to eat bad food. You won’t catch me at a fast food restaurant, but instead you will find me at nearly every sit down place in town. I love getting to know the people who work at each place, getting to know their menu and what they do differently from everyone else. Every restaurant does at least one thing to set itself apart from the others. All it takes is a visit to discover the value of a given eatery and I could impart about nearly every joint in town but I’d like to think you would rather do that on your own. Besides, I can’t chew your food for you, and, well, ew.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Going deeper



I’m sitting here contemplating what to write and as I do I am bombarded with text messages from a guy talking about men’s group and worship team practice and so on. This is funny to me because as I recognize the pattern of communication it adds only to the notion that we are not as connected of a society as we would like to believe. The guy that is texting me is a really great and I know his name and the names of his wife and kids, plus I know a few minor details about him, like what he does for work and where he lives. But after that, he is like so many others in my life; he is distant.

Recently, I have divulged my desire for deeper relationships, stronger friendships and stronger bonds with a few guys around me. I have shared the struggles involved in finding anything like that to fill a void in my life. My belief is that we are made craving a deep, devotional kind of yearning for relationship that can only be found by crying out to God on a regular basis. However, beyond our relationship with our heavenly father, there is still a need for relationship here on earth. We are called to be in relationship with each other as we seek to disciple those who are new to the faith and love everyone we come in contact with. But the New Testament provides us with a few key examples of a deeper kind of relationship that we seem to forget about.

The first, and most obvious, is the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. For 3 years, Jesus poured into 12 ordinary men. The bonds that were formed took place over time and were not instantaneous. But the bonds became so strong that most of these men would go on to write in detailed depth about their experiences, conversions and personal impact of having spent that time with their Lord and Savior. Jesus was devoted to his disciples and they were devoted to him. Yes, Jesus was the teacher, and yes, his disciples were his students, but these were not your average student/teacher relationships. The relationships that were formed were in essence those of a brotherly nature. Jesus, acting as the older brother, instructed the 12 on how things should be. Those must have been interesting times, to be sure.

Having someone in your life to act as an older or younger brother is ideal, and can certainly include a blood relation as opposed to someone in your church or small group. This same example can be seen later in the Bible as well with Paul and Timothy, who exemplified not only a brotherly love but also that of a father and son dynamic. Paul and Silas were another good match-up, providing us a glimpse of a strong bond between two men who were similar in age. These examples are perfect in understanding the dynamics and growth patterns of relationships as they relate to our own lives, but how do we get there?

The key is time. I cannot have coffee with someone once or twice and suddenly expect to know everything about them and think we are going to carry on deep and meaningful conversations. It’s not to say it hasn’t happened, but the chances are slim. The 3 examples listed above all illustrate a simple truth when it comes to building lasting relationships, and that is that these things take time. And not just a few hours here and there, but nearly every day, nearly every hour, there is a consistency of conversation, interaction and intimacy that takes place. It has to be more than the occasional lunch meeting or the once a week get together to watch a sporting event. And if I hadn’t experienced this so recently, I wouldn’t be stating these things as anything more than suggestions. However, every time I have attempted to forge a bond, it either works because enough time was invested, or it fails because of the opposite. And these bonds can and will fall away as well, based on the investment of time. If time is taken away from the relationship, it withers and dies.

As I think about the time involved, I am also aware of the personal commitment that must take place. Part of that comes down to your comfort level as well, but consciously, a person must commit themselves to a relationship, regardless of the level of that relationship. Personally, I have found that my commitment is internalized but my actions speak for themselves, as I place myself in regular contact with another person. Early on in life, we make connections with people who we call friends. Those friendships are typically forged in a classroom or on a sports field and occasionally in a youth group. However, at some point we make a conscious decision to stay connected with someone through friendship, otherwise we simply walk away because we no longer accept the commitment.

As life goes on we either choose to make the time for those commitments or we don’t. It is not possible to have a close friend who you never talk to. Close friends communicate regularly and carry on conversations that go beyond things like the weather. I find that women are more successful in maintaining relationships than men and I also find that a lot of men yearn for friendships that go beyond the pale, but lack any understanding on how to go about finding one. Even in my case, I have reached out locally for the last couple of years but have yet to find any sort of deeper connection. What’s interesting to me is that even when I talk to a guy who says he wants to be able to connect and have broader conversations that go past the water cooler, he lacks the follow through and commitment it takes to maintain it.

I have talked to many a guy recently who all seem to agree that men are simply not wired for regular day to day connectivity with other guys. Apparently we lack the gene that women have, in order to talk to each other about more than our jobs. Personally I call hogwash on that idea and suggest that our society has created a stereotype and too many men fall victim to believing it’s true. We have added just enough activities in our lives to keep us so busy that we have little time for anything outside of that narrow list. We have been raised to believe that men are tough, and strong, and don’t show emotion, but the truth is that the toughest, strongest men are the ones who show emotion and then use that emotion to lead others. One of our greatest strengths we have is our hearts, provided we use them for good.

It’s true that any good and close relationship is going to require finding commonalities and being willing to respectively discuss the things that are not common. Part of any good relationship is being able to share viewpoints from differing angles, this is just a small thing and yet it is a beautiful one. But having deep conversations with someone doesn’t usually happen right away so typically, guys aren’t willing to invest the time necessary to make that connection. Instead, we keep things at arms reach, never really getting to know the other guys around us very well. We keep quiet in groups unless there is farting and burping, and then we’re in. Otherwise, conversation is kept to easy topics, like sports and cars. Depending on the area you live in, you might openly talk about food or beer, and while those topics can lead to getting to know someone, usually simple facts are exchanged, not issues that plague us when we’re alone.

Guys need a way to connect at a simple level but one that allows for consistent and honest dialogue. A way to talk openly about things like our fathers, our kids, our spouses, our jobs, our faith or lack thereof, etc. There are so many things that guys would share if they felt there was a good place to do so, but instead our society chooses to dehumanize and emasculate men to a point where all that is expected is an adult who does his chores and stays out of trouble. So men keep everything bottled up and then our society has the audacity to ask why men lose it and do so many of the stupid things they do. Women have the audacity to ask why men never act their age and seem so immature.

Guys need to connect with other guys, it’s a simple precept when put into action, but guys are afraid to do so for fear of being shunned by their counterparts and being looked at oddly by their spouses. Men should not be made to feel less than, for taking the time to get to know other men around them and then having another strong male counterpart to bounce things off of. There is no question that steel sharpens steel and when two guys have a chance to help hold each other accountable, they both become sharper. When guys support and encourage other guys, they become stronger leaders and contributors in their homes and everywhere else. And this only happens when we get to know each other on more than just the surface. It’s going to take going deeper.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Set apart



What specifically do we do as Christians, tangibly, that sets us apart from the average person who doesn't follow Jesus but say they strive to live a good life? Think for a moment on one person you know (hopefully you know at least one) that claims to be a good person but has no faith in any God whatsoever. Now consider that you two are observed together for an entire day. Make it a normal day where typical activity occurs, like work, running errands, driving in traffic, interacting with a spate of others, etc.

Now, imagine this observation has been videotaped and is now being watched by a third party that has never met either of you. Would there be a noticeable difference between the two of you? Would an impartial, unbiased observer be able to discern that you are a Christian? Would the observer question the status of your friend?

These are significant questions for you and me if we are indeed followers of Jesus. In John 13:34-35, Jesus told his disciples “Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other”.

Without any understanding of scripture, it might be easy to suggest that your friend loves you and you love your friend so therefore you are both actually doing exactly what Jesus preached to his disciples. The truth, however, is that Jesus loved his disciples (and us) in a radically different way. Jesus came to pay a debt that we could never pay. His sacrifice was (and is) the greatest example of love that has ever been shown to mankind (you and I). That kind of love is not something we are used to demonstrating to others.

Our love for each other must be noticeably different. So much so that anyone watching will be inclined to want to know more. In fact, our love for each other should transcend even the love Jesus showed us! John 14:12-14 is clear. Jesus tells his disciples that they will do even greater things than he did! You and I are included in that epiphany, that we will do greater things than even Jesus did, can you believe that?! We are called to do great things but I think we lose sight of our calling because this world convinces us otherwise. Without clear direction and focus, we not only fall short, we lack discipline, foresight and a clear understanding of our commission from Jesus.

To be set apart is to be placed outside of the natural boundaries of the world around you, specifically for a purpose. We as Christ followers have been set apart from the world to do the work of the Father, to do the work of Jesus, to be his hands and feet and to seek and save the lost, as Jesus came to do (Luke 19:10). Our command has always been straight forward but we seem to lose sight quite often. This is evidenced by how we treat each other, let alone how we treat those outside of the church. If the world is to experience the love of Jesus, it is going to come from His followers. But what does that look like?

The radical thing about how Jesus demonstrated his love for us is that Jesus saw past the messy, dirty, messed up lives of those he came in contact with and offered them love. And not just any love, but eternal life kind of love. Grasping the breadth of that kind of love takes some concentration, but I believe that we are called to do just that. Again, we have been set apart by Jesus, to do the work of the Father, living in His will, to do something Big, Bold and Beautiful; we have been called to Love one another.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say to simply love those who look like you (see Matthew 5:43-48). Nowhere in the Bible does it say to love only those who are in your circle of friends (see Luke 10:30-37). Nowhere in the Bible does it say you should have an attitude of selfishness (see Philippians 2:1-5). In fact, the Bible is chocked full of illustration after illustration of God’s love for us, imploring us on to love as he has loved us (see John 3:16). We should literally get carried away with loving one another, caring for each other and reaching out to meet the needs of everyone around us.

This all comes down to the intent of your heart. You must examine your heart and your mind, as Paul instructed, to be singularly focused on Jesus. With a focus like that, you will not be able to help how you treat others, how you reach out and love them, regardless of what they look like or who they represent in your life. Your intentions change when you become a Christ follower, from being a servant of the world to being a servant to others for Christ and his kingdom.

Being set apart is unfortunately one of those “churchy” euphemisms that we throw around expecting everyone knows what we’re all talking about. It’s true that God has set his people apart, to be holy and to do the work that Jesus has commissioned us to do, but saying all of that is very “churchy” isn’t it? Do you share with you un-churched friends about how you’re “set apart”? Probably not. So instead, let me ask you this; what are you set apart to do? The will of the Father, yes indeed. But what is the will of the Father?

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus was crystal clear what is most important. Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind. And what did he say next? Jesus said that it is equally as important to love your neighbor as yourself. This has to be one of the most pivotal verses in the entire Bible because it does not mince words, it is succinct, it is to the point, it is essential and it is from the mouth of Jesus. We have been set apart to love one another and we are called to do so in nearly the same way we love our Lord!

In another place, Jesus defined who our neighbor is, specifically noting that we are all neighbors, even those we do not know, and especially those who we might not consider talking to ever. Our calling to love one another is not only our commission, but it is what will actually constitute the very body of Christ, otherwise known as the church. The church was not formed by disillusioned people, but rather men and women who were willing to sacrifice everything for each other. That is radical thinking compared to the kinds of churches we see here in America and even abroad. The Acts church model is one of love, and in that act of love we see blessing upon blessing that is bestowed to God’s people.

We have to get to a place where we no longer see political affiliations but instead see a brother in Christ. We need to look past differences and instead find commonalities and build bridges. We need to get out of the comfortable spaces we reside in and step out and build relationships with those both inside and outside of the church. All of this will take time and will especially take bold commitments on the part of followers of The Way. But, Jesus said we can do it. In fact, he was so bold as to say we would not only do it but we would do even greater things, in his name!

You and I have a purpose. Our purpose is to love Jesus and love each other. Stop putting caveats on your love and open your eyes to a world that desperately wants and needs to be loved. When that happens, the world will not only see what love is, but more importantly, they will see the difference.