What I’m Into: February 2014

Reading:

image-2Selling Water By The River by Shane Hipps: I’ve always had a fondness for Shane Hipps. His journey into and out of pastoral work [Advertising Exec to Mennonite Pastor to MegaChurch Pastor to Leadership Exec] grants him both freedom of voice and broadness of perspective. Both are on display in this book. Hipps writes about ideas often entertained privately but rarely discussed publicly by those firmly entrenched in most mainline evangelical Christian circles. But what he posits here about the many ways in which religion can get in the way of the true center of the good news Jesus came to bring is timely and well worth exploring.

Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating: This book is one of those rare reads that continues doing its work in me long after I’ve finished reading the last page. Fr.Thomas Keating’s work focuses on centering prayer. He offers a beautifully simple yet robust template for hearing God in the silence. The wonderful interplay between the practical and the profound in this book invites the reader to try without fear while never compromising the richness and depth of what it is we’re being invited into – namely, a deeper communion with God himself.

Watching | Listening | Drinking:

imageWatching | All Is LostRobert Redford is stranded at sea. I just told you every basic detail of this 90 minute movie in six words. Nothing is told of Redford’s character and why he’s at sea. There are no convenient diary-entry-monologues in the moonlight or reflective voiceovers from the abyss. Instead, we are left to hover like quiet intruders riddled with guilt at our own safety while watching a man cling to life in a literal ocean of hopelessness. By the end I felt cold and unsafe and that, I think, is the genius of this quietly massive film – its relentless commitment to be what it is, forcing the audience to come along for the ride.

Listening | Kye Kye - Fantasize: This is electro-pop at its very finest. Kye Kye’s second full length album is never in a rush; it never seems to care about anything but the exact moment, measure, and melody you’re listening to. Producer Chad Howat of Paper Route fame [another favorite of mine], seems to have brought out the best in this quartet. Really catchy melodies keep the listener anchored in the midst of numerous forays into sonically eclectic territory. Her, Dreams (2am), and Celeste are my favorite tracks.

Drinking | Ballast Point Dorado Double IPAI’ve been a big fan of Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA for some time now so I was excited to try this DIPA when I saw it on tap a burger place down in Santa Cruz a few weeks ago. It did not disappoint. It has a nice grapefruit bite along with strong citrus flavor and a great floral scent – all of the elements I enjoy in a good IPA. It’s also 10% ABV, so it’s a party every time.

What are YOU into lately?  Comment with your suggestions! 

5 Lessons from 5 Years of Marriage

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I celebrated five years of marriage.  I’m still in the novice stages but here are five things I’ve learned in our five years together.

My marriage is not like your marriage. I don’t mean to be elitist. I’m not saying that my marriage is better, healthier, or more fun than yours. I simply mean that no two people in human history have ever been alike and so when we get two unique individuals together in oneness, the possibilities are endless. Everyone and their mothers wanted to give me marriage advice when I first got engaged. They meant well but it was almost always an oversimplified yet laborious list of do’s and dont’s. This often happens to marriage advice because intrinsically we understand that most of what we know to be true about marriage is actually quite unique to our own specific combinations of two-becoming-one. Your marriage [or future marriage] is one of a kind. Sure, there are big, universal truths that apply to all relationships. But I’ve learned to embrace and enjoy the process of discovering the specifics and particulars of this amazing thing that only Jenny and I share. With that being said, please take everything else I write here with a grain of salt. It’s just what I’m learning to be true in our marriage; it may not be true for you. Take what’s helpful, ignore what’s not.

Don’t assume that you speak the same language. In response to the axiom, “the mediums change but the message stays the same,” philosopher Marshall McLuhan was fond of saying, “the medium is the message.” I’ve discovered these past few years that how we say something and why we say it that way are far more important than what we’re actually saying. Early on, because we both speak English, I assumed that my wife and I were fluent in a common language. But as most married people know, this simply isn’t true. Our histories, experiences, and personalities all shape the endless why’s and how’s of the things we say to each other. I’m slowly learning to take on the posture of a beginner in my marriage, approaching conversations with the humility and curiosity of one learning a new language.

The little things are the big things. Just the other day, the dishes had piled up in the kitchen sink so I decided to do them. I’m not a fan of doing dishes but I knew Jenny would be home soon from a long day of teaching. I wasn’t super thoughtful or intentional about it. I just figured getting the dishes done would give us more time to relax and have some fun that evening. Even after five years together, I was astonished at her joy when she saw an empty sink and clean dishes. You have no idea how happy this makes me, she said. I laughed. But this is how it works, I think. The little things are the big things. I’m learning to get off my high horse of big words and big dreams a little more often to wash dishes, take out the trash, vacuum, etc. It makes all the difference in the world.

Laughter trumps [almost] everything. Jenny and I laugh a lot together. It’s a gift from God. I say this without a hint of sarcasm. I consider it one the greatest allies to our marriage. We laugh daily. Sometimes it’s an episode of Saturday Night Live. Sometimes it’s an impromptu dance, usually childish and playful, always hilarious. Sometimes it’s something unexpected and surprising. But we’ve made it a daily habit to laugh together. We don’t think about it much anymore and it almost feels effortless at this point but I’m realizing that it’s taken years of work to craft this beautiful dynamic into our regular routine. Laughter really is the best medicine, not just for the things that ail us but also for keeping our marriage vibrant, healthy, and fun. Laughter can diffuse tension, alleviate anxiety, and offer tremendous perspective. This isn’t to say that laughter should be forced. There are seasons and moments in life that require grieving and solemn quiet, amongst other things. But I’ve learned to take extreme advantage of any and every opportunity to laugh together. It builds equity in the bank of our marriage and has become our prime investment objective.

Love trumps [absolutely] everything. This obvious truth is simple but so easily forgotten. We’ve all heard countless times that love is a choice. And so I choose to love my wife every morning. She chooses to do the same for me. But much like learning to speak the same language, love requires a humility and curiosity. The truth is, love is just a four letter word we use in our attempt to describe something that is incomprehensibly mysterious. Love is near impossible to perfect and yet, paradoxically, it’s love’s unattainable nature that makes it the very lifeblood of a healthy marriage. Love provides us the consummate common good toward which Jenny and I can spend our lifetime working together to attain. It is both our present bedrock and our talisman just beyond reach. We know it like an old friend and a hazy figure in the distant fog. And this journey together with it and toward it keeps us alive and invigorated.

5 lessons

What I’m Into: November 2013

I’ve been asked a few times to blog a bit about what I’m reading.  For fun, I’ll add a few other categories.  Every 6-8 weeks, I’ll try to share what I’m reading, listening to, watching, and drinking.  And I’d love to hear what you all are reading, watching, listening to, and drinking too!

Reading:

imageDavid and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell: In his latest, as has become his M.O., Gladwell presents a compelling argument for his brand of outside-the-box thinking by skillfully weaving stories and statistics together.  One of Gladwell’s great gifts is his uncanny ability to humanize cold hard facts without coming off contrived or heavy handed.  His skills are on full display here as he posits that if we’d look deeper, we may find that underdogs are not really underdogs at all.  You’ll have to come to your own conclusions but agree or disagree with Gladwell, this is an enjoyable and worthwhile read.

Hearing God by Dallas Willard: I’ve had this book on my shelf for well over a year but picked it up for the first time just a few weeks ago.  I’ve written a bit already about how helpful it’s been in regards to helping me reimagine what it means to listen for God in my everyday life.  Willard argues that hearing God is intrinsically connected to a relational connection with God and that apart from a regular, devoted commitment to being with God in every moment and decision, we will not hear God well.  He writes with a humble yet steady hand, unwavering in his commitment to the central idea while leaving enough margin for genuine exploration of our own personal pursuit of God’s voice.

Watching | Listening | Drinking:

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Watching | A Band Called Death: A really interesting documentary about three brothers from Detroit who started a punk band called Death before punk music was really a thing in that part of the world.  But this doc isn’t about music so much as it is about family and struggle and the strange, peculiar journey some take to redemption.  It’s on Netflix and it’s one of the better docs I’ve seen in a while.

Listening | Volcano Choir – RepaveJustin Vernon, of Bon Iver fame, isn’t easy to understand but I enjoy listening to him anyways.  To me, this album sounds like a dance between pretense and whimsy.  And while it’s not as great as the Bon Iver album in my opinion, it’s more fun, if that makes any sense.  I’m going to see them at the Fillmore in January and I’ve been listening to this bad boy on repeat lately so that I can mumble every incomprehensible lyric right along with everybody else.

Drinking | Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPAI wish I knew more about beer than I do but I know what I like.  And I’m learning more with every pint.  I like the Tricerahops because it hits with the right amount of hoppyness for me.  Some citrus notes cut nicely too.  They’ve got it on tap at my local Yardhouse as well as a few smaller places around town.  I would categorize this as a great beer, without reservation.  Cheers!

What are YOU into lately?  Comment with your suggestions! 

The Myth of “I’ve Arrived”

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. - T.S. Eliot

We’d all like to arrive.  The acceptance letter from the Ivy League school.  The new job at the big-name company.  The long awaited promotion into upper management.  The corner office, the fancy car, the million dollar house to go along with the spectacular spouse and the excruciatingly adorable kids.  Publishing the book.  Signing the record deal.  Booking the gallery show.  These are all signs of arrival, right?  Right?

T.S. Eliot’s words above from Little Gidding remind us that’s there more to life than piling achievements upon achievements.  The spirit of exploration, fueled by awestruck wonder at the grandeur of the world and an insatiable curiosity about it all, is the only paved road that leads to a truly rich life.  After spending much of my 20′s working tirelessly to arrive at some mythical place I couldn’t identify, in recent years I’ve become increasingly aware that life is most beautiful when the end goal is not a static destination called arrival but rather the journey itself.

Students… your acceptance letter, your degree, your internship, your immaculate GPA, your Summa-Cum-Laude status… these are all wonderful things.  But please pay most attention to the friendships, the learning, the literature that inspires you, the problem sets that boggle your mind, and the life lessons along the way that teach you not just to do but to think.

Writers, musicians, artists… the book/record/gallery deal, the steady climb up the bestseller or billboard charts, the headlining tour, the sold out gallery show… these are all feats worth celebrating.  But never forget why you got into your art in the first place, the pure and simple joy you felt the first time you wrote a story, painted a picture, or composed a song.

Working professionals… the promotion, the raise, the long-awaited move into upper management… these are all worthwhile accomplishments.  But remember that your work will only truly matter in the end if and only if it leaves the world a better place than it found it, helps those who would otherwise be helpless, and gives back to the human story more than it takes from it. 

Parents… I’m not a parent so I don’t have much to say.  But I do know, as you do, that your children are a gift.  They are older today than they’ve ever been and they will never be as young ever again.  You have today and today only at this particular age, with these particular ups and downs.  So enjoy your children right now like you’ll never get it back, because you won’t.  

Let’s all quit trying so hard to arrive.  Let’s remind ourselves that where we are, what we have, and who we’re becoming are all gifts unique to this very moment, this specific chapter and page of our unfolding stories.  Let’s name the false hope of arrival for what it truly is – a myth.  Let’s move past it and land right back in the place we’ve always been and always will be – the here and now.  And let’s see it with fresh new eyes, full of wonder and grace, as though seeing it for the very first time.

i've arrived

What the Voice of God Looks Like

Take a moment and imagine the voice of God.  Try to imagine a few audible words.  They can be any words you like.  Go ahead.  Close your eyes for a few seconds and imagine.

OK, well done.  Chances are, the voice you just heard was Morgan Freeman’s.  That’s at least true for most of us because our imaginations are, at the very least, somewhat limited and, at the very most, completely bound, by our histories and past experiences.  And we’ve all heard Morgan Freeman’s voice countless times.  But God?  For me, it’s zero.  I have audibly, undeniably heard the voice of God exactly zero times in my life.  I would ask someone what it sounds like but I don’t know anyone else who has either.

Here we arrive at one of the great dilemmas of faith – we are to listen for and follow the promptings of God in our everyday lives and yet there is no voice; we most often hear nothing.  I actually caught an episode of the TV show The Voice a few weeks back.  The judges sit with their backs turned and listen to the contestants, having no idea what they look like.  Brilliant premise!

Look like a million bucks but sound like a nickel?  Sorry, you don’t make the cut.  Look like the bagger at my Safeway but sound like Adele?  You’re in!  We’ll make you a star!  Look like Adele but sound like Adele?  You’re definitely in!  We’ll make you the next Adele!

I’d take that with God.  God, I don’t need to see you, just let me hear your voice.  Just a little something?  Anything? 

Most of the time when I listen for the voice of God I hear only the sound of my own life, the stuff tossing and turning in my own heart and mind.  I’m left frustrated and angry, feeling as though I can’t get over the hurdle of my own thoughts to hear God’s still, small voice.  I beat myself up for being too self-centered and not spiritual enough.  But maybe I’m missing something.

No one has taken the abstractions of my Christian experience and made them tangible more than the writer and theologian Dallas Willard.  Last week I started his book Hearing God and have found it to be remarkably helpful in my pursuit of God’s voice.  Willard writes:

We must be open to the possibility of God’s addressing us in whatever way he chooses, or else we may walk right past a burning bush instead of saying, as Moses did, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up” (Exodus 3:3)… When I seek [God's voice], I look for it everywhere.  

Notice that Willard doesn’t say, “When I seek God’s voice, I listen for it everywhere” but rather that he looks for it.  Well done, Dallas.  Once again you’ve reconstructed my paradigm.  The voice of God comes to us in all sorts of ways.  He speaks in sights and sounds.  In our joy and in our grieving, he speaks.  In our successes and failures, he speaks.  In what we see, smell, taste, touch, and hear, he speaks.  Creation is humming with his spoken word.  In the beginning he spoke and there was light, water, and land.  He spoke and there was physicality and humanity.  He spoke and there was life and goodness.

God’s voice is unlike the human voice.  It is not a limited expression of ideas and concepts.  His voice, his words, actually breathe ideas and concepts into reality.  When God speaks, life happens.  And wherever there is life, God has spoken.  Where there is justice and kindness and compassion, God has spoken.  Where there is beauty and goodness and love, God has spoken.

As Willard encourages us, may we be open to the possibility of God speaking to us in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of places, through all sorts of people, through all sorts of circumstances.  May we not only listen but also look for it everywhere.  And just as Moses did, may we stay attuned to the wonder of burning bushes all around, stopping to look and to listen, to recognize holiness when it is near, to take off our shoes in reverence, and to hear the voice of God in the everyday places we occupy here and now.

Earth’s crammed with Heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes. - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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A Wednesday Confession

It’s Wednesday and I have something to confess.

So here it is.

I feel excruciatingly insecure and impossibly inadequate today.  When I sit and think about it for too long I get short of breath and a little light headed.  I’m terribly uncomfortable putting this out there.  As I type, both palms [and other unmentionable parts] are starting to sweat.  I’m squirming.  But I believe in the power of honesty and admission.  And I believe in you.  I believe that you understand what I’m going through because you’ve probably been through it too.

So here it is.

I’m 34.  That’s not very old but I find myself saying, “I’m old” on a daily basis.  Justin Bieber fans agree with me and Glen Campbell fans want to smack me across the face.  But it’s all relative so no matter what age I am, someone will think me old and someone will think me young.  I guess it’s not really so much about the number.  I think it’s more about the speed.  Things just seem to go by faster these days – days, weeks, years – everything seems to surprise me.  

Is it really almost 2014?  Is it really almost fall?  Is it really almost 3pm?

The speed makes me feel like I’m behind.  Today, I feel more behind than usual.  Oddly enough, it’s actually been a productive day.  Much work has been done and progress has been made.  But here I am, 2:45pm on a Wednesday, writing on my blog because it’s the only thing I can think to do to alleviate this tension and possibly make sense of this inexplicable anxiety. Writing is usually like a tug-of-war match for me but, on occasion, it’s therapeutic and even healing.

So here it is.

I feel like I haven’t done enough.  I compare constantly and everyone seems to be way ahead of me.  Everyone looks like Usain Bolt on this track of life, smiling while flying by, lapping me, with their 401k’s, charming kids, and obnoxiously impressive accomplishments.  On days like this, I’m tempted to make the mistake of playing catch-up.  But I remember the words of a friend who once reprimanded me, “Stop rushing this moment to get to the next.  A life lived that way will end up being nothing but a blurry mess, like one of those shitty selfies kids take in their parents’ bathroom.” She continued, “Slow down and know that where you are is where you should be.  What you have is what you should have.  Who you are is who you should be at this moment.   God is good, he is here, and you’re OK.  Miss that and you’ll miss everything.”

So here it is.

I just took a deep breath, read over this blog post, and am starting to feel better.  My palms aren’t sweaty.  I know I’m still a mess and there’s much work to be done in me.  But God’s not done.  And like any great artist, he likes to take his time.  He’s got an endless amount of it.  So in this moment, I’m going to choose to trust him with everything – my anxieties, insecurities, inadequacies – all of it.  God is good.  He is here.  And I’m OK.  Thanks for reading and letting me heal a little.  Happy Wednesday.

Anger Kills

Sometimes I get angry.  Not today.  Today’s been a good day.  Some days, though, aren’t so good.  But I think that writing down a few thoughts about dealing with anger on a day when I’m not angry is a better idea than trying to write about it on one of those weird days when I’m flying off the handle like the yellow Incredible Hulk.  That’d be like writing a piece on sobriety while downing my third glass of Scotch.  So here it is.  Here’s what I think about anger…

Anger is a human poison.  It’s in our veins, our blood, our DNA.  We can’t control it.  But when it rises to the surface, when it’s tangible, when we feel it on our skin, we need to release it.  Sweat it out.  Literally.  Sweat it out.  Go for a run.  Shoot hoops.  Have sex [with your spouse].  Let it go.  If we let anger linger, it’ll kill us.  Sometimes it’s a quick death; usually it’s a slow one.  But once its done its work, an important part of us will have died and our hearts will have inched a step closer to that dead man’s land where towers of apathy cast dark shadows over the narrow streets of cynicism.  And having frequented that dark place, we all know how terrible it is to go there.  So let’s not.  Let’s remember that anger is the express train to that place.  Once it has a passenger, it makes no stops and heads straight to where our hearts go to die a little bit.  Let’s remember the words of James 1:19-20:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

So, how?  How do we keep anger from getting the best of us?  I don’t actually know.  But I’ll share a few small things that I’ve found helpful:

Have a generous view toward the source of your anger.  I got this advice from my friend Ryan and it’s completely changed the way I interact with people.  It’s filled me with more grace and patience.  I’ve got a long ways to go but the reminder to have a generous view for why someone just did what they did to anger me has provided me much needed perspective in countless situations.  Sometimes this practice can even go as far as to replace anger with empathy.  It’s powerful.

Seek the best, not the quickest, conclusion.  When I’m angry, my primary concern is almost always alleviating my anger by pursuing what I consider to be a just end to the situation.  Inevitably, this involves me “winning” in some form or fashion, standing over the fallen heap of my waylaid adversary.  But that’s just juvenile.  The tried and true process of stepping away, gathering my thoughts, clearing my head, and swallowing my pride enough to pray has always proven to be effective in eventually finding the best, rather than the quickest or even most gratifying, conclusion.

Learn to laugh at yourself.  It’s amazing what a little laughter can do.  Stepping outside of myself for a bit, even when I’m angry, to see just how ridiculous I am has been a helpful tool for killing anger before it kills me.  Laughter really is the best medicine.  It heals me and restores the things that anger tries so hard to rob from me – joy, peace, gratitude, love.  I’ve found that laughing more leaves less room in my life for anger to linger.

anger killsWhat are some practices or perspectives you’ve found helpful in dealing with anger?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!