Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Childhood Fantasy

Recently, I volunteered to help out my favorite radio station (yes, I'm going to plug it now!),  89.7 Power FM.  It transmits here in the DFW area, and a little bit north into Oklahoma.  They also transmit through an iPhone App and their website, kvrk.com.

My favorite thing about the station is their music.  They play stuff that just doesn't make radio very often.  The genre is Christian Rock, and they play anything from Third Day to Demon Hunter, which includes a great mix of Relient K, Audio Adrenaline, Run Kid Run, and several other artists that fall into my top 20 list.

But a close second (and often fighting for first) is their conviction.  They are first and foremost a ministry.  The station reaches a lot of teens who shy away from Christian music because of quality, or just because they don't enjoy the sound of the Contemporary Christian genre.  The station has even kept their set up as a listener-supported station, running solely off of the donations of their listeners and including plenty of Christian material in their productions.

OK, plug done.  The real point of my story is what happened the night I volunteered.  I came in to help process calls for their donation drive, but with the load lighter than expected, the volunteers had a lot of time to hang out, help the DJ fill out the night's playlist, and keep the staff entertained.  During the evenings, the DJ's like to come up with challenges for the listeners, and they often involve a reward for reaching a donation milestone, so we helped the DJ brainstorm.

Tonight's reward?  Well, it was more of a punishment, and we suggested people call in with donations to prevent it.  If we didn't get enough calls, we, the DJ and volunteers, would sing to them.

We told listeners how unfortunate it would be to lose the quality music on this station, and if they lost it, they might have to listen to something more like us.  Singing A Capella renditions of their favorite rock songs.  At least it's better than dead air!  OK, even that's a stretch.

Funny enough, we immediately got a few more calls, but none of them begged us to abstain.  So we kept up the premise, sifted through a list of classic Christian Rock songs, and we settled on one to sing at the end of the 9:00 hour before we all went home.  We were to sing Jesus Freak.

The time came, and we put on the DC Talk track in the background.  From the first chord through the refrain, we belted it out for the world to hear.  It wasn't pretty, and there were times only one of us knew the lyrics, but we did it.  I even had a moment during TobyMac's 2nd verse, when nobody else knew the words by heart, so I sang solo into the live microphone.  For literally 15 seconds, I had my 15 seconds of fame.

I didn't put the two thoughts together until the end of the night, when we were all going our own ways, but the situation felt familiar.  There was a sense of deja vu about it.  It hadn't happened before, but I realized that I had imagined it before.  Like many songs I enjoyed singing along with in my childhood, at some point I imagined rocking out in front of a microphone.  It didn't matter if it was in a recording studio, a live stage, or a DJ's booth, the fantasy had me belting out my favorite songs to an audience.

Since I wanted this so badly when I was young, I had to challenge myself with the big question: Was it everything you dreamed?  Considering the fantasy also included a sold-out show or a million-man fan base, nighttime radio probably fell a bit short.  And I think we sang a closer resemblance to track 9 on the CD (Jesus Freak - Reprise) than to the popular single (look it up if you don't remember... it's worth the laugh!).  But at least I remembered the words, my voice didn't crack on the high notes, and it was fun!  Since I apparently didn't dream of curing cancer or traveling to Mars when I was a kid, my dream was nicely obtainable.

But I want to push it a step further: Would my 13-year-old self be proud?  That's tough.  Why did I want musical success at that age?  Was it the fun, or was it the fame?

Unfortunately, I think it was more about the fame.  I saw the way the world reacted to great singles like Jesus Freak, and I noticed the way I felt listening to the music.  I wanted to have that effect on people, and I think I wanted them to recognize me for it.

I think I've always been caught between the idea of making a big impact and being recognized for the impact I make.  I know the impact is good, but too often I drift toward recognition.  I hear myself narrating an interview in my head or wonder how my actions would look in newsprint.  I daydream that through an accidental run-in with a member of the press, I'm suddenly the center of a great news story.  Maybe I even end up on Good Morning America and the Today Show before it's all over!

In the 14 years since I was 13, I've continued to struggle with the allure of fame.  Whether it's the thought of publishing an essay in a scholarly journal or giving a presentation to a large crowd, the idea of fame still tries to drive me from my path.  And in those 13 years, I've learned that aspiring for fame before function is like aiming for Mars when you need to reach the Moon.  You might make progress, but you'll never hit your target.

I'm learning this lesson slowly.  Now, instead of hoping for a run-in with the press, I worry about it.  Instead of seeking recognition, I avoid it.  I don't do this because fame is bad, but because I know I have a problem with fame the way alcoholics have a problem with alcohol.  I'm afraid that once I get a taste of it, I'll just keep searching for more.

As I'm writing this, I haven't heard from anyone who recognized my voice on the radio.  At first I wanted to, knowing there would be more curious looks than compliments, so that I could recount and relive my 15 seconds of fame.  I wanted to know just how crazy we were and just how bad it sounded.  I wanted to know if they were impressed by my rendition of TobyMac or if it left something to be desired.

But I think it's better if I don't.  My 13-year-old self may kick me in the shins for letting this moment go, but at the wise old age of 27, I think I'm happy just to keep the memories.

Always moving forward,


Monday, April 22, 2013

A New Command I Give You

A week ago today, a tragedy occurred at the hands of two individuals.  At least 3 lives were ended by their choices, and hundreds were injured.  For 2 days, US intelligence investigated the crime while the country honored the dead and injured.  For 2 days, law enforcement hunted the suspects while the country did their best to help.  And for the 3 days since the capture of the final suspect, the country has become inundated with a resurgence of verbal violence.

I can understand the reaction.  We, as a country, were attacked and hurt.  Families have been forever changed as a result of the attack.  People want retribution.  They want the criminals to get what they deserve.  They want justice.

Normally, justice would be served in a courtroom.  Opposing groups of lawyers would present evidence and lack thereof.  A judge would preside to ensure the laws were upheld, that neither side was treated unfairly.  A jury of 12 average Americans would hear the evidence, and they would finally be asked to decide the accused person's fate.  They would assign the proper punishment based on the evidence, whether that be fines, community service, jail time, or death.

What surprised me first after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured was the energy of the crowds in Boston.  While the suspect in the procession of emergency vehicles back to the police station, the city emerged after days of lockdown to give each one a hero's welcome.  But the energy of the crowd was something more than excitement.  It seemed vindictive.

The city wasn't just proud of law enforcement for "catching the bad guy," they were ready to assign punishment.  Parts of the crowd looked like they came out to catch a glimpse of the bad guy so they could do their worst to him.

The next morning, I read that Dzhokhar hadn't been Mirandized.  This was done initially, but the formal decision would take time.  The news media said the decision may hold.  The suspect may not be allowed an attorney, and he may not be allowed due process at all.  I read that the 19 year old boy who moved to the US at the age of 8 might be tried as a foreign terrorist.

From this point forward, what surprised me most were the jeers.  Social media was full of angry, violent, and vengeful statements about what Dzhokhar deserved.  He should be tossed in a pit and left to die.  He should rot in prison.  He deserves the death penalty.

Finally, I realized why this all sounded so wrong.  I knew Dzhokhar had a major part in causing the tragedy in Boston.  I knew he would be punished in a method and severity to be determined by a court.  Somehow, I knew that was enough.  Somehow, I knew the jeers of society weren't necessary.

I thought back to last April, when I sat on the jury for a murder trial.

The crime took place between old friends, practically brothers.  The victim had started to poke fun at the defendant after the defendant's girlfriend had done the same.  The defendant had a medical condition, and the joking came at the expense of his condition.  He tried to get his friends to stop, but they wouldn't.  He walked away, but the jokes continued.  He told his friend to leave, but again poking fun at his condition, the victim asked "What are you gonna do?  Make me?"  The defendant picked up a kitchen knife in threat, and his friend was killed when he lunged to take the knife from the defendant.

For 4 days, I sat with 11 other jurors unable to talk about the case.  We heard statements about the incident, statements from both mothers, and the police involved.  We had to look at autopsy pictures and hear a statement from the pathologist who detailed his wounds.  We knew full well the impact of this man's actions.

But when it came to the fifth day, we agreed on something else: this man had lived for 6 years knowing that his oldest friend was killed by a knife that he held in his hand.

We couldn't call it murder, because we don't think he ever intended to cause harm, but maybe he did.  So, wWe assigned a verdict of manslaughter, and shortly after gave the man the minimum 5 year prison sentence.

We hesitated to make this decision, because we didn't want the victim's mother to feel justice wasn't served.  We hesitated, because society would clearly say that he deserved worse for ending a human life.  What got us past our hesitation was the thought of mercy.

Suddenly, in the midst of our discussion, we knew that we held a huge gift in our hands.  While we had the power to assign life in prison, we also held the power to show mercy.  We could look this man in the eye, all understanding what had come to pass, and we could give him a second chance.  We could give him less than he deserved.

Today, I see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sitting in the defendant's seat.  I see a boy of 19 who did something awful.  I see someone who couldn't have been in his right mind, whether brainwashed or mentally ill.  I see someone with so many years ahead of him that he could learn to love.  I see someone who needs a second chance.

We could join in with the rest of the country to shout "crucify!" to the  courts.  We could join in with jeers of our own, urging for the most severe punishment the law allows and more.  We could strive toward an eye-for-an-eye punishment.

Or we could choose to love our enemies.

"A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples." (John 13:34-35, NIV)
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well." (Matthew 5:38-40, NIV)
 "You’re familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst." (Matthew 5:43, MSG)

 Always moving forward,


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rape Culture

A friend encouraged me to address this issue.  I would be remiss if I didn't give her credit.  Do me a favor, and stop by her website when you have a chance.

There's been a term thrown around that surprised me when I heard it.  Lately, the term has become more and more common.  The term: Rape Culture.

People have said that we, the US primarily, live in a Rape Culture.  My first reaction was shock and doubt.  I've never felt like rape was ok, neither taught to me by teachers, parents, or superiors, nor implied by my peers.  It. Is. Just. Wrong.

I've had to consider why anyone would think we live in a Rape Culture.  Their experiences must have given them reason.  Something must have happened.

Once, a friend opened up to me briefly about her rape.  I had always heard that rape is difficult to address because the secrecy associated with it.  Not just by the aggressor, but by the victim also.  To learn of my friend's experience was shocking, to say the least.  It was also troubling.

It made me wonder how many more women I know had been victimized like this.  How many more men in my town have made the same despicable choice as the one who violated my friend.

In the past few months, we've seen signs of a Rape Culture in the US.  Three times we've heard stories of teens who raped a girl while she was inebriated.  Three times we've heard stories of cell phone pictures of the act itself spread virally throughout the school before the authorities stepped in.  More than once, the victim has reached the point of suicide after the blow to her reputation, and through the unfortunate shame common to most rape victims.

I've started to see the Rape Culture in the world around me.  The statistics are staggering.  The effect on the victims are mortifying.  Yet somehow I hear jokes like "Rape is just surprise sex" from people trying to make light of the reality of rape.  To echo a cliche from my previous post, "the Devil's biggest trick was convincing the world he doesn't exist."  In the same spirit, rape can't be addressed until we acknowledge the problem.

Knowing the reality of our Rape Culture, I ask you a question in the same way it was posed to me: What, exactly, needs to be done?

We certainly can't sit quietly while this vile Rape Culture continues.  But what can we do?  Do we consider these isolated events as the products of twisted minds, or are they symptoms of a twisted culture?  Do we work to more severely punish rape, or do we look for the underlying societal conditions that have allowed it?  Do we teach women to defend themselves, or do we raise men to be more respectful of the women around them?

After quite a bit of thought, my answer is Yes.

Yes, rape occurs when someone's ethics, priorities, and rationality become twisted, and it continues to happen because our culture allows it.  Yes, rape deserves severe punishment and swift justice, and Yes, we need to change the societal conditions that somehow foster a Rape Culture.  Yes, women should be able to defend themselves, and Yes, we should raise men to be respectful enough of women to abolish all need for their defense.

I honestly can't choose one solution to this problem.  To narrow down our attack to only one position would be to guarantee a losing battle.  As a society, we need to proclaim that rape is not acceptable.  We need to demand punishment for rapists and resources to heal their victims.  We need to shout a vehement NO to Rape Culture and never stand down.

My first draft included a call to respect women with a long list of reasons why they deserve it.  But now, I think a logical defense of women's respect is empty.  To boil their quality down to a list is an injustice.  Do you know why women deserve respect?  Because they do.  Period.  If you disagree, I suggest you tell me to my face, because there are plenty of things I'd like to say to yours.

I've come to appreciate the term Zero Tolerance in the writing of this post.  I think that's exactly the trend that will get us to the end of this unimaginable societal flaw.  Starting now, join with me in showing Zero Tolerance to Rape Culture.

Always moving forward,


Monday, April 15, 2013

Our Hearts Go Out to Boston

As the news came in, I was in shock.

I watched a web feed of the race in the morning, pulling for all of my favorite runners, and staring in amazement at the mile splits the athletes pulled off, mile after mile.  I watched my facebook feed fill up with words of praise for the winners, and encouragement for friends who were still running the course.

This can't be happening.

I talked with coworkers about the give and take as a handfull of elite runners moved in and out of the lead.  I shook my head thinking of the training plans.  Two-a-day runs.  100 mile weeks.  8-mile speed work sessions at a pace I can't even hold for 1 mile.

Who would do such a thing?

I considered the thousands of runners who trained for years just to qualify for this race.  People like me, who might not possess any unusual amount of athletic ability, yet trained and trained to make it under their 3:30, 3:20, or 3:10 qualifying time.  The people who finally reached their goal of running the Boston Marathon.

How many were injured?

As I watched the 117th running of the most prestigious marathon in the country, I thought of its history.  The race was run before the marathon became a 26.2 mile race.  The race was run for 75 years before women started to compete in these events, now taking up over 40% of the field.

How many were killed?

I remembered the fable of Heartbreak Hill.  It was 1936 when defending champion, Johnny Kelley, passed Ellison Brown for the lead on the last of the 4 Newton Hills, just past mile 20.  When passing, Johnny gave his competitor a consoling pat on the shoulder, planning for a repeat victory.  But Brown wasn't fading, he was just holding back.  Brown came back for the win, breaking Johnny's heart.

Is it over yet?

On days like today, I'm always torn between heartbreak, fear, and the desire to make it all go away.  Today, I choose to do something about it.

I'm calling all runners to join with me in support of the victims at the Boston Marathon.  Starting at 9PM tonight (EDT), just 12 hours after the final starting gun of the marathon, I'm asking runners around the world to join me in a 24 hour run.  You don't have to run on your own, because we're doing this together.  I'm asking each runner to take as little as 15 minutes to run in support of today's victims, and for the next 24 hours, the roads, trails, and treadmills will not be empty.

For the next 24 hours, we will pay homage to their sport.  We will send up silent prayers for the injured and deceased.  We will join with the victims, our fellow athletes, to show the world that runners remain strongly together in the midst of tragedy.

To join the run, click here.  For those unable to run, or those who just want to do more, I'm looking for a charity that will directly benefit the victims of today's tragedy.  Contact me if you find a charity that we can work with.  Until then, please direct people to this blog or my facebook page for updates.

Always moving foward,


Let's Talk About That

I was recently surprised to find multiple racist comments or conversation on my facebook feed during a single morning.

One conversation was in response to a black man who was upset that a restaurant server set their customer name to "5 black guys," and this name showed up on their receipt at the end of their meal.  The original poster wanted to bring some attention to a subtle racist act.  While I could rationalize the server's intentions, there is still a small hint of black racism in this story.  But more shocking were the comments: 3 in a row who chose to demean the original poster, claiming not only that he was unreasonably offended, but that racism isn't even an issue in the US anymore.  I was shocked by this, and I didn't even know how to respond.

Another was a shared article by a friend who sides with the political far right.  The article discussed in length the extent of black violent crimes in the US.  It cited statistics (mostly skewed or spun) that seemed to support an apparent epidemic of black violent crimes.  Moreso, the author was not bashful in making his purpose known: that the country should do more to punish black crimes.

When sharing this experience with a coworker, I was shown a piece of racist writing that was even more alarming.  A nearby local paper published a letter to the editor that was written in response to Black History Month.  The writer not only asks for a White History Month, but lists her reasons why whites deserve recognition.  The list includes white charity work to benefit poor black people, white graduation and crime rates as compared to black, and the simple fact that we brought 600,000 black people to the US in the slave trade, allowing them to live good, free, Christian lives in the US.  Amazingly, this person let her name and hometown be published with the letter, leaving me to wonder how much self control will have be summoned by her readers to keep her house and safety intact in the coming weeks.

When considering these scenarios together, I find a common thread, but it's nothing new or groundbreaking.  The common assumption between the three stories lies in the racial stereotypes that are so ingrained in our culture.  We've come to believe that a long list of positive traits are naturally attributed to white people, and a long list of negative traits are naturally attributed to black people (or any minority race).  Don't believe it?  Follow the link below to a Harvard study, based on a similar groundbreaking study developed by Berkeley about 10 years ago.  According to Berkeley's original results, even black people are more likely to show black racist tendencies through this study.  Give it a shot!

(Select Race IAT)

The study measures how quickly your brain associates white/good and black/bad, as opposed to white/bad and black/good.  Rather than testing your thoughtful reactions (every question has a clear correct answer), it measures your gut instinct.  When the study was first released, we finally had clear evidence of how far racial stereotypes have ingrained themselves in our society.  We had evidence that racism didn't disappear after the civil rights movement lead by icons such as Martin Luther King, Jr.

No, racism has just taken a more subtle role in our society.  Rather than seeing communities with full racial segregation, we see neighborhoods that attract specific races, or companies that tend to employee one race of another.  Friendships tend to be mono-racial because of the prevalent instinctual divide.  An irrational fear or judgment against a particular skin tone or race often prevents any level of open, honest connection between people of different races.

What really surprised me about the situations described above was that each one included claims that racism is dead.  In some situations, the comment chastised the original storyteller for turning something into a racism issue.  In another, the person who shared the news story said he didn't even notice the message of racism  The white community, in most cases, doesn't notice or consider racism.  I can personally attest to this, as I feel I've only become truly aware of the magnitude of racism in the last year.

I've come to believe that our adopted child will most likely be black, or at least racially different from us.  As I've dreamed about this scenario, I've become more intentional about eradicating racism from my life.  Recently, I've even noticed hints of protective fatherly rage in my reactions.

The big question for me: how do I react to racism?

First, I need to intentionally bridge the gap in my own life.  I need to check my tone and my instincts, and make sure I show the same openness and friendliness to everyone, especially people of other races.  I need to work on my relationships with my black friends as much as I do with my white friends.  I need to show intentional goodwill to the point that my instincts change, and I no longer have racism ingrained in my reactions.

Second, I need to foster change in the world around me.  While racism isn't as rampant as it once was, it still lurks dangerously below the surface of our society.  As the old saying goes, "the Devil's biggest trick was making us believe he doesn't exist."  The problem is out there, and we as a society (especially white society) need to acknowledge it before we can solve it.

We all should respond to acts of racism with love and empathy, all the while edifying a different-yet-equal community.  We need to promote black history, latino culture, and asian heritage as a great part of peoples' ancestry, and we need to acknowledge the dark marks on white history, like black slavery, Japanese internment camps, and the trail of tears, which tore us apart at the seams of racial separation.  We need to stop identifying each other solely by what makes us different, but we also need to embrace our differences.  Just like a strong marriage, the joining of our differences can bring about a greatness that we could never reach alone.

I ask one thing of my readers today: Admit the existence of racism in America, and confess your part to the problem.

I am a white man in a racist nation.  I have taken on the racist identity of our country.  I am part of the problem.  Now, I choose to be part of the solution.

Always moving forward,


Thursday, April 11, 2013

My Lack of Productivity

Early in my Journal, I wrote often about our adoption process.  When I made my first post, we were a week away from submitting our application, and we're just now getting our seminar scheduled before we move on to our home study, so it's been on my mind often.  We're in a little bit of a waiting phase, but something else has brought my attention strongly back to the subject.

While discussing Prop 8 and DOMA with friends, one of the age-old arguments against homosexuality was brought up.  It centers around the idea of an "unproductive" relationship, one that doesn't procreate.  Of course, the argument states that the reason for romantic relationships is procreation through sex, and a homosexual relationship has no chance of reaching this goal.  There are plenty of rebuttals to this argument, some involving an "overpopulated" planet, or at least one where humans aren't struggling to survive as a species anymore.  Others boil the issue down to biological processes, that while those processes evolved to meet the needs of a growing species, "survival of the fittest" is no longer a significant factor in human survival.

Either side may be logically correct here, but it's something else entirely that cuts to my core.  If a homosexual marriage is wrong just because they procreate, then how can my marriage be right?

I've told the story before, but in short, I have a fertility issue.  My wife would probably tell you that "we" have a fertility issue, but according to the medical tests it's all on me.  Something went wrong to the point where I have little-to-no chance of becoming a biological father.  Sure, we could spend tens of thousands of dollars to let the doctor try to help, but even that would put us against tough odds.  When it comes down to it, I am the causing factor of an "unproductive" marriage.

In the older days (even currently, to an extent), there was an assumption that women were the cause of all fertility issues.  It's unfortunate and unfair.  In the early days of the bible, stories were told about the Father of Nations sleeping with his wife's maid (on his wife's suggestion), because he hadn't conceived a child with his wife.  Even Hebrew kings often had multiple wives, and the ones who didn't bear children were usually disgraced.  The more medicine has explored the world of infertility, the more we've understood that the issue isn't gender specific at all!  In fact, the current estimates indicate that about 1/3 of infertility is caused by the male, 1/3 by the female, and 1/3 by a joint issue.

In my infertility journey, I've come to empathize with the women who have taken the short end of this stick over the ages.  First of all, I don't agree with placing blame on people for their medical issues, but more importantly, I hate that women have taken near 100% of the "blame" when only 1/3 of the time it was actually their "fault!"  I'm amazed at the character of women, who sat quietly submissive, showing themselves as the bigger person over and over again while the world put them down.  It adds a new level of respect for the gender as a whole.

Now, I see my struggle with infertility projected on the gay community.  People proclaiming that because they can't have a biological child with the love of their life, their relationship is unimportant.  Irrelevant.  Wrong.

During our pursuits of adoption, we've taken interest in the adoption stories of others.  Some of these involve same-sex adoptive parents.  We've learned that our adoption agency, and many other faith based agencies, do not accept same-sex couples into their program.  Maybe they see this issue similar to adopting out to active alcoholics or drug users, or maybe something like adopting out to a couple in which one spouse is always in and out of prison.  They view any of these as a lifestyle of sin, and they decide it isn't a healthy place to raise a child.  But there's a problem with this perspective.

These other issues keep a parent from spending quality time with their child, or even put the child in harm's way.  Abusive alcoholics may cause harm to their child.  Drug addicts can lose their sobriety and become neglectful.  An imprisoned parent won't have time to spend with their child.  But being gay doesn't reduce the effectiveness of a parent, does it?

For the sake of argument, let's just assume that it is a sin (see previous posts for my opinion on this subject).  Any parent is imperfect.  I know I have my flaws, and I shudder to think that my flaws will somehow rub off on my children.  But I know they will, because that's part of parenting.  I can try to be perfect every day, but my bad habits, my screw ups, and my bad days will be noticed by my kids, and they will cause my children some amount of pain.  Unfortunately, this is true for every parent in the world.

So how do you choose who is good enough?  Do you draw a line in the sand and exclude anyone who crosses it?  Or do you write in the sand as Jesus did, standing up for people like me, screw ups and all?

From my experiences, I believe that any couple who is willing to spend the time, money, and emotional energy to pursue adoption will be an amazing parent regardless of their flaws.  We will remember the sacrifices we made to become a parent.  We will remember the months, even years, of waiting for all the puzzle pieces to fall into place.  We will remember the nights we cried, because that child was not yet in our arms.  And more days than not, we will channel those memories into the well being of our children.

Yet the line in the sand causes so many same-sex couples pursue adoption with a lawyer instead of an agency.  It's harder, the wait is longer, and the finances are much riskier, but it's the only way to reach their dreams.  We push these people aside, making them fend for themselves as they pursue their dreams.  And we do it all because of who they love.

As the causing member of an "unproductive" marriage, this hurts me.  And I hope it changes soon.

Always moving forward,


Monday, April 8, 2013

I Wonder

As I've discussed in a couple of my recent posts, I've taken part in some lively debates in recent weeks.  Anytime I end up in one of these, whether I'm the one who started the discussion or I've stumbled into it after several people have taken sides and voiced their opinions, I have the same gut reaction: I have to find the common ground!

I still explore my beliefs on the subject and take a position, but for the sake of a fruitful debate, my heart wants to find the point where we all agree.  If I manage to find it, I try to view both points from the perspective of the common point.  Sometimes, I'll even go to the point of explaining both points from that common perspective in the hopes that both sides will experience empathy toward each other.  In my best-case-scenario, we would end up with a win-win situation, where each person can edify the other's beliefs, or even reach a comprimise.

Too often, debates don't ever reach this point.  It breaks my heart when this happens, especially when debates end so badly that grudges are held. Recently, I've been disappointed by the result of debates more often than not.

Like many of my other gut instincts, I've experienced this need to find common ground for many years, but I haven't been able to define it.  A few days ago, a large aspect of this was defined for me.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again.  I am extremely lucky to be brought up the way I was.  My parents were and are strong Christians, and they raised my brother and I to always learn and grow in all aspects of our life.  Right now, I can see 2 major benefits of my upbringing.

First, I seem to have pretty good instincts.  Because of the principals that were ingrained into me by my parents, and because of the relationship with the Holy Spirit that I was taught to nurture, I have learned to be confident in these instincts.  I don't say this to brag, especially because this isn't anything I created in myself, or through any of my own efforts.  But I've noticed that when I instinctively know what is right and wrong, and when I pray through the journey of acting on these instincts, they take me somewhere better than where I was.  It helps me to trust that I'm on the right track, even when I can't see all of the road signs

Second, I'm not alone in my identity as a Dawson.  I have an older brother who is a lot like me.  We have different jobs and different hobbies, but we have this amazing connection.  When we sit in a room and discuss something we're both interested in, I feel this synergy.  We have the same principals and the same moral code, so similar that I haven't experienced this close a connection with anyone else, and we have the same way of wondering about the unknowns in our world.

Since I'm the younger brother, he always operated at a maturity level higher than mine.  Of course, this gap gets smaller as we get older, but the differences between us have also become more defined.  He went to college for a ministry degree, studying scripture and doctrines to get to the root of the issues of faith we all struggle with.  He will admit before anyone that he doesn't have it all figured out, but he has this vocabulary, this way of expressing himself that exceeds anything I have within me.

A few days ago, he defined some of my instincts in one of his own posts.  He defined our sense of wonder in the world.  He defined this ingrained desire to explore the unknown, to find answers, to see the world through new eyes.  He defined what I feel when I explore, whether it's a mountain trail or a political road fraught with potholes.

This wonder is an amazing part of my character that The Creator set up in me, and that my parents brought out in me.  I've learned that this is why my heart breaks when people refuse to look at the world through someone else's eyes, or chooses to assert their opinions instead of asking questions of others.  I want my sense of wonder to rub off on someone, the way it was rubbed off on me.  I want people to experience the childlike joy found in a spirit of curiosity.

I'll leave you with a quote from my brother's post, which sums up my thoughts better than I ever could:

"Jesus said something I've not been able to get out of my head for a few years now: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). I don't think "become like little children" means going back to a day when someone else zips your jacket and wipes your nose. I think Jesus has something else in mind. When I look at [my daughter], I see so many things I've lost as I've grown up. Now, I can't help but think as I watch her everyday: What if reclaiming our childlike wonder is the true foundation of life under Christ?"

I wonder...

Always moving forward,


P.S.: The full blog post referenced today can be found at http://aaroniswondering.blogspot.com/2013/04/introduction-big-blue-chairs.html

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Public Apology to Anyone

During the last few weeks, there's been a lot of talk around the country regarding the rights, status, and morality of a particular group of people.  I wrote about this topic recently, and it spurred even more discussion.

Some of these discussions were very fruitful, involving 2 or more people who just wanted to understand each other.  No arguing, no blaming, just talk.  I was even pleasantly surprised that an old friend used the topic to ask for some personal advice about a difficult situation.  I don't know how helpful I was in answering their questions, but I was glad to know that we shared a respect that led us toward mutual edification, even in light of our differing beliefs.

I love to be a part of discussions like this.  It makes me feel like I'm part of something bigger than myself.  Like I'm not just an individual living life for myself.  It makes me feel like I'm part of a movement.  And when those movements meet my ideology (whether biblical, ethical, or political), it feels like the most important movement in the world.

But I have a problem.  In the same way an addict seeks the next thrill, I have a tendency to seek out the next big movement and make myself a part of it.  While there's nothing wrong with being part of an important movement, pushing yourself into a movement before you fully understand its direction can be detrimental.

I've never been a part of a picketing or rioting event, but I tend to lobby through my words.  That's quite obvious in this setting, but I also gravitate toward message boards or facebook discussions, and lately I've spent a lot of time in the latter.

In the past, I've been so drawn into discussions on a topic that I wrote solely out of emotion.  That's not to say that emotion in writing is bad (quite the opposite!), but to exclude the logical or faithful side of your thoughts is to leave yourself with empty rhetoric or worse.  In some cases I found myself wanting to push the envelope so badly that I found myself arguing points that even I didn't believe.

In the last couple of weeks, I think I made a similar mistake.  To be clear, my post entitled Coming Out remains valid.  I also defend the points I made in online discussions during the next few days.  But the way I expressed them was wrong.

The more I wrote and read about whether the lifestyles of a particular group were right or wrong, the dirtier I felt for discussing this issue so publicly.

I believe that issues such as prejudice and equality should be brought to the public, but I think I crossed a line.  I was spending less time defending the rights to equal treatment and more time debating the morality of their actions.  I wanted to blame my opposition as being too judgmental, but I realized that I wasn't any better.  Whether I thought they were right or wrong. I was still standing in judgment of their actions, as if I held any authority to judge.

So, I hope I didn't offend anyone in my public discussions about homosexuality.  If I did, I am truly sorry.  I want to love my neighbor, whether they be racially, financially, geographically, or sexually different than me, and especially if they're imperfect like me.  And I want to give my neighbors the respect they deserve, and a part of that respect is to observe the boundaries of friendship.  I'm sorry if I crossed those boundaries.

While my actions crossed lines, I have learned that my beliefs on this topic are important.  I believe I have found the heart of Christ in this issue, and I need to follow His example of loving the marginalized in my community.  I think my next step is to learn how to be an activist without becoming judgmental.  As always, I invite any accountability my readers have to offer.

Always moving forward,


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My Crisis of Faith - part 3

Continuing on the same path of a few recent posts, I want to be open about another struggle in my faith.  I've found there's healing in this, not only for me, but possibly for people reading this who share the same struggles.

I have to admit that I don't pray or read the Bible near as much as I should.

I feel a bit odd making an entire post about this, because this seems to be the most common source of guilt for Christians.  I don't hear it all that often, since people tend not to air out their problems on a daily basis, but I can remember hearing it often enough.

Usually it's in the scenario of someone asking a church group for a hand raise if they think they pray enough, others are in writings from counselors who posed the question individually to many people.  They always say they get the same response.  Hands aren't raised, individuals express guilt that they fall short of the mark, and a face full of shame always accompanies the answer.

And the same goes for reading the Bible.  Much too often, Christians fall out of the habit of studying the instruction book for our faith.  We'll attend church services, talk to friends about this week's sermon, and admit our faith to the world, but this seemingly essential piece of the puzzle goes missing.

A couple years ago, my wife decided to get a 1-year study bible.  It's a Eugene Peterson publication that has The Message chopped up into daily chunks.  Every day, you get a little Old Testament and a little New Testament.  Each book has a blurb about its importance in the big story, and every 7th day has a single paragraph suggesting something for you to pray on and meditate about as a way to rest from the week's study.

I started reading it occasionally, starting from the very beginning with the books of Genesis and John.  Later that year, I began commuting on public transit, so finding study time became easier.  I even had time to catch up on a couple days all at once when I fell behind.  I was on this schedule for most of a year, but still I didn't make it through the study.

Since then, I've had more time at home than I've had since college.  You would think I would catch up on my bible study, spend time reading and praying in the morning now that I left the house about an hour later than before.  You would think that, but unfortunately you couldn't be farther from the truth.

Not only have I severely cut back on the time I spend reading for pleasure (I think I've finished 5 books during this year), I've barely picked up the study Bible.  When I do, I tend to keep it up for a couple of days before I wake up late, rush through a shower, barely have time to wait for coffee to brew, and run out the door.  I end up right back at square one.

The story isn't as structured, but the same goes for prayer.  I like to pray in bed before we turn out the lights.  I don't fall asleep during prayers, but I tend to drift off and get sidetracked thinking about other things.  When I first wake up, I haven't thought through my day enough to organize my brain.  So, I hold off my big prayer til the end of the day, and more often than not I forget about it.  And when you don't pray every day, I forget to pray about the little things that come up, like a tough project at work, health issues with my friends and family, or just a waive of gratitude about something good in my life.

I should probably feel better about this knowing that so many Christians have the same struggles, but I can't help but see the outliers.  People like my dad, who I remember seeing at least once a week at the breakfast table with his study bible and a notepad during my childhood years, never expecting to be noticed.  People like my friends with their new baby girl, who I hear talk faithfully about what they read or prayed about the other day, accidentally letting me in on their habits of faith.  People like my Facebook friends, who post scripture references on almost a daily basis, making me realize how some people live their lives completely focused on the word of God.

These are just outward signs of a private habit.  A habit I wish I had.  A practice I wish I was better at.

While it might not seem like it, this journal is about more than words.  It's about me being honest with myself about myself, and it's about mapping my journey toward a better me.  So today, I'm giving myself a goal.  No, I'm making myself a promise.

Today, I am on day 265 of my 365 day study.  100 days from now, I will finish what I started 2 years ago.  Not because I need a goal, but because this goal is important.  I need to be a better man of faith.  I need to lead my family more strongly.  I need my children to see me at the breakfast table showing them what a faithful Christian looks like.

Always moving forward,