How to Vote as a Christian this November? (UPDATED)

THIS POST HAS NOW BEEN UPDATED

What am I supposed to do as an American Christian during this voting season? Miroslav Wolf says we should vote for Hillary Clinton, while Wayne Grudem says we should vote for Donald Trump. (UPDATE: But then he changed his support after the video was updated.) And these Christian voices are not the only ones speaking out for one candidate over the other. And then there are other Christian leaders imploring Christian voters to pray before casting their ballots, but giving no opinion into the matter at hand.

Tragedy sucks. Normally, we think of tragedy as when we go from something great to something terrible. Many are saying that they are not happy with either candidate, and they make Obama look saintly. In this case, no matter what, we are facing a tragedy. However, there is a greater tragedy during this election season, the tragedy of having to choose between two bad things, or people in this case.

Clinton vs Trump...

Clinton vs Trump…

What confuses me to no end during this election season is the overwhelming percentage (78%) of evangelical Christians that are purposefully supporting Donald Trump. If the percentage was more 50/50, I could conclude that evangelicals were voting based on different moral issues they find more deplorable. For instance, to stand:

  • against Clinton for her stance on abortion
  • against Trump because of racism/immigration/Islamophobia
  • against Clinton because of email scandals
  • against Trump because of sexism/misogyny
  • against Clinton because her involvement in middle east wars
  • against Trump because of his business ethics; etc.

Both candidates are reprehensible, but again, what confuses me to no end is the overwhelming support Trump receives from evangelicals. Trump is becoming a poster-child for American evangelicalism, where time and again, evangelicals are defending him, saying that we are all sinners and God forgives us/him. Yes, God does forgive, but he forgives the repentant.

Trump has not confessed, apologized or repented. In fact, all he has done is pathologically lie by declaring that he has not done the misdeeds or give fake apologies, which actually end up piling more guilt upon the victim.

If we back up a little bit and look at Christ, we see that Christ was a leader, in fact, the perfect embodiment of leadership. After all, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. However, when we look at how Jesus led, we see that he led by example. He led with humility. He never forced his way upon anyone. He gave of himself. He even gave himself on the cross. He defeated death by death.

His victory was hidden in defeat. His glory was hidden in humility.

The church is the body of Christ, and the church is no greater than the master. This means that when we follow Christ, we too will encounter the cross, every single day. The church, like Christ, should never use force to win over the world. When we do, we have become focused on victory, glory, and triumph. The Bible tells us again and again that these things will come, but that we need to patiently wait for them. For now, it is the time of light momentary affliction, and the triumph will come.

Trump is all about triumph–right now. No waiting. It is even in his name: Tr(i)ump(h). His slogan is to Make America Great Again. Mike Pence has repeatedly said how much of a “broad shouldered” leader he is, and that America needs “broad shouldered” leadership. From watching The Apprentice, we all know how much he runs his business like a “broad shouldered” dictator, and not like a servant.

Why do American evangelicals think we need a style of leadership which is completely contrary to the humility we find in the Gospel? Trump does not embody what it means to be a follower of Christ, and yet, evangelicals are supporting him as their poster child. This is the true tragedy in my opinion.

I will be voting for Hillary Clinton. (UPDATE: NO. I can’t.)

I’m voting for Hillary (UPDATE: No. I’m not.). not simply because she is the lesser of two evils. But also because of policies. (Granted, I do not like her stance on abortion, but I also know that if Trump becomes President, abortion laws will not change.) She wants to have better world relations, she wants to improve the American education system, and she has a reasonable taxation proposal.

(UPDATE: I can’t vote for her because of abortion. When it came down to it, it was impossible for me to fill in that bubble next to her name because of the abortion issue.)

She sees that a “Trumped-Up Trickle-Down” economics would be disastrous. If you haven’t seen Requim For the American Dream, narrated by Noam Chomsky, you should probably do that now. Rather than showing partiality to the already privileged, she will try to help the middle and lower classes–which is far more Biblical. You don’t need to be a Christian to help perform the will of God.

She humbles herself when she is wrong. For instance, she admitted her failure with the email scandal. (UPDATE: Well, not exactly.) And frankly, I think it would be pretty cool if my daughter could live in a world where a woman could be the POTUS if she proved herself worthy of the office. (UPDATE: Yes…but I don’t think Hillary is worthy of the office….but neither is Trump!)

I understand if you can’t vote for Hillary because of moral dilemmas–such as abortion–but I pray that you do not vote for Trump because you think he embodies the principles of evangelical Christianity. If you vote for him because of some other issue, fine, just don’t do it because you label him the “Christian” or “more Christian” in this political game.

UPDATE: I VOTED 3rd PARTY. THE TWO PARTY SYSTEM NEEDS TO CHANGE. Supposedly, John Quincy Adams said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone–you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” MY VOTE WAS NOT LOST.

So how should you, as a Christian vote this November? I have given my opinion as to how I will vote, though I will not turn this into a normative statement where everyone must vote this way. So perhaps the best answer is to say that this November we should all vote prayerfully.

franklin_d_roosevelt_quotations

Becoming Child-Like

This blog is adapted from a sermon I preached a few weeks after my daughter was born.

On 10 January 2016, my wife gave birth to our little Princess, Leona Mae. I had no idea that my heart would ever be able to love someone this much. My heart is exploding with praise and gratitude towards God—who am I that he would entrust my wife and I to take care of Leona? Today, I am proclaiming the word of God and I pray it encourages you all, but if I am honest with myself, it is also a type of love letter to my little 3.3kg Princess. I would ask for your forgiveness as I show pride in my child, however, I think it is a good reminder of the pride which God the Father has for each and every one of us. The love I have for my child is merely a glimpse of the love God has for each of us.

When I stare at my beautiful Princess Leona, I often wrestle between two thoughts, the first is how will I raise this child to become a faithful follower of Christ like her mother and I, and the second is that I know I must become more like her if I truly want to be a more faithful follower of Christ. This is a paradox—I want her to be like me and yet I know I must become like her.

Imitate Me, Put Away Childish Things
It may sound presumptious and arrogant to encourage another person to be like yourself, yet at the same time, it is necessary and Biblical. When I first became a follower of Christ, I imitated other followers of Christ, because I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what it meant to follow Christ. I was 20 years old and I knew nothing of what it meant to follow Christ. I looked up to a few of my peers in college, and I imitated their example. The showed me what it meant to pray, to read my Bible, to become baptised, to serve people, to worship together in a community, and so forth. Now that I am more mature in following Christ, I try to encourage others in these things, and I intend to encourage Leona in these things throughout her life as she grows up.

Paul says in Philippians 4.8–9: “Finally, brothers (and sisters), whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commenadable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Whatever you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul realized that he was a sinner, in fact he refers to himself as the greatest of sinners (1 Tim 1.15). Yet he also realized that because of Christ, he was lovely and righteous. He was simultaneously a sinner and a saint. And he was encouraging people to imitate the lovely things of Christ which were found in him. Paul knew that every good thing which came from him, was actually from Christ, and thus Paul could say, “Whatever you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Php 4.9)

It is with this heart, that I too want Leona to grow up in the example which her mother and I set before her. I pray that every parent has this heart. But this is not simply something for parents. Sometimes it is actually the child who must encourage the parents to follow their example.

Few things cause a person to grow up as quickly as having a child—something which became a reality for me on January 10th, when Sara gave birth to our little Princess Leona. When one becomes a father or mother, they are confronted with their childish ways, and you really must do away with childish things. How are we to do away with childish things? I have been married for 10 years, yet I still feel like a child. We just had our first born child, yet I still feel like a child. Will I ever not feel like a child? I will always feel like a child become I am a son of the heavenly Father. I will always feel like a child because Jesus himself tells me that if I ever want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, I must become like a child.

Become Like These
When a person gets married, or when they have a child, they are confronted with the reality that the world does not revolve around them. The following passage has been preached on many, many occasions by countless preachers, because it is a message which we continually need to hear.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the[f]greatest of these is love.

When God became man, love perfectly entered human history in the form of a person. Love is a person, not an activity. (At this point, I suggest you re-read the text, but insert “Jesus” for every occurrence of the word “love.”) And love continues to enter history through the church as Christ is formed inside of us. (I suggest you re-read the text, but this time replace the word “love” with your own name, and say it as a prayer.) But why is it so crucial that love enter history today? Love must enter history today, because the world will never know salvation apart from the love of God proclaimed and demonstrated through the church. (Refer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17: may they be one, so that the world can know….)

Now that I am a Dad, verse 11 speaks incredibly loud to me. It screams at me. In a paragraph on love, Paul tells us to put away childish things. What are the childish things? The childish things are what cause me to be impatient, jealous, proud, selfish, etc. Now, Jesus tells us that we must become like children if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven….to be child-like and child-ish are entirely different. In the NT, a child was not given the status of honor we give them today, children were viewed as weak and helpless….if we want to enter the kingdom of God, it means recognizing our weakness and helplessness, and that only God is able to save us. We cannot do it on our own. I pray that each and every one of us becomes child-like.

My daughter acting perfectly child-like.

My daughter acting perfectly child-like.

An Hour in Hell

Welcome to Hell

Welcome to Hell

Some conservative Christians say, “If you get a tattoo, you will go to hell.” Well, I decided to go to Hell so I could get a tattoo! I should probably clarify that I simply went to a tattoo parlour named Hell Tattoo…I did not go to the netherworld!

I am writing this blog today so that I can describe what my tattoos mean to me, because I do not want to forget! I got them four days ago (10 March 2016), and I am very excited about them. I put a lot of thought into the design. I had considered a script font and a Biblical quotation, but I ultimately went with symbols instead, because the symbolism reminds me of so much more. I am sure the meaning will take on different significance over the coming years, but here was my thought process in designing it. (I came up with the concept design, but my tattoo artist, Charlotte, is awesome! I highly recommend her!)

Technically, it is three tattoos:

  1. An Arm Band
  2. A Cross
  3. An Arrow
My Tattoo...this was taken on day 1, I will re-post another pic when it is fully healed.

My Tattoo…this was taken on day 1, I will re-post another pic when it is fully healed.

On the Arm Band:

Arm bands are symbolic of mourning the death of someone. I have always loved the way solid arm band tattoos looked, so I have had a longing to get one for a while. I didn’t want to simply memorialize the dead with a solid arm band, however, at the same time, I know it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting (cf. Ecc. 7.2). As a follower of Christ, there are two death which I “mourn:” (1) the death of Christ, and (2) the daily death of myself. The biblical narrative describes that Satan bruised Jesus’ heal, but ultimately Jesus crushed Satan’s head. Thus, my arm band represents death, but death has no sting! (1 Corinthians 15.55; Hosea 13.14) I have purposely not allowed the arm band to be complete, the arm band does not connect! There is a negative space of a cross, showing that death was defeated by death! When I see my arm band, I remember that death was defeated by death, and that death has no sting, and no victory.

On the Cross:

But I did not want to simply leave it at that. The cross still has importance. I wanted the negative space from the band, to be placed on my wrist as a positive space. The negative space cross is surrounded by death, whereas the positive space cross is surrounded by life. Jesus tells each of us to take up our cross on a daily basis. Thus, I got the positive space cross on my wrist. Taking up my cross on a daily basis is far more than simply getting a tattoo on my wrist, this is simply one reminder to do this on a daily basis. I would say that there are really two kinds of death.

One death is a death of decay. It requires no added energy, this includes all types of death whether it be heart disease, cancer, homicide, or suicide. These deaths are all a type of decay. (It could be argued that these deaths require “energy,” but in reality they do not. The process of performing homicide or suicide may require “energy,” but the death is nothing more than decay.)

The other death is a death of taking up the cross, it is an active death. It is not a death of decay. It requires energy. The only energy which gives one the strength to die this death is the Holy Spirit. He energizes us for good works (cf. Eph. 2.10) This type of death has hidden within it life. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9.24) And as Paul says in Colossians 3.3, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” So even though Christ has defeated death by death, I still need to take up my own cross every day.

On the Arrow:

Why the arrow? Well, the arrow is very special to me. My last name, Fletcher, means “arrow maker.” And in Psalm 127.3-5, we read:

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

The arrow symbolizes my daughter, Leona, who was born just 8 weeks ago. There is a small circle in the middle of the shaft representing that she is my first daughter, but also representing that the arrow is broken—yet mended. She, like all of us, is a broken person. And in Native American culture (yes, I have some Native American blood), a broken arrow symbolizes peace (the true Native American symbol for peace would be a completely broken arrow which has not been mended). So, while I want my daughter to be a warrior (cf. Eph. 6), I also want her to live with the peace of Christ at all times. The arrow is pointed towards the cross (the armband and cross also represent a bow’s crosshairs and a bullseye) because I want her to always look to Christ in all things. Furthermore, an arrow must be pulled back in order to go forward, so even though life may feel difficult and as though you are being pulled backward, we are still called to aim towards Christ in all things.

On the Holistic Interpretation:

And hidden within all of this meaning, is a verse which strikes me to the core, “I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9.27) The three tattoos together represent that I am preaching the gospel to my daughter, and I do not want to play the hypocrite. I want to remember to live what I preach, lest I be disqualified. The only way I can do this is by meaning it when I say, “I die every day,” (1 Cor. 15.31) because truly, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Php. 1.21) “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12.24)

So, yes, some conservative Christians say, “If you get a tattoo, you will go to hell.” As I said already, I decided to go to Hell so I could get a tattoo! But in my going to Hell, it made me a more faithful follower of Christ, after all, Jesus went to hell for three days—I only had to spend an hour in Hell! No, I did not need to get a tattoo in order to be a more faithful follower of Christ, but for me, my tattoos continually remind me—by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit—of the things which I just wrote about, and because of that, getting my tattoos have helped me follow Christ.

The Beauty Project

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am a photographic enthusiast. I have always been interested in art, and created art through various mediums throughout my life. I began with drawing, painting, then moved to lithography, and for the last few years, my medium of choice has consisted of photography, and even more recently it has been black and white photography. To me, there is something so raw about the emotions that come forth through black and white photography–these emotions are harder to capture in other mediums.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For instance, look at this dad playing with his son. Their expressions are both full of so much child-like wonder. The sun peering over the trees brings a feeling of heaven-like warmth, inviting the onlooker to partake in the joy.

Projects are always fun because they keep us accountable and help us be productive, even when we don’t want to be. I have begun a new project, I am calling it “The Beauty Project: A Black and White Photo Journalistic Project which documents the Beauty of the Human Person,” and I am giving you the link to my Flickr account in case you want to see the project. To me, this is one of those projects that will never be complete, but that is part of the beauty of it. I hope you enjoy looking at The Beauty Project as much as I have enjoyed capturing it. I will keep adding photos to it, so you can follow me on Flickr if you want to keep up to date with it.

Perhaps some you are wondering, “why have I called this The Beauty Project?” I am calling it this because I truly believe that people are beautiful. They are absolutely beautiful, and as a Christian, I believe that the beauty of the human person is a reflection of the idea that we have been created in the image of God. God is perfectly beautiful and he has made us in his image, thereby, we too are perfectly beautiful. I am trying to capture this beauty through monochrome photography. As a theologian, I believe that seeing beautiful things brings us closer to God. How often do we walk down the street and ignore the people we walk past? Every single person we pass by is perfectly beautiful. I pray that this project will inspire you to see the beauty that is within each and every person.

P5301382

Saving your Marriage with Roses and Belgian Chocolate

How is your marriage? Do you wish you had a better marriage? Do you feel like your spouse is a different person than the fun, loving, person you originally married? Do you feel like they don’t understand you? Do you no longer understand them? Do you feel like ripping your hair out? their heresjonnyehair? Do you feel crazy like Jack Nicholson on The Shining? Has the screaming been waking up your neighbors? Does the crying keep you awake?

Sometimes I want to bash my head against the wall–why? Because marriage is difficult. I am not perfect. I am far from it, and my wife can attest to this fact. My wife and I had an argument today. The argument was about something which no one else would comprehend, as with all married couple argumentation. Arguments happen. Arguments suck. Two messed up people living together is bound to get messy. Why? Miscommunication and impatience. Speaking when we ought to be silent, and remaining silent when we ought to speak. How do we reconcile after an argument? How do we move forward? For some, the answer is make-up sex. For us, the answer is commitment.

Commitment: com (together) + mittere (to send) + ment (resulting action). Commitment is the resulting action of being sent together, the resulting action of committing to something together. What binds together those who are committed, rather, what mediates between those who are committed? I would be remiss if I were to avoid speaking about what, rather, who, mediates between my wife and I. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it best,

Christ has become the mediator who has made peace with God and peace among human beings. Without Christ we would not know God; we could neither call on God nor come to God. Moreover, without Christ we would not know other Christians around us; nor could we approach them. The way to them is blocked by one’s own ego. Christ opened up the way to God and to one another. Now Christians can live with each other in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one. But they can continue to do so only through Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus Christ are we one; only though him are we bound together. He remains the one and only mediator throughout eternity.

I often forget that Jesus is the mediator and I let my own ego control my relationships. The only way I can truly know my wife is by knowing her as my sister in the Lord, and I can only know her in this capacity because in Christ we are one. Together, my wife and I are committed to living in this world as believers in Christ. These are not idle words, we truly believe that we must be fully immersed in this world and committed to it. “The cross of reconciliation…sets us free to live in genuine worldiness.” (Bonhoeffer)

My wife having fun with bicycles

Our commitment to each other is mediated by Christ and displays itself in a genuine love for the world. This means that we ought to enjoy one another and all the goodness which is found in this world. Movies, popcorn, bicycling, travelling, laughing, music, beer, Irish whiskey, a good cigar, steak and potatoes, running, photography, sunsets, sushi, sunrises, Belgian chocolate, flowers, and the list could go on. God made this world and he wants us to enjoy it. My marriage fails when I forget to enjoy the world with my wife.

I think it is time for me to go buy some Belgian chocolates and roses for my wife….yes, I just gave a theological foundation for buying my wife roses and chocolate! I think this is a theological argument most women will appreciate–you can share this post if you agree :)flowerandchoco

Working Smart and Hard: Productivity Lessons from a Lumberjack

I come from a family of lumberjacks, yet somehow I have become an academic theologian–so I am posed with asking myself the question, what do lumberjacks and academics have in common? The former is largely “practical” and the latter is largely “theoretical.” One could say they have nothing in common, or we could come up with a pithy one-liner joke…but I have learned that they actually do have something in common. They both work really hard and smart, albeit, in very different capacities. Productivity can only come about with a planned schema of hard work, therefore, I have decided to write about a few helpful things which I have learned from my lumberjack family and academic community which help one be more productive.

If you are anything like me, you have tried different ways to be productive using the latest hardware and software, and after you use it for a while, you realize that it is probably not making a huge difference. These technologies do not necessarily help us work smarter or harder. I am not the most productive person in the world, however, I have learned a thing or two from my working class family and from my own personal experiences. I am 31 years old, have been married for 9 years, decided to go to graduate school after I got married, ended up earning three master’s degrees, I now teach high school and I am currently working on my PhD. I do not come from a family of academics–in fact, I am the first person in my entire family to even earn a bachelor’s degree. I come from a working class American family. My father knows how to use his hands with mechanics and lumber, and from a young age

My Dad cutting wood for the winter

My Dad cutting wood for the winter

he encouraged me to go to school so I wouldn’t be riddled with injury like him and our previous generations. I look upon my father with the utmost respect, he taught me to be the hard-worker that I am today. I am not more productive than my father, I simply produce different things. Just because I am an academic, does not mean I have forgot my roots as a good ol’ country boy.

Here are 10 productivity tips I find effective:

  1. Rest. This is prerequisite to everything else which I will write. Yes, by rest I mean 8 hours of sleep per night. Start your day off with restful prayer or meditation. Take naps in the middle of the day if you are working for more than 10 hours. Turn off screens an hour before bed. Take weekly Sabbaths and Quarterly Retreats. I try to have a Sabbath rest day once per week where I am not obliged to produce anything. I still end up producing things, but it is never from obligation and it is not related to my work. For instance, it might include going on a long run or taking/editing photographs for the love of it.
  2. 3 Minute Rule. If something comes up which you can accomplish in 3 minutes, DO IT RIGHT NOW! This is especially true of short emails.
  3. Drink Water. When you are properly hydrated, your body is far more healthy, energized, and ready to work.
  4. Learn to Say “No.” It is far too easy to say “yes.” Prioritize the things you say “yes” to. For me, the order of importance is 1. God, 2. my wife, 3. my family, 4. my students, 5. my friends, 6. my academic production, and 7. everything else. It may sound weird that I, being an academic, have placed academic production so low, however, I do this because people and God are way more important than any paper I could ever write or book I could read. Don’t get me wrong, I do a ton of academics, but the people are far more important–this means I often need to tell myself to stop studying. People often say “yes” because they want more respect, but in the long run it actually diminishes respect because it turns out that you will be unable to put in the required energy because you will be spread to thin.
  5. Energy Consumption. Realize that it takes more energy the better you get. In physics, the
    image

    My Paw Paw as a lumberjack many years ago. He still works with wood today.

    special theory of relativity tells us that the faster an object travels the more massive it becomes, thus, in order to continue accelerating the object, it will require more and more energy. In fact, if the object were to reach the speed of light, the object would be infinitely massive and thus require an infinite amount of energy. If you are a perfectionist, you sometimes need to force yourself to stop, otherwise you will find yourself putting forth an infinite amount of energy, which brings us back to #4…learn to say “no.”

  6. Hardware. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you need the best hardware to be productive. My Dad and Paw Paw could both cut down a tree faster with an axe than I could with a chainsaw…they knows how to use their hardware! For me, I used to have a dual-monitor setup and I loved it. I would still love it, but at this point it is not needed (I sold it when we moved to Belgium). My laptop suffices. Beyond the basics, hardware simply becomes luxury.
  7. Software. We all have our different disciplines. If you work with chainsaws, don’t forget to use the proper amount of lube. As an academic, the main software I use is MS Office, Evernote, Dropbox, Zotero (bibliographic management), and Adobe Abbey Fine Reader (an OCR for converting documents into searchable digital format…It is really nice when you can search an entire book for key words.)
  8. Learn how to use your tools. For me it is the “computer.” We normally don’t realize our dependence on technology until it breaks. My Dad quickly learned how to repair his tools and taught me the same. If you use a computer but don’t understand it, I suggest you take a step back to understand your technology. Learn how to use
    Here I am working the woodsplitter with my nephew

    Here I am working the woodsplitter with my nephew

    software and how the hardware works. Learn how to keep it virus free. Learn how to program simple things just so you know how your computer works. Learn keyboard shortcuts. If you can avoid touching the mouse, you will save a ton of time. The next time you are at work, spy on a sloppy worker for 10 minutes and then spy on a highly productive worker for 10 minutes. I imagine you will see a drastic difference between them simply based on how much they touch their mouse. I do a lot of research and writing, so if you are in my same situation, you may benefit from a few of my favorites: Alt-Tab (or Window-Tab) to switch between tasks. Control-Z = undo. Control-X = Copy & Simultaneously Delete. Control-C = Copy. Control-V = Paste. Shift-Arrows/Pg/Home/End = Select text or multiple files.

  9. Exercise. I love to exercise. I try to exercise before I am productive. You will be more productive if you exercise before work. If you exercise after work, you will likely feel exhausted and not enjoy either your work or workout.
  10. Sharpen Your Axe: If your axe blade or saw blades are dull, you will waste all of your energy on nothing. Productivity is about energy consumption, not time consumption per se. Sharpen your blade often. Thanks for teaching me this, Dad.

    My brother sharpening his chainsaw

    My brother sharpening his chainsaw

Why Do We Use Big Words?

I am not sure if you are aware, but being a PhD student and a husband has challenges. No, it is not that I never have time for my wife. No, it is not that we don’t enjoy the country we moved to so I could pursue my higher education. No, it is not that she disagrees with my desires for church reconciliation (my research revolves around this). It comes down to one thing: communication. Yes, it sounds cliche, but I assure you, it is the truth. When you become specialized in a narrow field of study, you learn the lingo, you speak the lingo, you live the lingo–and then there is the spouse. My wife has not studied theology or philosophy, yet I live this language. As you can imagine, this is a major challenge. Do I force her to learn new vocabulary and concepts, or do I learn how to communicate what I believe to be profound concepts into normal language? I know the answer, but it is really difficult to put some of these concepts into everyday language. Difficulty and challenges have never stopped me in the past, so why should I allow it to stop me now. As Barney Stinson would say,

challenge-accepted

At the end of the day, these challenges actually help our marriage more than anything, and they help keep me in the real world. If I were not challenged on a daily basis to communicate–through active listening and fitting my own words into the the context of everyday language, then I would be failing in my identity as researcher, teacher, and husband. Why do challenges help us? I think it because with every challenge we face we need to have patience, and with patience comes suffering (note: Latin passio is where we get the word for both patience and suffering, and that is why we say the “passion of Christ” when we speak of the sufferings that he went through with patience). When we suffer, we realize that we need to stop living for ourselves and be willing to die for the other person. Sometimes that death is “literal,” but more often than not it is “figurative” and mundane, for instance, I die for my wife every time I do the dishes. Note: I have not said that we die to ourselves, I have said that we die for the other person. Greater love has none than this, that one lay down his life for others (John 15.13).

So why do we use big words? It is not because they make us feel more important (perhaps some people use the big words for this type of vain glory, that seems silly to me though). For me, I use the big words because I can say one word, and have it mean two or more things at the same time. I personally like this, it makes my brain get excited and pumps it full of dopamine, unfortunately, it usually results in none of the meanings coming across and I simply look like an incoherent babbling fool.

If you catch me using big words which you don’t comprehend or don’t seem to fit the context of the conversation, please stop me in my tracks and ask me to explain myself. I will not be offended.

sometimes-i-use-big-words-i-dont-fully-understand-photosynthesis

Lessons from American History X

American History X is one of the most amazing films I have ever seen; however, it is also one of the hardest movies to sit through because it faces real problems in our messed up world under the sun. The movie covers a 24 hour period in theAmerican_history_X life of a family immersed in white supremacy. This 24 hour period is pivotal in their lives, and there are many flashbacks which show us how this situation has come to pass. The 24 hour period shows the following in a chiastic (A-B-C-B’-A’) structure:

A: The height of Danny’s hatred towards blacks

B: Danny’s escape from white supremacy

C: Danny’s epiphany that racism is pointless

B’: A sense that Danny truly loves all people, including blacks

A’: Danny being murdered by a black boy

This movie is incredibly ironic and disheartening in the fact that Danny is hatefully murdered by a black kid after he has realized that he wants to love people and not hate them. It is situations like this where we must realize as the author of the book of Ecclesiastes does, that both the good and the bad alike meet the same end: death.

With this said, I wish to now describe in more detail, parts of the movie which help us see what has happened and why: Danny is a high school boy who has been given an assignment to write a paper on a civil rights leader: he chooses to write a paper on Hitler. In his own words, “I hate anyone that is not white protestant.” His teacher is outraged and sends him to the African American principle, Dr. Sweeney. Dr. Sweeney gives Danny a choice, be expelled or he becomes his new history teacher and is told to write a new paper, a paper which analyses his brother, Derek, who is being released from prison that very day… After his meeting with the principle Danny has a run-in with some black kids in the bathroom and there is nearly a fight as Danny blows (cigarette) smoke in their faces.

smoke in faceThe black boys walk away… (Note the irony: His hatred for them is like smoke…it is like dust in the wind, it vanishes almost instantly….as we will see).

Dr. Sweeney happened to know Danny’s brother very well – Derek was the protégé of Cameron, the networker of the white supremacist on the west coast and Derek was going to be the figure head leader of this movement. After the crime of what Derek did, he literally became a God to the other white supremacist.

Flashback, the crime: Derek played a game of basketball with some black guys, and won: the stakes – the black guys had to leave and never play on those courts again. Later on, these same black guys tried to steal Derek’s truck in the middle of the night. Danny looked out the window and saw it happening – he hesitantly told Derek that they were breaking in… Derek went ballistic and shot one of the men point blank. Then he shot the other and he was wounded. Then he fired a barrage into the back of the escape car, missing the driver as he drove off. He walked back to the wounded man and forced him to “bite the curb” – Danny runs towards his brother to stop him.Furlong-in-American-History-X-edward-furlong-27241263-853-480 He is too late – he gruesomely stomps on the back of his head… the cops arrive and Derek is filled with pride as his bare chest reveals his very large tattoo of a swastika. Danny is horror stricken. Derek is arrested and given three years of time in prison. Had Danny testified about his brother’s hatred in this crime, it would have been a life sentence.

Derek did not allow his family to visit him when he was in prison. This allowed Danny to follow in his footsteps: “I’d never seen anyone die before. The sound of that kid’s head splitting open on the curb went right through me. It stayed in my dreams for months, until slowly it changed into something I couldn’t recognize. The scary thing is it doesn’t bother me anymore. For a long time I thought that night was proof that Derek was right.”

And this is when Cameron, the networker, became Danny’s mentor while Derek was in prison. Danny said, “People look at me and see my brother…” Danny was truly beginning to follow the patterns of his brother, Derek.

When Derek was in prison, he befriended other Nazi’s. However, he worked with a black man. He soon realized that, “in the joint, you the nigga, not me.” After a year, he sees his fellow Nazi’s doing deals with Hispanics and he gets very upset about ‘talk and no action.’ Overtime, he becomes friends with the black laundry guy. He makes a bold move and turns his back on the Nazi’s in prison by sitting at a different table. A little while later, the Nazi’s gang rape him and almost kill him in the showers – the prison guards even allowed it too happen. During his recovery in the hospital, Dr. Sweeny (the principle and former teacher of Derek) comes to visit him. Derek cries and Sweeny is there to comfort him. Derek is scared for his life every day in prison, all can see his chest revealing the large swastika and his old Nazi friends no longer accept him. No one is on his side… when he is released from prison, he realizes that it is the black laundry man who kept him alive, he had communicated with the other races in prison that Derek was actually a cool guy and was no longer a white supremacist.

The morning of Derek’s release is amazing: he is embracing his mother and sister with love and coming up with a plan for them to escape from the white supremacy which had plagued their lives… meanwhile, this is when Danny was being given a new history assignment from Dr. Sweeney. Danny comes home and is completely taken aback.

That evening there is a party at Cameron’s place for Derek’s coming home. The party comes to an abrupt halt when Derek announces that he is no longer a white supremacist. He and Danny flee for the lives. Danny is very upset with Derek and he is very confused. This is when Derek sits Danny down and describes what prison was like and all the hypocrisy which he had seen and how race barriers were not the problem.

Derek feels lucky. What he did was wrong. How did he buy into everything? It was because he was pissed off. Nothing he ever did made him feel any better. It just made him feel more lost. Derek does not tell Danny what to do, but he wants Danny to understand. Danny finally understands. After their conversation, Derek and Danny are in their bedroom – the white supremacist Nazi laden room – and they both begin to tear down all the Nazi memorbellia together. They were entering into a new life together. The film then shows two things happen at the same time: Danny working on his paper and Derek taking a cleansing shower. When Derek steps out of the shower, the swastika on his chest is very large, but as he looks in the mirror, you can tell that he is a new man by his face (the acting is superb!). Danny is writing his paper during this time and asking: how did it all start? Derek would say that it all started when his father was murdered when trying to rescue black people from a burning building… Danny says, no, it actually started earlier…. You see, Derek loved Dr. Sweeny, and he was a great student. One evening while at the dinner table, their father began to speak highly against blacks and blamed them for all problems and told Derek to be careful of Dr. Sweeney, and Derek bought into it… the father was racist, however, passive aggressively only…not one to actually raise his fist – Danny begins to weep when he realizes that this was how it started.

Danny has begun a new life; he finishes his paper and gets some coffee with Derek on his way to school. Derek says goodbye to Danny as he trots into the school.last time talking As he leaves, minutes later something inside of him becomes fearful and he runs after his brother. He is too late, only to realize that the black kid that Danny encountered 24 hours earlier shoots Danny point blank in the school restroom. The paper which Danny had written was in his hands when he was shot and fell to the floor. Derek begins to scream “Oh Jesus, God, what did I do? Oh God, oh God!” And this is when the conclusion is read from Danny’s paper:

“Hate is baggage. Life is too short to be pissed off all the time. It is not worth it… ‘We are not enemies, but friends, we must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.’”

I say it again: This movie is one of the most amazing films I have ever seen; however, it is also one of the hardest movies to sit through because it faces real problems in our messed up world under the sun. It engages with some of the hardest issues known. Can hatred satisfy? It shows us that both the good and bad go to the same end under the sun and that our time of departure can not be named. It shows us the injustice in the world; the transformation of souls; the fact that sin still contains consequences even after we have admitted the wrong in it. It shows us that those who claim to be Christians are often highly misguided. It shows us that in the reality of life, there is truly a season for everything, and we are not in control of those seasons. And it shows us that hatred will never satisfy. I believe that the author of Ecclesiastes would share this story with others and that through his portrayal of this story he could lead people to begin on a journey of wanting to know more of Christ.

Questions for Reflection: riddle

  1. Have you had someone in your life that was like Dr. Sweeney (i.e., someone who had faith in you even when you lacked the faith in yourself)?
  2. Have you ever experienced being the rejected outcast in a social situation? Was it dependent on Race? Wealth? Education? Gender? Religion? Sexuality? Weight?
  3. Have you ever been the victimizer?
  4. Have you ever done something because you were pissed off? Did that act of retribution ever bring about true happiness or just make you feel more isolated?
  5. Do you believe that life is too short to be pissed off all the time? If so, what are you going to do about it?
  6. Derek screams out, “Oh Jesus, God, what did I do? Oh God, oh God!” as he holds his lifeless brother in his arms – do you think that Derek truly understands why his brother was killed? Would you blame yourself as well? What are the chances of Derek becoming a white supremacist again because of this act of retribution? What are the chances of him reaching out to the black community in love? What would you do?

Surviving & Thriving as a Post-Grad, Part 2

Surviving & Thriving as a Post-Grad, Part 2

procrastination

Part 1 discussed obeying the fundamental laws of physics, and truly, we could relate physics and energy consumption to absolutely every facet of surviving and thriving as a post-grad. However, in this post, we will discuss procrastination. Some of us don’t just procrastinate, we have actually turned it into an art of #productiveprocrastination. fightingwithoutfightingIf Bruce Lee can master the art of fighting without fighting, then a post-grad can surely master the art of doing something while avoiding everything, right? For instance, going on Face Book would be procrastination, but getting involved in a highly intellectual debate on a Face Book wall post is “productive procrastination.” Namely, it is producing something, but it is still putting off the reality of what you need to do.

There is nothing wrong with taking breaks, such as going on Face Book for a short while, in fact, taking breaks actually improve our functionality (Please refer to this previous post). However, are the rechargebreaks you are taking increasing your actual productivity by allowing you time to recharge in very precise ways.

Would we procrastinate as much if we took better breaks? When is the last time you took a full day off to truly recharge? A full hour? 30 Minutes? 10 minutes? It is hard to locate such a break, is it not? Our down time is often filled with meaningless white-noise. If you are able to start taking true breaks, which actually recharge who you fundamentally are as a person, I guarantee that you will stop procrastinating so much. We procrastinate and perform productive procrastination because we are craving true breaks and rest. For me, there is no truer rest then when I rest in the Lord Jesus Christ through worship. I pray you find rest as well. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.28)