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.

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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)

Surviving & Thriving as a Post-Grad, Part 1

Surviving & Thriving as a Post-Grad, Part 1

Obey the Fundamental Laws of Physics

Will obeying the Laws of Physics actually help me in the pursuit of higher education? Read on and you will believe! The numbers and equations are not scary, I promise :)calculus

Case Study: Pretend you are driving a McLaren F1 (a $1million car…I like this dream), you hit the gas and its 627hp V12 engine mightily roars. Right out of the gate you can accelerate 0-60mph in 3.2 seconds, incredible! But what happens as your speed increases? To simply accelerate from 180-200mph (a change of merely 20mph, one-third the original change) it takes 7.6 seconds! It took more than twice as long to only accelerate one-third the original change! And as your speed increases it becomes ever difficult to continue increasing your speed. Max speed ever recorded in a McLaren F1 is 243mph, and I am sure the driver kept trying to push the accelerator harder and harder just so he could reach 244mph, but it never happened.

Why was he unable to go faster? It is because he could not supply enough energy! His engine only had 627hp and the fuel consumption rate was incredibly high.

Now let’s take this to the next level: you are flying an amazing space shuttle and you are approaching the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). As you go faster, you realize that you need more and more fuel just to go a little bit faster. It keeps getting more and more difficult. You soon realize that you can’t reach the speed of light, and you conclude this because you finally come to the realization that you need an infinite amount of energy to move this fast. I repeat, it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object with mass to the speed of light. The speed of light is the upper limit for the speeds of objects with positive rest mass. (Thank you Einstein, this is all solvable through his famous equation.)einstein

So what? Who cares? I’m bored; let me go now….you are so close, hang in there!

You have been a student for many years; after all, you are in graduate school. There was a time when little energy was needed to get you through. You would even sleep during lectures because you already knew it and you were the guy or gal who would always ask questions trying to stump your professor.sleeplecture And then, you started advancing and realizing that you needed to put more energy into it, and it was hard! And then you saw the next step and it seemed so close, but it took like 20 times the effort or more. Your thesis and dissertation will feel as if you are trying to travel at the speed of light. Thanks for the encouragement, right? But wait, it gets worse!

Consider now the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics: in an isolated system, that system will tend toward disorder unless energy is added. Do you remember what your bedroom looked like as a teenager? I prove my point!

This is helpful because it makes us realize that the energy needs to be focused. If the McLaren F1 had a bad exhaust system, then the fuel which was being fed into the engine would not all correspond to usable mechanical energy in that isolated system. There would be wasted energy, and because the energy would be lacking, the system would obviously tend toward disorder. This is why it gets worse. If your energies are not focused onto the Thesis or Dissertation (or whatever the goal may be), you will tend toward disorder! And this is fatal; you will never achieve that goal which you had set out to achieve.

From Gimp to Athlete

It was during college, I decided to go for a run that day. Beautiful OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAweather, sun beaming down but not too hot. I went for a few miles and was running alongside the railroad tracks. Somehow, I tripped and banged my knee. I figured the pain would go away after a few days and it did; however, the pain would always come back when I tried to run. Like an idiot, I never went to the doctor. I decided to take it easy on that knee and because the glory days of racing were over, I thought nothing more of it, aside from praying for God to remove the pain. I had many people pray for me actually. But I figured I was now an academic, so that was where I focused my energies.

Note: this is not my actual x-ray, but mine was very similar to this.

After two years of no running I decided to give it another go – I was visiting my parents when I tried to go on this run. Once again, it was another beautiful day and I was running around the lake on their property. The pain in my knee became excruciating, I hobbled to the house and started rubbing down my knee and then I felt it: a huge extra bump on the inside of my leg! Whoa, what is this! Am I an alien? I asked my mom to look at it and she freaked out – and she is a nurse! We went to get X-Rays as soon as possible and discovered what is called Osteochondroma, essentially it was an extra piece of bone growing off of my femur. It was about 4 inches long and was wrapped around my knee, and the ligaments in my knee were catching on it whenever I moved. No wonder it hurt!

Long story short: I had surgery, they had to make a seven inch incision through the muscles in my leg. Surgery went well, we found out that it was not cancerous and it never came back. However, they completely destroyed the muscles! I would have a long journey of PT. Impact sports were out of the question because of doctor’s order. I decided to start riding a bike to commute, and enjoy the scenery, being I could not enjoy that by running anymore. I got really into biking, my wife and I even started racing. And then I decided to try running again. The scenario: I was competing in a cyclocross bike race, my tire flatted and there were no neutral wheels that fit my bike. I was not going to quit, so I ran for 4 miles carrying my bike the whole time and finished the race. I don’t like to quit. And amazingly, my knee was not hurting! Whoa! However, my back was killing me! What a strange twist of events?

My back problems continued getting worse so I visited several chiropractors and it was Dr. Scott Shepherd (Portland, OR) who helped me realize that I had been “tri-poding” for the last few years. Because of the weakness in one leg, I would put most of my weight on one leg so that I could baby the other one. The downside: it messed up my alignment big time! My spine was so curved! We decided to put in a heal lift on one of my shoes and after a year of this and regular chiropractic my spine was much more strait. He helped eliminate all of my everyday pain! Thank you Dr. Shepherd! But every so often I would attempt to run again, and I would develop more back pain, what was going on?

During this time my wife had become a personal trainer and was sharing my story with a few of her co-workers and it was Krista Loveless (now Krista Lennartz), the Pilates instructor, that I am ever grateful for. At this point I was so willing to run that I was willing to do whatever it took. Krista is not a big fan of heal lifts, so we got rid of it. Then she had me start strengthening my feet by doing toe curls! Have you ever done toe curls? they are hard! It takes a lot of coordination. And then we started doing a ton of different exercises on the Reformer – it is amazing how much stability you can gain through working out on that thing! I did personal training with Krista for close to a year, and during that time I withheld from running so that I would not ruin a good thing. I knew that a good runner needed strong feet and a strong core.

From the time of my original injury til today, it has been 11 years. I have been running again for the past 4 years year with no knee troubles and no back pain. I have now competed in one marathon and am looking at possibly competing in an ultra-marathon…we shall see :)

Eleven years is a long time to fight through an injury. I used to wonder if God cared about me, I would get upset on occasion because he did not heal me. But I have come to realize something: God did answer my prayers, it just happened to be through my hard work. God gives us freedom to choose and God loves it when we are faithful with the resources he has given us.

Do you love your #selfie or yourself?

When you look into the mirror, do you think to yourself how good lookin’ you are? Time for another #selfie! Many of us have experienced this sensation at least once in front of the mirror. It is quite strange how we are able to peer into our own eyes, as if trying to find meaning in them, yet we quickly turn when we look into another’s eyes. But I digress…more on the #self….

Have you heard the story of 200px-Michelangelo_Caravaggio_065Narcissus? This is the story of the first #selfie. Many people believe that he died because he was in love with himself through his reflection. I would beg to differ: Narcissus did not drown in the pool because he loved himself, rather because of his failure to actually know himself in his reflection. He had no true sense of himself–he gazed at himself as though it were an other. We, like Narcissus, can become infatuated with ourselves, not because we overly love ourselves, but because we have no true sense of ourselves.

Narcissus had a pool which he stared at, in our culture we have endless possibilities to stare at our #selfies. We even have “selfy-sticks” which have been invented to allow us to take better #selfies. But I ask a question: do we obsessively take #selfies because we love our #selfies or ourselves? The #selfy seems to have created a distance between the self knowing itself. We stare at the #selfie as something other to ourselves.Dubai Daredevil Selfie

Perhaps this is too generalized, but I am inclined to say that we don’t take #selfies because of an obsessive love of the self, but rather, because we don’t understand who we are.  I am not opposed to all #selfies altogether–all things in moderation–but I am bringing to mind that our culture makes a lot of #selfies. Look at this #selfiegraphic, just to get a general idea. Over 1 million #selfies are taken on a daily basis and 3 in 10 photos taken by persons aged 18-24 are #selfies. This is somewhat disturbing to me.

selfiegraphic-infographic-about-selfies_5327657ebe484_w1500

Do you know who you are? Does taking #selfies help you understand your true identity? When you create your own image, do you see yourself the way God sees you? Do you see yourself as the beloved of God? Do you love your #selfie or yourself?

For the Love of the Ride

So excited you can hardly sleep. Will your alarm go off? Does it matter? You will probably wake up before it goes off anyway because of the eagerness. You’re anticipating the first “real” mountain bike ride of the season. Sure, you have ridden a few little short rides on local trails that contain no technicality, but this ride is “real” because it will be hard. You realize that the pain, suffering, and work are truly what make a ride epic. The only race you face is getting all your stuff together in time so your teammates don’t leave without you. Did you start riding to race – no! You started riding because it was fun and this ride is all about having fun.

Gears? Single speed? 29er? 26er? Rigid? Hardtail? Full-suspension? Cross country? All-mountain? Who cares!? No one cares what you are riding, as long as you are having fun. You all cram into one suburban – never thought it would be possible to fit six men with all their gear and six bikes into one vehicle, but you all made it happen.

During the drive there you all talk about life. Work. Family. Things that matter. Perhaps you are talking about these things as a way to ignore the fact that you will be climbing 4,000 feet on a mountain bike. Perhaps you are talking about these things because you are a team, and you truly care about each other. Perhaps a little of both. You love your team.

You pull in to the parking lot, 20 or so cars already parked. You look at your watch – wow – that is a lot of people for being so early. It is a little on the cold side but you know it will get hot real fast because of the brutal climb that lies ahead. You grab your bike; you look at the other bikes…you like your bike. It is you. You are one with your bike.

You roll out. You thank your wife in your head for making pancakes and eggs; you know that you will be burning every single one of those calories in the next 3 hours. You pray to God to protect you and your friends, knowing full well that anyone of you could get seriously injured.

You are captivated with the immensity of the Columbia Gorge. It is breathtaking. You try to think of words to describe it but they all fall short. You keep looking over your shoulder on the switchbacks and staring at the horizon, the water, the mountains. Mt. Hood never looked so attractive. You continue climbing. You feel sorry for some of the guys who have not ridden Syncline before, they don’t know how long the climb is. At least you know how much energy you can pour into the climb and how much energy you should conserve. You see a seven year old kid riding up this climb with his mom – what!? That is awesome. You tap the kid on his shoulder, give him a fist bump and tell him how awesome he is doing. Continue climbing. Pause, the dogs need a break. It is fun mountain biking with dogs; they add so much energy to the ride. They also give an excuse to rest; no one is willing to admit that part though.

Finally reached the top. Now you get to go down. You earned it, enjoy. It feels like you are flying. You look ahead, Spence and the dogs are in front of you. You are going 35 mph and the dogs are keeping up. Craziness. Never saw little legs move so fast. What were those dogs’ names? Spence told me there names like three times, why can’t I remember their names?

You are so glad for the creation, it is so beautiful, and you get to enjoy riding your bike on it. You are taken on a new portion of the trail, exciting! You always enjoy new trails. You look ahead and see the ribbon. Ahhhh, bliss. Such a beautiful ribbon of six-inch wide single track in front of you. So flowy! You are flying again. Berm to the left, berm to the right, drop, pump, pump, power-up, berm right, berm left, power-up, creek crossing, rock garden, power-up, creek crossing, pump, dog? Dog in creek. Is she sleeping? Catching breath. You praise God for the dog needing to catch her breath and cool down, because so do you!

You realize that no adjectives can describe the scene. You are riding your bike in the Columbia River Gorge on a beautiful day, the sun shining bright. You are with your friends. No mechanicals. No major injuries – aside from Jon accidentally falling and banging his knee while showing Jeff how to clean a section. The irony is fantastic. He’ll be okay. He’ll get up again and do it with you next week.

The drive back – you talk about the ride and riding more together in the future. This is what makes a team an actual team – the unified purpose to enjoy the ride together.

You love being on a team that you feel a part of. These men are such an encouragement and they help you enjoy the ride with them. And you honestly admit that the church could learn from the camaraderie of a well-knit team bicycle team.  There are so many varieties of Christianity: Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, etc. But who cares which one you are a member of. Who cares if you ride a single speed, or a 29er, or a full-suspension? They’re still bikes. Likewise, those churches all confess the same thing: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the Triune God – one God and three persons; the full divinity and full humanity of Christ; his actual life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven; and that salvation is only through faith and confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Challenges will always be in your way, there will always be 4,000 foot climbs, but you will persevere through them with your friends, and then you will enjoy the benefits of your hard labor. At the end of the day, you will realize that the unified purpose was to enjoy the journey together in Christ.

Thanks for the awesome rides, gentlemen. Thank you.