Sunday, June 23, 2013

Ze new blog

This blog has served me well for a long time. On it I've journaled about life-changing experiences, from my first taste of pastoral ministry as a Jubilee Fellow to my trip to Israel and Palestine a few summers ago. I've recorded my musings here, my thought development as I've tried to understand how to be a better Christian, son, brother, and friend. There is pain here and joy as well. Love and loss. Immaturity and insight. Humility and pride.

But the time has come to retire this blog and move on to the next one.

So I won't be blogging here anymore. Instead, I've moved on over to For the next nine weeks, I'll be chronicling my experience on the Sea to Sea bike tour there. After that it will expand into a broader space for my continued development, thoughts, and ideas.

Thank you all for reading and engaging with what I've put up here. I appreciate it.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Under Construction

People like to pigeon-hole each other.

For instance, it seems like most of the time "liberals" are portrayed as open-minded, progressive thinkers, while "conservatives" are portrayed as close-minded, ignorant reactionaries. It doesn't seem to matter whether one's talking about politics, social issues, or religion. This divide is constantly reinforced. On one side, there are the educated liberals pushing new, forward ways of thinking, and on the other side we find the conservatives with their heels dug in and their heads in the sand.

When I actually think about those I know who fall into those two camps, though, it's funny to me just how untrue those superficial distinctions really are. The fact of the matter is that a lot of the left-leaning people I know are just as obstinate and stubborn as the "other side" that they always complain about. They charge conservatives with being completely unwilling to think through and engage with their progressive perspective, and they get frustrated with conservatives for not trying to empathize with or understand liberal reasoning. But my leftist friends are rarely any better themselves. They're often just as unwilling to seriously consider the conservative view of things.

And I happen to know a good number of right-leaning people who are indeed capable and willing of being open-minded. They might still come to conclusions that a lot of Americans would say are "backward." But they've certainly thought through the different sides and worked their hardest to come to what they feel is the best and right conclusion. Unfortunately, they're lambasted for having convictions that not everyone agrees with, which, just to be clear, isn't the same thing as being an idiot (try as some might to make it appear that way).

The point is, these dichotomies aren't often very helpful. They only serve to help us divide people further rather than find ways of bringing them together for helpful dialogue.

I'd like to think that I've somehow transcended all of this, especially as someone who holds convictions traditionally promoted by both "sides" in these "dialogues," but I know that I really haven't. When I come to conclusions about what I think is right or wrong, I often make the mistake of thinking that everyone should think just like me. It's especially problematic when I try to canonize my personal positions on one issue or another as the Christian way of doing things.

The problem here is that there are often multiple Christian approaches to any given issue.

I'll use the gun current gun control debate in the U.S. as an example. One side is arguing for stricter gun laws and having fewer guns in society. Why? Because they believe that will lead to less gun violence. Why do they care? Because they want to see less malicious human pain, suffering, and death. Why? Because they value human life. Why? Because, from a Christian perspective, they believe human beings are made in the image of God and should thus be cared for.

The other side in this debate, however, is arguing for the same gun laws (or even easier ones) and the ability to arm one's self. Why? Because that they believe that if more people are armed, there will be less gun violence. Why? Because then a well-trained and well-intentioned citizen could stop a shooter before he or she kills too many people. Why do they care? Because they want to see less malicious human pain, suffering, and death. Why? Because they value human life. Why? Because, from a Christian perspective, they believe human beings are made in the image of God and should thus be cared for.

If we take these opposing arguments at face value, the base values are the same. And that's the point here. There are clear rights and wrongs according to our Christian faith. The right thing to do in the gun control debate is care about human life and well-being since humans are made in the image of God. The wrong thing to do is not to care about human life and well-being and to destroy it, whether directly or not. That is where the divide ultimately lies. How we go about exercising the right value on human life will look different for different people, though, and thoughtful Christians will fall down on all sides of the debate. We could advocate for stricter gun laws or the same (or laxer ones). They're both morally permissible options for Christians.

The mistake I've often made is not realizing that last point. I've often felt that I have somehow come to the point of understanding how Christianity should be best lived. I've thought that my values and convictions and stands are universally Christian and should be held by anyone who actually takes his or her Christian faith seriously. I'm afraid that I've arrogantly thought that way far to often and for much to long. The simple fact is that I don't know the right Christian way of living. I might know what some of the right Christian core values are. But when it comes to how best to live those out, I've only just begun to understand that some Christians will truly believe the best option lies in one direction, and others will seriously believe it lies in the other. And that's okay. We merely have to able to continue an actual dialogue with each other on the various things we care about.

Why do I bring all of this up? Because this blog is now officially under construction. I've recently come to the awareness that not everything on this blog represents me any more, or at least it might not represent me the way I'd like to represented. So I'm going to go back and think through the stuff that I've written in the past, nuance it where I need to, and come at things a little more charitably than I might have previously. It should be a good learning opportunity, or at least a space for me to nerd out a bit more.

Thanks for reading, my friends.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ho, ho, ho, Merry Easter!

For a lot of people, Christmas is the favorite holiday. And why not? There's the food, the fellowship, and the fun traditions. There's the decorations and the weather. The break from school and work, and, of course, there's the presents. All of this stuff gives one something to look forward to when it comes to Christmas. It instills a sense of anticipation in us--the waiting of Advent.

We don't treat other Christian holidays in quite the same way. Easter, Ascension Day, and Pentecost may be nice, but they're no Christmas, at least from the consumerist perspective. There's not the same built-in expectation for those other holidays that goes along with Christmas. The simple fact is that December 25 markets itself. The suspense is inherent. But that's not so with most of our other holidays. They're not billed quite as highly as Christmas. The excitement isn't the same.

This year, however, something gave me the kind of anticipation for Easter that most people reserve for Christmas. This year, I went on a media fast for the duration of Lent that honed my appreciation for Easter--namely, it gave me more of a reason to look forward to Christ's rising and the implications that result form his work on the cross. As I've reflected back on my media fast and the various benefits that have resulted from it, this was possibly the best one. 

It was a bit of a strange feeling waking up on Easter with the same excitement I had for Christmas morning as a kid, but that was the case this year. And you know what? I think it's a more appropriate time for that kind of joy and anticipation. After all, Easter marks the rising of our savior, Jesus Christ. It celebrates his victory over sin and death. It symbolizes our own death to who we were before Christ's work in our lives and our subsequent rising with him to new life.

Certainly more powerful than any present we might receive during the Christmas season.

None of this is meant to discount Christmas. It still happens to be one of my favorite holidays for a number of really good reasons. But it struck me how Easter felt a bit more important to me this year. When you spend so much time waiting for something, its arrival truly is a bit more special. Indeed, its significance lasts.

Thanks for reading.



Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lent: Part 2

It's been a week.

A week back in the hustle and bustle world of media. A week back from a Lenten season without music, movies, TV, video games, and much of the internet. A week back from quietness and a kind of solitude I found I desperately needed.

At the end of my last blog post, I wrote that I had changed over the course of my fast from media, and so that's where I pick back up today.

The first change I noticed had to do with my ability to focus. Put simply, I felt much less fragmented and distracted during my media fast. I slowly started to realize that I was able to remain on task better than I usually can. Regardless of whether I was in the quiet of my own apartment or the noisy busyness of the Starbucks I've come to frequent this year, I became much better at reading, writing, and arithmetic (not really that last one, but it fit) during the fast. I didn't lose my concentration as often in my reading. My writing flew by. I suddenly had a renewed and welcomed ability to more fully give myself to what I was working on, rather than splitting my attention in a variety of different directions.

In fact, this fast has had to end just like any other should--in a slow transition back to the things I gave up. Already a number of times I've found myself turning music off while I read or work, simply because it feels like it's crowding me out of my own head (even now I write this without listening to the music I thought I longed so much to return to). I don't want that former distractedness back.

To be honest, It's been nice to remember just how beautiful a well-crafted silence can be.

The other major change I noticed--and it's somewhat along the same lines--was my ability to give myself more fully to other people. Part of that certainly came from having the extra time that the internet wasn't sucking away from me anymore. Another part came from my openness towards those around me (see last post). And a third part likely came from the strange loneliness that is "Facebook withdrawal." Whatever the formula, though, I was suddenly much happier to just be with people. I was suddenly more willing to focus on them. And I was suddenly able to put up with them.

That's a process of re-humanization. It's a process of putting flesh back on people, rather than reading them through the lines of computer code we use to describe ourselves and fashion our public profiles.

And I loved it. I loved seeing people more for who they really are. I loved chatting with them and realizing that I was actually happy just sitting there, talking about what was important and necessary. I loved not feeling quite as squeezed tight and stressed as I normally do. It made me a better person to be around, a better friend.

I think that's what I'll say for now. More realizations may come on the changes this media fast occasioned in me. But this is a good start. And so I'll stop here.

Come back for more later, though.

I'm sure there'll be something.



Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Lent: Part 1

This past Sunday, I allowed myself to turn music on again. And my TV. And visit Facebook. And read the news online. And pop a movie in.

It had been a while.

It had been a while, because during Lent this year I decided to try out a media fast. For the six weeks of Lent I didn't "turn on" any media. I fasted from television, movies, music, video games, and all non-academic, non-job hunting internet. I tried to limit checking my email to about three times a day. I put most of the apps on my smart phone into a couple of folders labelled "Lent" and "Lent 2" (and I'm pleased to say that I mostly left them alone).

And so, I unplugged in order to practice a form of silence and solitude our culture rarely allows us. This blog post (and probably the next few after it) will be a journal of sorts about my thoughts on the experience (and, yes, I do realize the irony of blogging about a media fast, but we're just going to have to be okay with that...).

The first thing that I noticed during the fast, was how accustomed my body is to certain media related actions. For instance, I quickly realized that one of the first things I do when I get into my car is reach for the stereo. I get in, close the door, turn on the engine, put the car in gear, and then reach for the stereo (for you safety-minded folk out there, the seatbelt always comes next, rest assured. Though, admittedly, it's normally after I've gone a little ways). For the first week or so of the fast I could still feel my muscles instinctively stiffening and readying themselves to turn on the radio soon after getting into the car. It had become second nature to me--a part of the driving routine, and it was rare that I ever drove without listening to something.

And that wasn't the only example. As the fast wore on, I realized that I have other, similar subconscious impulses too. Cooking with music. Eating with a movie. Taking a break from homework with a video game. All popped up spontaneously from time to time, and I found myself having to actively resist those impulses during the early weeks. It was all very interesting and self-revelatory for me.

Soon, though, such urges died down. I settled into different routines. Instead of eating with the TV on, I began to read the Christian Reformed confessions during meals. In place of music, I did the dishes in silence, lost in my own thoughts. On long drives, I started to memorize scripture. One practice that really struck me, though was how, rather than immediately pulling out my headphones when doing homework in Starbucks, I would chat a bit with the barista or occasionally strike up conversation with strangers. While I'm normally one of the worst when it comes to insulating myself in my own little musical bubble in the company of others, I found myself more a part of the community around me, interacting with the other people I was present with. And since I didn't have any wires dangling from my ears, they seemed more willing to talk with me in the first place.

 It felt like a whole new world in some respects.

And I found that I was different too.

But I think that's where I'll have to pick up with the next post. Otherwise, knowing myself, I'll just go on and on and lose any of you kind enough to have read to this point. Hopefully I've piqued your interest just enough to lure you back in a day or two.

Until then, my friends, pray.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I suppose this is the sound of silence.

To let my thoughts become so preoccupied and tangled that I forget to think them through.

And so my hair has started to grey.

It's been nearly two years since I've written anything here. And like a tree falling in an un-explored wood, there is absolutely no one to notice, because I have somehow allowed this space--what was for so long a harbor for my anxious days and sounding board for my churning mind--fall into disuse.

I think it's time to start this up again. Or at least some form of it.

We'll see.



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Reflections (with a bit of history probs thrown in): Part 1

Ok, ladies and gentlemen. We've now come to the portion of the blog where I'm going to start detailing some of my more general observations and opinions from my trip to Israel, though in order to properly do so, I will likely continue to pull bits and pieces from various segments of history. Basically, be ready for the hodge-podge of stuff from me that you know and love.

I'll start off my reflections with something that may be surprising to some of you.

As a country, Israel is driven by fear.

Now, let's unpack that a little bit.

Fear drives the entire society. Ever since Zionism evolved from a collection of semi-socialist ideals into the neo-religious, political movement it is today, fear has been one of the major motivators used by a number of wielders (Zionist ideologists, Israeli military officers, Israeli government officials, etc.) to bring Israeli interests to fruition. The Israeli state was established through fear. The military occupation has been driven and justified by fear. The injustice in the country has been legitimized through fear. In fact, with its new censorship laws, Israel has even kept its own citizens silent through fear.

Now, that might sound a little extreme. It may sound like I'm going all dystopian science-fiction on you or something. So let me give some examples to illustrate my point.

When we were traveling up to Galilee, we stopped at a highway rest stop for a quick bathroom and lunch break. I decided to head into the gas station convenience store to grab a candy bar. As I was walking towards it, I found myself following a young woman, probably about 20 years old. She was nondescriptly dressed in sandals, a long skirt, and a grey tank top. She didn't look unlike my sister, if Shannon ever wore skirts. The difference between this girl and my sister was that the Israeli girl was a soldier. And the reason I could tell she was a soldier was the M16 she had slung over her shoulder and lightly bouncing against her back. I don't know if the stock was larger than usual or it was just her smaller stature, but the gun seemed huge. Once inside the convenience store, there was another plainclothes soldier with an M16. And then another. And another. Nikes and rifles. Shorts and semi-automatics. The whole group of these people could have just as easily have been tourists like me, except their firepower pegged them as Israeli soldiers on leave. Yet they still had their guns because of an Israeli law that requires soldiers to carry their weapons at all times during their mandatory two years of military service. The reason, according to our Israeli guide, Lazarus (who you'll hear more about later), is so that Israeli citizens (everyone in the country is a reservist after mandatory service) feel such a strong bond with their weapons that they won't hesitate to use them at the first moment's need.

In other words, Israel is breeding a society of people who will respond to situations through aggression first and diplomacy (damage control) later.

Now, back to the fear side of things. Israel has laws like the one I've described above for a reason. Put simply, they're afraid. They're afraid because for hundreds of years, European pogroms massacred millions of Jews, and that's not even including the Holocaust. They're afraid that the international community (including the U.S.) is eventually going to pull their last few vestiges of blind support and then everyone's going to try to rush in and institute the next pogrom. They're afraid that they can't be truly safe anywhere.

But they're determined to make themselves as safe as possible, no matter the cost.

The problem is that they're determined to do so by perpetuating a culture of fear. For instance, the Israeli government sponsors trips to Poland for Israeli high schoolers to tour the Nazi death camps there. The tours are led by an official Israeli guide who details the horrors of the Holocaust. But then things go one step further, and the guides tell their young tourists that the Holocaust will happen again if Israel doesn't protect itself. That the Arabs are waiting in the wings, ready and willing to institute the same kind of atrocities. And so these young kids go back home and in a year or two they begin their mandatory military service, and they end up having little regard for how they act towards the Palestinians. Because they view them as a violent and suspicious other, and, in doing so, they end up dehumanizing both the Palestinians and themselves.

And so they build walls. Lots of them. And they encourage their settlers in the West Bank to carry firearms at all times. And they require their soldiers to constantly keep their rifles with them. And they blockade Gaza. And they demolish any Palestinian home that they deem as a "security threat." And they pre-emptively strike any country in the Middle East who they feel justified in attacking. And they bomb residential compounds where they think terrorists may be living. And they restrict Palestinian movement. And they enact censorship laws to keep their own citizens from questioning any of this. And they tax everyone in the country exorbitant amounts of money in order to fund all of this "security."

Unfortunately, at times, it becomes a bit less like security and a bit more aggression.

But that's okay.

Whatever the cost.

Now, for a bit more speculation on my part and the parts of both the Israelis and Palestinians we met while we were in the country. Israel uses this fear as a motivator because, collectively, it doesn't have anything else. There's no hope. There's no confidence in anything but their own strength. Why? Because Israel, as a collective society, has never healed from the oppression that its people have faced. As Bob Marks, an Israeli Jew we met, told us, "The Holocaust is thoroughly abused by every political camp that exists." Rather encourage the necessary societal healing and forgiveness that needs to happen in response to the Holocaust, Israel's leaders would rather use its population's past as a way to manipulate and motivate them. But the Christian gospel offers a radically different view. We're not supposed to hold onto the wrongs that have been done to us. Rather, we're supposed to forgive, and, in doing so, heal both ourselves and the other side. It's not easy, but I do think that it works.

Unfortunately, Israel is acting a bit like the middle school bully whose father beats him, so he turns around and hits kids at school because he doesn't know how else to channel the pain. But that creates a cycle of aggression and violent intensification. Because, as we all know too well, the Palestinians hit back sometimes. They don't have nearly the muscle that the Israelis do, but they they do retaliate occasionally. And then the fear inside everyone perks up a bit, and the escalation starts.

Israel is engaged in cyclical and systematic fear, and therefore cyclical and systematic violence. And no one, on any of the sides of this conflict (because there are definitely more than two), are going to be able to heal unless people are able to rise above the human solutions that don't work and start seeking God's solutions, which do.

Israel and Palestine need Jesus' example for reconciliation. Because his way heals. It moves us past the pain. It relieves us of the fear. And then it stops the escalation. Otherwise, this conflict will continue for another fifty years, and we'll keep reading the same headlines over and over.

Finally, two bits of hope. First, this conflict will not last forever. History bears this out. These things eventually come to an end. Second, we can firmly rest on our hope in God. All our other sources of confidence--our military strength, economic stability, social cohesion, etc.--it all eventually will fade and crumble. But God doesn't. And so he needs to be the basis for our resolutions to our problems.

True dat.