Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Have We Lost The Ability To Be Satisfied?

Last night, as I streamed music from Spotify across the room to a Bluetooth soundbar, I thought back to the long-lost days of my childhood. Days of cassette players. Of rewinding tapes with a pencil. Of burned CDs.
Now, with a tap of a smartphone screen, I can access any song, anywhere, anytime.
Faster. Stronger. Bigger. Better.
The world as we know it has changed dramatically in my lifetime alone. Technology has vastly improved our efficiency as human beings. What have we done? Sat back, relaxed, and spent more time with our families and friends? Of course not. We’ve piled more and more on our already-burgeoning plates in a scramble to keep up with a tech-powered world that shows no signs of slowing down.
I’m writing this blog as I’m sitting in a leather seat at 35,000 feet, connected to inflight WiFi, headed from Portland to Montreal in less than 7 hours.
Technology has brought about some astounding achievements. We’re closer than ever to eradicating some deadly diseases. We’re more connected with loved ones across the world than ever before. We have eliminated the need to know by virtual encyclopedias at our fingertips. Our phones can do the work of 20 different gadgets, all for less money than a couch.
However, technology also has a dark side. And I’m not just talking about nuclear proliferation, loss of interpersonal communication skills in today’s youth, genetic modification threatening to blur the lines of what’s human in the near future, or even the autotuned career of Katy Perry.
What I’m talking about is even more dangerous, and it is this: we have lost the ability to be satisfied.
More. More. More. More. More.
We can’t simply sit and watch a breathtaking sunset anymore. Now, we have to post it to Instagram or it didn’t happen. Family dinners? Forget it. Everyone is on their phones. We want to live longer, but we do less and less of lasting value with the time we do have. We want the latest heart medication, but would rather pop a pill than stop eating cheeseburgers on the daily. Kids post Periscope videos of their friends getting raped. Everyone sits and tweets, and nobody takes action, while Bill Nye The Science Guy almost dies onstage.
America is engaged in a very crucial election. Our country is on the brink of putting the next Hitler in the White House. Yet, I guarantee you that nine out of ten Americans know more about Game Of Thrones than they do about an election with very real, very disastrous implications.
We need more. More right swipes on Tinder. More likes and loves on our Facebook posts. The best makeup, jeans, bike, phone, car, house, whatever. Still, when we get what we want, we want even more still. We battle with depression. Loneliness. Suicidal thoughts and actions. As prophet/comedian Louis C.K. puts it, “Everything is amazing, and nobody’s happy.”
Meanwhile, on our own planet, millions and millions of our fellow humans have no access to clean water, have to scavenge and beg for food, and have never heard of the Internet. They are probably happier than we are.
I’m in no way insinuating that we return to some sort of Luddite stone-age society. I’m not saying that we should stop trying to better ourselves, put a wrench in the spokes of the wheels of invention, or stop purchasing technology that improves our lives in meaningful ways. I am suggesting, though, that we will never truly be happy until we learn to be content with what we have, and content with who we are. The endless quest for more can be as addicting as any opiate. We’ve got to find a way to detox, as individuals and as a society.
When will we collectively say that enough is enough?
Elon Musk and SpaceX want to colonize Mars. Part of me thinks it’s ludicrous to invest trillions in space exploration when our own planet is a mess.
Another part of me, though, thinks that Earth is in a downward spiral from which it will never recover, and we might as well get out if we can and go screw up another world. I’d like to apologize in advance, Mars.
When will enough be enough? When will we understand that just because we can doesn’t mean we should? Can we get off this ride before we forget what it
means to be human? Can we put down our phones and enjoy the beauty this world has to offer before we ravage and kill it entirely? Can we unlearn how to
Snapchat and relearn how to actually hold a meaningful conversation?
If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put my money on us turning this ship around.
I ask you to take a minute. Put aside your financial goals for a second. Put down your phone and tablet. Turn off your TV. And, think. Alone. Think about all the things you are grateful for. Think about the ways in which you ARE satisfied. Think about the people you love, the people who love you.
Disconnect and reconnect.
Satisfaction is a choice. Life doesn’t come with a refund policy. You can’t take it back to the store if you’re not satisfied. As Jim Carrey said so profoundly, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
What is the answer, then? What are we all looking for? I can’t answer that question for you, but I can answer it for myself. I crave a simple, authentic life. I want to collect experiences, not things. I want genuine relationships with God, my family, and my friends. I want to make a difference, tangibly, whether big or small.
Maybe you can’t put the brakes on society as a whole. Maybe you can’t change the world in a monumental way. But you can change your world. Choose to find happiness in the things that matter. Choose life.
Enough is enough.

Monday, June 13, 2016

MR. TRUMP, YOU'RE AN IDIOT.



Mr. Trump:
You’re an idiot. Actually, idiot doesn’t even begin to sum you up. Monster might be a better term. Just when I thought you couldn’t sink any lower, you have.
Congratulations on doing your best to capitalize politically off of the heinous tragedy in Orlando.
Patting yourself on the back and issuing an I-told-you-so on Twitter in the wake of 50 needless deaths? Classy, Donald. Classy.
Want to implement your racist, Hitler-esque proposal to ban Muslim immigration? It wouldn’t have helped. The shooter was born in the US.
Think that arming everyone would have prevented this shooting? Think again. There was an armed guard at the nightclub. How did that work out?
Why should anyone be able to buy an automatic or semiautomatic weapon, anyway? Oh, you’re going to hunt deer? I think not. You’re going to hunt humans.
You’re all of a sudden trying to present yourself as an advocate for the LGBT community? How many times have you come out against gay marriage and equality? How many times have you made derogatory comments about everyone from Caitlyn Jenner to Michael Sam?
You, Mr. Trump, and those who share your xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted, ignorant views, are the reason ISIS and terrorists worldwide hate America. You absolutely sum up all of the reasons why we are under attack. If all Americans were like you, I wouldn’t be too fond of this country either. Our biggest threat is coming from within: Americans who have realized that this country stands for something pretty far from the values it was founded on.
Deluded Donald, you are truly an awful person, to your core. You have spent your entire life in a high tower of wealth and affluence. You are absolutely clueless on foreign policy, and all policy, really. You respond like a bullied toddler when someone attacks you. You rejoice when the market crashes, so you can make money. You flip-flop on everything, including political parties. You’re a liar. A cheat. A bigot. A fraud.
You bring a bulldozer when a surgical scalpel would suffice.
Judd Apatow put it like this on Twitter: “Is it possible to be a more self serving, terrifying dumbass than you? Congrats on that. You won that contest.”
Want to make America great again? Shut the hell up, and withdraw from the presidential race in disgrace.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

FISTS OVER FLOWERS.

Why Socialism Will Never Succeed In America.
I’m a socialist, of sorts.
I’m also an American, of sorts.
I would love to see these two identifying characteristics coincide. Sadly, despite best efforts, policies, and intentions, socialism will never succeed in the United States.
Why? Because Americans are simply too damn selfish.
I just got back from a trip to two of the world’s model socialist countries, Norway and Sweden. Their societies consistently rank among the safest, happiest, and most fulfilling on the planet.
Yes, people in both countries pay taxes. A significant amount of them. But, they also receive a litany of important benefits. For free. Healthcare, education, social security that isn’t going bankrupt, you name it. I worked my butt off this past year, and qualified for a higher tax bracket. I paid over $14,000 in taxes. Yet, I still paid almost $300 a month for my healthcare premium, not to mention the thousands I’ve spent fighting Lyme Disease that haven’t been covered by my insurance at all. I also pay into Social Security that I will most likely never receive.
Here in America, the argument is frequently made that socialism is misguided, because why should those who don’t want an education have to pay for those who do? Why do those who don’t need healthcare have to pay for those who do?
Well, I didn’t want a war. Or two. Yet my taxpayer dollars helped fund Iraq and Afghanistan, and they continue to be used towards our multi-trillion-dollar defense budget, against my will.
Capitalism does NOT always give you a choice.
You’re telling me that if healthcare were free, people would milk the system? Possibly so. But as the country with the first world’s highest obesity rate, people are milking the system anyway. And, it’s whole milk, not skim or soy. Rather than eating right and exercising, they’re spending their food stamps (socialism!) on Doritos and hamburgers, then costing taxpayers trillions of dollars in raised healthcare costs to treat diseases and conditions that could have easily been prevented by simple healthy choices.
The truth is, you’d be hard-pressed to name another society that is simply as me-first and selfish as American society today.
In theory, socialism is a phenomenal system of governance. In reality, when put into practice in individualistic societies such as that of the United States, it fails miserably.
Ironically, it’s Republicans, who often identify themselves as Bible-believing Christians, who want to do away with the very social programs that Jesus Himself taught: taking care of the poor, the sick, the needy, the widow, the orphan.
You think Jesus would’ve voted Republican? Think again. The love of money is the root of all evil, Mr. Trump. (Not that Trump has ever actually opened a Bible, but if he did, he might find that verse in there.) Look at the early church in the book of Acts, the one that guy named Jesus founded. Everyone shared everything for the good of the community. Everyone was heavily involved in serving the less fortunate. Everyone wanted to live the selfless life that that guy Jesus had lived. Ever heard of turning the other cheek? Don’t worry, neither has Donald Drumpf.
Every socialist society recognizes that when the good of the group is sought after, when the needs of everyone in society are met, one’s own needs are met in the process.
Just because you don’t put yourself first doesn’t mean that you can’t take care of yourself. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s in recognizing that the greater good is greater than just yourself that we find that others are doing the same. We find community. Authentic relationships. Love. Things that this disconnected, entitled, mass-shooting-prone, sociopathic society are sorely lacking.
I hate to break it to you, right-wing Trump-touting Christians: Jesus was a liberal. A socialist, even. He advocated SO many ideals that you vote against. What happened? The religious right murdered him. Open your beloved Bible, and look past the three verses on gays and look towards the three thousand on grace.
This country will never boast the utopian, peaceful, communal society that I wish it would. Guns will always outsell Super Soakers. War will always outsell peace. Crimes will always outnumber acts of kindness.
Fists over flowers. Hate over heart. If our country is idiotic enough to put a racist, misogynist, completely underqualified, fraudulent, petty bully in the Oval Office and anywhere near the button that controls our thousands of nuclear warheads, I’m leaving. For good. It’s not about Democrat versus Republican. It’s about one qualified candidate that I certainly don’t love, versus a certifiably insane “candidate” who is endorsed by the KKK and Putin, and would be endorsed by Hitler, too, if he were alive. Just ask Anne Frank’s stepsister. Making America great again doesn’t mean an isolationist, imperialistic foreign policy. It doesn’t mean hearkening back to the dark days of constant racial discrimination and hatred. The things that make America great don’t involve Confederate flags, internment camps, and segregation.
So, you call yourself an American? Please, I beg you: think. Vote for anyone but Trump. Do your part to remember that we’re not called to question the motives or the choices of those less privileged than us. We’re called to help them. By God Himself. Don’t believe in God? That’s fine too. Shouldn’t the fact that less fortunate people are human too be reason enough?
Choose flowers over fists. Choose heart over hate. Together, we can make America great again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN TOMORROW AND TODAY.

I’m stuck.
Somewhere in between tomorrow and today.
In my heart, I know that life is short and none of us are promised another sunrise. I know that being present in the moment is the most meaningful way to live. That waiting for a better time means our time may run out before that better time comes.
In my head, though, I know that the future matters. That throwing all financial, relational, and spiritual responsibility to the wind in the name of #yolo is a careless and ultimately self-destructive way to live. That it’s important to invest in relationships, in Roth IRAs, in real estate.
My heart wants to blow all my savings on travel, on giving, on experiencing, on making memories.
My head wants to save, save, save. Get better at adulting. Pick up another shift. Another job. Buy another house. Put my nose to the grindstone until it bleeds the blood of responsibility.
I’m stuck somewhere between tomorrow and today. Perhaps you can relate.
I know there must be a balance between the two. I just don’t know how to find it.
Last year, I only went on one international trip. I worked 70 hours a week. I saved relentlessly and made sacrifices. I invested in the future, invested in the things my head wants. Until, that is, I came down with the devastating mystery illness that made me want to die, that put me in bed for 15 hours a day, that required months of testing and hordes of doctors in order to ultimately be identified as Lyme Disease.
This year, after several months of antibiotics and drastic lifestyle changes, I’m on the road to recovery and feeling a solid 50% better. As a result, my heart once again dominates my decisions. I just got back from Greece and Turkey last month. I’m going to Norway, Sweden and Denmark in less than a week, and to Quebec and Vermont in June, two trips that I cannot and should not afford. I’m taking nights off work, impromptu, to stay at the beach. I’m investing in the present. Investing in the things my heart wants.
You see, I could die tomorrow.
Or, I could live another 70 years.
Nobody but God knows my future, and He’s not being all too forthcoming about it.
So I search for the balance between tomorrow and today, between the head and the heart.
As with most things (except for maybe lead in Flint’s water supply), moderation is key. I need to strive to find balance, to live for today while planning for tomorrow. I dare say that no workaholic who reaches the end of her life wishes she would’ve spent more time in the office. Conversely, though, no party animal who ends up homeless and penniless wishes he would’ve spent more of his money on frivolous things, either.
The common thread that sews together today and tomorrow, I suppose, is purpose. Why am I here? What was I put on this earth to accomplish? To become?
I believe that I am here for two things: to love God and to love people. Most days, in my pursuit of either present happiness or future preparedness, I fail miserably at loving anyone but myself. But, in the midst of the clutter and clamor of today and the uncertainty and anticipation of tomorrow, there is One who was, and is, and is to come. And His love is unbelievably perfect. Unbelievably selfless. Unbelievably, we are the objects of His affection.
He made the ultimate sacrifice to live in our present experience, to live as a man on a wicked planet, to walk a mile in our shoes while carrying a rugged cross. Having conquered death, He started planning for the future. He went home to prepare a place for us, so that we could spend forever with Him in a world full of none of the questions we now face. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow, and today.
In the light of what I believe really matters in this life, it’s still wise to plan for tomorrow while living for today. I will still strive to find balance, to slow the wild pendulum that swings back and forth between my head and my heart. Mercifully, though, we are not in control of our own destiny, in control of how many sunsets we will live to see on this pained planet. So, we live in each moment while looking towards the future. A future far better than anything we could have concocted on our own. A future far better than a Social Security check, a pension, and a bad back and arthritic hips. A perfect future, crafted by the Maker Himself.
A future where every day will always have a tomorrow, and each day will be better than the last.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A New Year's Re-Solution.

We are officially ten days of 2016 deep. For you stat geeks out there, that means that we are 2.74% of the way through the year already. Unless this is a leap year, which I don’t think is the case. I guess I could Google it. Oh wait, it is a leap year. Now I’ve got to do some braining again.

2.73%. You get the point.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve already broken your New Year’s Resolutions. Or, maybe you didn’t even make any this year, because you knew you were going to break them anyway.

Why do we naively expect resolutions to last, anyway? Why do we think that through an act of sheer willpower, we can change ourselves into completely different people when the ball drops at midnight on New Year’s?

According to research from the University of Scranton, only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s goals. Not one of them? Neither am I. Furthermore, 72% of New Year’s resolutions are too vague and unattainable anyway, according to a study whose results I have completely fabricated.

The secret to change, I think lies in the word resolution itself. Simply breaking apart the word in a new way gives me a little hope. It’s not about resolving to change once and for all, but rather about finding solutions, over and over again. Finding the re-solution.

Change usually happens in tiny increments, not in massive chunks. Did you resolve to eat better? Your cravings for unhealthy foods aren’t going to disappear overnight. Rather, you need to choose, on a daily basis, to order the salad instead of the pizza, the water instead of the Coke. So you broke weak on January 9 and got the Triple Bacon Cheeseburger? That doesn’t mean that you should give up on your resolution entirely. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Who throws babies out, anyway? I believe that’s a crime. Rather, simply go back to making a better choice the next time you’re out to eat or at the grocery store.

We can’t change the past. We can change the future. Choice by choice by little choice.

Did you resolve to be a better parent on January 1, yet find yourself screaming at your kids on January 10? Don’t give up. Don’t beat yourself up. Go hug them and say you’re sorry. Life is a series of moments in a row. Just because the last moment didn’t go as planned doesn’t mean that the next moment is ruined, too. 

Where does the word resolution come from, anyway? The Online Etymology Dictionary states that it stems from the Latin word resolutionem, which refers to “the process of reducing things into simpler forms.”

This is beautiful. And powerful. 

How often do we try to make things too complicated? How often do we set goals that are out of our reach? 

Life is about finding simplicity in a cluttered, frenetic world. Our goals should be simple, too. Goals that reflect what’s truly important in our lives. What if we resolved to love a little bit more? To give a little bit more? To listen a little bit more? What would 2016 look like if we didn’t give up on these goals, but chose them every single day of the year?

Change starts today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. Slowly but surely, by God’s grace, we become more and more of the people we want to be.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

HOPE.

I hope, therefore I am.

I hope for a lot of things. Some of my hopes are realistic. Some, not so much.

When I hope that work will be busy tonight so that I can make more money, my hope has a good chance of coming to pass, especially because I’m planning to stand on the street corner in my giant iridescent salmon costume to drum up business. When I hope that my 49ers will win the Super Bowl this year, my hope simply isn’t based in factual reality, as long as the Colin Kaepernick formerly known as an NFL quarterback remains on the roster.

Some of my hopes are trivial. Some are fundamentally existential. This is true for all of humanity. We hope for things as mundane as good barbecue weather, or as profound as peace on earth.

Right now, I’m hoping that my neck will feel better. What started as a strained muscle while climbing in Colorado a month ago has developed into a C6 herniated disc, featuring profound weakness in my neck and forearm muscles punctuated by intermittent blurred vision, headaches, and pain. I’m now wearing a sexy neck brace to work and popping Flexeril and Advil like they’re Halloween candy while seeing doctors, chiropractors, and massage therapists. My life as I know it has been put on hold. Hiking? Forget about it. I spend most of my free time just laying in bed. Thursday, I’ll go in for a second MRI, this time of my brain. Here’s hoping it provides some more answers.

Without hope, we have no hope. Hope is essential to our psyches, vital to our everyday existence. With nothing to look forward to, our happiness withers, our dreams die, our passions fade.

But, in case you forgot, we live in a hopeless world. A world where hopeless people bring guns to classrooms, and use them. A world where hopeless people drive cars into victory parades. A world where bacon causes cancer.

All of our hopes, in one sense, are but temporary placebos, easing the pain of existence, brightening our days, yet eventually meeting their end when each of us is laid six feet under.

When we die, hope dies with us.

Or does it?

I believe that hope is only truly hopeful if it’s out of this world.

You see, I have high hopes for a future that lasts forever. A future free of death. Of tears. Of pain. Of neck pain. I hope desperately for a day when all things will be made new.

I’m not talking about pie in the sky, about harps and halos. I’m talking about a real, tangible forever, spent with the ones we love and with a God who took on our hopelessness on a cruel cross to give us a hope we can wager our lives on.

Some people point to religion, and to Christianity in particular, as a crutch for the weak, as a belief system that provides hope in a cruel, capricious world. In a sense, they’re right. It’s not until we recognize the depths of our weakness, of our hopelessness, that we find the need for hope. For real, lasting hope. For the kind of hope for a future that all the strong, proud nonbelievers in the world put together can’t contrive.

Steven Curtis Chapman puts it like this: “Let me be made weak so I’ll know the strength of the one who’s strong.”

I’m not saying that we should all blindly become Christ-followers simply so we can have hope, and can pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that everything will be okay in the end. There are a myriad of logical, historical, philosophical, and anthropological reasons to believe. (Don’t believe me? Read Timothy Keller’s The Reason For God.) But, that’s not my point here. This post isn’t about apologetics; it’s about hope, for heaven’s sakes.

So, while we wait for our eternal hopes to become reality, we’ll have to put up with our earthly hopes being crushed a time or twenty. Our hopes on this earth can and will be dashed on the rocks of reality when we’re faced with suffering, with pain, with heartache, with discouragement, with death. But as long as we hold on to our eternal hope, we can be bent but not broken.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who put his hopes for a better earth into action, hopes that ultimately cost him his life, said this: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

The apostle Paul, who knew a thing or two about suffering, puts it like this: “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint.”

When I put my hope in things, in people, in what the future holds, or in the 49ers, I end up hopeless. Every time. C.S. Lewis agrees: “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.” I need to hope in something, in Someone, I can count on. Someone who has gone as far as giving up his own life to show me that he can be trusted. Someone who will one day take us home from this wretched place.

Needtobreathe sums up my feelings well: “In this wasteland where I’m living, there’s a crack in the door filled with light, and it’s all that I need to get by.”

Someday, that door will be thrown open wide. All that we’ve hoped for from the beginning of time will come to pass, and the God of hope will wipe every tear from our eyes. Forever.

I hope that day comes soon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ONE THING

If you could be famous for one thing, what would that one thing be?
One thing you excel at. One thing that you are appreciated for. One thing that will appear on your tombstone someday.
Keira Knightley? Zac Efron? Scarlett Johansson? Those looks. Lorde? Chris Cornell? Adele? That voice. Ron Jeremy? That..well, we won’t get into that.
Donald Trump has his hair. Tom Hanks? His acting skills. Peyton Manning? His arm. Alex Morgan? Her foot.
Of course, there are the Bo Jacksons, Arnold Schwarzeneggers and Jared Letos of the world that are legitimate two-sport stars. But for the most part, the rich and famous are rich and famous for one reason. One thing.
All of us, whether rich or poor, famous or anonymous, have our one thing. One thing that matters more to us than anything else. One thing we put first. One thing we pour our time, money and energy into.
What are you known for? What is your one thing? Your singular focus? What do you put first? What will they say about you at your funeral?
For me, what I’m known for and what I want to be known for are sometimes light years apart.
I’m pretty good at a lot of things. I never got to where I wanted to be in my music career, but touring 45 states and having a song on 275 FM stations ain’t too shabby. I’m pretty decent at photography, social media, writing, and bartending, and I’m awesome at folding socks, even though I choose never to do it.
Do these things matter in the end, though? Do I want my tombstone to boast about how many followers I have on Instagram? How many major label bands I opened for? How many dollars I sold per hour at various restaurants?
Look at Mother Teresa.
By her own admission, she wasn’t much to look at. She struggled with her faith. She couldn’t sing, dance, or tweet.
What did she do better than anything else? What was she world famous for? What was her one thing?
Her ability to love. To give. To serve. That’s it.
Remember that Finger Eleven song from a few years ago? “If I traded it all, if I gave it all away for one thing…wouldn’t that be something?”
Think you don’t have many gifts? Think you have nothing to offer? Think you’re destined to slave away in anonymity, unnoticed for what talents you do have? Think your tombstone will be blank?
Think again.
All of us have been give the ability to love. To give to serve. And when we do, it’s going to change the world.
All of us, any of us could be the next Mother Teresa. Right now. Right where we are.
I desperately want love to be my one thing. Sometimes, I do all right at this. Sometimes, I fail miserably.
The apostle Paul was a pretty well-rounded guy. He was a former Jewish ruler, the leader of a rapidly growing church, a prolific author, a linguist, a theologian, a dual citizen, a world traveler, a gifted orator. He even made tents on the side. But even a renaissance man such as himself recognized that if he didn’t have love, he was nothing. Nothing.
If your one thing is a talent that brings you personal gain, fame, and riches, you win.
If your one thing is love, everyone wins.
Your heart will end up where what you treasure is. What good is it if you gain the whole world, but forfeit your soul?
Make love your one thing. When all is said and done, it’s the one thing that matters.