I’d really like to go to Patagonia, and I can’t really explain why.

I was never much for the outdoors growing up. My uncle had a deer lease that we’d go to on occasion, and he mostly invited me when hunting wasn’t really the point of the trip. I did a bang-up job of disrupting the rhythm of the experience. I refused to be up early to make it to a deer blind and I definitely wasn’t going to walk in the freezing cold through the woods at four in the morning covered in doe piss. Plus I couldn’t bring an mp3 player because apparently deer can hear the faintest whisper of a murmur of barely audible sound.

I mostly went to ride four wheelers, pretend to like fishing, and play pasture golf with an old set of clubs that was waiting out its rusty demise in the cold of the remote cabin. Every now and again I’d shoot the guns, trying my damnedest to hit a can just a few feet away. The anticipation of the recoil to come was always enough to cause me to prematurely flinch, missing the old can by a sizable and growing distance with each shot.

I didn’t like being dirty. I didn’t like the lack of television. But despite all the things I didn’t look forward too, there was plenty to enjoy. My uncle and my dad would always cook good food and we’d all play dominoes late into at night. That old cabin was where I had my first taste of alcohol, where I chewed my first cigar, and where I learned those subtle mannerisms shared by men in manly situations. There was also the time my cousin and I found an old Playboy from the seventies at a nearby cabin we had sneaked into, and I’m sure that was the first time I saw a naked woman. I remember walking away confused, wondering where the woman I had just seen got the added details that were missing from my friend’s sister’s Barbie dolls we had undressed once. We never did tell our dads what we had happened upon that day.

I grew up a lot in those woods, even though I never loved them. I much preferred organized sports to the more rugged outpouring of testosterone that happened on those hunts, and it continued like that for some time.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I got the outdoor itch. It was during the second half of a road trip my senior year in college. I was with four of my closest friends and we had just traveled to Phoenix for a football game after which we decided, somewhat impulsively, to head north to the Grand Canyon, each of us feeling it was too near to pass up. We drove north through the mid-winter cold, the roadsides getting steeper and more snow covered as we made our way to that magnificent testimony to relentless beauty.

I remember getting there and not knowing what to expect. People always describe it as a religious experience, and so I’m sure I was expecting some type of epiphany. I closed my eyes and had a friend guide me to the edge. I guess I wanted it to be a huge surprise and I probably hoped that seeing is suddenly would induce that breath-taking feeling some people say they get.

And like most things you build up, it was anti-climactic. Initially. It was what it was. A big hole in the ground. I remember thinking the pictures of it I’d seen are more beautiful, each one artfully framed by light and manipulated for best color. It was cold and the Canyon was covered in snow, and despite that absence of an out of body experience, I remember not wanting to leave.

I kept thinking about how old the Canyon was, and how it was formed. I thought about the history of the area and the native people, and the great explorers who had stumbled upon the marvel and the shock that would have been. I really wanted to hike down. I was in sandals and I didn’t have hiking shoes. I was broke and even though I would’ve spent my last dime on a pair of shoes at the gift shop, we had to get back for class and that money had to go to gas.

It wasn’t long after that when I went on my first ski trip, and the mountains were overwhelming and beautiful. I was with another great group of friends on that trip who patiently taught me how to ski and who would drink in the village with me afterwards when I was tired and frustrated. This summer I spent some time on the Appalachian Trail and it was a great time even after we were halfway though our ambitious hike and realized we weren’t going to make it all the way.

After all this, I decided I like the outdoors and ever since I’ve been getting out as much as possible. Like all good converts, I needed a nice jacket preferably from a cool brand. Patagonia had a nice logo, and I got one of those thick fleece jackets that look like teddy bear fur. Sometime after that, I picked up Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia and I watched 180º South. This only added fuel to the fire and now here I am, making plans to drink the indigenous maté with my Argentinian friends in preparation for my trip that will hopefully happen soon. There’s even been talk about climbing 14ers in Colorado.

I think the part of me that now loves the outdoors comes from the same place for most people. You read Emerson or Thoreau. You watch A River Runs Through It. You go on a nice hike in the woods with someone you like and the lights shine through the trees in a slightly different way. However the itch comes about, it gets down deep. You crave the escape from deadlines and structure and smog that might make up your context. The outdoors embody escape, transcendence. The represent not just physical but intellectual and spiritual removal from the everyday. You begin to feel tricked, like everything around you in a fabrication, and the answer, you tell yourself, if the get away from it. You go to the woods. To the mountains or the ocean. There all the things erected around you which you can no longer trust are stripped away.

And all of those things are attractive to headstrong twentysomethings who think they know a thing or two about what’s wrong with the world. But at some point the initial allure dies away, and you are forced to ask yourself if you really are a person who loves being outside.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered that as the newness has died away, I still love being outside.

The reasons are much less pompous that those above. While it is an escape, retreating from the things that need redemption is never the answer. I like the city just as much as I like the outdoors, I’ve realized.

For me, it’s something else. I like being there with the things that have been there much longer than I have. I like swimming in water that has flowed for millions of years, in rivers carved out by forces that have never waned for just as long. I like climbing natural forms pushed up by powers nearly incomprehensible. For me, the initial reasons for being outside were arrogant, a misplaced sense of deeper understanding I though I had found. My new reasons are quite the opposite. They do a better job of putting it in perspective. They tell you that you are a small part of a long, long history. That you, contrary to what may feel, are not the most powerful force around. You are a visitor, one of billions that have come along over the long course of history. This new set of reasons causes you to think of yourself more humbly.

It’s not degrading. It’s not meant to cause you to question the necessity of your own place in this world. To be sure, you are needed and created on purpose. But it removes you from the center. It gives you a role to play in stewarding, in redeeming, in restoring, and in bring peace. You become a part of a much larger whole, one that you play in integral role in. It is true that your individual impact is small and transient. Some echo louder and longer than others. But more importantly, impact is judged by each person collectively playing their own role. It is the harmony of parts that we need, no the drowning solos.

I look forward to learning more lessons outside. Risk. Adventure. Beauty. Transcendence. Humility. History. And hopefully this journey will take me to Patagonia, that remote, uncharted, desolate land, largely untouched and uncorrupted. Humans have had to travel farther to get to Patagonia than to populate any other place on Earth. And it is a journey worth the effort, I’m sure.


The past year has floated by seemingly unremarkable, at least that’s how it feels upon reflection. In each moment from twelve months ago up until today, I am sure I was acutely aware of each instance as it approached, flickered, and faded. But now, looking back, it’s all somewhat of a blur. The blur is accented with darker spots and lighter spots, and streaks of color here and there that I’d like to revisit. I have done everything I can to figure this blob of life out, like a curator attempting to articulate van Gogh for an inattentive audience of high school visitors, each too distracted by the opposite sex and cell phones to care. While the reflective part of me internally lectures about meaning and significance and beauty, my adolescent, forward-looking exterior attempts to drown out the noise in hopes of hearing better what is coming next.

It’s not that this past year will go down in the story of my life as insignificant by any means. If anything, it has been an acutely formative year. The methods of my head and heart and conscience have been foreign to me though, like newly acquired rituals taken up for the sake of novelty. Their instructional methods, aimed at forging new character, have been analogous to one of those classrooms in the forests where bobo parents send their kids for some tangible learning experience extravaganza. Frankly, it’s been weird.

But like a kid transplanted from a private school, with all its certainty and rigidity and expectations, to its public counter part, I have been hit hard with the fact that “real life” is pretty damn irresolute. Perhaps not absolutely, but at least for now.

For all the talk about this “real world” growing up, wise elders do a terrible job of preparing you for the single defining characteristic: the elusiveness of everyday purpose. In conversation with all my twenty-something colleagues, this one trend remains – we have absolutely no idea what will, or even should, come tomorrow, much less a year from now.

That’s why this year has been so fuzzy. I have written before about the structure of adolescence and the direction it gives us all, the sense of purpose it provides on a daily basis. You do well on tests, at sports games, and in faithful service to your parents through chores.

But my first year of true, unrestrained adulthood has been a lesson in construction. I have had to build purpose, meaning, success, accomplishment – all those things- into my own life. They are not provided by college, or parents, or sports teams anymore. It is not that the past year has been directionless in fact, but only in feeling, each moment a lesson in self-discovery.

And I suspect my friends and those across the world our age are going through the same growing pains, getting comfortable in our own skin all over again, like pubescent young adults sprouting the peach fuzz of responsibility and self-guidance. It itches, just like the first time, but as it grows and we continue to mature, it will flesh us out, deepen our voices, set our eyes, and re-instill that youthful swagger we lost there for a second.

The questions we must answer now, collectively, is in what direction will we orient ourselves? Will we follow the unfamiliar maps handed down by our Boomer parents, awkwardly blazing ahead, frantically searching for our own identity hidden in a mass of shallow social networks? What are our greatest strengths – tolerance, creativity, communication – and how do we leverage these to make meaning of the mayhem we started off with?

My hope is that we pursue a path of lasting virtue and deep consideration.

Virtue is necessary because it is our last hope to recover that innate human search for significance, for meaning, for purpose. We must confess that we have lead unexamined lives, indeed not worth living at all. Accumulation has been our comfort, chased with flip-flop clad feet down a trail of 140 character clues. I hope we recover a sense of virtue so it can lay the foundation upon which we will build a better, more meaningful tomorrow, one where we each play a daily role that leaves us satisfied and content with the purpose we found in each waking moment.

Deep consideration must precede every move we make. We must ask before we act. Should it be true that my only concern in conducting business is to maximize profit for my shareholders? Are the laws I am creating just and fair and and conducive to greater equality? Is my art redemptive, signifying not only the despair and pain of life but also remembering the goodness and joy and strength that exists and can flourish? Do my relationships reveal that I care about the lives of others or are they an extension of my vanity, half-hearted interactions aimed at reducing boredom?

Together we must answer these questions. Until we have decided that we will demand nothing less than honest ascent to our highest virtues, we will never create communities and societies, locally or globally, that give each actor a significant and purposeful role to play, day in and day out. Purposeful togetherness- that must be our goal.


I used to be suspicious of the what a lot of writers write.

I read a lot of non-fiction, facts-and-information type stuff, and most of it follows a pattern. The language of technical writing about politics, history, economics, theology, etc., is pretty standardized, following structural and semantic patters that allow readers to simultaneously read for information while trusting that the information is credible. It is also precise in its word choice. These papers often begin from specific premises and move to more general conclusions, often providing citations as well, thus making them pretty predictable, informative, and reliable.

Distrust here usually comes in the form of bad evidence and shaky reasoning. I am less suspicious of this writing generally because a bad paper can be undone by a little fact checking and re-reading. If it holds up, its good and you’ve learned something new. Or parts can be wrong and you can disagree.

This is not the type of writing I’m mostly skeptical of.

I am typically more nervous around literature. Yes, much of it has to do with the fact that the brilliance of literary authors can easily sail over my head. Metaphors can fail to hit home, structure can overwhelm, and details can be hidden so well that I miss their significance.

But more than that, I am untrusting of the word choice of many writers. As a (aspiring) writer myself, I am well aware that form often times precedes function, that is, the aesthetic value of a word may be more important than the exactness of meaning intended for its usage.

To be sure, truly great writers can use words that are eloquent and poignant, rich and accurate. But even great writers must stretch the denotations and connotations of truly beautiful sounding words and fit them into the spaces created in the midst of sentences whether they fit perfectly there or not. Doing so frequently runs the risk of taking too many liberties with the meanings of words over the course of a single work, thereby having the net effect of blurring the fine lines of the larger point being made by the literature (that is, if we are assuming that all literature has a point, or provides some sort of useful commentary).

But what if my reservations are misguided and writers don’t elevate the sexiness of a word in its place above its tailor-made meaning?  Instead, what if  by using words that have high curb appeal and questionable exactness the author is trying to teach us a lesson about the human mind and its capacity for abstract thought? Perhaps the writer does us a favor to stretch our generally accepted definitions and categories that we so often apply to words. In so doing, the writer invites us to make our words the swings from which the adolescent conceptions that fill our head hang, having room to move and mature as they glide back and forth unformed.

Perhaps the meanings we have attached to words are limited, thereby constraining our usage unless someone asks us to break the molds of our language.

Gregory Burns, in his book Iconoclast, identifies three characteristics of iconoclastic thinkers and leaders. The first and most immediate trait of these people is a neuro-cognitive quality that is mostly innate with some potential for cultivation. Iconoclasts categorize words, images, and other stimuli in different ways in the brain. Our brain has evolved to create shortcuts for processing information. In a talk given by Burns, he asked a group of conference-goers to close their eyes and imagine a sunset. When polled, most people admitted to seeing a glowing orange orb setting over some body of water, usually on costal area, reflection and all. But – why did no one conjure up an image of the sun setting over the red barren surface of Mars, glowing purple in the atmosphere of our orbital neighbor? Because the iconic sunset seen most frequently by people resembles the former, most people’s mind will jump to that image of the sunset by default. The brain has filed that image away under the heading “sunset,” despite the fact that the latter image is just as much a sunset as the former.

Perhaps language and its intended meaning is much the same way. Certain word usages and metaphors have become so commonplace that we are limited to the strict application of the most used meaning. Language, though, has tremendous flexibility in its capacity to reflect reality. Reality is a multifaceted thing, yielding different effects on different beholders. It seems then that writers do us a great favor when they ask us to step beyond the normal usage of a word and into the new capacity for meaning an unfamiliar usage provides.

Instead of doubting the truth-value of things well written, I have instead decided to take the lessons in stretching my own conceptions. Truth is perhaps not about accurateness, but about fullness and richness, and the ability to be flexible and usable in any number of situations.


Jargon and I have a love hate relationship.

It’s one of those things that you can’t live without. And it drives me crazy. Economy of language is so important to us that we have developed words that say so much in only a few syllables. Rarely is a word confined strictly to its denotation. Connotation- what the word means to the hearer- is really all that matters in the context of conversation.

Words, as we all know, are only as useful as they are apt at communicating what it is we intend to say. If you dig deep into your old Communication 101 textbooks, you’ll find an entire first chapter dedicated to the foundational theory of communication, namely, that senders must encode a message in such a manner that allows the receiver to successfully decode the message and by doing so derive the intended meaning. The success of this process depends on the the exactness of the decoded message compared to the encoded message.

This process, as the rest of that text book with tell, is beholden to many, many pitfalls.

Politics is a cesspool of communicative disease. Consultants specialize in the manipulation of words. One of my favorite examples is that of the Estate Tax. Simply stated, the Estate Tax is a tax on the transfer to personal assets after someone is deceased. In a brilliant move by conservatives who oppose this tax, they decided to label it the Death Tax, inviting all the negative connotation of “death” into the conversation about the passing down of personal property.

Examples like this are abundant. Capitol Punishment v. The Death Penalty. Pro Abortion v. Pro Choice. Liberal v. Progressive.

The list goes on.

Finding ways to ensure that our connotation of words match that of the hearer is really the whole game of conversation. But this is tricky. Shifts in the meaning of words are what make jokes and puns and poetry and riddles all work. To reference politics again- political parties are essentially at odds over minute variances in language. The left and the right seize on these delineations in an effort to create gorges of differences amongst themselves when the broad values of the American political mainstream are divided by merely a crack in the ground.

Some groups, such as politicians, live and die by variations in meaning. Other groups- typically more insular groups who share a common purpose- look to eliminate these differences by finding words with little discrepancy and normalizing their usage.

Jargon serves the purpose of consolidating connotations neatly into one word. As users of these words, we inadvertently acknowledge that we understand and agree with the meaning of the word in the context we are currently using it in.

In and of itself, jargon is not a bad thing. For the group of users in a particular context, it makes conversation more precise while at the same time reducing the number of words needed to communicate a given idea. Like its biological cousin, the evolution of language seeks to make the system, in this case communication, more efficient, thus enabling the communicators and their conversation to survive.

Think for a minute of a doctors office. Given all the files flying around, nurses in and out, doctors scrambling from patient to golf game to patient, and shouts of diagnoses ringing through the halls, it makes sense that the staff in this setting would find ways to improve their economic use of language. They find and adopt words that make sense, give them imported meaning, and use them frequently as substitutes for longer conversations that would get in the way of this well oiled machine. Here, jargon has the net effect of increasing the efficiency of the office, allowing the nurses and doctors and administrative staff to work quickly and with reduced error, simply by using seemingly coded language. Here, jargon is a good thing

The problem with jargon, though, is not within the group of people who use it. The problem is for the outsider, the person unfamiliar with the words and their usage in a specific context. At a conference full of doctors, the conversation flows pretty naturally. Introduce a non-medical practitioner into the mix, and the liquidity of language quickly tries up. Doctors would be reduced to spelling things out in “laymen’s terms” instead of using a word or two that encapsulates an entire idea.

Again- this is not a problem for the doctors. Despite the occasional time spent explaining themselves to a person unfamiliar with their jargon, using such language is typically in the best interest of themselves, their co-workers, and the patients they serve. After all, it’s best we probably don’t know much about what they are saying about us anyway.

Jargon does become a problem when the purpose of an insular group involves sustained interaction with those outside its ranks. Christianity, for example, has at the core of it purpose a call to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God to the poor and the oppressed.

But what is the “good news”?  And what are all the components of the “Kingdom of God”? Who is technically “poor and oppressed”? For the member of the Christian body (body = “body of Christ”, another metaphor-turned-jargon), these words combine to form a call to action. Christians understand that this string of jargon is giving them their mission. In laymen’s terms, its translates roughly to this.

God created the Earth and its inhabitants to exist in a certain way, guided by certain principles, the net effect of which God called “good” when he made it all. The “Kingdom of God” represents the perpetuation of these principles. Because of human disobedience, these principles were lost, the human condition declined as a result of this disobedience (or “sin”), and the net effect is no longer “good.” In fact, it’s worse than “not good”- we are called “unrighteous” or not-in-right-standing with the Creator. The “good news” is also referred to as the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it states that God did something about this predicament- namely he sent his son to fix the problem of sin by offering himself as a sacrifice. This message is “good news” to the “poor and oppressed” (some would say materially and spiritually “poor and oppressed”, others only spiritually, and some only materially) because it signals that those principals that were established in the beginning are coming back into play, and we are moving back towards a place where the “Kingdom of God” is in control, thereby eradicating suffering of any kind per the initial principles that made things good to begin with.

All of that is summed up in one sentence: bring the good news of the Kingdom of God to the poor and the oppressed. For the Christian hearer of those 15 words, the meaning of the entire preceding paragraph comes to mind.

But what of the “poor and the oppressed” who are the object of this message? Perhaps a well-meaning Christian comes upon one of these and in an act of piety boldly announces that he has “good news about the Kingdom of God!” While he may in fact have good news, it is hard to see the practical application of that statement for the hearer of the message. This complicates the sense of calling that the Christian feels.

As a Christian, this poses serious problems for how I approach conversations with others about what I personally believe about the purpose of existence. In my insular Christian circle, it is fine when we are discussing the importance of the “good news” in our own life. But this does nothing for the non-Christian.

While the clear communication of the “good news” is likely the most important issue of semantics in the Christian faith, it is not the one that I am most bothered by.

The culprit, instead, is the word “intentional.”

“Intentional” is not exclusively used by Christians, but they have developed as affinity for it as of late. “Intentional” is used to describe the seriousness with which you are seeking out another person. If you have a purpose in seeking someone out, you are said to be “being intentional” about your interaction with that person.

I cannot even begin to describe the problems with this word, though I must confess, I am guilty of using it. A lot. I always choke up right before I say it, my mind frantically searching in vain for another word or phrase to use in its place. I never find that new world or phrase though, and “intentional” comes spewing out, gloriously dressed with all the perfectly packed meaning I need it to have.

“Intentional” implies that we cannot do anything simply for it’s own sake. It implies an agenda, something that needs to be accomplished. We cannot relate simply to relate, love simply to love, or live simply to live. “Intentional” is itself a call to action, waking us up to find purpose and meaning and direction with the people we interact with- one we apparently don’t naturally posses.

But “intentional” also accuses us. It accuses us of being unable to be sincere unless we are reminded to be “intentional.” Sincerity though, is simply sincere. “Intentional” is feigned sincerity, caring because you ought to, not because you actually do.

You might disagree, perhaps accuse me of splitting hairs. But I think we need to examine how we use this word. We need to care because we simply care, because it is the natural human response, because we are implored by God to love others just as Christ loved us. Jesus loved us first, and everything he did was and extension of that love.

Being “intentional” adds something that precedes the love. It says that we need to care enough before we can begin to love. And if we care enough- are “intentional” enough- then we might get to a place of genuine love as a result of our upfront diligence.

This plays out frequently in romantic encounters as well. Upon meeting someone, the guy or girl needs to decide to be “intentional” about “pursuing” the other. That means that all of their thoughts and actions directed at establishing a personal connection are going to be done on purpose, with sincerity, with the goal of  eventually reaching a genuine love.

But why all the hoopla? Just love. Be serious because that’s what you do with another human being. “Intentional” doesn’t work because it implies you have to do something different this time, something you wouldn’t normally. “Intentional” doesn’t work because you should always be intentional.

You don’t need to be “intentional” to get to a place of love. Just “love your neighbor as yourself.”

But it has become our jargon. We have packed “intentional” with these connotations of “sincerity” and “genuineness” and “purpose” when the reality is that all of our interaction should be those things, thereby making it uneccessary to label specific actions as such.

When we say we are being “intentional”, we are calling our selves guilty- in the same breath no less- of being the very opposite.

Unintentionally, of course.


Here I sit, on the balcony of an 11th story apartment  in one of the tallest buildings around with one of the best views of the Washington, D.C. skyline. To my right, the reflection of the southeastern part of the city bounces off the Potomac river, a body of water much prettier from a distance than up close. Right in front of me is the Arlington ridge that hides much of the city, but leaves just enough room for for the Washington Monument and the Capitol dome to be visible. And to my left lies the wooded knots of land that comprise semi-hilly Northern Virginia, with Arlington’s lights just off in the distance. The semi-hills are peculiar; they seem to be speed bumps for everyone coming out of the city, slowing down the pace of life in the suburbs just enough so that it doesn’t seem as hectic our here.

Of course, they are easily avoided by just living in the city.

I am recently back to the city from a trip to Austin, TX. I was there for the marriage of my two closest college friends. Shiner Bock beer and world-famous BBQ were not in short supply, making the trip that much sweeter. The wedding was beautiful, taking place at the top of a hill overlooking Lake Travis, nestled in the middle of the central Texas hill country.

As I was sitting in the airport on Sunday, fighting the emotion of leaving that city as I’ve done so many times, my mind became a blur of thoughts and emotions, the effect of each exacerbated by the events of the preceding days. It didn’t help that I had 7 hours of travel before making it back to Baltimore, and then another hour after that to find my bed just like I’d left it. Did I mentioned that I hadn’t yet planed what to teach my kids the next day by this point?

Airports have an uncanny ability to stir up thinking. All of the coming and going, the trading of the temporal for the more permanent, losing the experience to head back to the usual- it works together to make you wonder: Am I in the right place?

Then there is the effect of the view from the plane. This is most strong, obviously when you have a window seat and you fly at dusk. I had the good fortune of being by a window seat looking west as we flew over Highway 35 north to Dallas. For the first twenty minutes, I had an aerial view of the hills and lakes out west, which helped me forget that I was about to be traveling for the next third of a day.

As you move into the suburbs, you get a good picture of just how much suburban layouts look like the farm fields of their rural neighbors. They all look like crop patterns, each row neatly planted and cultivated to produce maximum yield. What are we trying to grow in these places?

My flight quickly reached Dallas, and I spent the next 2 hours enjoying fajitas and margaritas at Pappasitos before I had to head to the East Coast, also known as the “land of no good Tex-Mex anywhere.” I decide to just sit in Pappasitos for a while, mentally and physically digesting my last tastes of Texas before heading back, and I people watched. Boy, did I people watch. As I sat there, the mosaic of individualism began to blur together and I only saw the broad outlines of the larger picture everyone was painting. It was like looking at the paintings made up of lots of tiny dots, and you can only make out the larger picture when you take a step back. I was stereotyping, essentially, putting each person into their respective category: businessman, professional mom, hipster, high school kid.

The most interesting subgroup that I watched was the 17-25ish demographic, my peers. As I watched them, I wondered: Where is my generation heading?

Three questions permeated my thoughts on the whole trip home, so much so that in a moment of laziness, exhaustion, and distractedness, I spent more time doodling and writing than I did lesson planning on the flight. (Oh don’t worry, I paid for it the next day.)

Am I in the right place? What are we trying to grow in [our culture]? Where is my generation heading?

Am I in the right place?

Questions of about “being in the right place” can be answered in too many ways. Professionally. Personally. Locationally. Spiritually. Mentally. Emotionally. But interestingly, each of these are deeply influenced by context. Specifically, physical location. The city you’re in limits job opportunity, the people you can interact with, the mentality you live with, etc. (I think spirituality is the least prone to the effects of physical location, for the record.)

As I thought about each of these, I began to realize that I had never asked “am I in the right place?” more than I have in the past 12 months as I’ve embarked on my experience here in DC. The lack of the community, the difficulty of the job, and much more, have combined to push me far outside of my usual context. These are all deeply personal needs. And even the little pleasures were gone, leaving my life void at times of very simple things that I miss about Texas: rivers to float, sweet tea, dancehalls, BBQs, each of which are very hard to find over here on the East Coast.

In order to figure out the answer to this question, if in fact there is one, I decided to ask myself where I wanted to be. I soon realized that my idea of where I wanted to be was strongly influenced by where I had expected to be a year ago, or 5 years ago, as I was beginning college. As I look at my life now given the expectations of a few years ago, no, I am not in the “right” place. But those preconceived ideas of where I ought to be were ill-conceived notions based on a lot of assumptions that I had no right to  be making. It’s one thing to dream about where you’re heading- but when those dreams begin to affect your ability to let the moment and the present situation guide the future opportunity, you’re killing your own dreams. The future will never- let me repeat that, NEVER!- look like what you had hoped it to be. That’s the point.

Don’t let yesterday define today. Only let today define itself, and let is speak prophetically about tomorrow. When we stop comparing where we are now to where we had hoped to be, we spend more time worrying about how to make today right and not enough time worrying about how to make tomorrow better. Enjoy newness, freshness. There are good people and great experiences in every context. You define the context- don’t let it define you.

What are we trying to grow in our culture?

Though there is much to say on this topic, I here only want to make a brief observation. To begin, there is nothing wrong with advance and innovation, each of which typically have the net effect of making our lives more convenient. I am however afraid that in our desire to make things comfortable, to make them less dangerous, we have lost a large part of our natural selves. Flying over cities, its is mind blowing to think about everything there is here that was not here 300 years ago. In the span of history, that is but a drop in the bucket. In these few short years, we have taken the barren land of North America and filled it brimming to the top with buildings and houses and stores and railroads and churches and people. And we have domesticated ourselves in the process, with everything easily at hand. In the air looking down, I envied the people who blazed out west in an effort to fulfill a manifest destiny. Comfort escaped them, and Earth was their shelter.

Great innovation and advance has been pushed by those who faced great struggle. Their ideas are the product of immense pressure to survive and thrive. And what they created was nothing short of brilliant. But we have lost that survivor instinct. We have lost the need to innovate in order to survive, and thrive. We have much of what we need at our fingertips, and it has lulled us to sleep, stifling forward thinking, both technologically and societally, but most importantly- spiritually.

*The Transcendentalist, though theologically quirky, have a lot of good to say about this topic. See Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman.

Where is my generation heading?

This is a question that has been hotly debated. In a recent NYT Magazine article, we were described as spoiled brats who were overly optimistic given the way we’ve been coddled and  alternately as wide eyes optimists who see nothing but success and opportunity. The first was going to drive us into the ground- the latter was going to propel us to new heights of achievement and greatness.

I am not exactly sure about the psyche of our generation. In my opinion, the larger question we face is this: What will we think about in the future? We are less educated, less read, less prone to wrestle with questions of deeper meaning. We have been attacked by a consumption machine that has comforted us with all that we think we need, and we don’t often search outside of those things. We need to read more history, philosophy, and literature. Not Twilight. We need to ask hard questions about God and faith and community, but we have Facebook to keep us busy instead.


Since the beginning, God has been calling us to find better answers to these questions, each of which is by no means new. He wants to be the one who defines our lives today and affirms that we are in the right place. He wants to be the one who gives us the inspiration to push forward and to grow better, more daring and dangerous, and less comfortable of so much for satisfying lives. And He wants to awaken the hearts of every generation, not just mine, to ask the deep questions, and to find Him as the answer.

streamlined and stymied.

I have been considering buying an iPad. My buddy Mike has one and he loves it. He brought it with him to visit a few weeks ago and when I played with it, I was converted.

I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.

I am also in pretty serious need of a new laptop. I’ve had the same one for about 4 years now and it has held up well but I am quickly running out of memory. Plus, after 3 years in a college student’s backpack, it’s pretty beat up.

I am trying to decide if I should get and iPad and just ride this laptop into the ground or if having a well-functioning main computer is the more responsible, though considerably less hip, choice to make. The iPad is nothing short of fantastic though I doubt its necessity at this point. Sadly, it is likely that I will cave and get the iPad even if I decide I don’t really need to.

I am a sucker for anything shiny with a glowing, newly-eaten apple on it.

As I was driving home tonight, I drove past the Jefferson Memorial, and like I normally do, I started thinking about what an astoundingly curious intellect the had. I thought about all the books he read, and about how when he donated them they helped to found the Library of Congress. They have on display a small portion of the original books he donated and its a pretty impressive thing to see.

My next thought was about how technology like the iPad would have helped great thinkers of the past think or historic events transpire. I often whine that we have done so little with so much, that we have failed to make huge leaps of understanding given the technology at our disposal.

If Newton had a TI-83 Plus, or if Shakespeare has a word processor, or if Darwin had genetic sequencing, or if the founding fathers had cell phones, where would we be?

I feel like we don’t write better, and that our art is not nearly as nice. We don’t make better policy decision it seems given the technology and data at our disposal. We do great things like cure disease and slow the negative effects of the ones we can’t cure, but maybe discoveries like sterilization and penicillin and polio vaccines were more important.

We have entered an era of details. We are making small but significant steps to solving increasingly nuanced problems. We just don’t seem to be leaping and bounding like we used to.*

Maybe all this technology has left us streamlined, but stymied. Maybe we have become so inundated with information that we don’t know what to think anymore. Perhaps global interconnectedness has hindered out ability to immerse ourselves in the pressing problems that are in front of us begging to be addressed.

I’d rather sit on my couch and read RSS feeds about the politics of Eastern Europe and waste time musing about things I will never affect in any measurable way. Maybe local civic engagement is a better more productive use of my time.

Jefferson didn’t wake up every day and spin his wheels in numerous blogs before settling on an issue of the day. No, he had his library, and in all likelihood he labored through most of the books one at a time, giving each his full attention. He learned the violin and practiced surveying while writing about independence and religious freedom. These were the issues in front of him. These were the issues he engaged. He didn’t have 100 apps on this iPad to distract him, he only had the plot he was given to till, and he worked tirelessly on the those problems which to him seemed most pressing. Surely he knew about what has happening in the world, but he didn’t read about China in detail or about which new wines are rated where this year or about what the latest socialites where wearing.

He didn’t consume news and information, he created it.

There is a lot of talk about pursuing minimalism and simplicity. We can think about those times which seemed more natural and less cluttered, but we dismiss them as distant memories never to be attained again. And in all likelihood, it’s true. See, we have become so immersed in our information that we can’t make sense out of any of it. There is no metanarrative for us to engage, no storyline for us to write. We falsely believe that we are genuinely invested in a thousand different stories, most of which we will never touch.

As an individual it is hard to be committed to being simple when everyone around you is complicated. At times it can feel like they have the news and you don’t, they saw the blog and you didn’t, or they got their iPad before you.

The truth is probably that a lot of people who feel connected and streamlined are doing nothing. They are halfheartedly engaging too many things and not working for the good of a few purposes.

I hope to find those few passions soon so I can latch on to them and not get lost in a sea of information, most of which doesn’t concern me. It’s great to be knowledgeable about what is going on in the world, but we cannot let this distract us from what is under our direct control.

Perhaps if we take this approach we’ll stop making dents and start breaking down walls. Maybe the guy working on curing cancer is too involved reading about other biological research that he’s missing the positive test results. And maybe politicians are so concerned about globalization that they can’t serve their constituents.

If we stopped reading about everyone else’s achievements and started creating our owns, we could create a mosaic of great works that push us forward in significant ways.

*I don’t mean to decry the great discoveries we have made recently, such as genetic coding, the Internet, and a million other technological, medical, and creative breakthroughs that profoundly shape our lives. You just have to admit, inventing calculus without a calculator was pretty legit.

businessmen and bums.

I was talking to a friend today who lives in Panama. You know, the place with the canal. She said that when she walks past this soccer field in Panama City there are all these men playing soccer together, businessmen and bums alike. That wouldn’t happen in this country and it makes me very sad for us.

The beauty of the situation she mentioned is that it is a very natural point of connection for the men, I’m sure. For the time on the field the two are equal and at times the bums probably surpass the businessmen. Money, history, addiction, interests – none of those things matter. They are teammates, co-dependent on each other for the good of their team. The net worth of either individual does not contribute to his skill on the soccer field in any measurable way. Heck, for the time on the field, they are all stinky and dirty too. You can’t even compare them on hygiene at the point.

This is not an act of charity. It’s not “Love your bum” day in Panama. These men are united by something deeper than their exteriors – their passions. For many countries outside of the US soccer is a uniting force and a source of national pride. We don’t have things like there here in the states. Our sporting evens have become spectacles of wealth and advertising, social experiences reserved for the middle class and above. Even on a clear Saturday when touch football or beer league softball is in full swing, you don’t see bums playing. This disinterestedness is evidence of the destructive aspects of our American individualism.

I’m thinking about all this because right now there is major debate going on about financial reform on Wall Street. Today in Washington, politics and finance, power and money, squared off. Goldman Sachs was called to testify on a range of issues concerning financial regulation. There was an interesting narrative emerging from the talks concerning responsibility. More specifically, do financial institutions have a responsibility to anyone or anything outside of making a profit? Is that any acceptable focus, however narrow?

The answer should obviously be no. In the strict definitions of capitalism they have every right to be entirely self interested. But in the context of civilization, in the context of “we the people”, in the context of the things in life that really matter, they absolutely have responsibility outside of profit seeking.

*I want to clarify that businessmen feel an obligation to bums by virtue of the fact that they play soccer together. My point is that our feelings about money and self-interest bleeds over into our social interactions.

It is thinking like this that has let to the deeply rooted culture wars we face in the states. On the one hand it is a beautiful thing when differing opinions are allowed to compete and flourish. It becomes quite destructive, however, when the only thing that unites us is our propensity of factiousness.

Our selfish individualism, our lack of concern for community and commonality, creates a tendency to categorize ourself based on our merits. I have achieved, therefore I am, goes the philosophy of the day. We insulate ourselves from other social and economic groups largely because people like us affirm our lifestyle.

But when it comes to soccer, does money and merit mean anything? Absolutely not.

Unless of course you live in America. If you live here, you can sign your child up for private club soccer teams or you can join a professional mens league with nice jerseys and good drink specials. Pick up games, it seems, are a thing of the past.

Disparate social groups interact frequently, don’t get me wrong. But the attitude of the higher to the lower is often one of pity. They often feel that they need to give them something so that they may survive. But in reality, bums don’t need your money. They don’t need your food. They need you to play soccer with them, to invite them to your block party.

And they’d prefer you didn’t do it because you felt sorry for them. They’d prefer you did it because you realized how inextricably linked you two are given the nature of human interconnectedness. They’d prefer you did it cause you knew, not hoped, they had something to offer to you, to society as a whole.

We need more bums kicking businessmen’s asses in pick-up games across this country. Maybe people would lose their sense of entitlement the subsequent pity-connectedness that results from it. It would expand our focus and lead us to realize that if we can interact socially, we can interact politically and financially.

do work.

I spent four years in college marinating in the ideas and creativity of my peers. Everyday was a feast of thoughts and questions. This culture overflows from the classrooms and saturates the watering holes and living spaces of the surrounding community. Every conversation, it seems, in enlightening. It’s a place where left meets right, east meets west. People are driven by an innate sense of purpose- to learn, to build, to change, to cultivate. The networks of old and aspiring academics intermingle to spin a web collaboration. If a cord of three strands is not easily broken, these intellectual ropes were seemingly indestructible.

College was a gushing wind in all of our sails. It blew powerfully; it was a force to be harnessed for good, something capable of propelling us to uncharted territories of thought and innovation. The wind, though, is overwhelming. It has the potential to take you off course, to toss you amongst the waves and leave you lost without direction. But if you find a way to control the wind and make if work for you, it can become for you a great start to a long and storied voyage.

There is one thing that determines whether you sink or sail, and that is the quality of your work ethic. They don’t really tell you this upfront though; you sort of have to figure it out for yourself. It is the most important to learn of all the lessons you encounter. It can be the difference between success and failure. Your whole life you are taught to work hard and to learn the value of sweat equity. My mom and dad taught me that lesson well before I left home. But I didn’t begin to learn it until college; I am still learning it today.

Your work products in college are pretty standard and clear. You are given structures that guide you to success. It is probably true that without the pressure of tests, projects, and papers, we would not have learned the material in sufficient depth as to be of much value. We may have skimmed through a textbook here and read a few articles there. Not many people buy Global Capitalism to read for fun, and of those who do, it is doubtful they give themselves tests and writing assignments as measures of comprehension. These things focus our efforts and give un tangible work products by which we measure success or failure in this context.

People who do very well in college typically invest themselves beyond this. They found organizations and advocate causes; they take on voluntary research projects and enter papers for peer review. The particularly bold write a thesis. These lessons in self-motivation are good proxies for work ethic beyond what is required- you need not be the president of anything to earn a degree. But these undertakings are the like the entrance exams of life; the give you a good indication of who will likely be successful once the structures of college have faded into the past.

Each day in college you woke up and had a routine dictated by classes and testing schedules. This serves focus your productivity. Life is similar. Jobs provide a great deal of structure to focus work and creativity. However, the deadlines and work products that need to be accomplished may not be enough to draw out all you are capable of, and they may not change the world. When you wake up each day for work, the quality of success or depth of failure is almost entirely determined by your work ethic. Just like college, only doing what is necessary won’t get you very far. If you want to graduate with honors in life, you need to do much more than the rubric minimum.

Before I go further, I want to be clear that I am not making a case that only those who are highly decorated with full resumes are successful. Success is a tricky thing to define, and it comes in many shapes and sizes. It is also not easily measured; more is not always better, and less is not always worse. Success, for some, may not even be desirable. The bare minimum may be all they are working for.

But bare minimums will never change the world. So if you’re into that sort of thing, it may require some effort.

As a teacher, each day I have things that I need to do be successful in the classroom. But if I want to really make that experience memorable for my students, the minimums of my curriculum will not suffice. You have to work beyond what is required so that you can do more.

We also need to be ready to take on more than one task. I want to be a great teacher for the sake of my kids, and that consumes the majority of my day. But teaching is not my only passion. I have an entrepreneurial spirit- I’m full of ideas (some of them half-baked) that I want to explore and possibly cultivate into action. I want to read and learn and write and engage people and go to law school and travel. I won’t be able to do any of these things if I just wake up, teach, and go home.

Interestingly, the pursuit of these extracurriculars will probably give me experiences that make me a better teacher. Failure to pursue these thins could cripple the one thing I’m focusing on.

So we must learn to be doers. I had a football coach that used to say “Alright boys, it’s time to do work.” We all new what he meant. If we wanted to be better, 2 hours of practice wasn’t going to be enough. It would take much more of an investment. Our lives are much the same. Every morning, it’s time to do work. It’s time to go beyond to be a better employee, to take on more than is required of us, to push the limits and work harder than we need to.

If I ever want to reach my dreams, to affect change in the world, to be a better person, friend, family member, lover, I need to do more than is expected. The people who achieve their dreams will always be the ones willing to put in more time than anyone else. They are the people who leave the world a better place than when they first got here. It requires much sacrifice and much motivation.

It’s true that good things come to those who wait, but only what’s left behind by those who hustle*.

If you don’t feel that things are happening as you expected them to, it is likely you aren’t working hard enough. You aren’t taking risks. You aren’t losing sleep enough. Too often we sit around waiting for a break, for a door to open. Don’t do that. Just go find the door you want to walk through and kick it down.

*Paraphrase of Abe Lincoln.

the winter of my discontent.

*Author’s note: While I had hoped to write something topical and explanatory, I fear my thoughts have been too scattered to come up with anything cohesive. There is too much on my mind, and too much in my heart to narrow down anything that I am feeling. I have here written an account of the past two months, and the journey to my present state of confusion- confusion that is slowly dissolving. It is not much, and you may get bored quick. I felt I needed to write to move on, though. Thanks for your interest.

In a particularly ambitious moment, I decided to make a book list of 40+ books that I would read this year. I started off with a bang, pouring through the first few in no time, inspired by a tenacity to read I never really had. But it retrospect, it was a typical start to something new. Two months in, I am considerably less motivated to accomplish that list. It is the proverbial failure at being resolute.

But- it is not quite for the reasons you might assume.

Most people flounder with such commitments, well, typically for a lack of commitment. Such challenges are entered into with an uncommon bravado that overtakes most of us around the new year. I confess, I knew that going into it. I spent a lot of time thinking about my propensity for reading, what books would be conducive to such a goal, and gauging what I thought my level of long-term commitment might be. I felt, after going through these questions, that I was ready and able to tackle the challenge.

As a side note, it wasn’t so much a challenge. I don’t care how many books I read. It was a way of staying focused. I typically finish a book, flounder around with two or three potential reads for the next few weeks, and then finally decide on one. It’s quite the waste of time. With this list, I was hoping to bypass this chronic indecision and move purposefully through a year of good reads.

More on why I am no longer pursuing this list as I would have hoped in a bit.

The first book I read was The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck. As a devout Steinbeck fan, I was hooked from the beginning. It was the perfect way to start the year. A little heavy, full of sad themes and such, but a great reflection on the temptation to sacrifice our moral convictions.

Briefly, the book is about Ethan Allen Hawley, a grocery store clerk in a New England port town that was once a great epicenter of the whaling boom. He is the descendant of one of the most notable whaling families in the town. Through a series of poor financial decisions, the family fortune had been lost, and he was relegated to working for a foreigner in the store his family once owned. Ethan is an upstanding gentleman in the community, respected mostly for family he is a part of and his well known character. He and his family, however, are unhappy with their position in life. Their humble life style is nagging at times, and this discontent is compounded by the fact that the family had at some point in the not-so-distant past been of some notoriety. The story line is about a Ethan’s struggle with a string of morally grey decisions that have the potential to propel his family out of their current status. At each juncture, he is presented with the decision to do the right thing as he has always done, or participate in the in the small, everyday moral compromises that  everyone else appears to be in the habit of making. (Ethan has a a great demeanor, and his incessant sarcasm is entertaining throughout.)

The immediate lessons of the story, namely the questions about character and morality that it poses throughout, are not of direct relevance to me at this point in my life. The general feelings of discontent, however, were a great precursor to the two months that would follow my reading of the book. I have been caught in the middle of dreaming the dreams I have always dreamt, and being content with where I am now.

Steinbeck is a king of this duality, of the tension between was is ideal and what is practical. My friend Jackie and I talked about the book right after I read it, as she is a Steinbeck fan too. It was nice listening to her talk about how she appreciates that quintessential part of Steinbeck. Despite the Steinbeck I had read, I did not have so acute an understanding as she did about this part of his writing.

Now, a word about my discontent.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about my new experience here in Washington, D.C., and about the difficulty of moving here. The typical struggles of newness have abounded: the lack of genuine community and friendship, the struggles of adjusting to a new geographic location and climate, the general demeanor of the people here as being different from that of my fellow southerners, and the lessons of newfound responsibility learned by all young adults.

Each of these challenges has been unique. But the depth and difficulty of each challenge has been quite unexpected. I left college at the height of my idealism. If I came into college confident and ready for what the future held, I left ready to run the world tomorrow. But life has a way of cutting us down a considerable number of notches.

Surprisingly, my job has not been the most difficult of my struggles. I teach 3rd grade, and I was very nervous about the struggles of a first year teacher. But I love my job, and my students have become my greatest source of joy. What I feared the most has turned out to be the thing that has sustained me.

The lack of community has been the worst, by far. I had the best friends in high school and college. I was involved on campus, and I lived with fantastic roommates, each of whom shared similar interests and values. We would come home every night senior year, talk about God, politics,  and quantum physics as though we were experts on the topic. We would drink Shiner Bock and bourbon late into the night, playing dominoes and talking about girls we liked. It was, to be sure, the best time of my life.

I do not have that here, at least not yet. I cannot pinpoint why. I have tried blaming the people and the climb-the-ladder-of-success mentality prevalent in the District. I have blamed the nature of the work that most of my friends do, telling myself that we are just too busy to make time for each other. I have cited my roommate struggles since moving here. I have done everything I could to find an explanation, when the reality is simply that being somewhere new is a process. Even as I write this, I distinctly remember a time during my freshman year in college (about the same time into that experience as I am into this one, actually) when I wanted to leave the University of Texas and transfer to another college to be with my high school friends. Upon reflection, that would have been the absolute worst decision I could have made. I suspect I am going through similar emotions, and I further suspect that making any sort of decision like leaving would be horribly misguided.

Weather, however, is another story altogether. I came to D.C. in the same year that saw one of the worst winters on record! We have had two debilitating blizzards, one of which that left me snowed in for the better part of 12 days. The first storm (and resulting snow days) were fun. The second time around, cabin fever set in quickly and I thought I might not make it. My roommate, in a moment of genius, suggested the day before the storm we stock up on microbrew and ride it out. We did, and it helped. But I currently hate TV because of those days. I never believed in seasonal depression, but I had it. I was sick of the grey-ness of winter and I longed for the sunshine of spring. Spring is slowly coming upon us, and there has been a considerable change in my mood. Thank goodness.

The responsibility-of-being-an-adult thing wasn’t so bad until recently. See- when I came here, I was in pretty good financial shape. I had maintained great credit through college, kept my debt burden low, and managed my expenses pretty well. My parents were gracious enough to purchase my first car, and I had a great vehicle that was paid off. I am also fortunate to have a great job that pays well- all told, a lot to be thankful for. About three weeks ago, while driving across the Potomac river on the highway, I hit an ice patch and lost control, spun across two lanes of traffic, and totaled my car in the divider on the inside lane of the highway. Given that I drive to work, a new car became an immediate necessity. (As a side note, I only carried liability insurance at the time.) Used car shopping, I can tell you, is a nightmare…

I knew what kind of car I wanted- it was only a matter of finding it. I was going to trade my car in as a down payment on a new one. I found a dealership that a had a good concentration of what I was looking for, so I limped my car 25 miles away to see what I could find. This was a one way trip, mind you- I don’t think my car could have made it back under its own power, and I certainly wasn’t in the mood to pay to have it towed from dealership to dealership around the Metro area.

Upon arrival, the lot was shadier than I expected. But they had a good selection. After what was the longest, most stressful financial decision of my life, I drove home that night with a new-to-me vehicle, and the one that I had wanted at that. I got a good price, and I was happy. I admit, I am still paranoid about the car at times, it being a used car and all. You can never be sure with these things, and there is a relatively irrational fear that the engine will fall out tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.

The whole experience had created a burden that I had not previously carried. I have always been a trusting person, assuming the best about people. But I have learned to be more cautious, to give people the benefit of the doubt but to be discerning with others and your situations. Unfortunately, you cannot trust everyone. It’s the world we live in, so they say. And it is a sad, sad day when you realize that. I liked my previous naïvety much better. But, I have responsibilities now.

Damn you, growing up.

All of these challenges have combined to give me quite the start to my year. It has been a difficult winter, but the coldness of this season is slowly being warmed away. I have made a great friend here in D.C., I am meeting new people, the sun is beginning to shine, my students are doing well, and I am grateful that even if my car does fall apart tomorrow, I am blessed to still be doing okay despite it.

Now- more on why I am less committed to that reading list.

It is amazing how much one experience, one idea, one person, can mess everything up…in a good way. Suffice to say I have been messed up, and I am still trying to get my orientation back. And I have been messed up by all three: the experience of being here, any number of ideas, and one person in particular. But details are for a later date.

Suffice to say, for now, that my interests and priorities have been moved around some. Though many of the books on my list are still relevant to my current thinking and emotions, many of them are not. I have moved away from a lot of things. While I still maintain a passion for politics, for example, I am learning that I may not be the politico I thought I once was. There is much redemption that needs to come to process (or am I supposed to participate in it redemption?) before I get involved, I think. I have become significantly more people-focused, and I now orient myself about things that matter more in the larger context of why we are here. This has caused me to sideline a few of the policy-focused books I had on the list. I have replaced them with, among other things, poetry. I never read much poetry before, only a little Billy Collins here and there. But I have since slowed down and become less concerned with acquiring the knowledge contained in straightforward, data-driven non-fiction. I have instead started to enjoy the meditations of Emerson, more fiction of Steinbeck, and the verse of Whitman, Tennyson, Oliver, Elliot, etc. I confess, this is quite unlike me. I do enjoy reading, but popular stuff like The World is Flat and Blue Like Jazz and The Audacity of Hope. These are great reads to be sure, and I will get back to them in due time. But for now, I am enjoying the pace of the writers who are wrestling with the human condition, with the questions of why and not the questions of how. I never expected it, at least not at this juncture.

But that’s what one cold and lonely winter will do to you. It will turn your thoughts inward. And that’s what one person can do to you. They can make you appreciate the human condition in a way that you never thought possible.

Here’s to change- painful though it is at times. Embrace it, learn from it, run with it.

And love through it.

tomorrow needn’t come.

Love is patient. And we have no idea how to be patient.

We are a people oblivious to the virtue of delayed gratification. The need for now has become one of our strongest, most crippling vices. So pervasive has the life is short mentality become. It has forced us to accept, without regret, only those things which satisfy us now.

Impatience has become a truism of our lives: intimacy, finances, politics, friendship, adventure. So quick are we to hike to the top of the mountain of accomplishment that we never took the time to enjoy the walk- no, the struggle- to the top.

There are some who half-heartedly suggest that the journey is the best part. But their advice is rarely digested at all, begrudgingly or otherwise. It as a hard thing to accept though, when the person speaking it does not believe it themselves. And if they do indeed believe, we quickly surmise that it is all together unlikely that they do in fact delay gratification with any type of reqularity. Many of us, I’m afraid, are skeptics at heart. Or more likely, “No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.”1 So we assume other are like ourselves and consumed with the end result.

We have come to appreciate stories only for their conclusions, not their unfolding. It ought to be so that a story with no climax can yet be entertaining, be satisfying is some fragmented (or even whole?) way. But the details of the story prior to the climax do not stand as valuable without the appointed conclusion, to us. We have come to expect an ending which we see fit, which leaves us with a feeling that all is as it should be.

It is for a lack of creativity that we have come to abhor all but the expected and welcome end. Gone is our ability to see the pieces, yet to be assembled as a whole, for what they are. When we see the sorrow without the expected joy, the confusion without the expected clarity, the desperation without the expected redemption, we shudder. The former in each of the aforementioned stands alone as valueless without the parity of the latter. Desperation is only good once we have experienced redemption, we say. In each case, the latter is the end of the former, the purpose of it.

It is true that all things have an end-to-come. And certainly a well written story is only as good as its end. The end is not, however, the point. The whole is the point. The first stroke of the pen is as important as the final dot at the end. But we crumble under the pressure of the unknown. We read on out of the necessity to know how the story ends, not to enjoy the journey of ideas, of growth, that separate the new and open beginning from the final and resolved end.

We are not creative enough to enjoy the unfolding. We crave resolve- a resolute resolution is all that will suffice. We are unable to create a mosaic with the pieces that lay before us unassembled, though an infinite number of permutations exist, each with the potential to create a unique and beautiful assemblage that is as dazzling as any other.

Why this difficulty in creation? Why does our mind prevent us from being the creatives we have been created to be?

Why, though, does it seem that most artists leave the interpretation up to the interpreter, presenting only the pieces of art to be interpreted and assembled as deemed fit? Have they insight into the power of delayed gratification, forcing the perceiver to design the end for themselves as they enjoy the beginning and create the middle?

Fear, it seems, stands accused as the culprit. We have seen the great stories that have already been told, the archetypes they have created impressed firmly in our minds. We want that our story will end in like fashion, as each participant in the stories that have come before seem happy with the ending they were privileged to be part of. Their happiness is perhaps the reason we cherish these and their conclusions. We are afraid that ours will not end as theirs have, that some how our journey will not have the same appointed and joyous end that we have come to expect.

It seems odd that we all hope for the same conclusion. Given our diversity, and the multiplicity of experiences, why is it that we have come only to hope for the same thing as our neighbor? Have we not the creativity to tell our own story, to assemble the own pieces of our experience into a unique and new whole, one that might be the new desired archetype, desperately sought by all who come after us? Is it because we fear that we are inadequate to tell our own good story that we refuse the satisfaction of our own creation tomorrow and accept instead the satisfaction afforded by another today?

Love, it seems, is the most frequent and telling of examples. Take philos, the love of your brother, for example. When we love selfishly, with the expectation of gratification in the near future, we are not quick to love a friend where they are, with the afflictions they are presently enduring. Rather, we only seek to love them through the problem, hoping only that our love will quickly bring comfort and an end to sorrow.  The halt of pain in not an ignoble aspiration, though. But perhaps there is much that must take place from sorrow to happiness, and a love that does not remain present risks missing the point of love in the first place.

Romantic love is much the same way, though more intense I suppose. With brotherly love, there is at least an upfront expectation that this is not about oneself. In romance, the self-centeredness is heightened, as the heart wants what it wants. But if we love only to reach the end of love, we have not loved at all. We have only acted selfishly. The need, the desire, for present happiness, comfort from loneliness, and the gift of companionship, cause us to loose sight of the whole. We want only to skip past the beginning, the middle, and arrive happily ever after at the end. This seems to be quite the risk, as there are many who find themselves in shallow relationships built on the foundation of attraction alone. But I don’t have much experience here, so to speak as though I do would be a disservice to the idea.

Love of self seems to fall into this category as well. When seeking to grow, brevity is the highest virtue in looking for a remedy. We are attracted to the self-help that has conveniently packaged itself into a brief, easy to follow program. These vain attempts at solving real problems, which require real time, only serve to comfort us in the short-term, but letting us down years from now. How short sighted we have become, that what our own person needs is not appealing to us given the time that separates present pain from future joy.

In all the ways delayed gratification might serves us well, the love of God might benefit most. Present relationships are temporal. Most last only months and at best years, save for the beautiful ones that last a lifetime. But how does a lifetime pale in comparison to eternity! In our relationship with the eternal, we crave the instant feeling of goodness, and we only want to feel that we have done right by our fellow man as an act of piety, regardless of whether we have actually done right or not. We desire to feel humble, to revel in the few moment when we put others before us, if only by happenstance. And we want to give grace, but usually only in the moment when we have only been wronged with a glancing blow. The road to real goodness, to real selflessness, to real humility, and to real grace, is a long and perilous journey, one most of us are scared to embark upon.

It is unfortunate that real change, the kind that lasts, that kinds that bears meaning, that kind would making a difference in our lives and the lives of those around us, is so unappealing to us on the basis of elapsed time.

This is a lesson I have needed to learn for some time. In my aspirations, my daily work, in my philos, in my intimacy, in my spirituality. I hope and pray that we find ways to enjoy the journeys of transformation that life offers us. Though the present will at time seem unbearable, the end result, expected or unexpected, obvious or tragic, creative or relatively dull, will be far better. More fulfilling, more lasting, more complete, more transformative.

Be patient.

1John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

*As an addendum, finances and politics are great examples what happens when we do not delay gratification. Financial theory’s most basic principal is that of the “time value of money”; more specifically, a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow. We regularly defer payments to buy things we cannot afford and so many people are pulled in my get-rich-quick schemes. Politics is another unfortunate example. Each day, decisions are made on the basis of the next election cycle, not the long-term betterment of the country. Most economist predict that Social Security will kill out economy when it runs out in the next 20 to 30 years. The US also keeps spending and consuming on credit, issuing debt to satisfy out need for more. This has left us with an insurmountable national debt, a present from each generation to the next.