Category Archives: Uncategorized

Social Media Distancing

Social-media-phoneMy recent time away was beneficial, and of the many thoughts that came to mind once I had an opportunity to think again was that I should find some way to disembark the social media train at the next station. It was a relief just to think it.

For years now I have harbored a secret fantasy of going off the grid and living a simple life in relative obscurity, and I’m pretty sure that fantasy is fueled by the complications produced by the time I have invested in social media. I’m not exactly sure what possessed a private person to lead a fairly public life, but I am pretty sure that it was not the smartest idea.

I had already dipped my toe in the water just a tiny bit. When the pandemic hit I upped my social media game and tried to post more content, telling myself that I was encouraging others. But when the deeply important racism conversation erupted—a conversation that I care about very much—I was soon exhausted and, to be candid, frustrated at rhetoric from a wide range of people that I love who vote differently from one another. So I shared less and less, and I wanted to see what others shared less and less, and I cared about social media less and less. So stepping away is no great sacrifice. It is more a move to maintain some measure of sanity.

And I get the irony that I am sharing this post on various forms of social media. Given my history, I felt it was kind to provide some type of notice.

There are positive attributes of social media, of course, which explains its ability to take over the world. But of the downsides, the most troubling may be the invitation to social comparison that has led to what Jonathan Haidt argues as the “decline of wisdom.” (Note: Haidt wrote “The Dark Psychology of Social Networks” in the December 2019 issue of The Atlantic—just before this crazy year began.) I kept trying to convince myself that I was aware of and immune to social media dangers, but I now confess that I was wrong.

This will be a work in progress, so the following is subject to change:

  1. I don’t plan to delete my Facebook or Instagram accounts (i.e., my primary drinks of choice), but I do plan to stop both posting and scrolling. Instead, I will simply use them as some sort of 21st century phone book and respond to messages.
  2. I don’t plan to stop my blog entirely, but I do plan to stop posting on a schedule, and I do plan to stop sharing my blog posts on Facebook. I will write and post when the feeling strikes and not worry about who sees what I write (for those who want to read what I write, you can sign up by email to receive the posts when they happen).
  3. Finally, I think I will keep sharing my running information with running friends on Nike Run Club and Strava as a little virtual running club, but if that ever turns into me trying to impress others, I’m out there, too.

That’s the plan for now. It is interesting how just the plan provides genuine stress relief.

“Social distancing” is the phrase of the year, of course, but I am employing “social media distancing.” If that catches on, trends, goes viral, or gets an incredible number of likes or retweets…well, to tell the truth, I don’t need to know.

Before & After

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Four years ago I posted about a powerful book and the opportunity to hear its author speak. The book was Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and four years later I have never fully recovered. When I learned that a feature film based on the book would hit the box office, I made sure to be there opening night to soak it in. Like the book and the real life it represents, the movie is disturbing, emotional, and inspirational.

But it is this special day to remember Rev. King that has me thinking about Bryan Stevenson today. Stevenson has often been interviewed about King, been given awards named after King, and even been described as one whose work best embodies King’s legacy. Although we remember King today, examples like Stevenson remind us that his famous dream is still very much alive.

And then there is the other side of the MLK equation that is represented by Howard Thurman, the “before” to Stevenson’s “after.”

Howard Thurman was a classmate of Rev. King’s father and has been described as one who had a “profound influence” on his classmate’s famous son. Legend has it that King carried a copy of Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited, in his pocket during the trying days of the bus boycott in Montgomery (the city where Stevenson would later center his work).

I recently received a copy of Thurman’s important book and was stunned to consider his observation that Christianity appeared “as a technique of survival for the oppressed.” Thurman continued, “That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, must not tempt us into believing that it was thus in the mind and life of Jesus.”

It is difficult for me even to imagine Christianity NOT as a religion of the powerful, much less consider that its entire presentation—the very idea of “salvation”—was a path to survival to Jesus’ original audience. But it wasn’t too difficult for Thurman to imagine. Or King. Or Stevenson. Considering their writings and speeches helps me read the Bible with fresh eyes.

Today our nation rightfully remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. I am also remembering the before and the after and considering what changes that demands of me.

All Good Things

As I rise each morning and retire at night, an unread book sits peacefully on the nightstand, white letters on a bright blue screaming its title in all caps: NECESSARY ENDINGS. My new friend Matt shared it with me, and I only have a general idea of what it has to teach me, but it sure seems appropriate.

This has been quite a year for the ol’ family. Our cross-country move required saying goodbye to a special time in our lives. And then a few weeks ago our oldest daughter received her hard-earned credential to launch a new career teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing children—and that required saying goodbye to a community that loved and supported her, too. And a few days from now, our youngest daughter will hit the road toward San Antonio for a new adventure following her recent graduation from an incredible college experience in Seattle. In reverse chronological order, from oldest to youngest, each of our transitions necessarily involved an ending.

My wife and I smoothly shifted gears into Empty Nest four years ago, but I’m not sure what you call this new place where our children are full-fledged adults, out of college, not really children anymore. It struck me sitting among the masses at the Washington State Convention Center this past weekend that although these two remarkable young women we have tried so hard not to screw up still need us in certain ways, in certain other and very important ways, they do not. They are good, strong, capable human beings. In one specific way—raising self-sufficient humans—our work has ended, and necessarily so.

I confess a twinge of sadness as I sat there in that cavernous convention center and thought of such things, but there were other emotions in this mixed-up heart of mine. There was happiness. Relief. And pride. Oh yes, pride. A deep, full, exploding pride for those two amazing people—our sweet Erica and Hillary.

I hear that all good things must come to an end. It turns out that I’m okay with that after all. It is like that satisfying last page of a long, delicious novel, followed by slowly closing the book and sitting there in that pleasant pause full of reflection and relief—before the anticipation of what comes next.

Personal Book Awards for 2018

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“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

One year ago I shared the following: “I counted twenty-five books that I read in 2017, which is easily the most I have read in a very long time, and predictably more than I will read in 2018.” Well, here stands yet another reason not to pursue professional gambling: Last week I completed my twenty-fifth book in 2018. That’s over 7,000 pages this year, my friends. The total number of books is the same, but there was greater variety in the genres chosen and I’m pleased to see more fiction on the list: I always intend a 50/50 split but never even come close. This year was at least a step in the right direction.

Books written by friends are always favorites, of course, and I was honored to read Les Ferguson’s book, “Still Wrestling,” this year. Of the rest, I would bestow the following four awards:

HARDEST BOOK TO READ THAT I’M GLAD I READ: The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone (referred by Ray Carr)

HARDEST BOOK TO READ THAT I’M GLAD I READ BUT WOULDN’T RECOMMEND AND NOT BECAUSE IT IS 834 PAGES LONG: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (referred by a former student)

BEST COMBINATION OF HUMOR & INSPIRATION: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (referred by my wife and a gift from my oldest daughter)

BEST GUILTY PLEASURE READ: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (referred by Chris Doran)

But awards aside, I am glad that I read every book. Well, maybe one exception, but I’ll keep that to myself. 🙂 Here is my full list for 2018:

Books written by friends (1 this year; 6 last year)
Still Wrestling by Les Ferguson, Jr. (208 pages)

Novels (6 this year; 3 last year)
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (417 pages)
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (267 pages)
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (834 pages)
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (237 pages)
Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward (230 pages)
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (254 pages)

Sports (3 this year; 3 last year)
Tales from Out There by Frozen Ed Furtaw (224 pages)
The Phenomenon by Rick Ankiel & Tim Brown (304 pages)
The Curse: The Colorful & Chaotic History of the LA Clippers by Mick Minas (558 pages)

History (1 this year; 1 last year)
I Will Fight No More Forever: Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War by Merrill Beal (384 pages)

Biography/Memoir (3 this year; 5 last year)
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (261 pages)
Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden (210 pages)
Cotton Patch for the Kingdom by Ann Louise Coble (240 pages)

Theology/Church (8 this year; 6 last year)
Cadences of Home: Preaching among Exiles by Walter Brueggemann (176 pages)
Overrated by Eugene Cho (240 pages)
Barking to the Choir by Gregory Boyle (224 pages)
Trouble I’ve Seen by Drew G.I. Hart (198 pages)
The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight (240 pages)
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone (224 pages)
Christians at the Border by M. Daniel Carroll R. (176 pages)
You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith (224 pages)

Poetry/Essays (1 this year; 1 last year)
The Kindness of Strangers – edited by Don George (272 pages)

Writing (1 this year; 0 last year)
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (re-read) (272 pages)

Crime (1 this year; 0 last year)
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer (384 pages)

The View from Above

IMG_2777My daughter and I decided to hike the scorched hills behind our house on Thanksgiving Eve to get a firsthand look at the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire, and we witnessed the vast expanse of earth charred to smoldering nothingness. It was breathtaking, and I’m not even talking about air quality. Imagine strolling through a gigantic ashtray with a spectacular mountain view of the sun dropping into the Pacific Ocean and that pretty much captures the scene.

It had been an indescribable couple of weeks with one difficult to comprehend event stacked on top of another. Our daughter had not planned to visit for Thanksgiving, but the dramatic events at home led to a change of plans. That we were there together, standing on a mountain with a spectacular ocean view, surveying such immense devastation just steps above our house was more than a little surreal.

Standing there I realized on Thanksgiving Eve that I had much for which to be thankful. Friends and family. Life and love. Work and community. Health and safety. Even that moment. An unforgettable moment.

We walked back off of the mountain and returned home with that slight feeling of exhilaration that comes when you realize that you have just witnessed something special.

Later, looking out at that mountain ridge that from our window is the color of dark-roasted coffee grounds, it dawned on me that things look very different from the top of the mountain than they do just a few steps down here below. The perspective changes everything.

Sometimes it is a pretty comforting thing to realize that somewhere up above things look significantly different.

Tennis, Anyone?

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My oldest sister had a tennis class in college and seven-year-old, sports-infatuated me was a convenient choice for a practice partner. That was my introduction to tennis. We played on an elementary-school playground that had a metal chain-link “net” bisecting a concrete basketball court. Not ideal conditions, but I loved every minute of it. I followed professional tennis a little back then, and my childhood was a fun time for it. As a good American I cheered for Chris over Martina but could not get into the screaming antics of Connors and McEnroe, so when it came to international options I opted for Lendl over Borg because Lendl looked cool with those huge white sweatbands. But tennis never made it to center court in my life, other than as a diversion on long summer days when I took a break from shooting hoops to hit tennis balls against a brick wall.

Last year I decided to be a Pepperdine Waves fan across all sports, and as the calendar played out, I had many opportunities to watch our ultra-talented women’s tennis team in action and got a little hooked. What a terrific sport! In fact, one afternoon when I was nursing a nagging running injury I mentioned my interest in playing tennis to my friend and neighbor, Mike, and before I knew it we were playing each Friday morning.  My wife bought me a brand new racket, and I bought some cool Waves-colored tennis shoes. You might think that I am a serious tennis player—until you see me play. What a terrific and difficult sport!

Andre Agassi noted that “Tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, break, fault, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature.” Last week I watched a tennis match following such a tumultuous week in our national politics, and as I watched two warriors on a tennis court playing their violent game of chess with the ball sailing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, I considered the adversarial nature of life. Maybe Agassi was on to something. It does seem to be the nature of things that we face one another across a dividing line and take our best shots.

At the end of the match, however, I watched the two warriors shake hands across the net out of respect for one another. That doesn’t seem to resemble life at all right now.

Everybody Crokinole!

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Crokinole is a game that somehow manages to combine elements of curling (minus the ice), marbles (minus the color), and shuffleboard (minus the cruise ship) into a table-top game enjoyable for all ages. The object of the game is to flick your little cookie-shaped discs into the higher-point regions in the middle of the board, but the greater challenge is to knock your opponent’s discs off the board while keeping yours on and avoiding the crazy posts that protect the inner circle. Trust me, it’s awesome.

The game originated in Canada, which is where I first learned about it thirty years ago when my oldest sister married and moved there. My mother loved it. Although the game is designed for two or four players, like a gambling addict at a poker table my Mom would sit alone for hours on end flicking the crazy discs toward that elusive hole in the middle of the table on our annual visits north of the border.

Last Christmas my wife surprised our family with a crokinole board as a family gift, and it has been a hit at our house with guests ranging from preschoolers to college students to young adults and beyond. There is something addictive about the game, and I confess to feeling a little like a pusher getting people hooked. I mean, c’mon, everyone (in Canada at least) is doing it?

I learned that there is an annual World Crokinole Championship tournament that draws entrants from multiple continents. For some reason that makes me happy. I’m not exactly sure why a simple game draws people from around the world, nor why it makes practically everyone who walks in our doors want to play—but it does. Maybe it is the easy, accessible challenge. It may be that the game is unique. But I prefer to think that it is because we are all drawn to sit down at a table with each other as equals and laugh together.

I mean, check out this video and just try not to smile! 🙂

Travel Well

YA at UCLA

UCC Young Adults at UCLA

On Friday evening a group of friends from University Church traveled to UCLA to cheer on our Pepperdine women’s soccer team in a match against the Bruins. Although we came up short on the scoreboard our student-athletes battled hard and it was good to cheer on their great effort, especially on the road. Over the past two seasons I have gone on the road to cheer for multiple Waves teams, including baseball, basketball, cross country, track, and soccer. There is something fun about entering someone else’s turf to cheer on your team, wearing the colors, looking for friendly faces.

I am a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan and in the past month had the opportunity to watch the Redbirds play in two different stadiums while on a western road swing. The Cardinals are said to “travel well,” a sports world phrase that means that the fan base shows up in support whenever and wherever the team happens to play.

Travel well. I really like that phrase. Sounds like something I would like to do in life in general.

The problem it seems is that you don’t have a ton of control over whether others will show up to support you when you are away from home and outnumbered. I guess the way that you conduct yourself can influence others to represent, but truth be told, even that isn’t required. What would it be like to rest assured that wherever you go in life you will find supporters out en masse, wearing your colors, and cheering you on? What would it feel like to travel well?

I guess most of us will never know.

One thing we can control, however, is whether or not we are individuals who help others travel well. Yes, that we can do. And, wow, what a world that would be.

A Party Worth Imagining

MCLE Party

PC: Tim Horton

The party was phenomenal. No, not the kind of party you might imagine happening in Malibu. In fact, this was the kind of party one might never imagine happening anywhere, including Malibu.

It was a beautiful Saturday where the bright blue heavens slowly faded into a starry sky that featured a spectacular orange moon, and when day transformed into dark the lights that had been carefully strung across the trees and green space lit up the night. Everyone was welcome to attend at no charge, and it seemed as if everyone did. There were people everywhere enjoying the tacos and pupusas and hot dogs and the ice cream cart that never slowed down the entire evening. There were crafts and piñatas for the children along with two, count ‘em two, mariachi bands that entertained and inspired the crowd to dance well into the night. We wanted a celebration, and we had a celebration.

The crowd was a cross-section of the community, and thus, a cross-section of the world. There were homeless and underemployed friends in conversations with world-famous celebrities. Every age level, every education level, every income level, every type of national origin, every faith, every ethnicity—it was all there in a singular party.

I love the Malibu Community Labor Exchange and could not have imagined a more appropriate atmosphere to celebrate its twenty-five years of service.

Late in the evening, while standing under the twinkling lights, I looked across the parking lot and noticed a photographer lurking under a tree with a long-range lens snapping pictures of the party’s celebrity host. That scene is my enduring memory of the party. There were homeless and underemployed men and women feasting with the rich and famous, and lurking in the shadows was paparazzi trying to sneak a shot. There was something right about that scene, something that said that the world needs to know what was happening there—a place where the lion and lamb decided to have a party together and everyone was invited.

Maybe I should have wandered over to the paparazzi and invited him to join us for a taco.

A Conversation Going South

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Is there a term for an escalator that is going down? A de-escalator? Well there should be a term. Anyway, I exited the Denver airport last Friday and stepped on the escalator headed down (sigh) when I heard, “Sir! Sir!”

I turned and saw a blonde woman about my age running and trying to get my attention. “Is this the way to the light rail?” she asked as she stepped on the escalator (?) behind me.

“I think so,” I answered. “That’s where I’m headed.”

“Where are you from?”

“California.”

“Oh,” she replied, obviously disappointed. “I thought I detected an accent.”

“Well, you probably did. I’m originally from Arkansas.”

“Oh,” she replied, suddenly in a better mood. “I would claim Arkansas.”

Well I won’t repeat what came to mind at this juncture of the conversation; instead, I made the difficult choice to smile and simply said, “I like them both.”

I thought that made a nice conversation ender, but she reluctantly replied, “Yes, I guess there are good and bad people wherever you go.” Saying this appeared to disappoint her once again.

There were many things I might have said at that point, but I just agreed and ended the conversation by turning and facing ahead. Which happened to be down. On both literally and metaphorically one of the longest rides I have taken on whatever one should call an escalator going down.