You’ll Never Have It All

On August 20th we returned to China for our second year of teaching at our current school. Before that we enjoyed a whole month in the US. We were able to use that time to travel around the East Coast and visit a lot of friends and family. It was great for so many reasons, not the least of which was spending time with our dog.

There was a conversation that we found ourselves in on multiple occasions with different people. Just about everyone we know is really supportive of us and it’s always nice to be able to share some of the stories and experiences with them. So many people say the same thing to us: that this is the best time for us to do something like this because we are young and don’t have children. That’s how we feel about it too and we really love the adventure God has brought us on.

But those conversations got me thinking. This is the 4th school year out of the last 6 in which we are living outside of the US. Over the course of those years I think my feelings towards living abroad have changed. I used to put this lifestyle on a pedestal. I hate to admit it, but I used to think myself to be quite interesting because of the places I had been and the cultures I had experienced.

So what changed my mind?

Well, mostly it was watching all of you. You being my friends and my family. In the last 6 years I’ve seen my best friends have children, buy houses, move up in their careers and eat food that I used to love but can’t eat in my current location, like Chipotle. I’ve seen a lot of you hang out with the same people that you’ve been friends with since college or even HIGH SCHOOL.

Something a lot of you might not know about ‘expat culture’ is the constant ebb and flow of community. It’s been a regular theme everywhere we have lived that people have their hearts broken a lot because friends come and go. There are seasons of loneliness mixed with seasons of very intense closeness with people.

I used to think that traveling gave people a more well-rounded perspective on life. I’m not sure about that anymore. ‘Well-rounded’ implies complete, whole. I have learned so much about the world from traveling, but it’s not complete. Remember, whenever we say ‘yes’ to something we are always saying ‘no’ to something else. We have said ‘no’ to a lot that I wish I was experiencing.

Am I saying I regret the decision to come? Heck no! I thank God often that I’ve been blessed to see so much of the Earth He created. It’s a passion that Toni and I share to see new cultures and new places. Am I saying I would trade it all for a life that involved staying put? Yeah, actually. IF that was God’s calling for me. Laying down roots sounds so interesting to me. I dream about having a coffee shop or a bar ‘where everybody knows my name’. There’s something special about that. Also, I miss my dog a lot.

We can’t have it all. I sense this conflict in a lot of other expats that I meet who are caught in that reality. There is a quote that I’ve read from Daniel Yankelovich, a social analyst, who says, “If you feel it is imperative to fill all your needs, and if these needs are contradictory or in conflict with those of others, or simply unfillable, then frustration inevitably follows. To [many people], self-fulfillment means having a career and marriage and children and sexual freedom and autonomy and being liberal and having money and choosing non-conformity and insisting on social justice and enjoying city life and country living and simplicity and graciousness and reading and good friends and on and on. The individual is not truly fulfilled by becoming ever more autonomous. Indeed, to move too far in this direction is to risk psychosis, the ultimate form of autonomy.”

So keep following God’s calling, wherever that leads you. If you live abroad, thank God for that amazing gift but don’t think too highly of yourself. If you live in the town where you were born, hug your family and friends and thank God for that love.

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Back to Basics

Toni, Marcel and I have begun reading through C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity together. I bought an e-book discussion guide to help spark conversation and I’m pleased with how our first go at it went.

For anyone not familiar with Mere Christianity, it’s Lewis’ attempt at outlining the most basic beliefs that lie at the core of Christianity while intellectually defending those beliefs. It’s probably the best non-biblical starting point for anyone wanting to learn more about what Christians believe.

It’s actually a great resource for our little group because even among the three of us there are differences in the ‘frills’ of our individual faiths. By that I mean that we grew up with different kinds of worship services and we differ on some church doctrines. It’s nice to be taking a long look at the things that unify us and also separate us from other worldviews.

The first chapter of the book, which was the basis of our first discussion, wants to establish two points:

1) That all human beings believe that there are ways that they should behave
2) That they don’t behave in the way that they believe they should.

Living in China presents a unique challenge to our belief in an objective morality. For example, before moving here I would have said that all humans everywhere believed that it’s wrong behavior to spit on the floor at the gym. Now I know that I have to take certain issues like that out of the ‘universal morality’ category and put them into the ‘cultural norms’ category, just like I have to take my sweatshirt off of the gym floor and put it into a locker.

It’s such a privilege to be able to explore God’s truths outside of a Western World context. American Christianity can sometimes blur the lines between what’s cultural and what’s universal. Can’t wait to go further.

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Sha-la-la-la-la-la My Oh My

Screenshot 2014-03-13 at 2.13.07 PM

Screenshot from First Kiss by Tatia Pllieva

 Can we please talk about this for a minute? This week it felt like everywhere I looked online people were posting, tweeting and sharing a video of strangers kissing each other. The reactions to the video were almost universally positive. The word ‘beautiful’ was the word I saw thrown around the most. As I watched it I found myself more confused than excited. What is beautiful about two strangers making out with each other?

After the video blew up, we all found out that they were actors and models and the whole project was an ad for clothes. That means that one of the things these people do for their job is use body language to convincingly portray emotion.

I guess that might ruin it for some people since the scene wasn’t that authentic after all. It doesn’t make a huge difference to me. Frankly, I don’t understand why we were so surprised in the first place that people would enjoy making out with someone else, even a stranger. I have good news if you’re into that kind of thing, it’s happening regularly at a bar or club near you!

In reading through the comments sections I saw a lot of people commenting on the beauty, emotions and bond that the people were sharing. I’ll just go ahead and use this post to ask the questions I have after seeing all this and you can feel free to jump in and answer them for me.

1) Are we supposed to think that it’s beautiful because it shows how literally any two people can be asked to kiss and they’d enjoy it?

1a) If that’s true, doesn’t it follow that when all is said and done, enjoying kisses has nothing to do with who the other person is?

1b) And if 1a is true, then what is it about kissing that’s enjoyable?

1c)  Does it matter if it’s a person at all or would we enjoy kissing anything that was soft and covered in saliva? (Ugh, try not to think too much about that.)

2) Are we supposed to think it’s beautiful because we believe there is an actual connection being formed between these two people through a kiss?

2a) Does that connection have anything to do with who they are as a person?

2b) What if after this video they got into a conversation and it turned out the other person spent their free time drowning puppies in their bathtub, would that change their desire to kiss them?

2c) Would they still look back on the connection they shared as beautiful or horrifying?

2d) What does it mean if you shared a connection with a puppy-drowner?

Ok, you all get it. The last point I’ll make is similar to one I made in another post, and that is this: would all of the people who thought this was a touching video also find it beautiful if their significant other met an attractive stranger with whom they shared a 3-minute make-out session and then never saw them again? Wouldn’t that be a painful betrayal, even though they only shared a connection in that 3-minute period? I feel like the ‘WHO’ of our kisses is important.

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Can’t Buy Me Love

ONE FLESH

When I was a college freshman, my roommate had a ‘cuddle buddy’. In fact, his cuddle buddy was an upperclass(wo)man that was in charge of leading us through school orientation. As you can tell, she took the job seriously and went far beyond her call of duty.

Many times I would walk in from class and the two of them would be in his top bunk just… cuddling. As far as I know, there was never anything sexual going on. Only spooning. I didn’t really know what to make of it, so I didn’t say much. The thing I had the hardest time understanding was the fact that each of them had significant others back home. They claimed that their boyfriend and girlfriend were OK with the arrangement and they explained to me that they were simply fulfilling a need to be held while they were apart from their true loves.

I was reminded of this because I saw an article about an Oregon woman that runs a business as a ‘Professional Cuddler’. (My computer is alerting me that ‘cuddler’ is not a real word. That should tell you something right there.)

She charges people a dollar a minute to cuddle with them. KBOI-TV News, an Idaho news channel, did an interview with the girl and the video is awkward as heck.

I can’t wrap my head around the concept. Based on this girl’s quotes, what she is ACTUALLY selling is not a body to cuddle with, but “unconditional love”. That’s where this whole thing breaks down for me. The thing that makes cuddling with this girl different from simply holding tightly to a pillow becomes all about the person’s longing for acceptance and love. I’m sorry to give away the ending, but a 60-minute cuddle session will never fill that void.

I mean, if you think about it, the business is an oxymoron. Her ‘love’ is literally based on the condition of a monetary payment. Does she really love her clients if she gets up and leaves until they are ready to pay again?

And doesn’t this speak to a larger issue about our society’s view on physical affection? We talk about wanting to cuddle or kiss or have sex the same way we talk about wanting to eat an ice cream sundae or smoke a cigarette. We have a craving and we just need a way scratch the itch.

But just like some people’s eating and smoking habits actually come from psychological needs that food and cigarettes can’t fill, physical love is also about a need that physical touch alone can’t satisfy.

Something tells me that it wouldn’t go well if next time my wife went out of town for a few days I said ‘Take all the time you need, babe! If I find myself missing you at night I can just call Suzie, my Professional Cuddler friend. Maybe I can convince her to make out with me if I pay extra!’

If cuddling really is just a platonic act, why should it be inappropriate for me just because I’m married?

What do you all think? Am I on to something here or do I need to climb off my puritanical high-horse and join the real world?

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Time Management: How We Spent 100,000 Years in 2013

LAMP OF THE BODY

I read an article yesterday about the most-watched YouTube videos of 2013. Aside from the fact that there is essentially nothing but junk at the tops of the lists, I was floored by the amount of time that is spent worldwide watching YouTube videos. The top 20 channels on YouTube were viewed more than 18 billion times which equals around 102,000 years of viewing time. Yes, you read that right: 102,000 YEARS. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that. Sometimes I hear people complain about how much money we put into meaningless things like sporting events when there is so much need in the world. Well, if time is also a commodity, then I think it’s safe to say that we are FAILING at spending it correctly. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn preachy because I think one reason it really struck me when I read it is because I’ve been scrutinizing how I spend my own time lately. You could say the world is full of time-wasters, of whom I am chief. Living in China I don’t have a lot of the usual distractions of home and our job includes a lot of down time. When we first arrived I imagined all of the things I was going to accomplish with all of this extra time. I was quickly amazed (and embarrassed) by my seemingly supernatural ability to avoid doing anything of substance. There are the usual culprits like Facebook and YouTube, but since when do I love using plants to kill zombies so much??! We also have a bad habit of letting our hours be eaten alive by Netflix when we are at home. I’ve flown through 5 1/2 seasons of Parks and Recreation in the span of a month and I am now working my way through The West Wing.

I have been steadily pushing myself to change. For my birthday I asked if we could spend some money on a cheap electronic keyboard.

IMG_0634

IMG_0635It’s pretty cheap and obviously everything is in Chinese so I have no idea what most of the buttons do. But it’s good enough that I can spend a little time practicing on it every day. I have a membership to the gym near our house and have been going a few times each week. I have also been reading more.

It’s not much, but it’s a start. I would love it if a year from now I could play a song or two on the piano and lift more than the shamefully low amount of weight that I can currently muster.

In any case, can we please agree not to spend 100,000 years watching Miley Cyrus anymore?

Please feel free to share your struggles/victories over time management in the comments section. I’d love more tips on how to improve.

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Seeking Humility

MISCELLANEOUS

I came across two separate articles today that had a similar theme. One was this article from RELEVANT Magazine about the fact that the Gospel is not meant to be a behavior-control device. The other was this blog post from Jon Acuff about a conversation he had with someone who was surprised he was a Christian because he didn’t seem judgmental enough.

I need to confess that I think God is trying to speak to me about this issue. See, I usually think that I’m about 3 steps ahead when it comes to this. I belong to that culture of young people that grew up in church who are always awkwardly trying to reconcile our faith with the world around us. We tend to look and sound something like this. When I was about 18 years old, I was neck-deep in frustration over these kinds of problems. I walked around with a lot of resentment about the fact that church people spent so much energy on judging people and culture. You know how everyone grows up with their parents’ voices in their heads? Well, I grew up with my parents’ scoffs and eye-rolls in my head. I always knew when something I was enjoying would illicit the dreaded scoff and eye-roll move. In high school when Family Guy first came on the air, I LOVED IT. I would laugh at that show until I cried! But could I just enjoy it in peace? No. Inevitably my mom and dad were in the back of my head scoffing and rolling their eyes all the way to the backs of theirs. Do non-Christians deal with that? For your sakes, I hope not. When I went to college those little parents that lived in my brain short-circuted. There were too many people living with too much sin, so mini-mom and mini-dad started to look sorta demonic with their eyes rolled to the backs of their heads and just a never-ending scoff coming out of their mouths. Suddenly my college friends were looking like angels in comparison. So I did what most Christians do in college: I had mini-mom and mini-dad removed from my brain so that I could think for myself. Eventually I got tired of all the scoffing because I realized, “Hey, these are real people. Maybe we shouldn’t eye-roll them into oblivion.”

Is any of that coherent? Maybe not, but something tells me a lot of people can relate.

I’m not blaming my parents for any of that. In fact, I’m blessed that my parents were as down-to-earth as they were. It could have been a lot worse. Pastor’s kids are notorious for not knowing how to handle the voices of their parents in their heads. So often if someone finds out that I’m a PK, they squint their eyes and look at me really hard as if they’re trying to determine, “Which kind are you…….” I think they’re trying to decide between “super-rebel” or “sheltered nutcase”.

The classic story I hear a lot is of people who don’t like church because they were somehow burned by it. They were made to feel like their every move was being watched and they had to perform in order to be accepted. They say it felt fake, restrictive, hypocritical and unloving. I’ve had the same experience to some degree. But what shocked me was that I ended up having the same exact experience in the non-Christian world. It lured me in with abstract promises of love and acceptance, but I didn’t really find that there. I found that I was still judged, people still put expectations on me and I was still surrounded by hypocrites. In fact, I became more of a hypocrite and more judgmental. My conclusion: it’s a human being issue, not a Christian/non-Christian issue. Once I got to that point I started to invite Christians back into my head because in them I found truth that made a difference. I’m much more selective of what voices I allow in there because I want truth and grace, not judgment and hypocrisy.

That’s my current view of Christianity and Christians. I find real truth in Christ and I find that I actually want people to lovingly help me see how I’m supposed to live my life. What God is teaching me now is that I might have started to go too much in that direction. I’ve rushed back to truth so hard that I might swing out the other way and become one of the judgmental people that caused so much damage in the first place. I think there are some people that God has anointed to give tough-love type of advice and I’m just not one of them. When I listen to Dave Ramsey, for example, I get so fired up I want to call the first person I can think of and say “You’re stupid with money and you need to do what I say!!!!!!!” Somehow Dave is able to do things like that and inspire people. When I do it people say, “Woah. Back off, jack-ass.”

So, it was important for me to read those articles today and to continue to think about God’s call for me to be humble and kind as His representative. I can see the need to improve in that area just from reading my past blogs. I like to sound intelligent and like I have something to say. God’s pressing on me to keep my head down and concentrate on Him, not myself. I pray that He uses that, not my intelligence, to bless people.

LAMP OF THE BODY

Today I came across this amazing video of a guy juggling in Iceland.

It had two effects on me: 1) I want to go to Iceland even more now. 2) I now have a favorite musician who I can’t understand anything he says. You can’t even buy his CD in the US apparently, but you can listen on YouTube here. It’s REALLY good.

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Give Me Back the Wheel, Jesus.

MISCELLANEOUS

I’m not sure if it’s because I didn’t drive for about 2 years while I lived in Spain, but for some reason I have slowly developed some pretty significant anxiety when I’m behind the wheel. I can remember vividly the first time I noticed it. I was driving to Ocean City, MD with my wife and two good friends for the weekend. It was the first weekend that The Dark Knight Rises was in theaters, so we decided to stop in Annapolis to see the movie before heading across the bridge. By the time we were driving to the Eastern Shore, it was probably around 10 or 11PM. I should take a step back here and explain this to anyone who isn’t familiar with the geography of Maryland. The Chesapeake Bay is the big chunk of water that cuts up through our state. The side of Maryland that is on the eastern side of the bay is called “the Eastern Shore”. (No one said it was creative.)

Maryland_map

In order to get from the main part of Maryland over to the Eastern Shore, you have to cross a pretty significant bridge. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is a tad over 4 miles long, at its highest point it is 186 feet above the water and it’s fairly narrow.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

Ok, maybe it’s more than ‘significant’. Well I’ve probably driven over that bridge over a hundred times in my life. I had friends who lived on the Eastern Shore that I visited regularly. When I first began college I would go back and forth to my school in Philadelphia via the Bay Bridge.

Chesapeake_Bay_Bridge-1

This time driving over the bridge was very different. When I reached the highest point, I suddenly became ultra aware of how high up I was and just how close the edges of that bridge were. Looking back, I can only describe it as a near panic attack. I was really close to turning to my friend and saying “Umm… if I pass out right now you might have to take the wheel.” Instead, I held it together by trying to distract myself with discussions about the movie we had just watched. “So guys…. *GULP* ..h-h-how did you like the ending of the m-movie?” Not my best movie critic moment.

Ever since that night, I’ve noticed an increased anxiety when I drive. Even when I’m not on bridges, I’m sometimes overly aware of the fact that I’m screaming down the highway at 75 or 80 MPH and I can’t stop myself from imagining all these things that could go wrong. What if the tire blows out? What if a truck nudges me off the road? At that speed I would just end up flipping through the air and that would be the end. It’s not rational, I know. But the feeling that I’m out of control becomes very overwhelming and then it’s a vicious cycle where I can’t climb up out of my own head.

Last weekend I drove down to Roanoke, VA to meet up with a good friend. When I got out on the road, the anxiety started creeping in again. I was trying to distract myself through podcasts so I wouldn’t think about it, but it wasn’t working. So I turned everything off and just started talking/complaining to God. I complained about the fact that I used to LOVE road trips. It used to be so relaxing and liberating to just get out on the road, excited about the destination waiting on the other end. I asked God what happened to the days when I would drive down 95 while doing about 95.  It turned out that talking to God was doing a pretty good job of distracting me, so I kept it up. I decided to pray for as many people as I could think of and devote the time to fellowship with Him. I was interrupted by a necessary gas station break. When I got back on the road, I tried to pick up where I left off and started talking to God again. About 3 or 4 minutes later I stopped suddenly because I realized I was cruising at around 80 MPH and even feeling like I could go faster. Normally when I’m that comfortable driving it’s because I’m just distracted and not thinking about it, but this was different. I was fully aware of everything but feeling very much in control. I drove the rest of the way down comfortably and even made the 4 hour drive back home feeling relaxed the next day. I’m not saying I’ll never have to deal with it again, but I was so thankful to have that feeling back that I ended up just singing whatever random praise songs popped into my head for the next 45 minutes. It was time well spent with Jesus that day.

CROWNS THAT DON’T LAST

What a bummer that the Heat won last night. I don’t necessarily have anything against LeBron, and in my opinion he was spectacular in the game. I think I’m just like everyone else who likes the lack of flashiness to the Spurs’ game. Any time I’ve watched the Spurs play, Tim Duncan is always completely flat with his emotions. But last night when he had the chance to tie the game in the final minute and he tipped the ball just a little bit too hard, he was slapping the court in frustration and visibly upset with himself. It was a really entertaining game in that sense. There was a lot of drama, it was neck-and-neck the whole way and the passion was evident in all the players. Fun to watch.

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