Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Life Lessons I've Learned (or, a letter to my 18-year-old-self)

Dear Jeremy,

Ten years ago you graduated high school, and in that ten years your life has changed dramatically. You have grown physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. You have loved, and experienced loss. After ten years, you are still you, and you continue becoming more "you" every day.

Young Jeremy, from your older self, I want to share some life-lessons that you've learned. Maybe you (aka, any other 18-year-olds who stumble upon this letter) will be able to learn them faster than I was. Some lessons are pragmatic - specific tasks you can cross off a checklist. Most, though, are about your inner-character, and will take you a long time to develop. I should warn you: this is not a short letter. That's probably a good thing, because it means you've not only made a lot of mistakes, but learned from them. You have never stagnated.


Practical advice (things you can check off a todo list)

When you get into college, the sooner you lose your 4.0, the better. This is not to say "don't try" or that you should get *bad* grades, not at all. You should still give [almost] every class a fair shake. But the sooner you can stop worrying about meeting that impossible bar you've set for yourself, the sooner you can lose the pressure that comes along with it, and therefore the sooner you can focus on things that really matter: learning for the sake of learning (not for the grade), and investing time in people.

Take notes during sermons. Still now, by two hours after church you struggle to remember details from what the pastor talked about; even the worst sermon [usually] will have at least one valuable tidbit worth remembering, so whether it's on your phone or on paper, write notes as you're listening. This carries an added bonus of everyone else thinking you're holier than they are, even though you know it's not true.

Learn to play guitar. You started at age 20, only two years from now, but go ahead and start earlier, and try to spend more time truly worshiping as you play.

In a few years you'll hear about a guy named Randy Pausch and something called the "Last Lecture." Drop what you're doing and watch it. And then re-watch it at least once a year, if not more. In one hour and 15 minutes, you'll hear some of the most valuable advice and wisdom that has significantly changed the way I approach my own life. In fact many of the ideas in this letter originate from listening to Randy. Also be sure to watch his time-management lecture, again at least once a year.

Stop using breath mints (actually, at 18 you hadn't yet started, so, don't start). There's an ingredient in them called sorbitol that causes you very bad gastrointestinal distress.

Treasure and spend more time with your grandparents, because you'll only have them for a few more years.

Set specific goals over which you have complete, or relatively complete, control. For example, rather than saying "I'm going to get this particular job," say, "I'm going to apply for this many jobs." No matter the eventual outcome, your goal remains achievable completely under your own control, and is not dependent upon anyone else's response.

Alongside setting specific goals, practice "expectation management." For example, instead of saying "I hope [read: 'expect'] this date turns into a relationship and then marriage," say, "I expect that at my date tonight, I will eat dinner." I'm not exactly saying set your expectations low, I'm instead suggesting setting expectations that are [almost certainly] guaranteed to be met, which prevents you from leaving with a feeling of disappointment. This also leaves a large amount of room for expectations to be exceeded, which is a phenomenal feeling.

Those quarterly magazines you get from Minneapolis Community Education, you should check them out, because there are some pretty cool classes (ASL and Badminton to name two) for very cheap: ~$50 total for 7-ish weeks of class. Just be sure you don't over-schedule your calendar.

Audiobooks and sermon podcasts rock, especially when you're driving to work (or Iowa), mowing the lawn, or doing other chores around house. Sign up for Audible.com's largest plan, and each book will only cost about $9 - not much more than a paperback. And, if you buy a waterproof bluetooth speaker to hang in the shower, that's another block of time you can be productive "reading" while doing something else.

Make backup plans for life. If this job / person / housing situation / class / <generic possibility> says "no," what's your fallback? What's your fallback to your fallback?

And of course, relatedly, always back up your computer, because you'll have two laptops stolen from you in the next few years. Apple's built-in Time Machine is great for recovery, and Code 42's CrashPlan is great for on-the-go file access and unlimited offsite storage. The peace of mind is worth the money.

10 years later, people who are just meeting you think you're an extrovert. But you and I know the truth - you're an introvert, who also happens to like spending time with people. This means you need time by yourself to recharge. Schedule "me time" in your calendar and guard it. When you don't, you get crabby.


Financial advice

Mom and Dad taught me to save 50% of my paycheck. Admittedly, I have not kept to a strict 50% regimen, but still both this year and last I saved aggressively enough to max out my 401(k) and IRA contributions. My financial advisor was quite impressed with me. The sooner you can start saving for retirement, even if it's only $25 here and there, do it. You should also save for rainy days, like car expenses, property tax, and in a few years when your main sewer line will need replacing (welcome to home-ownership).

Find a financial advisor you trust, who will guide you through the financial arena of retirement savings. If you need a name, I can give you a recommendation.

Live within your means. I have at least several coworker friends from my current and previous jobs who are nearing retirement age, who are still struggling to make house/car payments, and will need to work extra years in order to retire. As much as I joke about my plan to "marry rich", the reality is you need to be financially stable on you own. And that boils down to day-to-day choices to live within your means, eat out less, have money deducted from your paycheck straight into a savings account that you refuse to touch, and not burning through every paycheck the day it hits your bank.

Live debt-free as much as possible. Pay off your student loans as soon as possible, and pay off your credit cards every month. All that said, work the system for all its perks - with some limited attention to detail, you absolutely can reap rewards from multiple credit cards offering cash back, sign-up bonuses, free airline miles, etc. For example, I haven't paid for a flight in 4 or 5 years, and I've received $100s of statement credits and cash-back on my credit cards, without paying a dime of interest or annual fees. (and my credit score hasn't suffered much, it's still around 800)

On a related note: Southwest is, in my current opinion, the best airline. I tell you this because I didn't discover them until I was 24 or 25, so I hope you'll check them out sooner than I did.


Interpersonal advice

Almost everyone has an interesting, if not downright fascinating, story, even if you have no common grounds of interest. If you can find out their passion, their excitement will move you. Also, almost everyone loves talk, I suspect because we as a culture have lost the art of listening. Train yourself to listen actively, and you'll learn so much from the people around you, not only to improve your own living, but that will later give you opportunities to share those stories and wisdom yourself.

Live in the present and the future, because dwelling in the past is not healthy. You'll meet a few friends / acquaintances who insist on living in the past, blaming others for their own non-successes, and never learning from their own mistakes. This traps them in a cycle of making the same errors over and over, and then, again, blaming someone else. You in fact, will get blamed by some of these "friends" because of their twisted logic and victim mentality. It's sad, but move on, let those unhealthy relationships go, and focus on moving forward. You can only control you.

Along with that, let go of grudges as soon as possible. They don't help anyone. And dare I say, it's even Biblical that I advocate forgiveness and reconciliation.

Asking someone for a first date is not a marriage proposal; take the pressure off yourself (and her) about finding "the right one" before you've even had a first date.

Age is just a number, in both directions. You can have a lot of years and remain young at heart (in a good way), and you can have only a few years and still have a wisdom and maturity beyond those earthly years. When it comes to pursuing relationships, draw a line at 18 (and later, 21), but otherwise, remember that age is just a number, and it's experience and personality that count.

Love doesn't always come instantaneously. Some people are blessed with the Disney sparks, most aren't. Don't pass early judgement about a relationship's potential, or lack, without giving it a chance.

Avoid prioritizing work over people. Remember the lyrics and music video for Casting Crowns' "American Dream". People and relationships are more important than work, and also more important than proving yourself right (though you're still working on that last one).

However, some "friends" will abuse your time if you let them. Learn to recognize those signs early on, and refuse to allow your time (or money, or talents) to be sucked into downward spiral conversations that last hours and lead nowhere.

Admit when you're wrong. I'm consistently amazed how many people claim they do this, and then don't.

When leaving a friendship / workplace / commitment / anything, try to leave as many doors open as possible, closing them only when completely unavoidable, or your conscience demands it. However, sometimes that is okay. My goodbye letter at Minnehaha probably closed some doors with those who chose to read it maliciously, but I have no regrets, because I know my heart, and that I was being true to me and true to the hopes I held for the school.

You probably won't stay in touch with most of your friends from high school. A few yes, but most will fall by the wayside, and that is okay - it's a natural progression, and you will make new friendships that are just as beautiful.


Personal growth advice

Chase your own dreams, and don't get caught up chasing the dreams of others. Some of the dreams you've chased that probably belonged to someone else rather than you were: wanting to...

  • learn sign language
  • become a full-time filmmaker
  • become a professional musician
  • work at an Apple store
  • work at Apple corporate
  • move to California
  • learn banjo/piano/bass

... and so many more. None of these are bad things at all! But spend time praying about your own dreams - first identifying what they are amidst a sea of other people's dreams, and then second, about how to pursue them, and then third, how to avoid distractions. You haven't mastered this yet, so don't put too much pressure on yourself at 18, just... work on it.

Don't be afraid to do things on your own, like go see a musical (incidentally, turns out you love rock-musicals, for example Wicked, Bat Boy, and Aida), or a concert, or a movie, or even take a trip. You don't need to wait until you have someone else to go with in order to have fun. (thank you to my friend Tom Ryan for this advice)

There are exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking, other peoples' opinions of you matter less than you think they do. Be yourself, not who you think someone else wants you to be. Don't hold back in a conversation because you think the other person will think less of you (and if there's a disagreement, look at it as an opportunity for a conversation).

Worship is, in large part, an attitude. While it is absolutely the worship leader's responsibility to choose non-sucky worshipful songs (for example, not "God of Wonders" or "This is the air I breathe"), it is your responsibility to prepare your heart for a time of worship, so that you can experience worshipful moments even if the leader does play "God of Wonders" or "This is the air I breathe". You own your attitude, good and bad.

It's okay to commit yourself to more than one church community, especially if the two services fulfill different spiritual needs for you (as long as the services are at different times, so you're not robbing Peter to pay Paul).

Don't mistake spending time at church, and doing churchy things, as the same as spending time with God. You need to foster that personal relationship as well. Now in fairness, I'm not saying I'm good at this, I'm just beginning to recognize it, and I wish I would have started on this journey sooner. So... ready, go :)

Fill your life with adult role-models you respect, who make you a better person just by letting you spend time around them, and who will call you out when you're being unreasonable (in so many contexts - work, relationships, anger, attitudes, opinions, theology, every area of life). Along with this, realize that the adults in your life now (at age 18) will become incredibly smart in the next 7 years. I know, it's hard to believe, because they're all dumber than a bag of rocks right now, but by the time you're 25 you will be shocked how much life-wisdom your parents and other adults have accumulated in that time, and how much they're willing to share. They'll consider it an honor, not an inconvenience, to mentor and guide you.

Among these trusted adults, find one or more who are willing to be an anger-management counselor for you. Whenever you sense yourself losing your cool toward someone or something (perhaps an idiot wrote you a stupid-person email), force yourself to wait at least one hour before writing a response. Not once have you replied in the heat of the moment and then failed to regret it later. In that hour, call your anger-management counselor and talk things out, then have them proof your email before you send it, and go through as many drafts as necessary. With only rare exception, you never need to reply immediately, and taking the extra time to cool down and write a calm response will help you, and your reputation, immensely as you work toward a resolution.

Your reputation matters; build a good one.

When making a big decision (whether it's actually a big decision in the grand scheme of life, and also for those that only seem like they're big decisions), listen to everyone's advice, then make (and own responsibility for) your own decision.

When possible, learn from other people's mistakes. When necessary, and a few times that aren't, make your own mistakes and learn from those, too. You will make mistakes. Just try to make different ones next time. Also know that sometimes there is no silver lining, it just sucks (citation: this phenomenal commencement speech by Dessa, recommended to me by my friend Mikaila).

Your value as a human being is not defined by:

  • your relationship status
  • your job / career / salary
  • the number of friends you have
  • your number of blood donations
  • the movie projects you've worked on
  • your skill (or lack thereof) as a musician
  • where you live
  • how many churches you're involved in

Your value as a human being comes from being a beloved child of your Most High God. Own that, and live it out. Every other metric is transient. Much as you [still] want to believe otherwise, you do not control every aspect of your life, because you cannot control other people nor nature nor spirits, and therefore any of those status symbols by which the world will judge your value, can disappear overnight. Strive to find your value in the eternal, which is what Jesus / God offers, because that cannot be taken away by life's happenstances.

Don't wait for the "perfect moment" to tell someone how you feel, or you might lose your chance. This applies with romantic interests as well as family / friends.

Your time is precious. If you're doing something because you think you "should", maybe reconsider.

This is a Jeremy-specific piece of advice, and largely inapplicable to anyone other youngsters reading: in a few years you will hear about this weird / crazy / awesome mime drama ministry based out of Des Moines, Iowa, called AWAKEN. Do it. Treasure it. And especially, as ridiculous as this sounds, treasure those moments hauling sand bags (read toward the bottom of this blog post for more thoughts on that).

Your college education isn't about learning and forgetting facts; it's about learning how to learn, and putting yourself out there for new experiences. Ask upperclassmen at your school (whom you trust and perhaps are similar to you) who the best / worst professors are, then register for classes accordingly. The seniors aren't as scary as you think they are, and the vast majority will be more than happy to give you professor & class recommendations.

Sometimes risks are worth it. I wish I'd been braver at trying new things (dancing, asking someone out, job interviews, new recipes, talking to a stranger, the list goes on).

Always ask yourself "what's the worst that can happen?" With a few exceptions, usually the worst that can happen is the other person says "no" or doesn't reply. The cliché "nothing ventured, nothing gained" applies. It almost never hurts simply to ask the question.

Your attitude toward life controls you, affects the people around you, and also affects who wants to be around you. As best you can, live your life as an optimist, finding eternal hope in your faith.

Never stop working to improve yourself. Ask your friends for feedback and listen. Sometimes they are wrong and you might choose to ignore their suggestions, but at least hear them. Also sometimes they are right and you just don't want to admit it. Also, even when people *are* wrong, you can still learn something about their perceptions of you, and work to improve your persona.

Realize that most change comes slowly. Start working now for what you want yourself to look like in two years. (for example, exercise, guitar-playing ability, faith-life, etc)

Try to fail as quickly as possible. I think this is something I heard in a behind-the-scenes of a Pixar movie, but citation needed. Anyway, the meaning being: if an idea / business / plot / relationship isn't going to work, figure that out as early on in the process as possible, before you've invested even more time / effort / money / emotion / etc.

Life won't be perfect. If you're significantly unhappy about some aspect of your life, spend time thinking seriously about what you can do to change it, rather than feel trapped by it. For example, if you don't like your job, look for another one, ask around, Google for openings, and ask yourself, "what do I want to be doing?" Make a conscious decision to choose your current employer, or to choose something different. For another example, if you're over-extended / over-committed (which happens to me a lot), it's okay to drop an activity. You need not subsist in a malcontent status quo.

In your faith, you can't and won't have all the answers. That doesn't mean you can't have faith, or that faith is illogical. It's merely an encouragement to spend time worrying only about the questions that actually matter, because the rest are just details. This is not to say all details are unimportant, they're just penultimate at best. The most important aspect of your faith is your relationship with God. And on that note, by the way, know that you CAN talk to God, and if you take the time to listen, God can speak into your life as well.

Miracles still happen in the 21st century. Check out a guy named Duane Miller and NuVoice ministries. You'll experience miracles in your own life, too.

Create win-win situations for yourself as often as possible. On the occasions when you recognize you're in a lose-lose, try to get out quickly, if possible. If you're in a good-good situation (for example, two job offers, both good opportunities), recognize it, and take the pressure off yourself because you can't make a "wrong" choice.

You will have many opportunities to minister simply by listening. Largely speaking, no one listens anymore, which leaves people desperately thirsty to be heard. Not only can you listen, but you have a quality about you that allows others to open up and trust you with their "stuff". You are not unique in this, and you'll meet others with the same gift, but my experience so far says there are few of you, making you each precious. (I think anyone can cultivate this spirit of servant-listening, but few do).

Finally, trust that God is working in and through your life. You will impact so many people in your journey, and many of those stories you'll never even know. I'm amazed looking in hindsight at the orchestration God's poured into my life, and how I've impacted others. Try to leave people better than you found them, and know that even in your mistakes, God can work out something good.



Blessings to you on your journey, during the emotional roller coaster highs and lows, the smooth and the bumpy times. Pray always, trust always. Welcome to your Adventure.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why I Kissed Dating "Hello"

My friend Hannah just shared this article with me this morning:

"Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed," by Thomas Umstattd - http://www.thomasumstattd.com/2014/08/courtship-fundamentally-flawed

Myself being someone who, a number of years ago, read and loved (at the time) I Kissed Dating Goodbye, its mention in the opening paragraph grabbed my attention, and never released me. (for the record, I'm now in the camp of a newer book, How To Get A Date Worth Keeping, also written from a Christian perspective, but with a very different outlook).

I encourage you to read the article in its entirety, but if you don't have time, here are some of my favorite quotes:

"If I had only gone out with 3 or 4 guys I wouldn’t have known what I wanted in a husband," [the author's Grandmother] said.
This advice, when combined with the fact that “the purpose of courtship is marriage”, makes asking a girl out for dinner the emotional equivalent of asking for her hand in marriage."
I am not convinced that anyone is ever truly ready to get married. Readiness can become a carrot on a stick, an ideal that can never be achieved.
The courtship movement eliminated dating and replaced it with nothing. Or, put another way, they replaced dating with engagement. The only tangible difference between an engagement and a courtship is the ring and the date.
With Traditional Dating, asking a girl out on a date is no big deal. All the guy is asking to do is to get to know the girl better. Maybe this leads to a deeper relationship, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, the interaction is easier and more fun when it is not so intense.
Dating also trains people to continue dating their spouse after they get married. It is important for married couples to be able to have fun with each other.
When applying Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, to our lives, it is important to differentiate between Biblical precedent, principle and precept. Just because Jacob had two wives and a seven-year engagement does not mean that God wants all men to have two wives and seven-year engagements.
But the Bible is surprisingly quiet when it comes to laying out a system of courtship. Courtship Systems are cultural, and the Bible rarely advocates one cultural approach over another. God’s heart is that every tribe and tongue come worship him without having to surrender their food, language or other cultural distinctives in the process.
The benefit of traditional dating is that the lack of exclusivity reduces temptation. It also helps young people find out who they are and who they are looking for faster. Early marriage reduces the number of years a young person must resist sexual temptation through celibacy.
Finally, I should say this: Where sin abounds, grace abounds more. I understand Grace to be the power of God to do the will of God. The power of God is greater than the power of our sexualized culture. There is nothing new under the sun and no new temptation that is not already common to man. This is not the first time Christians have lived in a sexualized culture.

And the entirety of the "Suggestions for [Single Women|Single Men|Both Single Men and Single Women|Parents]" sections.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Harry Putter 1 outtakes, recut

Ever since my first short movie, "Harry Putter and the Sorcerer's Phone," premiered in 2007, I've wanted to cut together an extended outtakes reel that included ALL the outtakes. I've always felt somehow "incomplete" not having done this for my first movie, like I did for Harry Putter 2. Don't get me wrong, my editor Tony did a great job cutting a shorter outtakes selection for our DVD, I just wanted something more for myself. So, a few years ago, I set out on the long, and arduous, process:

Step 1: Watch all 10 hours of original footage, scene by scene, grabbing along the way every clip containing anything even remotely funny. This generated for me a 3-hour long timeline.

Step 2: Chop away the not-funny bits from each individual clip (all I did in step 1 was save entire clips, each of which often had only a few seconds worth keeping out of 1-or-more-minutes of footage; that left a LOT of extraneous material to trim).

Step 3: Re-watch each scene's clips together, and remove the less-funny ones. Sometimes I questioned my judgement from step 1 - "why did I keep this clip? It's not even funny". So I deleted those from the timeline altogether.

Step 4: Trim, trim, trim. My first pass from step 2 was "dec" ("half decent") and gave me a good starting point, but now seeing all the clips together I could delete even more seconds by putting repeated outtakes of the same shot next to each other in quick succession. For example: Hermione hitting Ron in the wand shop, Hermione and Pansy shoving each other in the sorting hat scene, the students reacting to Neville later in that scene, and Hermione and Draco walking away together in one of the final scenes.

Step 5: Lather, rinse, and repeat step 4.

Step 6: Adjust audio. I didn't want to spend too much time here, knowing how few people probably would watch the video, but, I still wanted to fix some of the audio issues, like, the glaringly distracting ones. These included instances of noticeably bad costume noises, bumping up many of Draco's quieter throw-away lines, boosting overall dialogue levels, and lowering the volume on any screaming.

Step 7: Re-watch the whole thing as a "last looks", then export, upload, and post on my website (and here on my blog). The entire timeline ended up being 1 hour and 14 minutes long.


Now you might ask, "was this the most important or urgent project to which I could have devoted my time?" No, of course it wasn't. That's why I only edited in my spare time, and only when I felt motivated to work on it. Which is also why it took multiple years. All that said, I'm very happy finally to have a finished product, and finally to cross it off my todo list! And, obviously, to watch the finished product myself and laugh and laugh and laugh.

When I shared the finished outtakes with my friend Shawn (who played the broom store clerk), he wrote back, "I had forgotten how much fun and completely unusable material we got from the broom store scene." Soon after, he posted a Facebook status about something he was grateful for: "Outtakes and bloopers. Many, many moons ago, Jeremy Gustafson made a movie about Harry Putter. (Kinda like Harry Potter, but better.) Jeremy's policy: keep the camera rolling and see what happens. The result? A fifteen minute movie with over an hour of outtakes and bloopers."

That about sums it up.

Enjoy!



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This church isn't for me

My friend Drew and I have struggled in recent months with wanting more out of our morning church, Jacob's Well. We've struggled because Jacob's Well is a "church for people who don't like church," and... neither Drew nor I any longer fit that demographic; we actually like church, yearn for longer moments of worship, and thirst for deeper spiritual growth. Drew made the decision a few weeks ago to find a new morning church, and I 100% respect and support his decision. My journey's been a little less clear-cut.

In my view, Jacob's Well is a church from which you want people to [for lack of a more respectful term] "graduate". It's a phenomenal home for anyone who's doubting, or who's been hurt by the church/had a bad church experience, or who's never really been sure about this whole "God" thing to begin with - at JW, it is not assumed that just because you're in church, you necessarily believe in God. That, in combination with our willingness to ask questions without assuming we'll find definitive answers, I think makes us quite unique. I can say in my own experience, JW was a restorative and safe place for me to come each week, after a rather traumatic break-up with my previous church.

My needs are different now. I want to have a consistently deeper worship experience, grow spiritually, and be in a community that challenges me to read my Bible and actually care about that more than I currently do. I also want a community that believes in miracles, speaking in tongues, prophesy, and that God is still alive and actively working in our earthly world. By all those metrics, JW is not the church for me. Also, if I'm honest: I don't even like Jacob's Well right now - there are a LOT of things that need to change, so many things we can and should be doing better.

And yet, I still love Jacob's Well. Inspired by an article I read last year called "Marriage isn’t for you," I find myself pondering if the same lesson may also apply to church. I'm not getting much out of the deal right now (well, maybe that point is arguable - you could argue I'm getting opportunities to get better at sound mixing, at guitar playing, at occasionally leading a worship song, and of learning "patience" :), but maybe it's not supposed to be about me. (Or heck, maybe it is, maybe like everything else, I'm making too big a deal of this and at some point I'll realize that and go find another church.) But in the meantime, the understanding I'm reaching is that for right now, my Calling isn't to "get" from Jacob's Well, but rather to ask where I can give back. Where, if I may perhaps be so bold, I can be the one of strong faith helping encourage and challenge others in developing their relationships with God. Because ultimately what I wish for myself is the same that I wish for everyone else: that no one's faith is stagnant.

Drew is really enjoying his new church so far, and to be completely honest I'm a bit jealous. Maybe I'm feeling trapped? Maybe I still struggle with chasing my own Calling vs chasing someone else's? I don't know. In either case, I can't shake the feeling that my work at JW is not yet complete, that I still have some purpose in being there. Or maybe I'm just being stubborn, and not willing to give up on an entity that has been so meaningful in my life. The end result is, for now, I remain committed, with the understanding (resignation?) that this church is no longer for me, no longer about what I'll gain from it, but instead about what I'm able to do in [humble?] service.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Be The Church

Yesterday morning I got to lead two songs at Jacob's Well that I really love: "Build Your Kingdom Here" by the Rend Collective Experiment, and "Be The Church" by Stefan Van Voorst (who happens to be the worship leader at Upper Room, my evening church). The theme of the morning was, "does the Church matter?"

After leaving JW I typically drive a couple blocks out of my way so I can pass by a freeway ramp, where there is often someone on the side of the road holding a cardboard sign. In my car's backseat I've a box of "homeless bags" with water and cereal bars and stuff, that I like to hand out. Normally I try to make eye contact and at least say "hi" to the person, acknowledging their humanity, but yesterday there was a car behind me so I felt a bit rushed and that made it a barely-slow-down-drive-by-handoff. The man was super friendly though, and incredibly grateful (reactions run the gamut, I've been surprised to discover), and as I drove off my brain processed seeing the words "7-year-old daughter" on his sign; normally if I see someone has a kid I'll give them two bags, this time though I just didn't register it fast enough.

Feeling badly about this, I thought about going around for another pass. At this moment, three other thoughts coalesced: 1) I realized that literally no more than an hour prior, I'd led 100 or so people in singing songs about being the church, being God's kingdom here and now. 2) running through my head were the words "what would Darrell do?" And 3) a memory from LA a few years ago: my friend Nathan and his then-girlfriend-now-wife Catherine were grabbing coffee, when a homeless man approached us. We declined to help him, but Catherine was ill-at-ease with our response, and so we went to a nearby grocery store and she bought him a sandwich and talked with him. Since that moment I've hoped my future wife will be someone like that, but why wait - I want to be that person already, before I meet her. I said to myself, "all right, let's go do this."

I drove around the block and parked and walked over to the man with a couple more bags in my hand. He was thrilled to get the cereal bars (healthy snacks for his kid), and waters (something to sip on while he's standing out in the sun). Then I asked him his story. In a recent blog post I highlighted this quote from Beggars in Spain, which, evidently, has begun to inform my life in a tangible, non-academic way:
What the strong owe beggars is to ask each one why he is a beggar and act accordingly. Because community is the assumption, not the result. And only by giving non-productiveness the same individuality as excellence, and acting accordingly, does one fulfill the obligation to the beggars in Spain.
Talking with the man, who's name was Matt, it was immediately obvious from his vernacular that he was a well-educated, intelligent guy. He shared with me that he used to be a gourmet chef, raking in $100K+ a year, but lost his job in the wake of medical issues, and now scrapes by working at Super America for $8/hour; that income isn't enough to make ends meet, and so on weekends he stands outside and begs. He and his daughter aren't homeless, they live in an apartment, and she doesn't know they're poor; and though he knows she'll find out eventually, he intends to keep her from knowing for as long as he can. They live on the edge, but with his income from the weekends, they are able to stay afloat.

We talked for a few minutes, and Matt mentioned he was getting (or had just received?) a Cisco networking certification. Hm. I asked him if he'd done much with Linux administration, and though he said "not much", I noted he at least knew the word "Linux", which I saw as promising. I handed him my card asked him to email me, because I know we're hiring an entry level admin at my work. I also qualified: no promises, I'm a nobody, but I can still get his resume into somebody's hands. The man wants to work, so who knows, maybe I can help make that connection.

Most importantly, though, I engaged him in conversation and acknowledged him as human. I didn't give him any money, and he didn't ask me for any. Maybe he'll email me, maybe he won't; God only knows if ever in fact Matt and I will interact again. Though I can't imagine begging on the side of a road in order to pay the bills, my belief is reinforced that for those of us who claim faith in Jesus and how He lived, we also then must own a responsibility to being the Church of Jesus, "Going beyond just words and songs .... Being the first to serve the last .... [and being] A blessing to the world without a need to be the stars."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Years later, a reminder that miracles still happen

In recent months I've shared my story of miraculous healing with a number of friends; time to re-post it for a wider audience. If you're like I used to be, and believe miracles are a thing of the ancient past, or if you don't believe in God at all, I hope you'll read my story anyway; maybe it'll provoke some questions in your journey, maybe it won't, but if nothing else you'll have something to ask me about next time we talk! And if you already think I'm crazy to believe in God, you're going to think I'm even crazier after you finish reading (just warning you).

Growing up in a traditional Lutheran church, I didn't know much about the Holy Spirit, I boxed miracles neatly away into Biblical times, and the last person I expected to show up in church was God, or Jesus. I suspect many Christians are in that same boat. My reality changed dramatically in 2008/9.

For the first part of my story, I defer to my own journals from 2009, when this all went down: My Miracle and Physical and Spiritual Health Update. I know those posts are long, but take a few minutes to read them, please; they capture me in the middle of my turmoil, which is infinitely more powerful than anything I could write now.

Since 2009, I've continued visiting my amazing doctor, Chris Romine, every 6 months or so. I always book the last appointment of the day, allowing for our conversations to last well over an hour; we talk a little bit about my health, and then the rest of the time about God and stuff. Chris is more than just my doctor, he's my friend, a mentor, a role-model. Every encounter, we encourage each other, pray together, and if I may be so presumptuous, help make each other better human beings.

When I retell my story, I now insist that, "I was given a miracle of healing, but my real miracle came after that" - the "real" miracle I think, was God's providence post-symptoms-returning, working my situation so I would be with my AWAKEN family when my symptoms hit, so that we'd be performing at a school doing a "Coins for Crohn's" fundraiser, so that I'd meet Chris, and in the years that followed, allowing me the privilege of sharing my story with friends who, like me before, are spiritual skeptics. I still struggle asking why I was gifted with a temporary healing, when there are so many other people who need miracles, much more desperately than I did, for whom the answer was "no." But even so, never ever again can I pretend that the spiritual reality of the Tanakh, Gospels, and Acts belongs locked away in antiquity.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Beggars in Spain

In first-world America, most people[citation needed] have contemplated at least once what their ideal superpower would be, if superpowers existed. I myself always answered this question with: "[selective] mind-reading." As a single data-point, my coworkers and I frequently (and exhaustedly) have exclaimed "I can't read minds!" Consider how much easier / productive (or even manipulative) conversations with your coworkers, manager, HR, spouse, random dude on the street, everyone, would be if you could tell what they were really thinking.

This year I demoted mind-reading to my superpower slot number 2, superseding it with a new answer: Sleeplessness.

What I'm dreaming about is different than insomnia. What I'm dreaming of is not requiring sleep at all. Such a superpower would give you back 8 hours every single night (one third of your life!!), and also all the time wasted getting ready for bed, waking up in the morning (hitting snooze 3 or 5 times like I do), and suffering from general tiredness throughout the day.

My change-of-heart followed on the tails of reading Beggars in Spain, a 1993 Sci-Fi masterpiece (in my humble opinion) set in near-future America, in which in-vitro gene-modifications make it possible to create children who require no sleep. When I mentioned that to my friend John his first reaction was "no parent would EVER want a baby who doesn't sleep!" and that dynamic does come into play in the book, however it's [mostly] offset because the people who can afford gene-mod therapy, also can afford private overnight tutors for their Sleepless children.

The book is "SciFi," but it's less about the fictional science and more about the fascinating socio-political ramifications: because Sleepless children don't waste half their lives sleeping, they attain early academic success, advancing many classroom grade-levels beyond their physical years, and thus eventually become the top-rated lawyers, doctors, athletes, investors, etc. Unfortunately the human nature for the sleeper-counterparts remains similar to how we are today (fearing what is "different"); the Sleepless are ostracized, banned from competing in the Olympics, targeted by mob violence, over-taxed, and so on. I thought the book painted a fairly realistic picture of how this might go down. It also raises a fascinating dialogue about the famous words, "all men are created equal." All people may be created equal in human rights, but even today it is self-evident that not all people are created equal in abilities. Therefore, what obligations, if any, do those who have more talent and giftings owe toward those who don't? And by natural extension: what obligation, if any, do the rich have to the poor?

The book's title derives from an academic argument about handing out money to a group of beggars in Spain; if you give money to one beggar, but 100 more come to you, where do you draw the line? Is it the beggars' right to demand money from you, because you are able-bodied and able-financially, and they are not? Do productive members of society owe anything to those who are not productive (either from lack of ability, or by choice)? The wikipedia article articulates these questions better than I have.

Halfway through its story the book proposes a most elegant answer, that I absolutely have fallen in love with:
What the strong owe beggars is to ask each one why he is a beggar and act accordingly. Because community is the assumption, not the result. And only by giving non-productiveness the same individuality as excellence, and acting accordingly, does one fulfill the obligation to the beggars in Spain.

And as one last food-for-thought, toward the very end of the novel, was this:
There are no permanent beggars in Spain. Or anywhere else. The beggar you give a dollar to today, might change the world tomorrow. Or become father to the man who will. Or grandfather, or great-grandfather. There is no stable ecology of trade, as I thought once, when I was very young. There is no stable anything, much less stagnant anything given enough time. And no non-productive anything either. Beggars are only gene lines temporarily between communities.

As a man of faith who struggles with "what can I do? What should I do?", these are powerful excerpts.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

What's the dream?

All the time I ask friends (heck, and strangers) "what's the dream? If income were no obstacle, what would you want to do with your life? What do you love?". Here are my own answers.

My most precious and important dream is to have a family. This trumps everything else.

Penultimately, assuming having a family can co-exist with another dream, then career-wise, here are what I'd love to find myself doing, if training and income and innate talent were no obstacles:
  • Chaplain on a movie set (this job does not exist as far as I know, but it should; maybe I'll be the first), or a chaplain in a prison, in a hospital, or on tour with a band
  • Produce / manage / somehow work on live concert or theatre productions
  • ASL interpreter at a mega-church, or touring Christian concert
  • Movie producer (movies like Bridge to Terabithia, Moonrise Kingdom, Soul Surfer, or any of my other favorites that inspire)
  • Worship leader / singer / songwriter / performer
  • FEMA / disaster management (ever since I saw Volcano as a child, I've thought about this career idea)
  • Reality TV host
  • Stay-at-home-Dad (one of my close friends and mentors is a stay-at-home-Dad, and seeing his career choice opened my mind to the possibility for myself)

Most importantly though, any job by which I can provide for my family's needs, would be a fine job. Right now I'm a missionary in Corporate America, and I really like what I do; staying where I'm at for the rest of my career, would also be wonderful.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why I invited you to church

In the weeks leading up to Easter, I felt called to invite several coworkers to an Easter Sunday service at one of my churches (I am actively involved in both the Jacob's Well and Upper Room communities). Extending said invitations is scary for me, especially when they are to coworkers, and especially when I expected flat-out rejection. Two of them did, in fact, immediately decline my invites, which frankly wasn't surprising (though I had prayed earnestly for different answers). The other two were receptive, but either because of health or schedule, it didn't work out. To be honest, I have suspected for a while that one of the lessons God and I are working on is 'do what is asked of me, even when I know I will not "succeed."'

Very intentionally, my faith has become engrained in every part of who I am and how I live my life. At the same time, I've also striven (successfully) to live non-threateningly - anyone who's talked about "God-stuff" with me knows that I'm not out to "convert" them - I'm just being me, and being me involves talking about God.

When it comes to inviting friends (and I am truly blessed with coworkers I also call "friends") to church, I want to make it clear: I'm not trying to "save" you. That's between you and God. What I am trying to do, is share with you the unearthly peace, and hope, that my faith gives to me. My faith is the reason why I am an eternal optimist, and can remain so even while I'm frustrated or disappointed or hurt or whatever; in no way am I delusional about earthly life's reality - I just live for something else.

Months ago I read an article that articulated this so much better than I can. Thank goodness for Google, who helped me find it in .42 seconds: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/angela-jamene/what-people-are-really-th_b_4306949.html

It's short, I hope you'll take 2 minutes and read the whole thing (4 minutes if you're like me and not a fast reader). But if you don't read it, then let me highlight a sentence I think summarizes the piece: "Every invitation to church is an 'I love you and I want this indescribable love, peace, and joy for you because I genuinely care about you.'"

If I invite you to one of my churches, it's because I love you, I love my church communities, and I want you to have a vibrant life that you love, and that is full of hope. The only way by which I know that to be possible is through my faith, and that's why I want to share it with you.



I refuse to keep this buried deep inside of me
Yeah this little light of mine, it's time to let it shine a bit
'Cause there's no point in hiding it
It's everything I am
The source of all my hope
And it's the reason why I stand
And I pledge allegiance to being somebody real
There's no more holding it back
I'm showing them how I feel
'Cause love is more than a word
It's a noun, and a verb, and hiding it's absurd

Monday, April 07, 2014

Badminton

I signed up for a 7-week badminton meet-up through Minneapolis Community Ed, and tonight was the first session. Historically badminton is the only sport I've ever really been "good" at, and therefore was also one of my favorites in school. But I haven't played since college, meaning, at least 6 years. Going into the community ed group, I figured I wouldn't be the best, nor the worst, just somewhere in the middle.

Well... I don't believe I'm at the bottom, but... I might only be one or two people up from it. I dun got schooled by an upper-middle-aged man who was very friendly, but clearly in much better physical shape than I am. In fact, almost everyone in the class - mostly middle-aged men - seemed to be in much better shape than I am. Good for them. And in all seriousness that gives me a goal to work toward - I really hope I can be that fit in a few years.

But for tonight, I am sore. My feet, legs, arms, and neck all hate me. They are all crying "why did you do this to us?" and I'm pretty sure they will continue hating me for a couple days. I guess 10 minutes on the elliptical each morning isn't going to cut it anymore.

On the plus side, I will sleep well tonight. And, I had a fun time, which is the whole point anyway.