School's out!

School is out. Funny thing to proclaim at the end of September when most kids are just starting their school year. But for me, it is done. Today. Or at least for now.

In hopes to improve my writing skills and storytelling abilities, I have been looking for opportunities to study our culture and do more to make myself a better person. So I enrolled for some classes to do just that: classes that look at telling good stories through various mediums. For the past six weeks, I have been studying and writing for a POPX class through the Smithsonian and edX.

It was providence that I stumbled upon the class: The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture. Being a card carrying nerd, this is the type of class within my particular set of skills. I registered and dove in head first. I geeked out for six solid weeks and learned a lot about the history of the comic book industry.

courtesy of edx.org

A few late nights studying and doing homework over a holiday weekend. Meanwhile college kids everywhere are rolling their eyes. "Big deal," they say, "we do that all year long."

It is true, taking one class pales in comparison to a full credit load. Still, I am grateful I took the opportunity to do it. On the downside, it meant I spent less time writing for Faithful Geek and a couple other projects. But a fringe benefit is the priceless expression other people gave when I talked about the class.

Them: "What are you studying?"
Me: "Pop culture"
Them: "WHAT?!?"
Them: "You can do that?"

Now, it is done. My final project (a write-up about the history, impact, and relevance of Daredevil) was submitted last night. Today, I return to normal. Well, my version of normal.


Another Day in Paradise

It was an early morning and I was snaking my way through a crowd of people. As I passed an older gentleman, I heard him say, "Another day in paradise."

His comment was directed to no one in particular. Just a random remark tossed out to any who care to listen. The scowl on his face and the bitter tone in his voice betrayed any possibility that his words were genuine.

Another day in paradise.

It was sarcastic.
It was an accusation.
It was a defense mechanism.
It was an admission of defeat.

His day, his lot in life. It was anything but paradise.

Why is it when people make such proclamations they are rarely serious?

Have they given up on their dreams? Are they so worn down by circumstances that they are not able to see a way out? Have they fallen victim to the consequences of their own choices? Did they forget there is more to life than going to work and paying bills?

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not an eternal and incurable optimist. I realize that life is not always sunshine and roses. I am intimately aware that being human is not an easy feat. I know that events beyond our control have a nasty habit of kicking us in the teeth.

Does this realistic understanding of existence make me a pessimist? I hope not. Because I also know that life is more than our burdens. I believe that we are more than our mistakes and failures. I value improvement over perfection. I hope in something to hope for. We go through Hell and life goes on.

From that perspective and with all sincerity, I will declare myself to be in paradise. Right here. Right now.

I live in one of the most beautiful regions of the nation. I have a good job and brilliant kids. I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge. I have hobbies to occupy my free time and talents I use to help others. I have friends who are immensely valuable to me. I have parents who are encouraging and supportive, and an older brother who has always been my bodyguard and my biggest cheerleader.

How could I not call this paradise?

Even if the worst happens, even if tragedy strikes, even if my greatest fears come to fruition, even on the most terrible horrible no good very bad days. This is still another day in paradise.

Because I'm alive.

I think we forget about it too easily. We forget this breath that fills our lungs is a gift of life. We forget how our hearts beat with purpose. We forget about little joys and simple pleasures that make us happy. We forget the grace we've been given.

Instead we show up, do our thing, and return home only to whine, complain, and mindlessly repeat the routine again tomorrow.

Please do not be like that grubmling stranger. Do something to remind yourself how much life beats inside your chest.

Eat spicy food. Listen to feel-good music. Take the long way home. Call your folks and tell them you love them. Be thankful.

Then go for a walk. Wherever that path leads: on a crowded sidewalk beneath giants of steel and concrete, down a dirt trail on a forested hillside, along a sandy strech of beach, or through a cow-pie littered pasture. Let each step remind you that you are a living breathing being with hope, worth, and purpose.

You are here. You are alive. Welcome to paradise.


Welcome to Fall

North Idaho got an unofficial head-start on changing seasons a couple of weeks ago. As of the Autumnal equinox this past Wednesday, Fall is officially here. Isn't it great?

Disclaimer: Autumn is not my favorite season - that special designation belongs to Winter. But Fall makes a strong showing in second place. In honor of the first few days of the new season, here are four things I love about Fall (plus one thing I don't).

1. Warm days, cool nights. It was 39° when I woke up yesterday morning, but by mid afternoon it was 79°. This is the season of layers. Fleece jackets and peacoats in the morning, t-shirts and sandals during the day. Sleeping with the windows open so the chilly overnight temperatures can naturally regulate indoor climates. Evening walks are better this time of the year with crisp air and clear skies. Winds feel more refreshing. And everyone is ready to be done with the long hot summer.

2. The foliage. This is the season the leaves turn, bursting with vivid hues as if they had been set aflame by sunlight. I love the colorful display. I love the sound of fallen leaves crunching underfoot. I love the giddiness of tromping through a big pile of raked up oak and maple leaves - scattering them around (apologies to my landscapers) with a couple joyous kicks. Strangely, I love the smell leaves emit as they crumble and decompose. There is also a calming, nearly hypnotic effect watching a single leaf float to the ground while fighting the pull of gravity.

3. Anticipation. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but so does anticipation. Autumn is brimming with it. Anticipation of the first frost. Anticipation of the first flakes of snow. Anticipation of seeing your kids and their friends in their Halloween costumes. Anticipation of Halloween candy and baked holiday goodies. Anticipation of Thanksgiving and the start of the Advent season.

4. Warm drinks and scary movies. I feel silly drinking hot coffee during the summer so I order my mochas and breves iced. Once the cooler weather of Fall arrives, warm drinks are again acceptable - if not mandatory. Hot chocolate, cider, coffee, espresso. This is also the season I return to horror classics: The Exorcist, The Ring, Donnie Darko, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Curling up on the couch with one of those movies and a mug of hot cocoa spiked with a shot of Irish cream is my idea of bliss.

That's a lot to love. But there is one thing I could do without.

1. Pumpkin spiced everything. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice dip, spiced pumpkin bread, pumpkin spiced ginger cookies, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spiced candles, pumpkin spiced lip gloss, pumpkin spiced lotion, pumpkin spiced Oreos, pumpkin spiced beers, pumpkin spice sausage, pumpkin spiced tires. Someone somewhere is the Bubba Blue of pumpkin spice. Seriously, we have jumped the shark with with this one.


My Scarlet Letter (Part 2)

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter,' Hester Prynne was tried and convicted of adultery. Her punishment was to wear a brilliant red colored letter "A" at all times - the titular scarlet letter. This was her mark, her brand, her label. This "A" was not meant as discipline. The people of Boston had one purpose for Hester's scarlet letter: to shame her - publicly humiliate her.

Part of me wants to say I am thankful that we live in a better society today. But that isn't entirely true. Sure, public shunning has been removed from the verdicts of our judicial system. Yet we have not eliminated humiliation as a form of punishment, we have only found more complex ways to do it.

+ Consider The Village Church's treatment of Karen Hinkley when she filed to annul her marriage after learning of her husband's disgusting porn habit.
+ Consider the coordinated online harassment, hate mail, and threats of death and rape that Zoë Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian faced during gamergate.
+ Consider social media's wrath against Victor Paul Alvarez and Justine Sacco for jokes they made in bad taste.
+ Consider the backlash against big game hunters after Walter Palmer killed Cecil the lion.

We have not ended the practice - we made it an art-form. And we're more relentless than ever before.

Any kid that was bullied in school know there are certain words that are just as devastating as Hester's "A." Retard. Gay. Slut. When I was a kid, that word was nerd.

Words carry weight and when used as a label they stick. For most of my life, words like geek and nerd and loser have been my scarlet letters. Intended to wound, to humiliate, to shame, to brand me as weird.

As mentioned in my previous post, I have grown to embrace the geek label. I wear it like a badge of honor. I celebrate my nerdish ways and revel in geekery. Through this, I have discovered a heart for the freaks and geeks like me who were left out and overlooked.

My love for my fellow nerds and outcasts goes deeper than identifying as a part of the tribe. It is more than being one of those picked on and labeled.

I truly believe that God made me a geek. That this personality is His gift to me. I also feel like He has given me a heart for those who are the last one's picked, who are braving their way through this judgmental world.

The more I study the Bible, the more I am convinced my soul is in the right place.

+ Again and again, scripture points to a God of the losers. The books of Luke and Mark contain a story about Jesus being criticized for hanging out with sinners. Jesus responded, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." In a similar story from the book of Matthew, Jesus added "go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'" He didn't come here for winners, the champions, or the self-made. He came to give victory to the losers.
+ Again and again, scripture points to a God of the underdogs. He is a God who called a powerless and oppressed nation of slaves to be His people. A Savior who asked a bunch of blue collar misfits to be His disciples, and used the most unlikely people to spread His story to the ends of the earth.
+ Again and again, scripture points to a God of the brokenhearted. In the Psalms, David describes a God who does not delight in animal sacrifice or burnt offerings. He wrote, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." Elsewhere, he says "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and he saves those whose spirits have been crushed." Another psalmist wrote God "heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds."
+ Again and again, scripture points to a God of the outcasts and the overlooked. The book of James refers to the care of orphans and widows to be a pure and undefiled religion. Jewish law is filled with instruction to care for the poor, the fatherless, the widows, and the foreigner. In the Gospels, Jesus frequently takes time to express love to kids. Jesus heals and extends grace to those on fringes of culture. He parties with prostitutes and corrupt government workers. He gives dignity to people shunned by society.

When I was picked on and pushed around in junior high, that was my God. When I was a high school student eating lunch in the auditorium with the other theater geeks, that was my God. When I spent my time as a young adult at concerts or playing Halo with my musician friends, that was my God. When the grown man version of me was ridiculed for my affinity of science fiction, horror, and music with screaming in it, that was my God.

Now as a parent raising geeky kids, He is still my God. As I introduce my kids to the Star Wars universe, to the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien, to comic books, to modern superheroes and Greek mythology, to theories about time travel and parallel worlds. He is still my God.

He is the God of geeks like me. I love nerd culture because God loves nerds. I have a heart for those that don't fit in because God is on their side.

At the end of Hawthorne's novel, Hester Prynne returned to Boston after years of absence and resumed working for charity. She still wore her scarlet letter, though there was no need for her to do so. Her time of punishment had ended and the people around town no longer used the "A" to mock her. In fact, Hawthorne wrote that it "ceased to be a stigma" and it was instead "looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence, too." Hester did not need to wear her "A," yet she still chose to do so.

Similarly, there is no need for me to brand myself a geek but I still do. Because I now refuse to allow it to be a term of scorn or derision. It is my scarlet letter and I gladly wear it with honor.


My Scarlet Letter (Part 1)

Times of trial could also times of great discovery.

That lone sentence might be the best description of the last couple years of my life. Dragged through hell and yet emerging (I hope) as a better man.

When everything falls apart, it is easy to direct the blame outward. However, such strategy repeats the cycle and I don't want to redo the past. Rather than deflect, deny, or obfuscate any responsibility, I have looked inward to take brutal and honest assessments of my errors.

I have done, and am still doing that deep soul dredging work. It has been uncomfortable and trying at times. On the other end of falling apart, I find myself physically healthier, happier, more emotionally grounded, and connected to a better support network than I have ever had before.

As I pillaged the remnants of who I was, I have had to rebuild who I am. Not an easy task when you're a thirty something single dad.

Embracing my identity. Redefining what I want out of life. And rediscovering where my heart lies and the passions that drive me.

Here is what I have found: I have a heart for the freaks and geeks. For the outcasts, the left out, and the last ones picked. For the walking wounded. For those who feel like they don't belong.

Why? Because that was me.

If it is not all ready abundantly clear, if you can't tell by the title of this blog, if I haven't told you in conversation: I am a nerd.

Want to geek out over music, movies, or comic books? Come find me, I will gleefully join you. Want to challenge me in Mario Kart? I will throw down. Have questions about symbolic imagery in fantasy and science fiction? Let's go out for some coffee. Up for a game of Cards Against Humanity? Invite me over (really - please invite me).

I am a nerd. These days, I wear that label like a merit badge. But it wasn't always like that.

My childhood existed before the age of geek-chic. Back then, nothing was more degrading than the geek label. Nothing more ostracizing. Nothing more stigmatizing. We were the last ones picked for games in PE. We were the freaks sitting at the lunch table in the corner with other outcasts who were not welcomed at the popular tables. We were teased and bullied and found our tribe at the fringes of what the cool kids rejected.

That's why we had our noses buried in comic books. That's why we hung out in our parent's basements, strumming distorted power chords on cheap guitars. That's why we wrote crappy poetry, spent hours exploring dungeons in role-playing games, and obsessed over the newest technologies.

Then I became an adult. Instead of being liberated, I found more of the same. The people who I thought loved me expressed disgust at my taste in music and said I was weird for watching TV shows like Lost.

What is now a badge of honor was for many years my scarlet letter. It was a label bestowed upon me as a demeaning brand. It was used to disparage. If it had not have been for the introspection of the past couple years, I might have been stuck there, humiliated by the scarlet nerd letter.

So it makes sense that I would have a heart for those who feel left out or overlooked. They are my people.



An extended family member once criticized my kids watching Veggie Tales videos. His barbed words had nothing to do with the quality of animation or storytelling, the cheesy jokes or subjects parodied. His complaint was solely of religion. "It's pure indoctrination," he said, "I would never subject my kids to that." I have heard this many times before as objections to Christianity and organized religion in general. Parents don't want their kids involved with church for fear their kids will be brainwashed.

Growing up in a religious home that attended church multiple times a week in an area that was predominantly non-churched, I heard all sorts of reasons why people don't believe in God in any form. Due to my background, it was easy to get trapped in the bubble maintaining a circle of friends who shared my structure of belief. However, as I aged, that isolation became more and more impractical. Life experiences altered my points of view. Study of Biblical translation, ancient history, and repeated scriptural reading changed my perspectives. Opinions and beliefs diverged and matured.

I was once taught that every objection to Christianity had a perfect rebuttal; now I have come to understand even rebuttals have rebuttals. I have learned through trial and error (and mostly error) that arguing over religion doesn't change hearts or minds. Today, when I hear someone explain why they reject religion, I get it. They have a point. I might not agree with them, but I understand where they're coming from.

The only objection I cannot fathom is the charge of indoctrination. "I don't want to brainwash my kids into my belief structure." This idea is ridiculous. Here is why.

1. You all ready are indoctrinating your kids. Kids learn from their parents. How you raise your kids is (without intentional effort to do otherwise) a matter of behavior learned from your parents. When your kids grow up and have their own kids, their parenting strategy will be modeled after what they learned from you. This is why kids from dysfunctional families so frequently repeat cycles of abuse, addiction, and alcoholism.

Kids also pick up the beliefs and attitudes of their parents. No one is born a racist; it is an attitude they inherit from their parents' behavior. No one is born a Republican or a Democrat, children tend to mirror their parents political beliefs during their formative years. Parents will share their values in education, science, art, and business. Kids will also adopt their parent's religious persuasion - even the absence of formal religious practice. Everyone believes in something whether it is a god, gods, or no god.

2. Outside of religion and core beliefs or values, you are still indoctrinating your kids. Sport fans raise sport fans. Geeky parents raise geeky kids. Bookworms raise readers. Health nuts raise kids who think sugary foods taste weird. There are exceptions to this rule; major life-changing events affect how children react to parental interests. Divorce, illness, injury, blended families, job loss, or relocation all impact child development. And kids everywhere develop interests independent of their parents (I am one of them). Regardless of exceptions, parents will inevitably introduce their kids to their vocation, their hobbies, and their fandoms.

What self-respecting Red Sox fan would let their kids cheer for the Yankees? What mechanic doesn't teach their kids how to change the oil or a flat tire? It happens. We can't help it. My oldest son's second favorite band is Coldplay because they are one of my favorite bands. My youngest son's favorite part of summer was going hiking because I enjoy hiking. My daughter always wants to help me cook dinner because cooking is something that brings me joy. All three of my kids read comic books because I love comic books. I am indoctrinating my kids to appreciate music, the outdoors, good food, and superheroes. If you are a parent, your experience is probably similar.

3. Fear of indoctrination assumes the worst of your kids. It presumes they lack intelligence. It discounts their ability to make their own choices or develop their own beliefs. It ignores that other factors like teachers, friends, and media can have impacting influence over your kids. It concludes that your children's highest aspiration is to obey your every command. Anyone who has raised or is raising children knows these conclusions are false. Kids are smart - often smarter than we realize or anticipate.

My kids have all developed interests outside my areas of expertise. Christian loves Minecraft and wants to play at any available opportunity. Zu is my princess who wants jewelry, makeup, and every pair of shoe at the shoe store. JJ loves cars, trucks, motorcycles, and ... well, anything with an engine. They are all wicked smart. They want to trust people, yet they can often tell when someone lies to them. They observe far more than what they are told. And they are not afraid to share their opinion. Just like kids all over the world.

4. Avoiding anything resembling indoctrination ignores the possibility (inevitability?) of rebellion. Children change from finding sameness with their parents to embracing their own identity; it is an essential part of child development. Figuring out how to be autonomous is something every kid needs to do. That frequently means kids will question the beliefs and values of their parents, often to the point of rejection. And that's OK. Teenage rebellion is so common that it has become a trope in literature, TV, and movies.

Statistically speaking, a vast majority of kids raised in evangelical settings leave the church when they graduate high school. If Christian parents are indoctrinating their children, we're not doing a very good job of it. Even when kids (like me) do not leave the church when we become an adult, that doesn’t mean we have been brainwashed, it doesn't mean we conformed to our parent's beliefs. My father and I share the same religion, but we go to churches that are different in style and structure. We agree on essential tenets but differ in things that are not essential. We both mark the Christian box in demographic surveys but our faiths look very different.

5. When you actively avoid indoctrinating your kids, you also remove the opportunity to use your life as a lesson. I want my kids to learn from me. I want to lead by example and teach them good habits: how to be kind to others, how to take responsibility for their actions, and chase after their dreams as if no one can stop them. But I know that I am not a perfect man. I stumble and screw things up. I want them to learn from me when I fail, to learn how to apologize. And I hope they learn enough so that they don't repeat my mistakes.

If kids don't learn life’s lessons from you, they will learn it somewhere else - most likely somewhere less reputable. Your kids need your example. They need your good. They need your ugly. More than your religion, your politics, or your favorite ball team - they need you.



This kid has changed my life in more ways than any other person walking this earth. He made me something I had never been before: a dad. It has been the most challenging, most rewarding, most heartbreaking, and funniest adventures I've ever partaken. He's my mini-me. A nerd after my own heart. Scary smart and an inquisitive streak that will keep me on my toes. Happy eleventh birthday to my oldest.


To the returning students of MPHS

Welcome back to classes, to familiar faces you haven't seen in three months, to homework and teachers and long walks from the stadium to the locker bays. For some of you, this is your last year as a student at this campus. But for many of you, this is just another year.

All of you share one thing in common. You are returning to a school brushed with tragedy. You were one of the students sheltered in lockdown or you were rushing as fast and as far away as you could. I never imagined I would see my high school featured on CNN. A year later, I cannot begin to understand the grief, loss, and pain you have all processed.

It is never easy returning to a place that holds painful memories. While some of you have a more personal connection than others, it is wise for all of us to acknowledge that the trauma exists. While there is nothing anyone can do to erase the events you all experienced last fall, you have the power to make this year a positive experience.

I have some unsolicited advice for you to help you through the next nine months. Consider this my back-to-school gift to you.

1. Be Brave - Whether you were in the cafeteria last October, or somewhere else on campus, you are all survivors. Your scars tell stories that could lead to someone else's healing. Do not be afraid to share your stories. Stand tall and proud to be where you are today.

However, life in high school comes with a host of other fears that are not unique to MPHS.
To the picked on and teased kid who dreads the bus ride to school, be brave and know that your bullies do not define you. You are capable of greater things than they could ever imagine.
To the infatuated hesitant to ask out that boy or girl because you're afraid they'll break your heart, ask anyways. I promise you that you will always regret it if you don't do it.
To the nervous waiting for the college acceptance letter, trust in your accomplishments. You will end up where you need to be.
To the athlete scared of failing in a game winning play, do the best you can. Win or lose, the whole city is on your side. Even outside Marysville, you have alumni cheering you on from all across the US.
To those worried you might not have enough credit to graduate, afraid you might humiliate yourself at the homecoming dance, scared of your best friend's driving habits, wondering if anyone will accept you for who you really are, imagining that you will never be anything more than a hopeless kid from a small suburb, be brave.

2. Be You - Stop trying to be normal; normal doesn't exist. As cliché as it may sound, there is only one you. You are the only you that exists and every shred of my being believes that you are here for a reason. Embrace it.

Our culture seems to crave conformity yet it values individuality. Turn on the radio and you are sure to hear a song about someone celebrating their uniqueness.
When I was a kid, De La Soul had a song called 'Me Myself and I' declaring " I'm proud of what I am."
Shortly after I was out of school, DMX rapped "How about you wanting to be just like you? You can do what I do, just in your own way,' on a song called 'Do You.'
Ten years ago, Audioslave followed the theme with their single 'Be Yourself.' "To be yourself is all that you can do."
And a couple years ago, Paramore sang "Why do you care what people think?" on 'Anklebiters' and encouraged you to "fall in love with yourself."

3. Be Present - This is not about school attendance, although it could be. Being present is more about being there when you are there. Life is filled with distractions and it is easy to get lost inside them. I know because I was one of those students who spent more time daydreaming than listening to the teachers. These days, my phone distracts me from the 3D world around me. Avoiding those diversions give you a greater chance of fully experiencing everything your time at MP has to offer.

It takes practice and had been encouraged in many cultures throughout history.
The Buddhists call it Sati and it is an essential part of the practice of Buddhism: meditation, focused breathing, and awareness of all thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.
In Christian tradition, the Apostle Paul wrote "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
The Stoics of Ancient Greece followed a concept called προαίρεσις (prohairesis) in which moral judgments and decisions were made with full attention to what was in the individual's control.
Modern psychology describes it as mindfulness. It is being used to relieve stress and treat addiction, depression, anxiety, and disorders like OCD.

4. Be Intentional - Do things on purpose. Crazy things. Audacious things. Smart things. Your term papers, your extra-curricular activities, your circle of friends, where you hang out after school. Have a reason to do what you do.

The duration of high school will only be a short blip in the span of your lifetime and you will either look back at it with fondness or regret. How the future version of you reflects on these years is in your control now.
Being intentional will help you shape memories that are worth remembering.
Being intentional will build bonds with friends that will last far beyond your youth.
Being intentional reveal moments of joy in unexpected circumstances.
Being intentional gives you a goal, something to work for, something to hope for.
Being intentional will benefit you beyond the walls of MPHS. It will make you a better student, a better romantic partner, a better parent, a better friend, a better employee, a better artist, a better entrepreneur.

5. Be Gracious - A funny thing about grace: it is the one thing we all need and yet none of us deserve it. Granting grace is one of the greatest acts you can do for anyone.

We show grace through patience, forgiveness, and gratitude.
Be thankful for your teachers. Even the ones you don't like.
Be thankful for what you have, even if it isn't much.
Forgiving others does more for you than the person you forgive.
Second chances are far more rewarding than grudges.
Everyone has a bad day. Everyone bears a burden. Everyone wrestles with their own demons.

My final though is perhaps the most difficult. Do not be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in admitting that you can't do everything on your own. It's OK to not be OK. Ask for help, you might be surprised where you find it.

I give you my best wishes. May the 2015/16 school year be your best year ever.


MPHS proud
Alumnus - class of '97


End of Summer

It is that time of year when parents celebrate a little more than they probably should. Summer dwindles into cooler weather and school bounces back into their kids lives with schedules and structure and homework and fewer excuses to claim boredom.

My kids are back in classrooms one week from today. Both of my boys are eager to return, while my daughter would rather stay at home with me forever. With this being our last week of summer break, I looked back with them and asked them about their summer. This is what they told me was their favorite part of summer.

JJ: "The fair was my favorite part. No, wait. Going hiking. With you. That was my favorite part of summer. Then the fair."

Zu: "My favorite part of summer was spending time with you." (me: "That's sweet, but could you be more specific?") Zu: "Spending time with you and going swimming."

Christian: "The best part of summer was watching Star Wars and watching Back to the Future and playing Minecraft." (me: "But nothing that we did as a family?") Christian: "Well, I watched Back to the Future with you."

Well, that's it. We have one more weekend of fun that will be filled with birthday surprises and back to school shopping. Then nine months of school bells and sack lunches. I hope y'all had as much fun as we did this summer.



Want to know something incredible? This kid turns seven today. He has fought through a multitude of health and emotional struggles to find his place in this world. He is my accident prone child. He is my athlete. He is my non sequitur joy. He is, more often than not, my reason to laugh. It has been a pleasure watching him develop a personality that is truly his own. Happy birthday J-Funk.


Huggy Bear

My father was a hugger. Actually, I should say he is a hugger. As far as I know, Dad will still welcome those he loves with a warm embrace.

That is the culture in which I was raised. My dad placed a high value in the worth of a hug. To him, it communicated something that could not be exchanged in words. It instilled a sense of acceptance, joy, and respect wrapped inside his arms.

It rubbed off on me. By the time I was in high school, I was willing to deliver a hug to anyone who needed it. The trait came in handy when an earthquake shook the auditorium during the final dress rehearsal of Neil Simon’s Rumors in the spring of my junior year when cast and crew members needed a hug, a shoulder to lean on from someone with a clear head that could tell them, “Everything is going to be all right.”

Times have changed. I have grown older and perhaps a little more cynical. Life experiences and emotional wounds have transformed me. These days I am less like a koala bear and more like a polar bear. I prefer colder temperatures, growl a lot, and can be a bit of a loner.

Photo courtesy of ZME Science

Sure, I still give hugs but they are more reserved for my kids, my parents, or my brother. My natural inclination is to keep everyone else at arm’s length. Greet with a high-five, a handshake, or a subtle nod that says “hey.”

Yet seasons pass and wounds heal. I am going through a personal evolution and find myself once again welcoming hugs from friends. Those awkward Christian side-hugs, the ‘we’re not too manly to hug’ bro-hugs, and full-frontal hugs that imply an unbreakable brotherhood.

While my digression from the way my dad raised me was a slow burn with no clear reason why, this road back has been quick with an identifiable culprit.

I blame my friend John.

He is the kind of man that will hug anyone. And he pulls it off with so much grace and genuine humility that there is nothing creepy or intrusive about it.

Suddenly, I have changed again. Now, I will accept a hug when walking around church. Or when I bump into friends downtown. Or at the end of my small group when I’m headed out the door to go home. Or when John walks up behind me at Subway and gives me a sneak-attack hug like the friendliest ninja you’ve ever met.

But it is not just John. It is the group of guys he and I are in. It is out-of-state friends who have promised to give me the biggest hug when we finally get to see each other. It is the people who have worn down my rough edges and encouraged me to be vulnerable again.

A funny thing happens with friends like that. When you surround yourself with the right kinds of people, they make you a better person.

To those friends who have welcomed this polar bear into your midst and awkwardly embraced me: thank you for teaching me to be more of a cuddly bear.

Photo courtesy of Metro UK



Shortly after noon today, I looked up. Straight up. Staring at the sun. This is what I saw.

It looks pretty, but it is far from pleasant. The glowing orb in the center of the picture is the sun. As for the grey matter, those are not clouds. That is smoke, ashy remnants of burnt wood and brush.

For those of you who are unaware, the Inland Empire has been inundated by an onslaught of wildfires. Lightning strikes. Downed power-lines from high winds. Errant cigarettes tossed from car windows. Campfires not properly extinguished. Even some arson. This summer season has kept Forrest Service and Land Management crews busy and worn thin.

The Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area is surrounded by fire. Five major fires between Lewiston and Missoula and another between Lewiston and Walla Walla. A collection burning north of Kellogg and southeast of Sandpoint. One on the Washington side of the state line west of Sandpoint and one near the Canadian border north of Bonner's Ferry. Fires in or near both the Colville and Spokane Native Reservations. And the northern forests are ablaze from Okanogan to Lake Chelan to the North Cascades.

With fire comes smoke. It has been hazy for most of the past couple weeks, displayed in devilish red sunrises and an amber glow causing a preternaturally early dusk. While my throat has felt the impact of ashen particles in the air for a few days, today is the first where the air outside smells as if chain-smokers ruled the world.

I love a controlled campfire; the dancing flames are hypnotic and calming. I crave good barbecue - few things in the world rival the sweet mesquite and hickory aromas and the scent of grilled meats. And the smell of a lone wood stove burning in those first few crisp and chilly days of autumn flood me with a sense of warmth and nostalgia for days long gone.

But this burdensome odor of everything burning is disgusting. The smoke filtered light casting a jaundiced hue on every available surface is disconcerting.

We know that fires can be healthy for the forest. But it can be costly for property owners and insurance companies. It can also be deadly; this week we saw the lives of three firefighters perish near Twisp.

We need a break. We need it now. We need rain. We need hoodie weather. We need winter.


The Lingering Power of the Dark Side

Some of the best conversations I have had with my oldest child were about fictional universes and how they translate into the real world. These talks are born from books like The Hobbit and Jurassic Park, TV Shows like Doctor Who, video games like Portal, and movies like Back to the Future.

Christian reading The Scorch Trials.

Christian loves science in all forms: proven, theoretical, and fictional. The kid is fascinated by the concepts of time travel. His highest aspiration is to invent a time machine and be the first person to travel into the past.

We have discussed theories from fiction, fringe sciences, cutting edge research happening at CERN, and the discoveries of the New Horizons space probe and the Curiosity rover.

Our conversations cover topics foreign to most elementary aged students. String theory. Uncertainty principle. Quantum mechanics. Parallel universes. Time dilation. Paradoxes. Historical elasticity. Schrödinger's cat. Many-worlds theory. Wormholes. Dark matter. Teleportation. Theory of relativity. DNA engineering. Holograms. He is the only 10 year old I know who understands how some particles behave differently when they are observed than when unobserved.

We have these conversations because he reads comic books and dystopian novels. Because he enjoys fantasy and science fiction and he wants to know how much of it is grounded in reality. Because he has an insatiable desire for knowledge.

His favorite scientist is Albert Einstein. His hero is Luke Skywalker. He wants to be the next Bill Gates.

A couple weeks ago, Christian watched the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time. He and I spent an afternoon talking through his favorite parts of the three movies. A friend of his introduced him to Star Trek last summer so I asked him which franchise he preferred.

Christian: "Star Wars. Star Trek seems smaller and less exciting.”
Me: “Did you know there is a big debate in geekdom over which is better: Star Trek or Star Wars?”
Christian: "What's a geekdom?"
Me: "It's like a kingdom of geeks."
Christian: "That's awesome. If that was a real kingdom, you'd probably be their king."
Me: *laughs*
Christian: "What's so funny."
Me: "I appreciate your vote of confidence, but I'd more likely be their priest than their king."

Since then, he has been brimming with questions, asking at every opportunity.

Would you rather live on Hoth or Tatooine? (Hoth.) Would you rather own C-3PO or R2-D2? (C-3PO.) Who do you like better, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo? (Han.) Would you rather be a wookie or an ewok? (Wookie.) Would you rather fly a TIE Fighter or an X-Wing? (X-Wing.) Which movie is your favorite? (Empire.) Did Leia know that Obi-Wan Kenobi was Uncle Ben? (No, and Luke didn't know Uncle Ben was Obi-Wan.) Which character had a better cool-factor, Lando or Boba Fett? (Both.)

These discussions start simple and often grow into something meaningful. Opportunities to build character, spark creativity, and form values that will carry him through life.

One deep question led to another, begging for an answer bridging the world between fantasy and reality. Christian wanted to know how the Empire came to power. If they were so evil, how come no one stopped them? I explained their rise happened in secret. They operated in the shadows so their actions went unnoticed until it was too late. Those who could have prevented it were taken by surprise. This spawned a conversation about how those who do bad things operate best in darkness when no one is aware or paying attention.

Digging back into the movie, Christian confirmed that both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine died during the final confrontation with Luke, and most of the Imperial forces perished when the second Death Star exploded. Were Vader and Palpatine the last of the Sith? His mind was trying to connect the events of Return of the Jedi with the upcoming The Force Awakens.

He asked a follow up question. "If Vader and Palpatine died at the end of Jedi, then how can there still be bad guys to fight in the next movie?

I cannot answer that within the framework of Star Wars mythos. The new movie will not be out until Christmas so any plot related explanation would be nothing more than speculation. But there is a good answer found in the real world.

"Is the force similar to anything in real life?" I asked him. No, not superpowers. Nothing magical.

"For the Jedi, having the force is similar to religious faith." I said. "But the Sith had it too. People are not automatically good people because of their religion. The force was not something that made a character good or evil, the choices they made determined how the force was used. Those who were wise and kind became Jedi and those who were selfish and hateful became Siths."

He nodded. He understood.

I continued, "In life, we are all given the same power. We can choose to do good or we can choose to do evil. Our actions reveal what kind of person we become. We have the freedom to make those choices so even if you got rid of all of the evil people in the world, future generations would still be able to make the same decisions to do good or not do good. Much is the same in Star Wars; Vader and Palpatine died, but the force still exists. Even without their villainous influence, those who have the force still have the option to follow the path of anger."

"Whoa." In one word, I could hear the gears turning in Christian's head.

We live in a fallen world. It is broken and messed up in a million ways. Bad people will always exist. The dark side will always be a lingering temptation. We will always need a few brave souls to stand up and fight for what is right and just.

Thankfully, we have a space opera that demonstrated this life lesson for my padawan learner.


Faithful Geek’s guide to NFL fandom

Football season is back. I will root root root for the home team. Well, my home team. I am a local boy so my dedications will always be to Seattle teams and football is no different.

Want to know who I want to win? My formula is simple. I have every NFL team ranked from my favorite team to my least favorite. It is not based on which teams have the best offensive line or the best chances of winning. It is pure personal preference. If one Team A is higher on the list than Team B, I want Team A to win. If Team B is higher, then I want Team A to lose.

Is this a good way to predict results for each game? No. If I took this list to Vegas, I would lose a lot of money. Thankfully, I am not a betting man. This list will make me cheer for some underdogs. It is also predictable. It ensures that I will never be a fair-weather bandwagon fan.

It is my list. I’ve also included the ranking set by Business Insider for comparison with my ranking. I like who I like, let the chips fall where they may.

Starting with my favorites, these are the teams that I will always root for – unless they are playing a team ranked higher on my list.

1) *this should be no surprise* Seattle Seahawks. B.I. rank: 1 – Legion of Boom. 12th Man. Loudest stadium in the league. My hometown team.

2) Detroit Lions. B.I. rank: 17 – My dad’s cousin used to play for them. He retired years ago, but I still hope they’ll have a winning season.
3) Green Bay Packers. B.I. rank: 2 – Always a solid team. Even with Aaron Roger’s smug grin.
4) Miami Dolphins. B.I. rank: 8 – I have been a fan since the days of Dan Marino.
5) Minnesota Vikings. B.I. rank: 20 – My mom’s aunt passed on her appreciation of the Vikings to me.
6) Arizona Cardinals. B.I. rank: 16 – I am impressed with this team. Being the first team to hire a female coach made me respect them even more.
7) Kansas City Chiefs. B.I. rank: 15 – this is all about respect. They are one of the Seahawks biggest rivals, but they are also my cousin Allen’s favorite team.
8) Cincinnati Bengals. B.I. rank: 13 – this is the most frivolous addition to my favorites list. When I was a kid, I liked them for one reason only: the tiger stripe pattern on their helmets.

The second group is the “meh” list. I do not like them. I do not hate them. I do not care if they win or lose. I will cheer for them if they are playing a team in the third group and against them if they are playing a team from the first group. Otherwise, I am generally neutral to their existence.

9) Chicago Bears. B.I. rank: 25
10) Tennessee Titans. B.I. rank: 31
11) Atlanta Falcons. B.I. rank: 14
12) Carolina Panthers. B.I. rank: 26
13) Jacksonville Jaguars. B.I. rank: 32
14) Houston Texans. B.I. rank: 22
15) St. Louis Rams. B.I. rank: 10
16) Cleveland Browns. B.I. rank: 24
17) Tampa Bay Buccaneers. B.I. rank: 27
18) Buffalo Bills. B.I. rank: 11
19) Baltimore Ravens. B.I. rank: 6
20) Indianapolis Colts. B.I. rank: 4

Now for the teams I cannot stand. I will always hope for these teams to lose unless they are playing a team lower in the list. And in those cases, I wish it were possible for both teams to lose.

21) New York Jets. B.I. rank: 23 – Truth be told, I do not like any team from NYC.
22) San Diego Chargers. B.I. rank: 18 – There is something about this team that does not sit well with me and it is something that I cannot define.
23) Philadelphia Eagles. B.I. rank: 9 – I have no love for the team from the City of Brotherly Love.
24) New York Giants. B.I. rank: 19 – My reasoning here is the same as for the Jets. However, the Giants are the greater of two evils.
25) San Francisco 49ers. B.I. rank: 29 – This team used to be in my middle list. And they went into the list of teams I don’t like for two reasons: Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh. Those two killed any ability I had to cheer for this team. Harbaugh is gone and as soon as Kaepernick has moved on, I can move this team back to a higher ranking.
26) Denver Broncos. B.I. rank: 5 – Historically speaking, the Broncos were the Seahawks biggest rival. They’re also my mom’s favorite team. I feel morally obligated to dislike them. Sorry, Mom.
27) New England Patriots. B.I. rank: 3 – The Patriots used to rank higher in my list. Much higher. They were my favorite to win the Super Bowl in 2002 and they did it. But in the years since, I have grown to understand why so many other people love to hate this team. Spygate. Deflategate. Belichick’s angry stomping up and down the sidelines. Belichick’s general contempt for well, everything. But the final nail in the coffin that moved them from the top of my list to the bottom was not their win at XLIX but their behavior afterwards. They are nothing more than an out of control drunken frat house. They are the Alpha Betas.
28) Dallas Cowboys. B.I. rank: 7 – Is it trendy to hate the Cowboys? Regardless, I cannot stand them.
29) New Orleans Saints. B.I. rank: 21 – Dirty south. The team fits the image.
30) Pittsburgh Steelers. B.I. rank: 12 – If your rally cry is a terrible towel, you must be rooting for a terrible team.
31) Oakland Raiders. B.I. rank: 28 – Never liked them. Never will. I do not understand how anyone could favor this team.
32) Washington Redskins. B.I. rank: 30 – I can’t. I just can’t.



No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.

While I hate speaking in absolutes, those are two lessons I am trying to impart on my kids. Words like always and never and no one and everyone are often clues to exaggeration, but in the instances of error these statements are universally true. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes.

This is my hope for my kids, that they do not grow up believing they are not good enough or are incapable of doing anything right. I want them to know they are capable of greatness and they are not defined by their failures. I want them to be beacons of light and inspire everyone who knows them.

Maybe I have too high of expectations. After all, we live in a world that is burdened by our perceived inadequacies.

We live beyond our means, swimming in debt so that we can have nice things and keep up with our neighbors who seem to have it all. We binge through every fad diet and infomercial exercise invention to conform our bodies to an artificial standard of beauty. We convince ourselves to abandon our dreams because they're too scary, too audacious, or too far out of our grasp. We give a megaphone to the negative voices of our past.

We live in resignation and mask it with our vices. Breathing. Existing. But not really living.

These are our demons. Chemical addictions. Depression. Lust for power, wealth, fame. Insecurity. Pride.

We all wrestle with demons. A good friend of mine has been clean for almost two years and he is now trying to figure out how to live life in sobriety. After a devastating divorce, one friend felt like she would never again find love but she is now in the early butterflies and goofy beginnings of a wonderful relationship. Another friend is mourning the death of her husband after an ugly battle with cancer. All three of them are bravely fighting and winning their battles.

We all wrestle with demons; I choose to wrestle with mine in a public venue.

This blog first evolved into a quick and easy way for my out-of-town family to keep track of what was happening in my world. Soon, I began to treat it as a farewell gift to my kids so that if I were to go too soon they would have an option to know who I was.

Along the way, I have trudged through what makes me me and embraced my God given identity. Within the past couple of years, I have developed a platform marrying my faith to my nerdy ways. My heart wants to cheer for the freaks and geeks, the overlooked, the left-out, the last ones picked. I can think of no better place to do that than in this corner of cyberspace.

So I fight my demons here. My greatest fears. My most embarrassing moment. My insecurities. The joys and pains of raising a son on the autism spectrum. Similarities between me and Charlie Brown. How I struggle in conversations.

Words are my weapon and I will bludgeon my demons until they fear me. I wrestle with my demons here and shine the brightest light possible on them because darkness runs from the light. I fight so that my kids can see how I refuse to be defined by my mistakes and failures.

No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. We all wrestle with demons.