Ugly Americans

There was an incident in Florida. Not the shooting at Pulse or the gator at Disney World. It should have been innocuous: a couple of dudes from Brazil filming tricks on self-balancing scooters known as hoverboards. Not a big deal, no cause for concern. Probably trying to be the next YouTube stars - inspired by people like Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera.

What elevated their video from stupid tricks to an incident was the actions of a third party. An obese white woman in an SUV pulled to a stop in the middle of the road (blocking traffic) to berate the two boys in an onslaught of racist and homophobic rants. She assumed they were of Arab decent and were studying the flight patterns from a nearby airport to plot the next big terrorist attack. The worst part of her vulgar and belligerent verbal assault is that she lauded herself as someone who loved Jesus while these two boys were condemned to hell.

One of the two wannabe YouTubers filmed the exchange from his phone. A friend of mine shared his video on Facebook and I watched in shocked fascination like seeing a train wreck happen in slow motion. I couldn't help but think this woman represented everything that is wrong with America. Angry. Hateful. Xenophobic. Jingoistic. Arrogant. Ham-fisted. Obnoxious. Filled with blunderbuss. Generally unhealthy. Ignorant and oblivious. Granted, I know people like this are not symbolic of all Americans. I know they are a noisy and horrific minority emboldened by the flagrant violations of civility displayed by those who want to lead our nation. Yet they are the stereotype. They are the Ugly Americans our foreign friends think of when asked to describe American tourists.

Even worse, if you ask your atheist friends to describe how they view the average Christian, this woman is what they describe. Hostile, judgmental, hypocritical, paranoid, fearful, unintelligent, and rude. It grieves me to see displays like this - when people who claim to live under the banner of Jesus act in ways contrary to fundamental Christian doctrine. People like this Floridian woman fit the description of what Brennan Manning called the greatest cause of atheism:

When Jesus described the greatest commandment, He told us to love God with every element of our being. He then quoted Levitical law to describe the second greatest command: love your neighbor as you love yourself. I thought of those verses of scripture while watching the confrontation between this woman and the two guys from Brazil. Is this the kind of love that Jesus talked about? It can't be. Does this woman know who is her neighbor? Is she really loving them the way she loves herself? If so, she is abnormally self-loathing. Even if the worst of what she assumed was true, was she abiding by what Jesus instructed in the gospel of Luke? “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who are cruel to you.” How could she? There was nothing loving or good or prayerful about her stream of insults, profanities, and derogatory comments. If what the apostle John wrote about love is true – “whoever loves has been born of God and knows God and anyone who does not love does not know God,” then I find it unbelievable that this woman knows the God she claimed to love.

There was a part of me that wanted to share the video. I thought 'We should make her famous for all of the wrong reasons. Turn her into a sensation like the Chewbacca mom, but in reverse. She should be shamed and humiliated.' But I abstained. Here is why.

1. It was horrifically disgusting. I am not typically offended by foul language. One of the songs on the soundtrack to my life is Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons, a song with a chorus that sings "It was not your fault but mine, I really F@#%ed it up this time." One of my all-time favorite movies is Kevin Smith's Clerks - they drop several dozen f-bombs in that script and I laugh. I hear vulgarities throughout the day almost every day and usually shrug it off. Even with my high threshold for what it takes to offend me, this woman exceeded it with gusto and kept going. The depths of her crudity was astounding - in casual obscenities, in racial and homophobic slurs, in her graphic depiction of sexual acts, in her relentless attempt to paint these two boys as terrorists and pedophiles. I know that many of my friends and family have more delicate tolerance for unwholesome talk than me; if I was offended by the language in the video, I know several who would be greatly appalled.

2. The altercation ended poorly. The Brazilian boys didn’t invite their attacker's verbal barrage. They didn't deserve it. I would expect them to respond defensively; that is the normal fight or flight response humanity has hardwired into our brains. When threatened, we either freeze or retaliate. These two boys fought back but they did not do so gracefully. In some ways, their response was just as ugly as the woman who started it. Instead of deescalating the situation, they riled the woman up even more. While I can't fault them, I don't applaud their actions either.

3. In light of the hate crime and terrorist attack in Orlando, the LGBT community is already fearful of people like this woman. They are hurt. They don't feel safe. They are scared. I've chatted with a few of my gay friends over the past couple weeks and they all have expressed similar emotions. The shooting in Orlando was terrifying, but many of the reactions from straight conservatives have been just as hurtful. Reposting a video where someone demonstrates so much vile hatred for my gay friends would only add insults to the injury they've already endured. I value their friendships too much to subject them to more contempt.

4. Would sharing the video make me any better than her? If I believe that the two Brazilians were what Jesus would say were her neighbors, then wouldn't she be my neighbor? If she failed to demonstrate love to her neighbors, then I would also fail to show love by sharing a video with the intent to shame and humiliate. If I am to live the way I believe God commands me, then I must show love to people I don't like, I must love people that offend me. Even if they are complete strangers. Honestly, I don't always get it right. Sometimes, I should show love and fail to do it.

5. There is enough anger and hate in our world. I really don’t want to add to the noise. If I am going to climb up on a soap box, I would rather shout about grace and reconciliation than to point at someone and say "Look at this fool." Instead I cling to the words of Martin Luther King Jr, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." When I fail to live up to the standard I proclaim, it is time I admit it like I am now and aim to do better the next time.


The Best Gifts

I made a mistake. In a conversation with my daughter, I mentioned that tomorrow is Father’s Day. This news caused her great distress.

“But, I didn’t get you anything?” She said.
“Get me anything for what?”
“For Father’s Day. I didn’t get you a Father’s Day present.”
“That’s OK. I got you, I don’t need anything else.”

That didn’t pacify her.

“But I always get you a Father’s Day present.”
“Oh, Sweetheart. I have enough stuff. I don’t need more stuff.”
“But I like getting you superhero figurines. Remember? I got you Superman last year and Flash the year before that?”

Of course I remember. Both figures are on top of my TV next to the Wii.

“My sweet Zu.” I picked her up and set her on top of an elevated surface to make sure she could look me straight in the eyes. “I love all of the gifts you got me but the best gift you could ever give is you. You are enough. I love you and you are the only thing I need.”

“OK, Daddy.”


The Boys & Their Hobbies

My two sons are very different creatures.

JJ fits the traditional masculine mold. He plays rough, grunts and growls, and will eat anything. His interests range from any sport played with a ball to any vehicle with an engine in it (the louder the better). He like comic books, action movies, and stories about monsters. When someone says, "he's all boy," they could be talking about JJ.

Christian does his own thing. Wicked smart and wildly creative. He is a voracious reader and a dreamer of big ideas. He can explain the uncertainty principle, the basics of string theory, the laws of physics, and the intricacies of a black hole. But the unspoken rules of social interaction are foreign concepts. The only reason he demonstrates any interest in athletics is because other kids like it and Christian just wants to be cool and accepted.

As a parent, it's my job to encourage and support their hobbies. If I can help them pursue their dreams, then that is something I should be doing. JJ wants to be an athlete and Christian wants to be a comedian who also writes books.

Of the two, guess which one I am more adequately prepared to lead into their goals.

When I was a kid, my brother was Sporty Spice. Aaron's first love was basketball but he was willing to try most other sports. As an adult, he enters more fantasy leagues than I can count. And his son (my nephew) is a terrific pitcher for their local baseball team.

I landed on the other side of the spectrum. I was the kid more into art and theater and design. I would have rather been on a stage than at home plate. I more comfortable in a rehearsal than a huddle. I would have preferred memorizing scripts than offensive plays. By the time I graduated high school I could deliver a mean soliloquy but I could hardly shoot a free throw.

Christian's goal this summer is to write a book. And he wants to write it with me. When school starts, he wants to join the drama club. Those activities are in my wheelhouse. I can help him with all of the above.

But I get a little lost with JJ. Sure, I could sit on the bleachers and cheer like any other parent. I could passionately point out when a referee makes a bad call like my dad used to do. But I will never possess enough skill or knowledge to coach one of his little league teams. Even worse, I won't ever be the right person to give him tips on how to play better or improve his game.

Of course I will try. Doesn't mean I will be his sportiest teacher, but I will try. Last night, I watched him at baseball practice as he struggled to connect his bat to the ball. It didn't help that the pitching machine was aimed low. Still, JJ seemed to be hesitant in every swing of his bat. Out in the field, he came so close to catching the ball over and over again without ever actually catching it.

There is a part of me that feels a little guilty for not having taught him how to throw, catch, and hit a ball. After all, baseball is America's pastime and such father/son lessons is the epitome of Americana. But I never learned from my dad. An injury prevented him from providing me the same lessons he gave Aaron. Even if he had been physically able, I'm not sure if I would have been interested.

Now, however, with a boy of my own that wants to play every sport in existence, I can't help but feel a little inadequate seeing him struggle yet not knowing what to do to help him increase his skill level.

All things considered though, I can cheer from the sidelines and bleachers and grandstands like a boss. Even if he strikes out every time, nothing beats seeing the grin on my son's face as he stands inside the batter's box.


Crossfaders & the Damascus Road

In the corporate world, you will occasionally hear the phrase “a come to Jesus moment.” It is a discussion held when an employee is atrocious and their boss wants to give them a final opportunity to shape up because firing them takes too much paper work. The hope is that the threat of termination is so great and believable the slacker will suddenly turn into employee of the month material. It is like Warden Norton greeting the new inmates at Shawshank: “Put your trust in the Lord; your ass belongs to me.”

Come to Jesus conversations happen because we know anyone is capable of turning their life around and getting their act together. Deep down we want to believe that such change can happen instantly. We desperately cling to the possibility of now or never moments where life is radically altered.

Call it the American Idol syndrome – seeing a star born out of obscurity and becoming an overnight celebrity. Consider the struggling actresses waiting tables in Hollywood cafes hoping a famous director (or any director) would sit at one of her tables. Comic books are filled with the chance encounter trope launching far too many superhero origin stories: Peter Parker’s spider bite, Reed Richards and Sue Storm’s exposure to cosmic rays, Matt Murdock’s blinding accident as he saved an old man, the explosion that merged Carol Danver’s DNA with Kree markers, or Bruce Banner radiated by a gamma bomb. Even science fiction plucked a computer programmer named Thomas Anderson out of the Matrix and transformed him into Neo.

Church folks seem to cherish this idea of instant redemption and 180 degree conversion. After all, our scriptures tell us, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

So we expect it. We see no greater example than the biblical story of how Saul became Paul. Along the Damascus Road, Saul had an encounter. He was blinded by the light, heard the voice of God, and in an instant his life was changed. He was given a new name and a new mission. The man who was a persecutor of Christians became a follower of Christ.

What if it doesn’t happen like that for us? What if we don’t fall asleep as Peter Parker and wake up the next morning as Spider-Man? What happens if we don’t feel like a new creation? What if we still make mistakes or struggle with this sin thing that the preacher told us Jesus died to forgive? Do we get disappointed? Disillusioned? Do we think that maybe we’re doing something wrong? It’s not supposed to be like this. I’m not even supposed to be here today.

While I believe such radical religious conversions are possible, I think they are relatively rare. Rather, the lives of those who begin to accept and explore the claims of Jesus have more in common with the crossfader on a DJ’s mixer.

When you look at a DJ’s console, there are two channels for music. Each input has individual volume controls – vertically placed sliders where the higher you push it, the louder the output. In between the two channels is a horizontal slider control called a crossfader. If positioned all of the way to the left, 100% of the musical output will come from channel 1. If the crossfader is slid all of the way to the right, 100% of the musical output will come from channel 2. But if the crossfader is placed halfway between the two, you will be sending an equal amount of sound from both channels to your speakers.

A talented DJ can quickly switch back and forth between the two channels to create cool cuts and effects. Most DJ’s – the ones performing at school dances and wedding receptions use this feature as a way to seamlessly transition from one song to the next.

At these kinds of parties, silence is your enemy. However, it would be awkward and almost painful to hear if the DJ started playing a new song at full volume while the previous song was still playing just as loud. The tempos don’t match. Songs could be in different keys. It would be a discordant mess as disastrous as not playing any music. The crossfader allows the first song to fade out as the next fades in. It makes the change feel natural. When done correctly, the audience can’t really tell when one song ends and another begins.

You could say the disciples had an instant conversion. They left everything without question to follow Jesus. But you might recall they still had their struggles and doubts and it took them a while before they realized Jesus might actually be the messiah.

You could remind me that apostle Paul is the poster child of instant conversions. If someone as notorious for being against Christianity could convert to the faith so quickly and easily, then why can’t that happen to everyone else?

Maybe Paul's conversion was not so sudden.

I have no doubts that Paul was ready and willing to believe in Jesus after his encounter along the road to Damascus. But I do not think that God instantly changed everything about Paul. I think that Paul still had questions and objections. I believe that Paul still faced temptations and struggled with sin – even while travelling to preach about how Jesus changes lives. Sure, Paul became the author of a majority of the New Testament but he was still a troubled and flawed individual.

After all, this is the man who was brutally honest about how much he still failed to live up to God’s standards. “I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate. … I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them. I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do.

Paul also understood that he was a work in progress. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul said “I do not mean that I am already as God wants me to be. I have not yet reached that goal, but I continue trying to reach it and to make it mine. … I know that I have not yet reached that goal, but there is one thing I always do. Forgetting the past and straining toward what is ahead, I keep trying to reach the goal and get the prize for which God called me.” In effect, Paul was admitting he doesn’t have it all together. It’s like he was saying “I’m a mess, but God is still working on me.”

It might be unfair of us to expect those miraculous moments that change everything. Perhaps the old you is the track playing on channel one and the new you is the song on channel 2. And God’s hand is on the crossfader slowly sliding the control from left to right. There might be bits of your old life coming through the speakers, but slowly it is fading away. Before long, it will be gone in a seamless transition into a new life.


Love is Louder

We see a lot of hatred and anger in our world today. A day after writing the words “there will always be bad people with evil intents,” I wake up to news that one such person walked into a nightclub and opened fire – killing 50 and injuring dozens with a level of violence that defies comprehension.

This one man’s religious fervor drove him to hate an entire community. My religion? Here is what I read when I open my bible.

• “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
• “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51: 17)
• “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. (Psalm 103:8)
• “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3)
• “Hatred stirs up trouble, but love forgives all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12)
• “Those who make evil plans will be ruined, but those who plan to do good will be loved and trusted.” (Proverbs 14:22)
• “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.” (Proverbs 21:21)
• “For love is as strong as death, It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” (Song of Songs 8:6)
• “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lamentations 3:22)
• “But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.” (Hosea 12:16)
• “This is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
• “But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you.” (Matthew 5:44)
• “If you love only the people who love you, what praise should you get? … But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without hoping to get anything back.” (Luke 6:32-35)
• “I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
• “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
• “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9)
• “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.” (Romans 12:14-16)
• “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13: 10)
• “Be alert. Continue strong in the faith. Have courage, and be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
• “Always be humble, gentle, and patient, accepting each other in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
• “This is my prayer for you: that your love will grow more and more; that you will have knowledge and understanding with your love; that you will see the difference between good and bad and will choose the good.” (Philippians 1:9-10)
• “Bear with each other, and forgive each other. If someone does wrong to you, forgive that person because the Lord forgave you. Even more than all this, clothe yourself in love. Love is what holds you all together in perfect unity. Let the peace that Christ gives control your thinking, because you were all called together in one body to have peace.” (Colossians 3:13-15)
• “Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. … Remember those who are suffering as if you were suffering with them.” (Hebrews 13:1-3)
• “Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God’s child and knows God. … if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is made perfect in us. … God is love. Those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. This is how love is made perfect in us: that we can be without fear on the day God judges us, because in this world we are like him. Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 7-18)

Page after page, I read of a God who loves me and calls me to love others. I read of a God who cares for the brokenhearted and urges us to follow His example. Jesus said that the two greatest commands were to love God with every ounce of our being and to love our neighbors the same way we love ourselves. So I will choose to love.

My heart is broken for the city of Orlando as their communities have been disrupted by acts of hatred and terror. My heart mourns with my LGBT friends as they have been confronted again with violence and contempt.

image courtesy of The Daily Beast

Hate is easy. It does not require any effort or mental deliberation. But love is louder. Love is bigger. Love is stronger. Love is braver. Love is wilder. Love is more powerful. Love is crazy beautiful.

Hatred inflicts pain but love heals wounds. So I dare you to love. Love the messy and the broken. Love the lost. Love the complicated. Love the strange. Love those who are difficult to like. Love your friends and love your enemies. Love when it is scary. Love when everything inside of you wants to run away screaming. Love when it would be easier to show spite.

In the wake of these tragedies, let us love. Let us be bold. Let us be audacious. Let it be loud and obnoxious. Let our love drown out the noise of those who choose to steal, kill, and destroy.


Teach your children well

When I was a kid, my mom's radio was almost permanently tuned to 97.3 KBSG, Seattle’s (former) oldies station. I was raised listening to the music of the 50's and 60's. Simon & Garfunkle, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, The Righteous Brothers, The Monkeys, The Turtles, The Temptations.

There are a few songs I heard frequently enough that I can still remember every lyric despite not listening in years. One of those tunes is from Crosby, Stills & Nash: Teach Your Children.

I strive to do just that - to teach my children well. How to throw and catch a football (of which my daughter picked up quicker than either of her brothers); how to cook and use kitchen appliances; basic musical components of rhythm and melody; homework assistance in math and English; the quirky historical events you won't find in a text book; showing esteem to their elders; how to be a good friend to others; how to care for and enjoy nature; various theories about time travel and quantum physics; the joys of literature. My goal is to make sure my kids grow up to become well rounded and intelligent adults. I want them to be happy and healthy humans regardless of where their goals and dreams take them in this world.

While I get to teach my kids about the good in life, of hobbies and academics, of the wonders of the natural world and the possibilities of science, of God and hope and family, I also have to teach them about things that are not so happy. Because sexism and racism and homophobia are all still very real parts of our society. Because our communities are divided, bitter, and jaded. Because our nation is still struggling to find a balance in justice and human welfare and individual rights. Because our planet is constantly embroiled in warfare. Because their peers will struggle with addiction and depression. Because America is filled with greed and exploitation while the world beyond our borders face disease and poverty so incredibly difficult for us to comprehend. Because no matter where they go, there will always be bad people with evil intents.

We all know something needs to change. Many want to return to days of innocence and a better America of the 50s. And I could easily long to go back to the 80s and 90s thinking of how much easier life was back then. But I know that our longing for the past is tainted by a view through rose-colored glasses. We deceive ourselves with selective memories and revisionist history. We ignore the flagrant racism of the 50s, the sexual revolution of the 60s, the drug experimentation of the 70s, the proliferation of Wall Street greed in the 80s, the apathy and despondency of the 90s.

We can't go backwards. All we can do is change the future. The best way we can do that is through our kids. Give them the tools to heal the world. Give them opportunities to fix what we broke.

A couple of years ago, when #yesallwomen was a trending topic on Twitter, my first thought was that I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in a society where sexual assault and rape were so prevalent. Then I realized if I wanted that to happen, I needed to teach my sons to be better men. I need to raise my sons in a way that they do not perpetuate the culture of violence against women. I need to show my boys what it means to do the right thing. I need to make sure that my sons know sexual harassment and assault is a line that should never be crossed and that they will be brave enough to stand up to those who do cross that line.

My resolve was doubled during the gamergate controversy as internet trolls engaged in horrific stalking and harassment against women in the video game industry. My daughter loves playing video games and reading comic books. She is as big of a nerd as her brothers - possibly bigger. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misogyny in geek culture and gamergate demonstrated those biases in the ugliest ways possible. I want my daughter to find a safe and welcoming community among geeks. I want her to feel encouraged and supported studying STEM topics. I want her to be free to enjoy what she enjoys without worrying about asshole guys giving her a hard time for being a girl. But in order for that to happen, I need to teach my sons that girls can be geeks too. I need to show them how women make our community better. I need to encourage my boys to defend the rights of girls to play along in their world of superheroes, scientific experiments, and video game quests.

Perhaps this is what disturbs me the most about the news we have seen from Stanford. The Stanford campus averages one rape every two weeks. That was before Brock Turner was caught in the act and restrained by a couple good Samaritans. Perhaps this wouldn’t be news if it wasn’t for the inequality of our legal system, a system where the feelings and future of the perpetrator was elevated above those of the victim. We have seen a judge confirm the worst of what we believe about white privilege, the power of wealth, and preferential treatment given to those with athletic prowess.

As the days have progressed, I have watched an explosion of outrage, disgust, and cries for justice. Some of it aimed at Judge Persky as he cast blame upon a woman who was powerless to resist her attacker, sympathized with the rapist, and handed down a sentence that equates to little more than a slap on the wrist. Much of the ire is against the rapist’s dad, who penned a letter begging for leniency in his son’s sentence.

Regardless of how you feel about the events at Stanford, one thing should be clear. Dan Turner did not heed the advice of Crosby, Stills & Nash. He did not teach his child well. It is because of irresponsible parents like Dan Turner that I have to teach my daughter to protect herself from assholes like Brock Turner. I will have to teach my daughter to avoid boys who see women as conquests. I will teach her that she is loved and valued always. However, my daughter is not the only one who will be learning a lesson.

My sons will learn that they are always in control of their libido.
My sons will learn what consent means.
My sons will learn to own up to their mistakes. Because everyone makes mistakes.
My sons will learn that I will always love them and sometimes love allows the consequence of stupid actions.
My sons will learn that their privileges are not to be exploited but should be use to benefit those in need.
My sons will learn to treat women with gentleness and respect.

I will teach my children well. Even if people like Dan Turner do not.


Doing Something Right

Parenting can be like a lot of modern video games. It does not come packaged with any instructions, just a list of credits telling you who made what. The expectation is that you figure it out as you go along. You receive skill points (XP) for achievements, some parts are more challenging than others, and there is little motivation to go back and replay levels you previously conquered. You can get by with the basics, but to truly experience raising a child or playing a game, you have to find all of the hidden collectibles, earn each of the trophies, and unlock every upgrade. It can be expensive. Downloadable content (school clothes) and microtransactions (Christmas presents) greatly improve satisfaction; on their own they don't seem costly, but after a while the prices add up and look shameful in retrospect.

Did I just compare my kids to a $60 polycarbonate plastic disc filled with graphical and audio programming designed for digital entertainment? Maybe. It is a tenuous simile. However, as a mostly former gamer, I have slogged through some games with steep learning curves. I have hit the start button to dive into stories where the studios that created it expect the end user to know what they are doing with minimal explanation or instruction. This button jumps, that button interacts with objects, and the trigger uses your weapon. Good luck. You're on your own for IRL food, sleep, and potty breaks.

Yet even the most difficult game I have ever played is simple compared to the rigors of parenthood. As a trade off, being a dad is infinitely more rewarding than beating the final boss or reaching the end of the last world in any video game. At least, it is if you do it right.

The biggest challenge in parenting is wondering if your strategy is working. I think much of being a parent is composed of not knowing what you are doing while hoping for the best. Ideally, we reach out to some older/wiser types who have been there and done that. We listen to the advice of professionals who might know more than we do about areas of child rearing: teachers, pastors, counselors, therapists, our own parents. We read books and magazine articles. We try new things and go through the full process of failure and revision.

We do what we can with the tools we have been given. At the end of the day, we want greatness for the miniature humans entrusted into our care all with the intent of turning them into the closest semblance of a decent and productive adult before releasing them upon an unsuspecting world. We try. We try hard. Unfortunately, the fruits of our labor are rarely evident.

Every now and then, there are rewards. Achievements unlocked. It could be a friend telling you "You're a good dad." Or a teacher telling you "Your kid is amazing." And then there are moments you realize that your kids are turning out to be better than you ever anticipated.

Last Thursday, we were at the grocery store restocking our diminished supply of perishables. In other words, my kids ate all of the fruits and veggies and we needed more. While wandering through the produce section, we procured more bananas, strawberries, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, and grapes - all of the organic matter I know my kids will eat without prompting or hesitation. Somewhere between the plantains and the melons, Christian shared an observation.

"It's a shame." he said.
"What is?" I asked.
"All of this food. And so much of it is going to go to waste. I mean, there are homeless people who don't have anywhere they could go to get a meal."

After that explanation, Christian spent the next ten minutes detailing how unsold soon-to-expire groceries should go to food banks and homeless shelters and benefit those who need it most. This from a kid who aspires to be a comedian and novelist when he grows up.

Not to be out done, his younger brother demonstrated his own variation of kindness and generosity.

After church Sunday morning, our kids’ ministry director pulled me aside and said she needed to brag on J. Of course, she asked him if she could embarrass him by telling me a story. JJ granted her permission.

She explained how he already knew the activity that they were doing because he had done it before. And it would have been alright if he did it all over again. Instead, he decided to assist other kids that were struggling making their craft. He got up without being asked to do so and started helping the others in his age group. "Here, let me show you how to do it." After telling me how he did such a awesome job, she looked at JJ and asked him if he could do that again during the next service. He smiled big and nodded his head. Of course he would.

Moments like these make the rougher moments of parenthood worth it. It lets me know I am doing something right. But to be honest, I have no idea what that something is. I do not have any sage advice for other floundering parents out there. There is no formula that I can package and sell for other dads to replicate the amazing things my kids do. Realistically, it is a guessing game, not knowing if it works, and hoping for the best. In twenty years, if my kids are still trying to solve the world’s problems and seeking opportunity to help those in need, I will consider my job a smashing success.


The war between faith and doubt

In Believe, the second track of Grammatrain's debut album, Pete Stewart growled his way through one of my all-time favorite lyrics. “Some say that doubt's disappointing, but I say to question is to understand.” Between the rumbling bass heavy instrumentation, the punishing drum beats, and the final shouted line “I can't pretend to understand everything,” Believe was one of those songs that demanded it be played at full volume. If I go deaf someday, it might be due to this song pumping through my headphones at an obnoxious decibel level during my younger days as I walked from one MPHS classroom to another.

This concept of understanding that belief is impossible without doubt has become ingrained in the way I approach faith. It is a step by step process through which I have come to accept what I believe to be true.

To doubt is to question.
To question is to understand.
To understand is to know.
To know is to trust.
To trust is to believe.

For me, my doubts lead to belief. Perhaps this is a side effect of my analytical personality or my desire to know as many details as possible in any given situation. However, this also means my faith and my doubts are often at war with each other. There are days where my head and my heart don't get along. They spar in a great debate where the best rebuttal either can offer is “yes, but ... ” Even if I know something on an intellectual level, I don't always feel it.

It’s like my brain says “Makes sense,” then my heart says, “Sure, but...”
It’s like my brain says “This is the way it is,” and my heart says “I know, but...”
It’s like my brain says “Everything is going to be OK,” while my heart asks “What about...?”
It’s like my brain believes but my heart needs help believing.

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, a father brought his son to the disciples asking for help; his son was mute and suffered from seizures. The best description they had was that the boy was possessed. When the disciples told the father they were unable to do what he wanted, Jesus asked them to bring the boy to Him. Jesus interviewed the father “What’s wrong? How long has this been happening?” As the father described his fear of losing his son’s life and the ailments his son faced since childhood, he posed the most timid of requests: “But if You can do anything … ”

Jesus responded, skeptical of the man’s faith. “If?”

Granted, if this man knew anything about Jesus, he would recognize the silliness of his question. Of course Jesus could do anything. He had been performing miracles everywhere he went. Before this troubled man ever asked for divine help, Jesus had been healing the sick, feeding thousands, and walking on water. Without hearing these stories – even second hand, he would not have had any reason to seek assistance from Jesus. But there he was, begging for pity.

Jesus’ reply seemed to ask “If? What do you mean if?” Then Jesus challenged the man, like he was telling him, “You can do better.”

Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes.”

And the man answered, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

I get this man. Of all of the characters in the Bible, I probably identify with this guy more than anyone else. All he wanted was what was best for his son and the stress of keeping the kid safe had to have been exhausting. He had tried everything and nothing worked. Then he heard about Jesus – a miracle working healer. He knew Jesus was the answer for which he had been searching. Yet, armed with that knowledge, he still had doubts. Instead of approaching Jesus with confidence and demanding “DO THIS!” the man came to Jesus reserved and unsure. “If you can do anything … ”

This man struggled in the war between faith and doubt, the battle between his head and his heart. I know what how he struggled. And when he told Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief,” I hear echoes of my own struggles. I see how I can simultaneously know everything and nothing. I understand what it is like to have all of the answers and none of the answers all at the same time. All I can do is say, “I believe, but I have doubts. I believe, help my unbelief.”

I know I am not alone in this tightrope walk. The sentiment has been expressed in many different forms so I realize my thoughts are unoriginal.

In Switchfoot’s song Sooner or Later, Jon Foreman sang “I'm a believer, help me believe.” Six years earlier, Adam Duritz penned the lyrics “Help me believe in anything, I want to be someone who believes” for the Counting Crows song Mr. Jones. When Steve Jobs contemplated life and death, he said “I’m about 50/50 on believing in God. For most of my life I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye. I’d like to believe that something survives after you die. But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch; click and you’re gone.”

In their own ways, both singers and the tech guru said the same thing: “I believe, but I have my doubts.”

I am in good company. While I cannot speak on the behalf of others, I know that my faith would not be as secure if it weren’t for my doubts. I believe, but sometimes I need a little help believing.

image courtesy of St Mark Lutheran Church


A waste of fuel?

This morning at the gas station, I observed a full sized diesel truck left unattended with its engine running parked directly in front of the store's entrance. As I walked up to the main doors, I glanced into the truck's cab to see if there was anyone inside. It was empty and had been sitting there for a while.

I must have had a judgmental expression as I walked by. One of the gas station clerks had stepped out for a smoke break just before I arrived. When she saw me inspecting the idling vehicle with my judgey face, she chuckled and told me, "I wouldn't leave a diesel running like that either."

When the driver emerged from the store, he broke the typical North Idaho truck driver stereo type. He was dressed like an aging GAP model - the kind who probably irons their jeans and polo shirts. And his smile was the definition of smarmy; you could look up that word in any dictionary to find his grin. He winked at the cashier that was outside smoking - despite her appearing to be 15 years his elder. He also motioned one of his hands into a shooting action - fingers pointed like a gun, and even made the clicking noise to accompany the gesture.

Between the smug expression, the preppy clothing, the strut, and the creepy wink & finger pistol flirtation, everything about him reflected the behavior of an 80s era fratboy who has failed to grow up during the past three decades. He could easily have been one of the Alpha Beta antagonists in Revenge of the Nerds. This was not the kind of dude that liked to get dirty. I would be willing to bet the most strenuous work his truck ever endured was driving over speed bumps in a golf course parking lot.

Now you must forgive me. I generally try not to be a judgmental jerk. Yet it happens every now and then. I will pull on my critical pants and start concocting wild and villainous background stories for strangers I find annoying. Yes, I am fully aware that the measure to which I judged this random man in the gas station parking lot is the same measure in which I will be judged.

Yet despite my snap assumptions about him based on his appearance, I still cannot get over the audacity it takes for someone to leave the engine in a hefty rig running for an extended period of time. I find such actions to be mind boggling stupefying. I do not understand.

My argument could be based on environmental concerns. The careless waste of a finite resource. The wanton disregard of the pollution created. But this is North Idaho. There is a significant population in these parts who believe the science behind climate change is a hoax. A save-the-earth argument would fail around here.

My bewilderment is solely the result of pure financial waste. With the price per gallon in a gas guzzling vehicle, letting it sit idle on a mild spring morning is economically impractical. They might as well use twenty-dollar bills as kindling for a campfire.

Last week, when a friend of mine told me she waited in the drive through line at the coffee shop for 35 minutes to get her daily latte, I had nearly the same visceral reaction. Somewhere in my gut, I could sense that waiting in any drive through for more than a half hour with your car running is ridiculous.Park your car. Go inside. Be social. Get your coffee. Even if it lasts the same duration, you would save a half hour's worth of burnt fuel.

Of course, I could be over-reacting. Maybe letting your car or truck run idle for obnoxious spans of time is no big deal. There might be a perfectly innocuous reason this upstanding member of my community allowed his truck to rumble while vacant and awaiting his return. Perhaps I am nothing more than a judgmental jerk eager for any excuse to relentlessly mock a complete stranger.

But ...

I could be right.



Recent personal revelation: when I get nervous, I speak in monotones.

It doesn't happen often. One of the side effects of parenthood has been increased difficulty in certain emotions. I do not scare easily. It takes a lot more to startle me. And I rarely get nervous. Fear, shock, and awkward nerves were all far more common for me before I started raising little humans.

So I do not often feel nervous. Stressed out? Frequently. Anxious? Sure. But nervous? Not so much. I walk a tightrope between confidence and insecurity so deftly that the two extremes might as well be conjoined.

In fact, it has been a long while since I have genuinely felt nervous for an identifiable cause. (For reasons unknown is a different story.)

When, a couple weeks ago, I found myself in a cramped office interviewing for a possible promotion, it surprised me when I was suddenly struck with the curse of Ben Stein.

image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Why? I was confident in my past experiences, qualifications, and ability to do the job for which I applied. Yet once the first question was asked, inflection suddenly became a forgotten skill. I answered questions as competently as I could, but with a flat and even tone that would make any Toastmaster cringe.

I understand why I was nervous. The people conducting the interview were mostly colleagues I have known and worked with for years. I was placing my fate into their hands. What if their preconceived opinions of me skew their views of whether or not I could fulfill the role they need? What if they already knew who they were going to hire and they were only interviewing me as a courtesy? What if I overestimated my own abilities and I am completely unqualified for anything more than what I am already doing? What if there is a massive government conspiracy controlling not only my employer but our entire industry?

Yeah, forget about that last one. Sometimes, I get carried away.

Nervousness appears infrequently enough that the sensation is unfamiliar. But at least I am able to identify why I felt that way. What does not make any sense is the sudden onset monotone.

Why did I suddenly turn into Ben Stein to compensate for my fragile nerves? Unsolved Mysteries.


Worms: A Love Story

My sweet girl, today is your birthday. For the last nine years, I have enjoyed observing your adventurous approach to what it means to be a girl. Living in your world has been a blessing and a constant source of joy.

If I am honest, being the father of a daughter occasionally makes me nervous. As you are aware, I was raised in a house filled with boys. My childhood consisted of Tonka trucks and baseball gloves, skinned knees and muddy shoes. By nature, I am far more adequately prepared to parent your brothers than I was for you. Hair ties and bobby pins were foreign objects to me. Dolls and princess stories were of alien origin.

Yet you surprise me nearly every day. As you grow and learn and mature, you reveal greater insight into the person God design you to be; these changes have provided me relief that I do not need to worry about how to style your hair or squee with you over new boy bands. It has also made me excited to see where your future takes you.

What are these surprises? The fact you know the roster of Marvel superheroes as well as you do the residents of My Little Pony's land of Equestria. Or the speed at which you pick up on the melodies and lyrics of music I play while we drive around town. Or how every now and then, the only song you want to hear is Ben Folds' Gracie because you know it is one of the songs I used sing to you when you were little. Or how you erupted with delight upon seeing the cuteness of a Godzilla shaped money bank. Or the way you vibrate with energy while watching inspirational sports movies when the underdogs win their game. Or in the fierce pride you have for your heritage. Or how you are far more likely to be found playing in the dirt than either of your brothers.

Perhaps it is the latter of those examples which caught me off guard the most. You were never afraid to get grimy. You have always lived as if the most fascinating environment is the ground upon which you walk. Time and time again, I have found you on your hands and knees curiously experiencing the sensation of the earth between your fingers.

In many ways, you remind me of the child I used to be. Watching you explore and play brings me back to the afternoons and evenings I would spend building mountains or digging holes in the backyard of my childhood home. Your love of nature mirrors the summers I spent wading through muddy creeks and wandering trails in the Cascade Mountains. Every time I recognize your need for a bath, I am reliving roles my parents once played when they complained of my grass stained jeans and the dirt in my hair.

However, you engage in ways that are unique. You chase after grasshoppers. You catch beetles and ladybugs. You play with worms. I never did any of that; I always felt a bit of revulsion toward those creepy crawly creatures. You do not share my sense of disgust. Instead, you approach them with fascination and respect. You honor them as important members of creation.

You are not afraid to get your hands dirty. Sometimes, that means you are corralling a worm, picking it up and showing it off to anyone around who could witness your prize, and holding it in your cupped hands to feel it squirm in your palms.

When I was growing up, I never enjoyed playing with worms - I did not want anyone to think I was weird and most girls I knew were scared of worms. Now I have you - a daughter who knows no such fear. When you pull those annelids from the dirt, your eyes beam with pride and your smile radiates joy.

When I became a parent, I never imagined having a daughter would be so messy. I did not anticipate raising a girl so daring and willing to try anything. I never knew I could be capable of so completely loving a girl who constantly has dirt under her fingernails and roughhouses with the boys. You have defied every expectation and I would not want to change a thing about you.

I have learned a lot while watching you play with worms, climb trees, dance at the beach, and dip your feet into the pond. As you celebrate your ninth birthday, I want nothing more than for you to see what I have discovered about you.

You are stronger than you realize. You are braver than you know. You are smarter than you will ever understand. This world is yours for the taking. Besides, you have already conquered the realm of invertebrates.

For you, my love, I wish the happiest of birthdays to my favorite little girl on the planet.


In absentia

This place feels neglected. Somewhere along the way, I lost momentum. My head has been functioning with a series of idioms, proverbs, song lyrics, and silly clichés. For example: When it rains it pours. Which might be my unintentional theme for 2016.

Not that I am letting it bring me down. I am busy convincing myself that life goes on and I just need to keep my head up. It's not the end of the world. We've got to hold on to what we got, it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not. I got two choices when I do this - make moves or make excuses. Always look on the bright side of life. ***

Yet, while I have been away and allowing cobwebs to gather around the corners of this blog, life has consisted of more than me listening to Eye of the Tiger to psyche myself up and bingewatching motivational TED Talks. (Although, I have admittedly engaged in both of those activities.)

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and near acrobatic juggling of schedules. Between the kids being on spring break, plotting and preparing for the looming threat of summer vacation, the onset of warmer and sunnier weather and the adjustment to wearing shorts again, hanging out with friends and getting a jump start on our summer bucket list, beginning a new workout plan, crunching lots of math (yay budgets), consuming my spare time with biblical study and reading my way through the stack of Dean Koontz books my folks sent me last fall, and trying to figure out the best way to cook chicken and rice (my current favorite is steaming some spinach with the rice) ... writing has not been on my mind. And that is OK. Because in this mad season, I have been blessed to spend a lot of quality time with three of my favorite humans on this planet.

I could complain. And often I find myself doing just that. But realistically, I have no real reason to whine.

*** And in case you missed it, my trio of lyrical references were from Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer, Andy Mineo's You Can't Stop Me, and Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. You're welcome.


You Shall Not Pass

A few coworkers around the office have given me the nickname Gandalf - the great wizard from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books and The Hobbit. They have not given me that name because I am a wizened old man gifting sage advice and calling in giant Eagles to save the day; while I enjoy providing guidance, my eagle-calling skills leave something to be desired. Not because I have a long flowing beard; I generally will not allow my stubble to grow for more than a week. Not because I wear a pointed floppy wizards hat; if there is anything covering my head, it will likely have a Seahawks or Mariners logo on it. And it is not because I dress in threadbare grey robes; although, grey is my favorite color.

They have christened me with the Gandalf moniker because of what I do. If they forget their passwords, I am the person that fixes it for them. As soon as they see me, their first thought is "You shall not password." They have even said that out loud the second I walked in the room. It is tempting to tell them "It's a dangerous business, going out your door."

I have become the Gandalf of our corner of the corporate world. But I will not complain. While I hope to live another 40 years before my appearance begins to resemble Tolkien's good wizard, I do not mind being compared to him now in my relative youth, especially when the line of dialogue that prompts such association is one from a moment of Gandalf’s greatest sacrifice.

Gandalf and the fellowship fled through the mines of Moria to escape the wrath of an ancient and dangerous balrog. Realizing the plight of his friends, Gandalf stopped while crossing the Bridge of Khazad-dû and turned to face the beast. He took a stand so that everyone else would be able to escape safely and continue their journey.

image courtesy of New Line Cinema/Warner Bros.

He told the balrog, "You cannot pass. I am a servant of the Secret Fire, a wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the shadow! You cannot pass." After that, Gandalf used his staff to crumble the stone bridge and sent the balrog plummeting into the abyss below, unfortunately plunging himself to the same fate as his foe wrapped its whip around Gandalf's legs. With moments remaining before falling, Gandalf looked to the friends he saved and told them to go, "Fly you fools."

Then he was gone. For the fellowship, this was heartbreak. Their leader and protector was gone and presumed dead.

Gandalf was the fictional embodiment of words once spoken by Jesus, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." Gandalf gave up his life in order for his friends to keep theirs.

This is why we love characters like Gandalf. They represent the better natures of humanity, those that set aside our selfishness and hold the lives of others as greater than our own. We see this quality in Narnia's Aslan, in The Matrix's Neo, in Harry Potter, and (surprisingly) RoboCop. There is something powerful and alluring about those characters who willingly face death for the benefit of others. This is the same intent that drove Christ to the cross.

Today is Good Friday, the day when Christians around the world celebrate Christ's sacrifice, as he was crucified so we might live. Today we honor his selfless act. And hopefully we are compelled to respond through the way we live our lives. If Christ died so that I may live, then I should live as if his efforts were not wasted.

In this, I am reminded of Paul's instruction to the church in Philippi: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

In the letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul said "Be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God."

As a Christian, it should be my goal to model my life after the life of Jesus. To be best of my ability to live like him. While I frequently fail that pursuit, I still aim high. Someday, it may require me to humble myself in obedience to the point of death, to give myself as an offering and sacrifice to God. And maybe not. But if I am to love, I should be willing to lay my life down for those whom I love. To be honest, I am not sure if I am capable of such selflessness.

When I look into the world of Middle Earth, Gandalf was (as far as can be achieved in fiction) an imitator of Christ. He loved his friends and died so they may live.

If I am to be compared to any of Tolkien's characters, then I welcome the name Gandalf. If only I could live my life so humbly.


Grace Like a Child

After an early Saturday matinee movie, the kids were restless and need to expend their extra energy. I took them to a park and set them free upon the playground. I sat on a bench along the perimeter of the wood chip covered play area and watched as my munchkins gravitated toward the swings and slides and monkey bars.

From my comfortable seat, I was able to watch each of the kids as they found something they loved. My oldest found a new friend who had an extra toy lightsaber; they spent the next half hour role playing adventures of Jedi knights. JJ climbed every climbable surface and told me he was pretending to be Indiana Jones. Zu alternated between her two favorite playground activities (the monkey bars and the swing set) before settling into a game of tag with other kids whose parents had motivations similar to mine: let the kids play hard before going home for dinner and bedtime.

Then something peculiar happened. Actually, I shouldn't say peculiar; it was something rather ordinary for my kids. I watched my daughter stroll from one side of the playground to the other so she could swing on the swings. She sat in one of the seats and started to pump her legs when she noticed a little girl struggling to get into the other swing. This other child was too short to climb into a standard swing without assistance and her parents were nowhere in sight. Zu jumped out of her seat and picked the girl up, helped her get situated comfortably, made sure she had a good grip on the chains, then gave her a few good pushes to get a pendulum like momentum going.

Zu did not get back into her own swing until she knew the other girl was moving and having fun. My daughter sacrificed her own pursuit of happiness to contribute to the happiness of a stranger.

My kids know the rules. They know that they need to be gentler when there are smaller kids on the playground. I have done my best to instill in them a sense of kindness and positivity in all their interpersonal interactions. At the same time, I know they're kids. I expect some level of juvenile narcissism. Yet my kids continually surprise me with acts of grace they show above and beyond the attitudes and behavior of typical children.

I have lost count of how many times my kids have stopped doing what they were doing when a preschool aged kid shows up. They go out of their way to help smaller children ascend the different levels of playground platforms, hold their hands as they cross bouncy bridges, and guide them safely down slides. They make extra efforts to teach younger kids how to climb a rope or use the monkey bars. They turn into little cheerleaders encouraging other kids to try and accomplish new things. Many new parents have thanked my kids for including their kids in playtime, then had them thank me for my kids gift of a short respite from parenting duties.

My kids did not get this trait from me. Truth be told, I am not overly fond of children. I love my kids more than I knew I was ever capable. But other people's kids? Well, I prefer the company of adults and grownup conversation.

With that in mind, it is a little awkward when I study the life of Jesus. In reading the Gospels, we find a Jesus who loved interacting with kids. And he made grand statements about children. First, he said that we must become like a child if we want to enter heaven. Then he said that the worst punishments were reserved for those who caused a child to sin. Finally he said heaven belonged to people like our youth.

Then you have people like me. I react to babies in diapers like they are alien creatures born of another world. I shy away from any kid that drools or still drinks from a bottle. I am ill equipped for conversations about Minecraft and Pokemon (even though my kids love both of those intellectual properties). My inner child would rather watch episodes of the X-Files after his parents thought he went to bed. Yes, you have a cute kid but do not ask me to play with them until they're old enough for scary campfire stories.

Yet we have the words of Jesus: "I tell you the truth, you must change and become like little children. Otherwise, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Most people interpret this passage of scripture with the familiar phrase "having faith like a child." But the original Greek text did not use the word faith. In fact, it did not specify what aspect of kidhood we should adopt. The passage from Matthew 18:3 used the words στραφῆτε καὶ γένησθε. Straphēte and genēsthe.

The Greek word στραφῆτε (straphēte) is a verb meaning to be converted, transformed, or changed. γένησθε (genēsthe) is the Greek verb to become something else or to prove yourself as something. Both of these words together, στραφῆτε and γένησθε, transforming and becoming, imply a new state of being. A childlike state of being.

What aspect of being a kid did Jesus recognize as being so valuable? Is it the childlike faith, willingness to believe without question? Maybe. But I think it is something more profound.

As I watched my daughter help a younger girl up and into the swings, I thought about this passage from the gospel of Matthew and another word came to mind. Grace.

We do not need the faith of a child as much as we need the grace of a child.

Sure, they may be at the stage where they're growing and nothing more than bumbly awkward; far from graceful in their movements. They are the age where they are discovering autonomy and trying to define their identity as an individual separate from their parental units. Yet the way they interact with their peers show greater grace than many grownup conversations. The comment threads under YouTube videos seem primitive and barbaric in comparison. Children treat each other with mutual admiration and cooperation that is completely absent in American politics.

In seeing my kids give up their selves to benefit strangers, I noticed something. The age, gender, religious, and ethnic differences between my kids and the other kids they play with at the park are completely irrelevant. They approach their companionships with a perspective that says "I'm a kid, you're a kid, we're the same. Let’s be friends!"

In a kid's world, if two of them both like playing tag, they are going to play a game of tag. In the real world of corporate structure and grownup responsibilities, two people with similar interests would sooner condemn each other to hell for disagreeing on finer details of partisan beliefs than spend five minutes of conversation over drinks.

Even as children begin to notice differences, those divisions do not matter. Unless we - the adults in their lives teach it to them. Until they are taught otherwise, kids naturally give each other grace in abundant measure.

They live an existence where no one has told them that girls are better or boys are better. They have never seen one skin color as superior to another. They have never been encouraged to criticize someone for their religious or political beliefs. They have never viewed someone's physical disability or lack of financial privilege as making them less important.

Racism. Sexism. Bigotry. These are learned behaviors. Kids do not instinctually hate anyone. Discrimination is something kids learn from grownups.

When Jesus said that we should be changed and transformed to become this new childlike creation, perhaps this innocence free from the bonds of hatred is what he had in mind. Maybe Jesus wants us to approach our fellow residents of planet earth from the perspective of a level playing field. That none of us are better than any other. We are unique, yet equal. Each of us possess worth. Each of us deserves respect.

If I am to become like a child, then I pray God gives me grace.


Taking a Mulligan

My brother loves golf. As far as I am aware, he is not a particularly adept golfer but he enjoys playing the game. Even with his amateur skills, he considers golf to be a calming experience. More of a leisurely pursuit than a sport.

When the two of us get together, we will often chat about different places to golf. I tell him about local courses he would enjoy if he was ever in the Coeur d'Alene area for more than an overnight stay. He will tell me about his favorite (and sometimes disastrous) rounds. I am not a golfer but I know enough to hold my own in a conversation about fairways, drivers, wedges, and getting stuck in the rough. However, with my knowledge of the game comes the assumption that I actually want to play.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not opposed to playing golf. If someone is willing to cover my green fees and allow me to borrow a set of clubs, I will go. But if you ask me how I would prefer to spend a free day, there are greater activities I could choose to occupy my time. I would rather spend my money on something other than balls and clubs and those fancy covers for the clubs. I do not hate golfing, but rather just indifferent.

Yet with my brother, I will play along. It is of interest to him so I have no reservations indulging him. He frequently mentions how he wants to take me out for a round of golf during one of my future visits to Cheyenne. As long I can use someone else's clubs, I might take him up on the offer.

Despite my reticence to play golf, there is a concept about the sport I do appreciate: the mulligan. In golf, if you make an unnaturally atrocious shot, you can (depending on who you play with) declare a mulligan and retry it. If you have a sloppy swing which results in a wild hook or slices into the trees, it is OK. Ask for a mulligan and you can pretend it never happened. No penalty. No impact against your score. No shame on your golfing reputation.

In the few times when I have participated in a round of golf, I made one thing abundantly clear. I am a player in desperate need of liberal mulligan usage. I once tried to explain my golfing handicap to my brother; the conversation was not as simple as I had anticipated. It went something like this:

Me: “When I go golfing, whatever is par, I will quadruple it.”
Aaron: “I did that once. By the time I reached the green, the best I could do was a bogey. But I had a bad approach so I knew it would take me at least two putts to sink it. However, I overshot the second putt and cruised past the hole. Then I was looking at a triple bogey. That putt fell a little short and I had to tap it in for a quadruple bogey.”
Me: “No, Aaron. I am worse than that. Not par plus four. More like par times four.”
Aaron: (dumbfounded) “Oh.”

My brother might not be a good golfer, but I am terrible. Thankfully, there are mulligans.

I love the concept of a mulligan. Sometimes, we need a second chance. Sometimes, we need a do over. And if that maxim is valid on the links, it is even truer in life.

Unfortunately, reality can be a bit crueler than a day of golf. Life does not often reward us with a chance to do it all again. Usually, what is done is done and we must suffer the consequence of every decision we make. Good or bad, we know we are stuck with the results. We have to play it as it lies. Yet there are moments of grace; times in our lives where we get a do over even if undeserved. To be honest, this is how I would describe my year so far.

I ended 2015 on a high note: surrounded by my kids and some of the best friends I have ever known. The holiday season was wonderful and better than any I have had in recent memory. Things were looking up. Between church, kids, and work, my calendar was filled. From my professional routines to my writing projects at home, it seemed like everything was going my way.

Then life fell apart. The first weekend of the new year brought crisis. By the time January was over, I was ready to write the month off as a practice round. And by the end of February, I needed a mulligan.

While I had an awful start to the year, it was not all bad. I discovered a lot about grace. I learned how and when to ask for help. I was humbled. I risked a few brave choices. I took a break from blogging. I put in a lot of exercise. When I asked, “Who is on my team,” I received an answer. I am thankful for a rough couple months, yet those are two months I do not wish to relive.

As for the mulligan? I got one. January was a sand trap. February was a water hazard. All things considered, I am calling March my first month of 2016. I may be two and a months late in saying this, but happy New Year. Welcome to my mulligan.