Monday, July 7, 2014

Reflections From Camp

This weekend I took a trip to the Washington Family Ranch Young Life camp in Antelope, OR, to visit friends with whom Aly worked as an intern several years ago. It was great to meet her friends, Cara and Adam, plus their two beautiful girls, Olive and Gillian, as well as to see a place that's had such an effect on her life. It reminded me quite a bit of my own experiences with Suncrest Camp in Rochester, PA, which is where I accepted Jesus for the first time and felt my life change completely, just like many others before and after.

Thinking about those teenagers who are experiencing Jesus for the first time this week got me thinking about a lot of things. Should I be working in ministry? How much does the work I do really matter? Should I be leading a Young Life group or something like it? Should I just pack up and move to the Ranch? How can I answer God's call for my life in my current job?

One of the thoughts I had this weekend is that it's tough to have full, meaningful interactions with people who have different beliefs than you do. From my perspective, Jesus Christ is the basis of everything in my life. I believe in His death and resurrection, which was the person of God coming to earth to wash away our sins and provide eternal life to His people. This belief provides perspective for everything I do, how I do my job, and what my priorities are.

Frankly, it's hard to work with people who do not have the same fundamental motivations as I do. I love my neighbors and do my job well because there's no way to work with people who have identical beliefs with me all the time, but I find that other people have different focuses or agendas that don't make sense to me. Building up students into future leaders or just future people is hard when I can't just share the gospel with them. Maybe I can, but I haven't chosen to on a regular basis.

When a student is getting discouraged about their job search, I want to tell them to pray. There is simply no better option than to put your life in the hands of God. This is not for the purpose of God creating some opportunity for them to get a better job, but rather for them to be calm and know that God has already provided all they need. As Tim Keller addresses in his "Meeting the Real Jesus" sermon, Jesus isn't going to help us get a job or be a better lawyer (or whatever). That's not the point. The point is that Jesus has saved us from death; a death that we all deserve fully. Whatever happens on top of that is icing.

This thought arose because I was thinking about how it can be easier to be a youth camp leader and talk about Jesus than it is in other circumstances. When a teenager chooses to be at a church camp, their heart is open to the gospel. This doesn't happen as obviously at work or anywhere else, for that matter. Teenagers are open to ideas, especially if you can get the "cool" kids into it. Adults tend to be wrapped up in their own logic and in providing for themselves, while teenagers know they are not fully responsible for their own destiny.

Keller points out in the aforementioned sermon that the "educated" people, of whom I tend to surround myself, basically tend to be interested in creating their own fortune and destiny. The middle- to upper-class like to take the teachings of Jesus, but leave behind the doctrine that dictates the power of God. Rarely does someone tell me that they are into the death and resurrection of Jesus, but not as much into the "love your neighbor" teaching. Take anyone from any background and they are likely to be totally on board with Jesus' teachings of loving your neighbor and doing good.

The poor, on the other hand, see the gospel as just that; Good News! This IS the gospel (Good News in Greek). The death and resurrection and washing away of sins and loving your neighbor is all a part of it.

Educated folks rely on themselves quite a bit. The idea of there being a God who is in control or who has already determined that your sins are forgiven and you can't do anything to make Him love you more or less is something that is hard to wrap your mind around.

The key word there being "mind"; it's faith, not intellect. Christianity requires faith. Relying completely on what I can experience with my five senses is not an option. We cannot wrap our minds around God; if we could, how powerful of a God would that be?

This is just one thought that seems generally unfinished. I hope to continue this conversation with many of you soon.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

March 18, 1993 was the greatest sick day of my life. It was the first time that being sick actually felt like a blessing. It was the day when my sports fandom went from "why watch SportsCenter every day?" to "why is there only ONE 24/7 sports network?". On March 18, 1993, I stayed home sick from school and watched my first NCAA basketball tournament.

The NCAA basketball tournament is a 68-team (formerly 64-team) single-elimination tournament of conference winners and the top teams in college basketball. Due to it's one-and-done nature, it is nerve-racking for all teams and fans. The tournament is unique because household names like Kentucky, Duke, and UCLA are matched up with teams they never play from smaller schools without basketball history like Santa Clara, Florida Gulf Coast, and George Mason. These small schools have little to lose, so they play without reservation while their top-seeded counterparts often play wary of what could happen if they lose.

I remember certain details of that first day, but not all. I can recall the blue quilt that my dad and I spread out on the brown shag family room floor and his first explanation that this tournament would be happening all day, all weekend. Why had no one told me about this before? All of my sports memories started around autumn 1992 with Sid Bream crossing home plate and ending the Pirates' competitive baseball for 20 years, so maybe it was natural that spring of 1993 would be my first exposure.

St. John's beat Texas Tech in that first game. Then, it just kept going, all day, culminating with me falling asleep while Pitt got run out of the gym by Utah, 86-65.

Why do I remember some of these things? Well, to start, most of my childhood memories have something to do with sports. I remember my first Pirates game, my first Steelers game (1993 NFL playoff loss vs Buffalo), and my first Penguins game (generally, 1993 Stanley Cup vs Chicago).

On top of that, the NCAA tournament has just become a part of my life in ways other things have not.

Over the years, I've had a few different plastic/rubber basketball hoops for the kitchen that was probably my favorite toy growing up. That 1992 tournament was played in my kitchen almost as much as in arenas around the country.

The 1993 tournament was the first bracket I picked, incorrectly predicting the first 16-seed (Navy) to beat a 1-seed (Missouri).

In junior high, my social studies teacher and basketball coach, Mr. Wellendorf, had a TV in his room that he'd tune to games.

Come high school, they may as well have not scheduled classes in the afternoon. Any teacher that had a TV tuned to games would be signing hall passes to students who wanted to watch instead of learn. During senior year, my day ended with a few class periods or study halls in the video production room, so I recall sitting there and watching games with my good friend, Brandon. I distinctly remember that tournament because the day it started, March 20, 2003, was also the first day of invasion in the Iraq War.

If it weren't for memories, things like this tournament would not stick. I could go on and on with these thoughts, as I haven't even gotten into college yet. I will simply say that there was nothing more exciting than going to a college like Pitt that was a consistent top contender in this tournament, despite constant underachievement. The things we enjoy most are associated with our favorite memories for a reason; we want to keep living those moments over and over again.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Losing Sight of the Good Stuff

To a certain extent, I've removed a lot of the fun from my life on purpose. I don't mean that to say that I don't have fun or don't have an enjoyable life, but I spend a lot of my time focusing on "productive" activities and what's an efficient or effective use of my time instead of simply enjoying whatever it is I'm doing. If something is not productive in some way, then it's a waste of time. That's been my frame of mind in my adult life and it's been slowly hurting me.

When I first moved to Tacoma, I was faced with a new realization that my adult life and "grown-up" job leaves me a lot less time than graduate school did. After work, I have 5 hours of usable time before I am in bed preparing for the next day. Compared to my previous 16 hours of usable time when I was in graduate school and not occupied by a set work schedule, this was a huge change of pace.

I find myself now wanting to spend the majority of my time being productive. This could mean either exercising, practicing music, or in a faith-development scenario. These are all good things, even great things, but they're not always fun. Forcing myself to practice or exercise takes it from the realm of being a fun activity to being a chore.

I'd compare this shift to the deconstruction of a smoothie. When you are making a healthy smoothie at home, the most popular ingredients are not only spinach and kale for green leafy vegetables, but also any sort of berry, bananas, and yogurt to make it not only healthy but tasty. When you start breaking these things down, yogurt and berries are still good, but not even as good as the vegetables. Have you tasted kale by itself, though? It's not necessarily my favorite food, unless I'm really in the mood for construction paper.

What's happened in my life is a deconstruction of this smoothie. I force myself to eat nothing but kale and spinach because that's what the "healthy" choice is. If it weren't for the berries, though, or the pizza or the french fries in our lives, we may not enjoy eating at all. In the same sense, I've removed "unproductive" things from my life, like watching movies, because they seem like an inefficient use of time. If I'm watching a movie, I'm not reading or practicing or exercising, so it must be a waste of quality time. But how am I supposed to enjoy LIVING if I'm not indulging in the berries and yogurt that makes the spinach palatable?

It's time to get selfish, take time to myself, watch movies, have an interesting conversation with a friend, or just read an article about sports. Either way, it's time to bring back the imagination that's been missing from my real world life.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

One Awesome Thing: Music Release Days

It's been over 6 months since my last blog, so it's high time to pick up the habit again. There's so much attention given to satire, negativity, or passive mocking that it's hard for millennials, like myself, to find encouraging daily reads, so I'm hoping to get back into providing these One Awesome Thing posts on a regular basis again.

When I was in high school, I was introduced to the music "scene". To this point, my main source of quality music was The X (or The Force, if you remember that far back), which was the only modern alternative station in Pittsburgh and played a heavy dose of Green Day, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. Throw in some Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit on MTV and you have me at 13.

My good friend, Brandon (who is now co-executive producer for Travel Channel's Dangerous Grounds, introduced me to music that was not on the radio in 10th grade (after establishing POD as my favorite band the year before). He gave me albums from MxPx, Value Pac, and Ninety Pound Wuss. These Tooth and Nail staples introduced me to wholesome Christian punk and, more importantly, the fact that there was great music that was NOT on the radio!

Over the next few years, learning about bands and listening to music became my main source of entertainment. When you are constantly entertained by what's new and hip, your favorite day becomes record release day. In high school and into college, Best Buy offered new release for 10 bucks, so this was where you'd find me on Tuesdays.

Well, times have changed. My love for new music still exists, but the Internet has changed everything. Albums started leaking online several years ago, so now bands put them online for us before the album release. More attention is given to having an album release show so fans can pay SOMETHING to see the artist instead of just listening for free online.

Today's One Awesome Thing is record release days, or, more specifically, Noah Gundersen's debut full-length album, Ledges, which is out today via Dualtone Records (The Lumineers, Delta Spirit). This album is beautiful. I've had the pleasure of seeing Noah play his own stuff 3 times since moving to Seattle, in some of the most unique settings (house show, Timber!, Triple Door) and look forward to seeing him a 4th time at the Neptune Theater for his release show this Saturday. I could go on and on about Noah Gundersen's unique songwriting ability, but I'll let my friend, Greg Jones, at Ear to the Ground do that instead.