Thursday, September 22, 2016

Writing is a lot like fishing.

Writing is a lot like fishing.
You’re doing something, but it doesn’t always seem worthwhile.
It can feel like you’re just passing the time. It takes a lot of set up, a lot of gear, and a lot of training, but no matter how much you invest there’s no guarantee that you’ll catch anything – no guarantee that you’ll feed your family through your efforts.

Ideas, like fish are illusive.
Who knows where they come from?
Sometimes you get lucky and you haul in a whole boatful. Sometimes you’re teased with a bunch of bites but none take the bait. But when they do bite you must focus and be dedicated to set the hook and reel it in… we’ve all had the experience of The One that Got Away.

Yes, writing like fishing can seem fruitless; either can seem pointless many mornings when you wake up before dawn to get everything ready. But you got to keep casting, keep throwing the line in, keep looking for the hot spot in the water because you’ll never know when the Big One will take a bite. Then all those outings yielding empty nets and lost bait will seem worth it. Both exercises have tremendous payoffs…

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Birthday post

It is today. As a coworker said, it's the beginning of my last year in a desirable demographic, so reap the benefits while I can (we work in advertising). After this year, the random mailers I get will be for back pain pills and other "old people" products (ironically enough I'm dealing with a good bit of back pain today). Anyway, I usually get pretty reflective on my birthday. What am I doing? How am I living my life? Am I achieving my goals? Do I have goals? This birthday I've done that less - partly due to what I wrote about last week, that I need to trust God is not wasting anything in my life. But also partly due to a realization- reminder really - this week. Life is lived in the mundane, ordinary, small moments - not in huge, epic ones. We desire that because in our human nature we are bent towards being the center of our universe, desiring to be important and do big things. These desires for significance and impact are good - but in the fall they were thwarted to skew much smaller, fueling only our pride and building our own kingdom rather than our Father's.

This pride has been evident in my life in my tendency to view it as if it was a movie and I was the main character. I love film and storytelling in general, and as an actor I look for the drama in life, and not always for good.  Part of this is my personality as well being a bit of a romantic.  I remember telling a friend in high school about how I sometimes view life as a film about me, with all friends and family serving as supporting characters in the epic tale that unfolded. Now I was a Christian at the time and I believed God had a role too - but not the main one. He was also serving to achieve my ends and help me fulfill my dreams.  I shared this and saw no issue with viewing life this way. But his response was one I needed to hear. "I think that's a very selfish way to view life." Huh? I hadn't thought of it that way. After all I wanted good things for the supporting characters that played their roles faithfully- and me achieving my desires would do great things for the world around me. As I've grown older and seen more of my pride, his words have rung even truer. How can you love others if they exist to serve your ends? How can you think of others as more significant than yourself if you're playing the leading role? Yes, it's hard to be like Christ - who came to serve rather than be served, and didn't consider equality with God as something to be grasped - when you place yourself and your wants and desires at the center of it all.

I think everyone struggles with this on some level. Maybe you don't view life as a movie about you - but you grapple with getting on the throne of your life, even (or especially) if you're a Christian.  We all still have our flesh that wants to call the shots; but God calls us to die and let His Spirit live through us. But the reason I brought up this propensity for viewing life as a movie about me, is that I am daily on the search for that significant, epic event. The meet-cute. The apple cart turning over. The climactic, romantic scene in the park with the perfectly spoken dialogue and swelling overture in the background. But God doesn't work like that. He moves in mysterious ways - through poopy diapers, or a data entry job; a simple hug and "How was your day" conversation, or emptying the dishwasher for your wife.  He still speaks in a still, small voice and if we're looking for the clashing thunderstrike we may miss it.  No, life isn't a movie - and that's a good thing.

This is true of all relationships. Think about it.  They are forged through time - just normal, seemingly insignificant moments - accumulated over time into memories and deep bonds; not through ginormous events with perfectly timed soundtracks. As a new father I can attest to this. Life with my daughter is lived day by day through mundane actions of serving her. I'm home with her today - my job graciously gives me the day off for my birthday - so I have fed her, changed her diaper, woken her up from her nap, talked to her and entertained her. My most cherished memories in her life so far are not the big first moments (aside from birth, there haven't been many yet) but rather the small, special moments: that smirk she gives me when she wakes up, or sees me for the first time when I come home from work; her little coos before bedtime; our laughter making faces in the mirror at each other before bath time. These are the special moments - and not one of them would make it into a blockbuster script.

So how is this making me less reflective this birthday? I may be tempted to evaluate again based on what I've accomplished and the impact I'm making from my vantage point. But remembering life is lived in the mundane and being faithful in the small things gives me hope and guides me forward. Should I still have big goals and desire significance? Sure - but this is helping me temper my expectations that those big moments will be few and far between. The story God is writing is made up of many still, small moments that are much more significant. I want to do more - but in doing less and simply obeying and being faithful in what He's called me to each day, I'm making an impact and being used for His glory. What's more significant than that?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Nothing is wasted.

Do I really believe that? My mind and theology may say 'yes' but my actions and thereby my heart say 'no.' Whether it be regretting missed opportunities and years in less-than-fulfilling jobs or getting upset that my time was not useful and I wasn't as productive as I intended, being frustrated with wasted time has bubbled up to the surface a lot for me recently. How do we spend our lives? Through time. And if we don't feel our time is being well spent on a macro level via career, pursuit of dreams et cetera then on the micro level in the day to day when we have to redo work or our time investment isn't appreciated, we'll be frustrated as well. Now, like I said I know on paper God wastes nothing. All things work together for good, every day is written for us before we live them and so on and so forth. But I do not live like I believe that. It appears day in and day out lots of things happen for no purpose and it looks like we're not being refined and it feels like our life's work is unimportant – but therein lies the problem: I'm walking by sight/feeling and not by faith.

I was thinking on this the other day after I got particularly frustrated – angry, really that I didn't feel my time had been well-spent. I had worked several hours on a project, went to re-save it and the program crashed – and I lost all of my work, nearly half a day's worth. I was livid. As I dwelt on it that night I wondered why I had gotten so mad about it. “Scott, you made work and productivity an idol again – that's what went wrong. Time to repent ” I told myself; and yes, that was true. And I thought on the truth that my time is not my own – I was bought with a price. God is directing my days and times as he wished. But the most hopeful thought I had?

God is wasteful.

Now I know that is not a very reformed thought – what with limited atonement and all. But I believe the Holy Spirit whispered this truth to me and it brought me freedom. What do I mean by this? That in His nature being Love He is generous as He lavishly pours His grace and mercy on us to an excessive, abundant degree. As I've stewed on this the last couple of days several bible passages has confirmed this idea that God is wasteful. Like the first chapter of Ephesians – throughout God's glorious grace is lavishing us, raising us from the dead, forgiving and redeeming us. It is active, purposeful, intentional and generous. Then think about Jesus' parable of the prodigal son – God as the Father runs down the road, kills the fatted calf, clothes the son with the finest robe and throws an extravagant party. The Good Samaritan is another example. I just heard an awesome sermon on this – and in it the preacher made the connection that Jesus is the ultimate Good Samaritan – that it's really a story about Him. He takes us in our half-dead state, binds up our wounds, and takes care of us – then effectively writes a “blank check” to the innkeeper to spend whatever necessary to meet our needs.

We could go on for quite a while with other displays of extravagant love in the Bible, some showcasing extravagant love back to God, like with the woman and the alabaster jar. In all of this God is teaching us an important lesson about love. It's costly, sacrificial and if you're measuring it you're doing it wrong. By it's nature of being truly unconditional, it means we cannot think in terms of love being effective or rewarded or even acknowledged. It just must be given. That is at the heart of God's nature as well – because He is love, He gives. And the fact that His love is so extravagant and not tempered when we are painfully aware of how undeserved it truly is – that's what makes it so powerful. Yes, part of our problem is we are often looking at this in human terms; we want to see the ROI on our efforts. When it comes to God's economy we prefer to quote “You reap what you sow” rather than “forgive 77 x 7 times.” 

God's extravagance is purposeful.
But we can take heart that in God's seeming wastefulness, nothing is truly wasted. His love and all actions towards us that come out of it are with intention and serve their purpose. If we're looking at this in human terms you could very well argue that God becoming human was wasteful. Jesus leaving the throne of heaven, becoming a frail, weak and needy baby – born not in glory or with proper recognition but off the beaten path. Then He lives life in obscurity, gains minimal notoriety for his miracles and the ruckus He causes with the religious folks. And then He dies a criminal's death on a cross – what a waste! Yes, we would have written the story differently. But God clearly had a purpose in all of this – allowing what He hates to accomplish what He loves. He spared no expense to show us His love, and this spilling of Jesus' blood was worth it to display His grace to a lost world. The resurrection

So back to my day-to-day. What does my "wasted time" mean in God's economy? For one, I cannot judge what God is up to because it often doesn't make sense in human terms. His ways are not our ways. He truly uses the foolish things to shame the wise. So despite how things look, I must cling to these truths and continue to trust Him. I can also trust that He is not wasting these seemingly futile times as opportunities to build character in me. And the fact that He is wasteful but with purpose can make me a better lover of people - using seemingly futile, wasteful tasks as practice to free me up to be extravagant in my love of others without thought of effectiveness. May I walk by His spirit and strive to love like Him more and more. When I do, nothing I do will be wasted. 

What do you think? Is God wasteful?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

On the Election

Been meaning to write on here recently, but we've been a bit preoccupied. Our daughter arrived the middle of last month and we've been having a good time figuring out how to be parents. It's a fun process.

What's not been a fun process has been watching this current election. Well it was fun, until about a week ago when my candidate Marco Rubio dropped out. I was really excited about his candidacy for several reasons, not least of which was his ability to win in November. But this wasn't his year because it was the year of fear-mongering and personal attacks, as Marco pointed out in his concession speech (in which he quoted the Bible throughout). Yep, you know who I'm talking about: Orangey Entertainer. This billionaire, 1-percenter, reality TV star of a candidate who most of his adult life was a Democrat is now on his way to winning the Republican nomination and perhaps the presidency. It'd be hilarious if it wasn't so downright frightening.

It started out funny to me - the off-the-cuff intro speech full of racial slurs in front of a crowd that was mostly paid extras; the hokey tagline; the pie-in-the-sky not-thought-through "policies." He had to be kidding, right?!  But then the primaries started, he got votes and started hauling in delegates and here we are.

To recap, Orangey is winning the Republican nomination despite the following:

  • His comments about Mexicans, women, American Muslims, John McCain.
  • Not disavowing the KKK's endorsement (that's right-the KKK for crying out loud)
  • His ties to the Clintons
  • He's pro-choice
  • "Two" Corinthians 
  • "Foreign advisors?! I talk to myself because I have a very good brain."
  • His bullying of journalists and anyone who disagrees with him; re: protesters "Punch 'em in the face" (Bill of Rights, anyone?!)
  • Sarah Palin 
  • "We love the poorly educated."
  • He's making a joke of our whole democratic system

Over and over in spite of these "gaffs" --or maybe even because of them - he's proven to be Teflon. His poll numbers and delegate counts only rise.


For a while it truly baffled me- but as I've thought about it and read a lot I'm no longer surprised. Orangey has tapped into the innate human tendency to give our attention to whatever grabs it. And the more shiny the object, the harder it is for us to look away. It doesn't matter if it is worth our attention or not.

I thought enough of America would at least consider what he's saying and how off-base it is. But it seems this urge to watch-- and here it's the most entertaining thing that we give the most attention to-- surpasses even our common sense. Now I'm not discounting the legit concerns people have - they are fed up with do-nothing Washington, scared about terrorism, rattled by the rapid change our country has undergone these past few years. But is handing the keys over to a petty, insecure, and unqualified leader the right way to handle it?!

Now, I'm going to try to stop rambling and make a few key points that I think explain further how we got here:

First, I think Orangey is gaining the most votes because he's Gaining the Most Attention.  Perhaps you--like me-- have thought there were enough sensible voters who would check their fears, consider what's at stake and not vote for him. But psychology says otherwise. The "mere-exposure effect" says that just being exposed to something, or someone, eventually causes us to like them. "A statistical analysis of voting patterns found that a candidate's exposure has a strong effect on the number of votes they receive, distinct from the popularity of the policies." Yep - we're just that dumb! And we all know this exposure of Orangey has not been through advertising, but just news. He is a champ at owning a news cycle, testing the limits of 'any press is good press.'  Our current cocktail of around-the-clock news + social media click bait has proven to be a perfect storm for constant exposure for him. This constant exposure (valuing nearly $2B in free coverage) rarely on substantive issues but instead on some lewd comment he makes - translates to votes. It's science!*

Secondly, Orangey is leading because the News Media is a Business. Several people have made this point, including Trevor Noah in this segment. But I think the Fourth Estate has really failed us here. Yes, he boosts ratings which translates into major ad dollars - but aren't they supposed to help the public vet these candidates, and give us balanced coverage of all of them? Maybe they are having editorial meetings and considering what coverage is best for the public - but at the end of the day they are businesses (and struggling ones at that when it comes to newspapers, magazines and radio stations) so they have to go with what garners clicks and sells papes. They aren't all listener-supported NPR.

Lastly, I think we are here because We have Made Politics Entertainment. First through the news - to fill 24 hours and compete with the other cable networks they have to report the craziest, most outlandish stuff- ie. all of Orangey's speeches live. But then also with recent TV shows, the Presidency and intrigue around it have become the source material for some of our most popular ones: Scandal, House of Cards, and Veep to name a few. The rise of these shows created the moment for Orangey to take the scene, and he's done so well. Plus we are in a time when we can overindulge in our desire to be entertained via binge watching. Is it any wonder that the entire election has become a constant media circus with a former reality TV star at the center? Can we even distinguish between entertainment and reality anymore? We haven't tempered our basest desires, and exercised our better judgment - so here we are.  We deserve him.

So that's my assessment - take it or leave it. Thanks for reading!

*His whole campaign could be a case study in the value of press/PR/media coverage over paid advertising. It has honestly made me question my career in advertising - as the candidates who spend the most on TV ads gain little ground through it and end up dropping out first.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

The year is coming to a close. I always stop and reflect this time of year, not just because a new year is about to begin, but also because it is my half birthday today - a great time for a mid-year check-in. How am I living my life? Am I accomplishing all that I want to do? What have I done this past year? As I look back, this year has a good bit of highlights. Back in January I bought a truck and not just any truck, but a 2003 Toyota Tacoma. This is a truck that I've wanted since high school. So when my Camry crapped out last December, I decided it was time. I've been really pleased with it, and the lower gas prices this year have certainly helped.

Another high point for me was getting back on stage. In early February I auditioned for a part in a musical at a community theater I've heard a lot of great things about. I got the part - the most serious role in a show-within-a-show whodunit, Curtains. I played Aaron Fox, a quasi-romantic lead (never played that type of role before) and got to sing an awesome song, act with a stellar scene partner, and make a lot of new friends. The best part was - my role required very minimum dancing! It really was fulfilling to get back on stage and use some of my gifts again.

Writing - It has been an okay year on that front. You can see the infrequency of the blog, but I did this summer log 1,500 minutes writing through a challenge an author I follow put on. I worked on various writing projects with that time, including making up a 12 week curriculum for my Bible study which we went through this fall. It was satisfying to use those gifts and in a way that positively impacted others and their walk with God.

Another huge accomplishment as I look back over the year is my involvement with CrossFit. I wrote some about that on my work blog - but it really has been a great experience. I've done more than I thought I could do, gotten stronger and seen great results - although in the couple of months I took off I did gain back a few pounds. I need to start that diet! The best things about it are the challenge as well as the camaraderie of the work outs makes it enjoyable so I actually want to go.

Lastly, another significant milestone this year is that we got pregnant. We found out at the beginning of the summer and it has been an exciting journey. All in all it has been a pretty easy pregnancy for Rachel; she was nauseous some at the beginning but never sick and has just had some hip pain off and on. We found out in September that we are having a girl which has been even more exciting. It is what we both wanted and we're having fun getting ready for her. No names yet, but hopefully we'll narrow that down soon! Mostly we are just indescribably thankful for this gift. We learned in the process of getting pregnant that we are not in control, and that has continued to be the lesson through pregnancy. I hear that's a pretty handy thing to keep in mind in parenting, too. We'll see. (The picture here is of us on our babymoon in North Ga in Nov - we're at Tallulah Gorge here)

Other than that there is not much to report on the work front. More business as usual there, although I did work on a lot of smaller projects early in the year which was a challenge. I tend to wrestle with wanting my work to be significant but have learned that how I go about doing it- no matter how small the task- makes it significant. Through other challenges I've learned again and again that I will always be frustrated if I tie my worth up in it. I was designed instead to worship God through my work. No matter the job that will always be true.

2016 will no doubt be a significant year. As Rachel and I talk about how life will look different - which, how can we know what to expect? - we do look forward to life getting simpler. Now I know a crying infant and sleepless nights are not most people's definition of simpler. But by simpler I mean a clarity of priorities, and a lot more freedom to say no. Our time will be limited so it will have to be used wisely. That can only be a good thing. Plus we are of course looking forward to being parents and all the new experiences and emotions that brings. Hope you and yours have a great new year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Steve Harvey, failure, and perfectionism

If you were online last night, you probably heard about Steve Harvey's debacle at the end of the Miss Universe pageant. At the critical moment - that moment "we've all been waiting for" - he accidentally announced the first runner up as the winner; and then didn't catch his mistake for what seemed like an eternity on live television, over a minute! I was not watching, but quickly saw it online and read up on it. It seemed to make for a very awkward moment on TV, asking the young woman who had just been announced as winner to give her crown over to the true winner.

If you were online today you've no doubt seen more memes and gifs about this as well as perspectives on who is to blame. (My favorite is "bad design" due to the poor layout of the card Harvey was reading from). But I came across this perspective from Desiring God about how this incident feeds the "failure culture" we live in - where we're obsessed with people that make huge gaffs, especially celebrities. It distracts us from our own shortcomings and makes us feel better about them. These failures seem even worse because at the same time our culture demands and expects perfection at every turn. This was my favorite quote from the post:

"Our countless failures against God deserve death and come from deep within our nature. We sin because we are sinners, and we will never reach perfection because we are finite. And we can never make up for our imperfections in the past. But Jesus gives us something better than a second chance; he becomes our substitute (2 Corinthians 5:21). Now, instead of finding joy in our own mythical perfection, we can find joy in Jesus’s grace when we mess up."
I've been thinking about some of this recently as I know I am a perfectionist. Perhaps not to the extreme that other people are, but I definitely am one. It shows up mostly in self-righteousness and pride - and then conversely frustration when I don't meet the high expectations I put on myself. I know with a kid on the way my apple-cart is definitely about to get over turned countless times every day. As I seek to "get ready" for parenting I'm realizing the only preparation I really need is a deeper understanding and belief in the gospel - that I fail, Christ is perfect where I can never be, and I need his grace more than I realize. Then as I receive and cherish that grace, I can offer it to my daughter who will no doubt try my patience on occasion :). But the grace offered to me from my Father, I can offer to my child when she fails. May I not pursue perfection, but rather faith to believe in the one who has made me perfect. Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Race in American History

I'm reading a great book on American history called Race and Reunion - The Civil War in American Memory.  It is all about the collective memory of a country - how a culture recalls or doesn't recall certain key events in its history and the political and societal implications of that memory. The obvious subject of this book is slavery and how during Reconstruction the soldiers, politicians and others from both sides began to recount different versions of events to better serve their narrative and vain-glory. Memory serves a purpose, and in many cases the blight of the cause of slavery and suppression of another race were written out of the story completely. As the author argues, and I tend to agree, unless we grapple with the hard realities that came out of this era we cannot experience full reconciliation and healing, namely as it relates to race. I think these re-written memories and white-washed histories are at the root of a lot of the racial tension we still experience in our country today.

From the book:
"Myths are the deeply encoded stories from history that acquire with time a symbolic power in a culture. In Mythologies (1957), Roland Barthes suggests that myths are clusters of ideas and values that have lost 'the memory that they were ever made.' Indeed, Barthes might have had in mind the Civil War veterans' obsession with detail and their quest for recognition through reminiscence when he wrote that myth 'organizes a world which is without contradictions because it is without depth, a world ... wallowing in the evident ... a blissful clarity: things appear to mean something by themselves.' As veterans of both sides aged, the differences in their remembrance of cause, while still evident and necessary in acts of commemoration, could not hold back their own and the culture's need to cultivate the mutual ties in soldiers' memory. The national reunion required a cessation of talk about causation and consequence, and therefore about race. The lifeblood of reunion was the mutuality of soldiers' sacrifice in a land where the rhetoric and reality of emancipation and racial equality occupied only the margins of history."

I think we would all agree that these issues of race remain in the margins. Yes, current events have been bringing them to light but we still struggle to respond in a healthy way and get to the deeper issues at play. We still respond in fear or disgust, defensiveness or pride, soapboxing our stance and talking past each other. There is too little true engagement or conversation within the context of relationships whether we are talking about Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore, or Syrian refugees. I'm afraid, too Donald Trump's presidential campaign is just furthering this long, sad pattern of hateful rhetoric and reacting out of fear instead of understanding.

How do we engage? How as Christians do we respond? I do think the answer lies on the relational level, starting to have open honest conversations with people of other races about how we feel about these issues. Within that seeking to find common ground which there is plenty of when we think in terms of the Gospel. We all are sinners in need of forgiveness offered through the blood of Christ. We must offer that forgiveness and grace towards one another as we seek to engage because we are bound to offend one another.* This approach is in line with what Benjamin Watson, NFL player turned racial advocate, has laid out in his book, Under Our Skin. I say that, but I have not read it yet :)- but I did watch this video about it which I highly recommend. Doing nothing is not an option. Time does not heal all wounds - that's a stupid cliche. Some wounds must be brought into the light, exposed and discussed or they will continue to fester and boil as we keep seeing in cities all across our country. May God have mercy as we seek to honor Him through racial reconciliation.

*In fact, I think that's a main reason we do not even talk because we are paralyzed about saying the wrong thing, see Missouri University president - but that situation also proves that inaction is still action.