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Sabbatical Journey: A New Color for a New Season

As evidenced by my last entry being six months ago (gads!), it’s been a blur of a year.

Working greater than full time, taking two courses a quarter at a demanding business school is more than enough to have made me question my sanity.

While it’s yet to be official, I’ve completed my sabbatical paperwork and will be applying for a sabbatical for August, 2011-July, 2012.  I’ll be finishing my degree, and ceasing from direct ministry for a season before reentering once again in August, 2012.

So, for those of you who have sabbatical suggestions, suggest away.  While not going to class, I’ll probably be learning to sail on Lake Michigan, and getting back to the Rockies once or twice.

It will be to the point where I’ll actually be moving out of my office and working out of a home office.  And when it starts, I think it will be  time to paint the office a new color…any one have some suggestions for this color blind man?

Stupid Brett.

I don’t know if any of you looked at the deadspin.com report of Brett Favre and Jenn Sterger…but it’s just sad.

I don’t know how much of it is true, but hearing the voicemails, looking at the video…

…well, it’s safe to say that my childhood is more than over now. Brett, you should have left football when you left Green Bay.  While all of us still loved you. What I wrote then seems so silly now.  Why would you ever do something so incredibly stupid?

It’s absolutely ironic that the consecutive games streak will likely not be ended by a blitzing linebacker, but by stupidity and poor judgment.

Writing & Procrastination

I’m procrastinating by writing this blog entry.

Part of it is out of guilt – the last time I actually wrote something was for the LOST finale – that was 5 months ago.  Gads.

Writing is one of those things that is quite therapeutic for me; one of my friends told me she appreciated my honesty in writing, because it says the things that people think in their heads but don’t necessarily want to put on a page. I think it’s my own version of therapy – getting the words I wish I could say out in front of me so they lose their power over me.

Since my last blog entry, I’ve been learning a lot.  Summer was an absolute blur – Accounting and Business Strategy were wonderful classes…except they were not meant to be taken for any sane person working full time.  Of course, we all know my sanity is slightly questionable…

I have two classes again this quarter – Microeconomics, and Leading the Mission Driven Enterprise.  I love both – I just wish I had more time to study.  I know some folks aren’t really into this stuff…but I do enjoy it.

Except when I’m procrastinating.

What I love is that I’m learning in a way that is different from any way I’ve learned before; that might sound weird, but business school just makes you think differently than engineering. Different from seminary classes.  Different from literature.

And I need time to think about this.

Which is why I’m writing again; writing is often my therapy of trying to make some sense of a life that I feel like moves faster and faster.  I try to sit at the end of each day and ask God to show me what I missed that he was trying to say to me.  I do the equivalent of the “highlight” reel of the day, and ask God to show me more of what he wanted me to see so I don’t miss it.  Evangelical Christians talk so often of a relationship with God…but most of our “relationship” is defined by information acquisition (learning about God) and rarely conversation on what God is actually doing in our lives, and asking him the deepest questions and longings of our hearts.

What has this done?  As I age, I realize I can see farther down the road than I used to – that this behavior will lead to that, that this thought leads to something else…it’s weird.  My students say something and I’m instantly transported to another time when I heard the same words, and realize that they are walking down someone else’s path…both for good and not so good. I can’t explain it well quite yet.

What I know is that I need more time to write.

I’m going to out myself here and say I’m procrastinating.  And in the spirit of confession, here are my best strategies for procrastination.  I’d love to hear if you use any of these:

1. Denial.  I’m not really busy.  I just look like it.

1a. Playing with my calendar.  Thinking about what I will do when makes me feel so productive, and reinforces denial.

2. Cleaning. My roommate knows that when all the dishes are done, the range is spotless, the counters smell like orange cleaner, the laundry is done, the bed is made, the floors are mopped, the closet is reorganized, and I clean behind the toilet.  Yep, Andy’s avoiding something.  But I was so productive in my procrastination.

3. Referring to myself in the 3rd person.  Do you ever do this? Andy does.  He does when he’s trying to remove himself from his situation and sound very objective.  Going clinical on yourself is a great way to reinforce denial (see 1)

4. Emptying every form of communication I have.  Email. Texts. Junkmail. Facebook? Confession: I don’t often reply to facebook messages.  I can only handle so many.  If you want to get ahold of me, email me.

5. Reorganizing my task list.  Yes – want to feel productive and not really being productive.

5a. Planning HOW I will get my task list done.  Going back to fiddling with calendar (see 1a).

6. Writing. Writing is my therapy of trying to work out meaning.  But it is so hard to work out meaning in life when margins are so small.  In economic terms, I’m moving dangerously past marginal cost and dipping into profit reserves.

When I daydream, I continually go back to screenplay or novel I want to write…a story of five very different men who meet in college, travel their separate ways, and continually return together yearly and slowly become more like each other.  I want people to write the books that we aren’t writing because we (really, I) are (am) too busy…

…procrastinating.

Sigh. Time to get back to Microeconomics.

A Pair of Jacks and a King: Reflections on LOST, 24, Failure and Friendship

Tonight is the Series Finale of LOST.  For six seasons, over 121 episodes, 87 hours, 5225 minutes, it’s come to tonight’s epic two-and-a-half hour finale.  Jack Shepard (the character the on whom women crush like they are tweens once again), has volunteered to be the candidate who will ultimately either save the island or die trying.  (Probably both, actually.  At least in one dimension of reality.)

In a couple of weeks, Jack Bauer (the character whom men crush on like boys over their first ballplayer’s autograph) will exit stage right as as well after eight seasons of 24.  I know the show has gotten formulaic – Jack is the president’s right hand man, tortures someone in the process, loses someone he loves deeply, but saves the world from World War 3.  We wonder how he could ever do another season.

I’m honestly sad.  I never really watched television regularly until I returned from Cairo nearly three years ago and needed some therapy from the horrific poverty in which I lived.  (How watching 24 is therapeutic is probably strange for most folks…but it is so addictive that I think I just needed a hit of sorts.)

I kinda hope both Jacks die tragically on screen, because they will basically die to me.  They will only be memories, but great companions in a difficult season of life that I sensed, like LOST and 24, has finally come to an end.  And they’ve reminded me about important things about failure.

For the last three years, probably the three most difficult of my life, I’ve actually come to trust these two Jacks in my hand as more than just a pair of cards waiting for the flop and river of life.  The flavors of their characters are so wonderful and complex.  I’d compare them to my favorite coffees, but that would be woefully inadequate.

Jack Bauer is the bad boy who does what’s right and never gives up…and waits for redemption.  In the beginning of this season, one of the sketchy informants comes to him and says, “You’re Jack Bauer – you’re the guy who always does the right thing.”  It’s why we love him.  Doing what was right has been very costly, but he did it anyway.

But Bauer is no angel – he’s really a bad boy. Does he do what is right? Do the ends justify the means? This is the dramatic tension of 24. For some reason, we have come not only to love a man who tortures his enemies, but implicitly trust him.  Why do we trust Jack Bauer? Because he’s experienced such epic losses, we want him to win in the end.  We want him to receive justice – that though he has done wrong, his rights outweigh his wrongs and have come at such selfless sacrifice that want him to know his job is done and he’s finished.

Jack Shepard is the good boy who does what’s wrong and finally falls short…and waits for redemption.  Of all the characters in LOST, he’s the one whose flaws are most clear to me.  He was always the good boy – the one who never really failed at anything.  Even when his marriage fell apart, it still wasn’t enough to break him.

It was when Shepard finally left the island, at the end of his rope with a god-awful bushy beard and brandy-breath that he hit rock bottom and said, “We have to go back to the island.”  This man of reason, who had been living by calculated reason his entire life, had no reason for explaining why going back to the island made any sense whatsoever.  Except that this man of science just “felt it” and was slowly becoming a man of faith.

Failure drove him to transformation.

I was recently captivated by JK Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard in 2008 where she spoke on failure. Kind of a downer of a topic for a commencement address, and something that most graduates of Harvard and other prestigious universities never really experience.  But the fringe benefits of failure placed Rowling in a place where she could truly write in a way that connected with the human experience in ways that few have achieved in our world.

Both Jack Bauer and Jack Shepard have had epic fails. The last three years, they’ve comforted me in the midst of my failures – and reminded me that failure is the crucible for transformation.  Jack Bauer lost his wife and one lover and yet another lover this season.  He has done awful things to people.  But he never, ever has given up doing what is right.  He shot and killed two of his partners and friends – because he chose to do what was right over what was popular.

Jack Shepard picked up the pieces after two bad decisions and hopes that the third time is the charm (as we will find out tonight.)  In an alternate reality, he realized he was becoming his father and has changed to reach out to his son to understand him as he was never understood by his own father.

But both of these Jacks remind me that redemption is something for which I long.  I want to make things right. As I’ve watched them, and reflected over time on these tragic heroes, I’ve realized redemption and making things right often comes counterintuitively.  It doesn’t come through what wrongs we make right. It comes when we finally let go of both our wrongs and how we’ve been wronged in order to receive and give grace.

Grace gives us peace of heart and mind, because we realize we are in greater need of a gracious King to come and trump anything we could ever conjure up ourselves.  That peace allows us to experience joy and authentically love others – in ways that our need to be powerful (like Jack Bauer) and right (like Jack Shepard) could never fully meet.

Murder & Marginalization in Chicago: A Brief Statistical Overview

A friend’s post regarding a bloody night on the south side of Chicago where 7 were killed and 18 were wounded made me do a double take when I realized it was six blocks from my old neighborhood where I lived after I graduated from university.

Just a couple of months back in February there was a shooting about three blocks from my home in Evanston near the high school – and then another lockdown a week later for a shooting threat.

One of my former students wrote for the Chicago Now Blog Network, and they have an morbid-yet-interesting online homicide spreadsheet. Yes, the url is homicides.redeyechicago.com.

I downloaded the data and started to do a little analysis.

First of all, the racial breakdown is VERY scary.  One, according to the stats, there are no Latinos murdered in Chicago.  That’s not true…my friend S has shootings in her neighborhood all the time.

Second, with murder rates up about 12% this year, Chicago needs restoration and healing.  At this current rate, Chicago could break 500 homicides in 2010.

Third, just check out some of these breakdowns by race and gender:

Race # of Homicides Percentage
Black 353 76.74%
White 106 23.04%
Latino 0 0.00%
Asian 1 0.22%
Male 403 87.42%
Female 58 12.58%
Mean Age 28.33
Standard Dev 12.09336591

In other words, being a young African American man in Chicago give you the highest percentage of waking up dead via homicide.

I’ve spent a couple summers living among the marginalized in the West Side of Chicago, and it was there when I was introduced to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu and some of the staggering statistics of the black community in Chicag.  The following is an excerpt from his book, Solutions for Black America.  The statistics are slightly dated since it was published in 2004.

Black median income is $32,000 versus White median income of $45,000.  Black per capita wealth is $10,000 versus White per capita wealth of $55,000.  One percent of the population owns 48% of the wealth.  Ten percent of the population owns 86% of the wealth.

Median SAT Scores:

  • Asians: 1083
  • Whites: 1063
  • Hispanics: 903
  • African Americans: 857

African Americans constitute 12% of the population, but African American males account for 43% of HIV Cases; and African American women are 64%.

In 14 of 16 health categories – diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, cancer, infant mortality, etc. – African Americans sufferers outnumber Whites.

Only 32% of African American children have fathers in the home.  The divorce rate in Black America is 66%.

In Los Angeles, African Americans constitute 11 percent of the population, but represent 47 percent of the murder victims.  In Washington DC, 1 of 12 African American males die of homicide.

Among African-American male high school students:

  • 1 in 200,000 will play in the NBA.
  • 1 in 3,700 will earn a Ph. D.
  • 1 in 766 will become a lawyer.
  • 1 in 395 will become a doctor.
  • 1 in 195 will become a teacher.
  • 1 in 20 will be incarcerated.
  • 1 in 12 will have an STD.
  • 1 in 9 will use cocaine.
  • 1 in 3 will drop out of high school.

There are 36 million “disconnected” youth in American.  These youth, 60 percent Black and Hispanic, have left high school, lack credentials, and are unemployed.

The Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics in a report entitled, “Cohabitation, Marriange, Divorce and Remarriage in the United States,” showed that Black women are facing a crisis in their relationships with Black men.  According to this study, when compared to all other racial groups, Black women are:

  • Least Likely to marry
  • Least likely to marry a long-term cohabiting partner
  • Most likely to have their marriages end in separation or divorce
  • Most likely to remain separated or divorced
  • Least likely to remarry
  • Most likely to see their second marriages end

Avatar, Eye-Candy, & Rhetorical Racism: Moving Beyond Tokenism

(This post has been sitting on the back burner for a while, but life with school, ministry, travel, got to a point where this wasn’t able to get out when I wanted it to. Oh well – better late than never.)

I saw Avatar in the theaters and was at first in awe of visual eye candy.  No question it is one of the most visually stunning films ever produced.  I’m colorblind and I was impressed…I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a full spectrum of colors at my disposal to consider how beautiful it would be.

But as I thought about it more, I realized that Avatar was more like the magazines in the check-out aisle of the grocery store: air-brushed eye candy that is pretty superficial and devoid of significant substance or content.

Now don’t get me wrong – Avatar isn’t in the gutter with Transformers 2…that was just awful.  It was as if that film was using the article I blogged about regarding male hormones as a script to help attract men.

But in some ways, Avatar is more dangerous because people take it far more seriously.  I mean, it got a stinkin’ best picture nod.  We’ve already heard enough about the comparisons to Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai.  Instead of Native Americans and Ancient Warriors we get supersized smurfs that bear a striking resemblance to African Tribal people.

The message of the film is pretty direct: all of the characters who are seeking to expand the empire are white American men (except the hero, Jake) and Jake becomes the hero by leaving his culture and people and saves the people who are not his own, but in the end he becomes one of them.

There are several indirect messages this sends – I could critique the film at length.  I’ll focus on two:

1. On the surface, it seems like such a nice politically correct story.  Jake becomes the hero by becoming cross-cultural and becoming one of those who were marginalized.

But let’s just think about this for sometime.  First of all, Jake might be in body one of the supersized smurfs, but culturally he is still a white American jarhead.  What does it say that he becomes the hero of this people? Why not a leader who was actually native to the planet? What is it about Jake that allows for him to become the leader of a people who aren’t his own?

I won’t leave these questions at rhetorical – I think what this communicates is indirect racism that covertly implies that the redeemed white american is one who still “saves” those who can’t save themselves.  It’s covert imperialism. It’s implying that there is something special about Jake that allows for him to be the leader of the people.

And it’s racist.

What it is indirectly saying is that the Navi people are not capable of developing indigenous leadership in order and require leadership from outside to survive attempts of cultural imperialism.  So, in essence, they are saved from cultural imperialism through…cultural imperialism.

Silly James Cameron; simplistic plot lines are for kids.

2. While this is going to sound like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, I’m going to address the other end of the spectrum here.  As I’ve said before in other posts, I’m an equal opportunity offender.  And here is where I’m walking on eggshells…and I’m about to make some omelets here.

Americans have a tendency to idealize other cultures as a reaction to being perceived as imperialistic.  I own American imperialism – it is real and it is dangerous.  It’s tragic that a standard of beauty that causes women to whiten their skin with toxic skin whiteners and receive plastic surgery.  That women view themselves in comparison to the Western standards of beauty is dishonoring and dehumanizing to their people made in the image of God.

I’ve worked with young men of several different ethnicities who feel their standard of masculinity is considered subpar to the culturally-biased stuff that is broadcast in Christian Bookstores like Wild at Heart and helped them realize their cultural form of masculinity is by no means less than that of whites.  (BTW, I liked the book. It was important to me. It’s just very culturally bound to White american men.)

Working cross-culturally when I wasn’t the dominant culture has taught me so much on masculinity and femininity that I can’t begin to describe  how much I’ve grown because of it.  Living under the leadership of those not like me have stretched me more than I ever dreamed.

I am one of the only people I know who has had the opportunity to be under the leadership of folks of four different ethnicities (Asian-American, White, Black, and Latino) and both genders for an extended ongoing period of time (at least one year). This is something that I can honestly say has been one of the greatest opportunities for both blessing and frustration, and has grown me and stretched me tremendously.

What I can say from this experience is this: power is what typically reveals cultural strengths and cultural dysfunctions.  We are getting a glimpse of this as we get more global in just a snapshot of current events that causing dissonance.

Was the apology of the Toyota executive sincere?  If it was sincere, what are we to say of the supposed management practices of Toyota that suppressed safety information that may have been contrary to that which management wanted to hear?

For what reasons are babies being born at a rate of 120 boys to 100 girls in China and Northern India?

And what are we to say about the chicken pills taken by women in Jamaica?

If you subscribe to the worldview of Avatar, and you are a white american male like myself, you shouldn’t ask these questions.  It’s offensive.  The rules say you are only able to focus exclusively on the positives of other cultures.

But that methodology is only good for entertainment purposes at a theater…and it’s worth about $10.

When we subscribe to the worldview of Avatar, we idealize the minority on the one hand, demonize the majority on the other, and indirectly say that we the ideal minority is unable to develop it’s own leaders and has to import them from the demon majority, we live in a dangerous world that is unable to move to reconciliation.  Our response is even more dangerous: tokenism.

The response leads to develop minority leadership that is “token” in nature – in other words, minorities are put in leadership for the sake of their presence as minorities in order to appease internal white guilt.

And it’s belittling to minorities.

I got a glimpse of what it means to move beyond tokenism as a part of the search committee that brought the new pastor of my church.  We did not know that one of the leading candidates we rated for our pastor was a Jamacian born Black man.  As we continued throughout the process, we were very up front and honest with him about recent issues of race that were divisive in our church to the point of a staff person leaving.  Evanston is a diverse community, but our church is about 85% white.

Yet it became clear to our entire committee that this was the man whom God was calling to our congregation.  We knew we were asking this man to enter into something potentially difficult.  And as we made the decision, we even received racist hate mail.  But the decision has been clearly one that only God could have orchestrated in his timing, and one that only could have been led by his Spirit.  Not a spirit of political correctness, not a spirit of tokenism, but one that is reconciling people to each other and to God.

And I had a front row seat for an incredible show.

As I worshipped at our installation of the Pastor, I couldn’t help but realize the shallowness the worldview of Avatar.  Like the name of the film, it’s only skin deep.  It will never allow the deepest wounds to be healed. It will just be a vain superficial cover.  Real reconciliation requires moving beyond tokenism, image management,  and simplistic cultural caricatures to true understanding through authentic friendship.

And truthfully, that is just harder than most people really want to work.  But I still hope and dream that in my lifetime we move beyond eye-candy ethnicity and toward real reconciliation.

Vomiting & Facebook: Purging from Social Networking

(Warning: This post involves a real live story on vomiting. It’s gross. Let the weak-stomached stop reading here.)

I love my nephews.  Really, I do.  But today I had one of those moments where being the uncle was…well, not all it’s cracked up to be.  Or as in my case today, chucked-up to be.

My brother hands me his son this Easter Sunday as he’s rushing to take care of some some odds and ends as my sister-in-law is directing the church choir while 9 months pregnant. We joked that the best thing would be for her to be transported directly to the hospital to go in labor after she stepped off the platform.

I’m holding little David, and he’s crying because he misses his Daddy.  Or at least that’s what I think.  I walk around and start reading the stuff on the Sunday school bulletin board…various animals and other interesting factoids for your typical 19-month old boy.  And then, he stares at me, gets all quiet, and…

…decides to share his slightly digested breakfast of egg casserole over my blazer and tie.  Such a sweet natured boy.

Kiddo-puke smells a lot like adult puke. Nasty. This isn’t the formula or breast-milk puke. This is egg-casserole puke.

(Ironically, as I’m wiping up the chunks, I realize I’m in the same room at my boyhood church that as a seven-year-old boy seeing a girl in youth group blow chunks.  For some odd reason, I vividly remember partially digested hot dogs on the floor. It was totally a traumatic event.)

I’ve visited enough hole-in-the-wall restaurants and traveled in enough developing regions of the world to be well acquainted with the symptoms of food poisoning.  And honestly, I’m a big fan of vomiting.  Nothing feels better when you’ve got the flu or food poisoning then letting it all out. Beats the dry heaves any day.

As some may remember, I gave up Facebook entirely for Lent and I did something I’ve never done before: I gave chose to fast from meat for six of seven days a week (with some exceptions of course).

Going off facebook entirely felt like vomiting from food poisoining.  It was like purging my body of…well, you name it. Voyeurism. Self promotion. Approval addiction. Status seeking. All the crap that facebook does to people.

Facebook doesn’t really “do that” – it’s just a mechanism to draw our junk out of us.  And this isn’t to say it happens with everyone. Some of you I’m sure are actually holy facebook users.

I missed seeing friends with whom I don’t often connect.  But all in all, it was nice to be off.  As I went more than six weeks without logging onto facebook, I wasn’t thinking in terms of status updates or this comic…

from xkcd.com

While it was difficult at first, I’m so glad I did.  I honestly don’t feel a strong desire to go back to it.  And I don’t think in terms of status updates anymore.

That being said – what is an appropriate use of facebook? And what is inappropriate?


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