30 September 2008

influence, abject silliness, and choice we didn't even know we had

Do you ever stop to think who is watching you...?

No, this is not some X-Files question about alien life or some libertarian rant against Big Brother.

Do you ever stop to think who we are influencing and how we are influencing them? The fact is that people are watching and being shaped by what we do and say. Apples don't fall far from the tree for a reason. We are perhaps the foremost species in nature that is influenced by "nurture".

I posted two videos this weekend and there are two more that will be posted next weekend. They are all Monty Python clips from the Flying Circus.

I didn't randomly choose to start watching that show. I latched onto it as my older brother watched them and laughed at the silliness. It didn't just shape my YouTube viewing habits, but my entire sense of humor. I think the dead parrot sketch is hilarious. And I could completely understand if other people found it to be absolutely stupid. That's the nature of outside influence. Everyone has a different source set. My source set was my brother's appreciation for clever satire and abject silliness. That same appreciation was given to me and then, as the dominoes fell, to my younger sister who grew up watching me as I watched my brother. How many 20 year-old sorority girls list Monty Python and the Holy Grail among their favorite movies? I know one.

Stop and think about the reason you like what you do. And then consider that you are giving that away to those who follow you (even if they only follow you from afar). Just as easily as a harmless sense of humor, pride and malice and deceit can be willed into future generations. We have the ability to choose, though.

Will the world we leave be more graceful or merciful? Will the generations behind us be even more consumed by self and fleeting material items?

We do have a choice.

Which things will we choose to pass on? And which things would we rather not see perpetuated?

29 September 2008

of tangible change and litchi's new leaves

When someone shows up in your life all of the sudden claiming to be different, we are immediately skeptical. We are cynical and we probably have good reason to be so. I think we are born as trusting, accepting individuals, but we are slowly exposed to the greater tendencies of human nature, which erodes our trust and gives us a consistent skepticism.

After all, how many time have you run across someone you know who has all of the sudden decided to change some major aspect of their life? (How many times has that someone been you?) We hear our friend wax about how life is going to be different, usually "from this day forward". They are going to lose weight, stop smoking, volunteer more, eat organic only, follow Jesus closer, stop swearing, eat healthier, drink less, drop the serial monogamy game, whatever...

We roll our eyes and resign ourselves to waiting it out. We know that 3 weeks from now
they're gonna be eating a double-cheeseburger and smoking a Marlboro while telling us how they can't understand how the person they just slept with all of the sudden wants to break up with them after they went out and had a few too many drinks last night and had a shouting match about whether pinot grigio could be considered &%@#^* organic or not.

We know better, don't we?

It takes a long time for us to trust that change is happening. I like to believe that the Creator anticipated that cynicism. Our litchi tree has been growing, for example. It sprouts new leaves daily, a product of my doting and the beautiful sun. The leaves spend a day or two as a beautiful red before becoming green like all of the others. They do, however, give us that visible proof that something new has indeed arrived.

Jesus said that we would be able to discern the difference between real goodness and false goodness (or change or growth or whatever) by the fruit that is produced.

We say we are going to go on a diet...weight should fall. We say we are going to volunteer more...we might actually have to wake up before noon. How many times have people told us of some great religious awakening, only to be the same as they were before after the newness of the religion has worn off? How many times did I ride the religion rollercoaster? The alcohol rollercoaster? The ups and downs only show us to be wishy-washy, incapable of sticking with a decision. The ups and downs only serve to render those around us even more cynical, to cast an even larger doubt over the veracity of our words. To break that cycle, we must begin living the words we spew out, we must begin producing real fruit, tangible evidence of growth.

Like the litchi tree...

28 September 2008

27 September 2008

a little nonsense now and then...

...is relished by the wisest men.

26 September 2008

i almost don't believe it myself

So I suppose it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. It’s time to confess, to come clean, to stand up and take the punishment I deserve. Hide the women and children…

I played golf.

I know, I know… Please people, keep the screaming to a minimum and pick your jaws up off the floor.

I don’t play golf. I don’t own golf clubs. I don’t own that fancy glove golfers wear on their left hands. I don’t have golf shoes or towels or tees or any of it. I certainly don’t have golf clothing or golf balls. Yet, somehow, I played golf.

I was at a charity tournament where my company was the underwriting sponsor. I was helping to organize the event and sign-in players. When one player in my boss’ group didn’t show, he asked me to play with them. I protested lightly, saying I would ride along in the cart, but that I really don’t play golf. (I was really just trying to avoid embarrassing myself – the only full round I ever played was highlighted by my pegging another golfer on an adjacent fairway with an errant drive.)

Really, though, what could I say… “Well, boss, I think I’ll just sit here and read my Kindle in the shade.” Umm, no.

So, he agreed that he wouldn’t force me to play and I happily agreed to ride along. I like golf. I like freshly-mowed, green grass. I just can’t afford to play.

Well, we walk up to the first green and the team has managed to put their “best ball” about 20 feet from the hole. They take turns putting and then my boss hands me his putter – “Your shot.” Sigh. I knew that this would happen. I thought back to the countless hours I spent while my dad and brother hit golf balls at the Olmos Driving Range. I would take a putter and tool around the practice greens. I thought back to when my cousin or brother and I would play the par-3 course next to the range, losing balls in the drainage basin and pretending to be professionals. And, of course, stepping over the ball with my boss watching closely, I drain the putt. A birdie for the team and a guarantee that I will, at the very least, be putting the rest of the day.

That scene replayed itself at the 2nd and 3rd holes and all of the sudden I am everybody’s favorite guy. I start hitting approach shots, little chips around the green and sand-wedges from 60 yards. And I am actually doing well in that capacity. We end up playing my approach shot as the best ball several times. And then, disaster struck.

One of our goofy group-mates put his beer down, stepped up to the 8th tee (a par 3), and hit a moonshot with a 7-wood. Miraculously, it landed on the green and, from what we can tell, rolled off the back. The other guys shanked their balls to varying degrees and we drove up to the green to search for the best ball. Couldn’t find it. Surely you know where this is going.

I walk up on the green and peek into the hole. Yup. Hole-in-one. Great news for that guy. Terrible news for the team – because that guy is ruined for the rest of the day. His adrenaline is pumping, his heart is racing, and he now thinks he’s Tiger Woods which equates to every ball he hits the rest of the day being scorched into water, weeds, woods, or being altogether shanked into oblivion.

The hole-in-one guy even whiffed on several balls in the next few holes, after which he would laugh, remind us that he hit a hole-in-one, and then proceed to make contact on his next shot while simultaneously performing an archaeological dig with his 3-iron and happily return to the cart for more beer. He was worthless, which meant the team of three (which was already a man short) was now effectively a team of two, which then meant that I would be needed to provide something in order to keep our team competitive.

So, with the other members of the team depleted (by beer, the afternoon sun, and Sir Shanksalot’s hole-in-one), I stepped up to the tee…and added absolutely nothing of value. I think that in 8 holes we probably played my drive once and my approaches 2 or 3 times. My putting was just as bad as everyone else’s by that point and I was cursing my lack of golfing equipment. My hand was blistered from lack of that goofy glove. My skin was charred from the lack of hat and/or sunscreen. On and on I could go. I mean, no one ever got a 3rd-degree sunburn reading a Kindle, right? Well, no one ever got passed on a promotion for playing golf with his boss either if you know what I’m saying.

So, I played golf. I saw a hole-in-one. I got burned and, in the process, realized just how far my hairline has receded. Are you ready for the scary part? I kind of liked it.

25 September 2008

on peaceful collision and cross-pollination

"I am convinced that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. For it’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet the challenges we face as a country. It’s what keeps us locked in 'either/or' thinking: the notion that we can only have big government or no government; the assumption that we must either tolerate 46 million without health insurance or embrace 'socialized medicine'...

It is to insist that…across America, a constant cross-pollination is occurring, a not entirely orderly but generally peaceful collision among people and cultures. Identities are scrambling, and then cohering in new ways. Beliefs keep slipping through the noose of predictability. Facile expectations and simple explanations are being constantly upended. Spend time actually talking to Americans, and you discover that most evangelicals are more tolerant than the media would have us believe, most secularists more spiritual. Most rich people want the poor to succeed, and most of the poor are both more self-critical and hold higher aspirations than the popular culture allows. Most Republican strongholds are 40 percent Democrat and vice versa. The political labels of liberal and conservative rarely track people’s personal attributes."

24 September 2008

of wealth, the world, and the weighty silence of introspection

I sat in a classroom a number of years ago at a wealthy church on the northwest fringe of San Antonio. I spent a couple of hours a week listening to professors, preachers, and lifelong missionaries teach.

The class was called “World Missions” or something along those lines. I had just returned to America from South Africa where I was a missionary, so I went into the class with a certain level of cynicism. I wondered what a professor with a power point could know about the plight of the billions of desperately poor and hopeless in the world.

The class began by focusing on great Christian missionaries of the past, on their journeys, their triumphs, and the occasional tragedy (nothing says you preached poorly louder than getting eaten by your loin-clothed congregants).

I spent most of every class wondering why we were actually sitting in a classroom. I became a missionary with absolutely no training. I didn’t know Christian history or the names of great explorers. I knew how to get on an airplane and to make peanut-butter sandwiches. As far as I could tell, there was not a whole lot more that went into being the hands of what Jesus called “true religion”.

Eventually, my bewilderment grew to a silent rage, as I listened to my classmates (almost all a different generation than me) debate the best way to “reach” people or how we could really define if a place had been given a clear representation of the gospel. Judgment filled my heart as I wondered how we could reduce suffering humanity to a list of check-boxes that either had or had not been given proper opportunity to pray a prayer that would apparently lead to eternal salvation (even though it was neither a biblical solution nor a concept that most hand-raising natives even understood).

I spent my energy crafting the perfect public statement to deliver to the class, to wake them from their holy slumber. My greatest discontent lay on the collective ring fingers of the class. We sat lamenting the poverty and deplorable life conditions of so many around the world and we probably had 75 carats of diamonds in that room, just gathering dust.

In my day-dreaming, I would stand up and give a great speech about the stain on our souls. I would chastise the group for their feel-good attendance that impacted absolutely no one. I would tear at the system that claimed that humanity only needed a properly translated bible to be ministered to, when I knew full well that the world was flooded with bibles and yet dying due to a lack of people willing to obey the words inside.

I would then challenge the group of wealthy Americans to look at those sparkling gems on their fingers and consider that $1 can feed more than a dozen children. How many meals (or immunizations or mosquito nets or clean-water wells) would the collective wealth in that room buy? How could we expect the world to listen to our words about grace and mercy, sacrifice and uncompromising love…how could we expect the world to listen to our mouths when our hands speak of a very different message, a message of consumption and scarcity, of hoarding and gorging and general malaise?

I never did muster up the audacity to stand in front of that class. Perhaps I stayed silent out of respect for the friend who had taken me to the class. Perhaps it was the conviction in my own heart that I was no different than my bejeweled classmates. I had my own hang-ups and strongholds. I had my own unnecessary possessions and selfish vices. Perhaps it was the simple knowledge if I was going to rail against our proclivity for preferring talking over action, talking at a bunch of folks about it would probably be the epitome of hypocrisy. So, I stayed silent.

I have been grappling with issues of wealth and our faith again recently. I have been probing at the heart of God (if such a thing is even possible) as to why some have so much and others so little. I have been taking inventory of my own possessions, again wondering where the least of these could be served by the shedding of my excess. I don’t suppose I’ll ever give my little speech to the well-intentioned folks in the wealthy church. I imagine, however, that for as long as I am here I’ll be giving the speech to myself.

23 September 2008

off to see the wizard...on our bicycles, of course

This coming weekend, we are loading up and heading to Houston to see Pastor Willie Dengler, who will be visiting the US from South Africa. We have only 3 hours with him on Saturday morning (the man has a busy schedule) and we could not be more excited to take him to IHOP, feed him, prod him for stories and wisdom, and then hug him until it hurts.

A few folks have expressed an interest in sending donations home with him to South Africa. If you are among those who would like to do such a thing, email me: theburkholders@gmail.com

Willie related reading…

22 September 2008

on a different kind of politics

"A government that truly represents these Americans – that truly serves these Americans – will require a different kind of politics. That politics will need to reflect our lives as they are actually lived. It won’t be prepackaged, ready to pull off the shelf. It will have to be constructed from the best of our traditions and will have to account for the darker aspects of our past. We will need to understand just how we got to this place, this land of warring factions and tribal hatreds."

21 September 2008

the name: blogging baby burkholder

As part of being a liberal arts major at UT, I had to obtain fluency in a foreign language. I tried my hand at Spanish, but came down with Mono at the beginning of the semester. My professor showed me incredible mercy, first by giving me a "C" that I didn't earn and then by telling me that I needed to pick another language because I would fail miserably if I tried to go on with Spanish.

I looked at my other options and chose Italian. It wasn't always easy, but I made some great friends, learned a beautiful language, and I get the joy of putting "Fluent in Italian" on my resume today, which always draws curious reactions.

The point of that story is to bring you into the genesis of my love with the name "Bella". In learning Italian, I placed notecards all over my apartment with Italian phrases. Above the door - "porto". Above the bathroom - "bagno". It was my way to learn. If I could have, I would have put a notecard above my sister (who, bless her heart, also happened to be my roomate). It would have read, "Bella".

The literal meaning is "beauty", but in Italian it is used between friends along with "Bello" for men in sort of the same way we would use "dude" or "chica".

Hey Friend!! Ciao Bella!!

Fast Forward a few years...

As a single guy, living in Africa, I met this woman named Beauty. She cleaned the church for dollars a day, all with her baby on her back. Her baby, Areah, didn't cry and didn't fuss. I almost imagine that if you had given her a duster, she would have helped.

As any reader of the blog would know, Stefani eventually met Beauty and Areah and an incredible bond was formed. Stef and Beauty became best friends. Areah became my de facto daughter. The two of them became the most incredible, inspiring, and altogether loved people in our world.

When we found out that Stef was pregnant, names naturally started racing through our heads. When we found out the baby was to be a girl, we somehow went straight to Bella.

Then, we vacillated, because apparently Bella is a really popular name these days. And, always the contrarian, I wasn't really excited about setting my daughter up to be one of 23 Bellas in her Kindergarten class.

So Bella means beautiful. But what about Areah? Would you believe that it is basically Hebrew for "lioness"? Yup, Bella Areah would be "beautiful lioness". Bella Areah would be an African, Hebrew, Italian way to honor some really special people in our lives. Bella Areah would be a gateway to stories about generosity, sacrifice, diligence, graciousness, rescue, and love. Bella Areah would be the perfect name for our daughter.

Therefore, all hesitations aside, that is the name.

In about three months, she'll make her first appearance...

Bella Areah Burkholder

20 September 2008

the baker and the dough

Maybe God is a beautiful baker.

He rolls the ingredients of this experience, this life, into our very being. A pinch of laughter with a tablespoon of weeping...Mourning, dancing…Seeking and giving up…Tearing and mending, silence and uproarious noise…love, hate…war, peace…gathering and scattering…embraces and longing glances…crumbling walls and built bridges…killing, healing…planting and inevitable uprooting…

Amidst all of these ingredients, He mixes in a time to be born and a time to die.

And we struggle and thrash about, unaware that it has all been designed just so. We imagine that the whole story revolves around us when it is completely the opposite. We revolve around the story, completely ancillary to its existence.

We fight off the ingredients He mixes into our lives, attempting to choose which and at what portion. And yet, grief comes relentlessly with brokenness and pain. And it is eventually met with redemption and hope, with new life and joy. And it cycles through again, as the hands of the Almighty knead us into submission.

I like to think that eventually we begin to understand that this journey we’re on is not toward perfection, but completion. After all, birthed in the reaction between one chemical and another, and grown and formed by the ingredients that shape our days, we are eventually removed from the oven, finally feeling finished. We are beginning to understand that all of the ingredients made us just who we needed to be after all, that the sorrow was as important as the joy. The warmth that has welled up inside of us begins to cool and our assurance of place is again shaken – as we are consumed back into the center of the source that created us in the first place…

(This was originally posted on June 4th, 2008 - I just like it, so I thought I would post it again.)

19 September 2008

on the similarities of the parties

"In distilled form, though, the explanations of both the right and the left have become mirror images of each other. They are stories of conspiracy, of America being hijacked by an evil cabal. Like all good conspiracy theories, both tales contain just enough truth to satisfy those predisposed to believe in them, without admitting any contradictions that might shake up those assumptions. Their purpose is not to persuade the other side but to keep their bases agitated and assured of the rightness of their respective causes – and lure just enough new adherents to beat the other side into submission."

18 September 2008

the anti-theft lunch bag

Remember my story about how my lunch was getting stolen at work...?

Well, enjoy this solution with me. The anti-theft lunch bag has green splotches pre-printed on the bag to dissuade your co-workers from swiping your turkey sandwich. Gotta love fake mold. Absolutely ingenious.

(found at: http://www.skforlee.com/independent_work/lunch_bag.html)

17 September 2008

on the triviality of our politics

"No, what’s challenging is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem."

16 September 2008

three brothers

What if we moved dangerously towards grace and tolerance? What if a place where we might be accused of Universalism is a place that is more like the heart of Jesus than the hyper-religious, got-all-the-answers sphere we occupy today?

David Wilcox will be in San Antonio on Saturday, November 1st...Lyrics below.

Three Brothers
All three brothers love their father, and he's brought them here today
To see these papers and these lawyers and divide the old estate
All three feel that they're the favorite he loves each of them the best
And these documents he gave them will now put them to the test

So they open all the writings that will prove the rightful heir
To this home that they remember, and the right to settle there
Their own sister is a prisoner, they don't see her face to face
They've not heard her song of beauty, or felt the movement of her grace

She lives behind those bars of steel and waits for her release
Will she die or will we see Jerusalem in peace

Each one looks at what he's given, and he studies what he's shown
They hold their maps that show possession to this place they've called their home
At first they sigh with satisfaction when they see what's on their maps
Each one's given all he wanted, but the boundaries overlap

So do you wish us to be brothers? Father, help us understand
Or do we each kill off the others to claim this same piece of land?
Do you mean there to be hatred in this place you built to last
And will Faith just die a prisoner in the dungeon of the past

She lives behind those bars of steel and waits for her release
Will she die or will we see Jerusalem in peace

Jerusalem is sending her voice
From inside the prison of disbelief
Stand up you people of the one God
To bring about her release

15 September 2008

on politics...

This has been, already, one of the most fascinating presidential races in American history. Unlikely candidates who have incredible life stories are vying for an America that is arguably as divided and as desperate as any in the last 75 years.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting some quotes on the politics we face. I'll withhold the authors so as to keep the partisan nastiness out of the equation. And, hopefully, those of us who haven't made up our minds due to tradition or trend, will have a clearer mind as to how we can help American move forward into the better days that lie ahead.

14 September 2008

september 11th

It didn't feel right just allowing September 11th to pass without some comment.

I will never forget being woken up by my big sister in the apartment we shared in Austin, the look of devastation on her face. I will never forget watching as towers crashed and horror was made real to people all across America. I will never forget going to class that day and wondering how my fluency in Italian had anything to do with this new world we lived in. I will never forget getting on the bus to go home that evening and looking around at everyone for just a moment longer, not sure if I was suspicious or just needing someone else to feel as I did. I will never forget.

hurricane gustav and the kindle

From the Kindle Blog...

Hurricane Gustav and the Kindle

September 12, 2008

Susan, an ardent Kindle user, comes from a Kindle-owning family. Her husband, at 85 years old, loves his Kindle. Both her brother and daughter have Kindles, and are constant readers. Her sister-in-law has Parkinson's disease, but now that she has a Kindle, she can hold her "book" and read once again. Consequently, they are huge fans of the Kindle but little did they realize what effect the device would have on their lives--and in a most unexpected way.

Susan and seven members of her family (along with eight cats and three dogs) were forced to evacuate as Hurricane Gustav approached. Finding a motel, they waited out the storm until they were allowed to return to their home. But the motel (dubbed Motel Hell by Susan) was lacking in some crucial services. She wrote us:

"I wanted to let you know just how much the experimental part of my Kindle helped my family and I. We evacuated from Houma, Louisiana--ground zero for Hurricane Gustav--to Minden, Louisiana. Our wireless internet service was not working at the motel. I used my handy dandy Kindle to access the parish emergency web site and our local newspaper web site, so we would be able to know when we could return home.

"What a relief to know I could depend on the Kindle to get the emergency info we needed. This feature was a real life saver and I hope you continue to have it as a part of the Kindle service."

Susan and her family have since returned to their home in Terrebonne Parish. They were relieved to find little harmed at their house--a few missing shingles, a damaged garage door and a fence that was blown down.

In spite of the ordeal of Hurricane Gustav, most things in Susan's life have changed very little. In her last e-mail to us, she writes, "My husband still has his nose buried in his Kindle."

11 September 2008

searching for energy (and finding enough to kill me)

So, amidst the actual real-world issues of a rabid presidential race, a major hurricane about to slam Texas, and disaster and war all over the globe, I thought I'd give today to energy drinks.

I like energy drinks. And from what I am about to endure with Baby Burkholder, I may be drinking quite a few energy drinks in about 3 months.

A sampling of the current lineup:

I recently found Vault. It is made by Coca-Cola and is called a "Hybrid-Energy Soda" which basically means that it is sweet and comes in a green Coke can and has more caffeine than Mountain Dew. Yikes. One time I drank it and my stomach and heart hurt. Otherwise, it's been pretty much OK.

I also have had a few AMPs recently. I like the orange ones. Tasty and energetic!! They come in huge cans, like cheap beer or something. They also have warnings on the can about pregnant women and sensitive people, so I suppose I should probably keep them away from Stef and keep my off-color remarks to a minimum. (Wait for it...)

My all-time favorite is 180. It is actually made by Anheuser-Busch, the folks make Budweiser. No matter, it is incredible. And, for some strange reason, is only found in West Texas convenience stores these days. 180 got me through college about on the same level as Jesus, so that makes it pretty potent stuff. It claims that it will "turn your energy around". Clever...and accurate. Thumbs up all around.

For any of you still reading, click this link and find out how many of your favorite energy drinks it would take to kill you. Fun for the whole family!!

10 September 2008

disaster is a certainty for haiti

As those of us in Texas continue to monitor the approach of Hurricane Ike, a tremendous human toll has already been exacted by the storm. Haiti, by all measures, is not a fun place to be right now.People are dead by the thousands and there is a fear that food and water will run out long before the survivors have all been fed. There are a number of reasons that Haiti is more vulnerable than other places, not least of which are crippling poverty and massive deforestation.

While we wait on the Cone of Uncertainty to unravel and the hurricane to hit Texas, we can look to Haiti as a place of certainty. And they certainly need our help. World Vision is on the ground...and they are ready to accept your generosity for the least of these. Click that sentence to help.

We are responsible.

09 September 2008

the clarity that comes with the storm

Every day as I drive home, I crest a hill on I-10 and I get a glimpse of the San Antonio skyline. It is usually a hazy view, one that reminds me just how polluted the air can get on a cloudless, 97-degree day.

There is, however, a decidedly different view on days when a storm has rolled through. You see, the rains clean the air of all of it's impurities and leave a crystal-clear picture of the towers of glass, stone, and steel in our city's core.

I think our hearts work something like that. Over time, a haze builds up. It isn't like we fell asleep at the switch or anything - it is just a natural occurrence. You live life and the pollutants that come with every day just sort of envelop you. And then, every so often, the storms of life roll through. Occasionally, they shake us to our very core. Inevitably, they wash us clean. Sometimes we just needed a good cry, a literal release. Other times, a storm causes a total reconsideration of the way things are done and we are able to once again see things for what they really are. We are able to crest the hill with clarity.

08 September 2008

the storms and the rain

I've written once or twice about storms in this space.

There was this one...and that one....and that recent one...

And I've written about rain a time or two as well.

There was that one time...and that other time...and this one...and that one...and that other one...

Most recently, we wondered about the hurricane "cone of uncertainty" once or twice...

Why do I spend so much time on weather and rain? I guess nothing else really connects me to the parabolic points of this life quite like thunderstorms and downpours. I think we'll uncover a new such place tomorrow.

04 September 2008

the reverse-commute and argumentative clarity

Every morning, just before sun-rise, I climb into my car and begin my reverse-commute.

You see, I live 1.5 miles from downtown. I work 15 miles from downtown. So while most of the rest of the city comes in from the suburbs to do their work in the city, I head out of the city and into the suburbs to do whatever it is I do.

The reverse-commute suits me. I have always been something of a contrarian and being able to go against the flow every day is something that I really enjoy. I usually start really smiling about 5 miles from my office, when traffic coming from the wealthy, sprawling Northwestern suburbs grinds to a standstill heading into town. I nod smugly and continue towards work at a crisp 70mph. (Photo from Mike Kahn/Green Stock Media…)

(I could probably identify a dozen other places where I am living in the “reverse-commute”. We bought a house in an old neighborhood (that is still far from gentrified) and got less space and paid more money than if we had just gone out to the exurbs. I tend to lean left politically even though I come from a very right-leaning pedigree. I challenge “religious” ideas to the point that I often have to remind myself what it is I believe. I work in the oil/energy industry and I value environmental protection. On and on it could go…)

I think it was in high school that I was first classified as someone who was a little different. Our PAL class (Peer Assistance Leadership – a pseudo-volunteer group that mentored underprivileged children) of about 70 took a test of sorts to classify the larger group into sub-groups, such as “Leader” or “Encourager”. All of the potential results seemed very positive. Or so I thought.

Reviewing the results as a group, the teacher announced that one student tested out to a different classification than all of the others. Apparently, my test revealed that I was the “Challenger” of the group. She said that I would rarely be satisfied with the way things were, I would question everything including successful practices to make sure nothing was better, and I would go against the grain just to see how other people reacted and to find what that approach offered.

She nailed me. But instead of feeling embarrassed, I felt empowered, as though these results legitimized my behavior as an important part of a functioning society.

My education at the University of Texas at Austin only reinforced this way of thinking. Ah, a liberal arts education is a glorious thing. I was taught that learning required careful study and examination of facts. No big surprise there. The light bulb went on when I was shown how arguments can actually lead to greater clarification. I was taught to take a side and argue it out. At the end of it, I would know whether the idea was valid. So I wrote papers that bordered on absurd and took positions in discussions that didn’t reflect my true beliefs at all. And in those moments, the Truth within me was clarified.

Apartheid - Oppressive but beneficial?
American Civil war - Kansas started it?
Light Rail - Booming success or boondoggle?
Religion - Tool of the weak?
Suburbs - Prosperously Disastrous?
China - Communism as a cultural necessity?

There are days that I still find myself as a Challenger. I am currently debating the sanity of a certain political nomination, wondering why Christian men always want “adventure”, and revisiting the reason I blog. Some of these arguments take place with others. Many of the ideas I simply argue out with myself.

After all, my reverse-commute is so smooth and stress-free that I can afford to let my mind drift a little bit.

i tried to come up with a clever title here - but it's about compost so what can you say?

That is my compost pile.

That is where our rubbish goes - banana peels, rotten cantaloupes, stale cereal, lettuce cores, watermelon rinds, grass clippings, moldy bread, random leaves....

It goes in rubbish and comes out perfectly good soil. The rubbish actually cooks itself in the pile, going from trash to treasure - organic, high-nutrient soil.

Just a few more months until our litchi tree will be the beneficiary of all of this great stuff...

Travis the Gardener (possible composting addict) hooked me up with the contraption that holds my compost (and some stolen grass clippings), but you can make one easily too...

And now you can insert your own metaphorical reference as to how new growth coming from rubbish applies to us on a deeper level than we really know...I'm a bit peckish.

03 September 2008

the kindle - at $100 off

Most of you in this space are aware that I am the proud owner of an Amazon Kindle. And quite a few of you have said that you too would be the proud owner of a Kindle if only it were a little cheaper.

(For those still uninitiated, the Kindle is Amazon's "e-reader", a device that is to books, magazines, and blogs what an iPod is to music - and it connects wirelessly to the Amazon store from anywhere so you are never more than a minute away from your next reading adventure.)

The good folks at Amazon are chopping $100 off the Kindle if you'll jump through a couple of hoops - really pretty easy stuff. It is the standard "open a credit account, use it for the discount, and close it" routine.

If you are curious, The Kindle homepage has all kinds of little videos and features to tell you why it's so great. It is also where you will find the offer for $100 off.

I love my Kindle. I'll tell you all about it if you let me. Ask the guy I sat next to on the plane last week. Or the old lady at the mall. Or the dude at church. Or Stef...

02 September 2008

fallow fields and our most productive possibilities

As I flew into Kansas last week on a business trip, I viewed the heartland (and cropland) of America from my window seat.

An abundance of green flooded my retinas as fields of sorghum and corn sprouted in all of its glory. An occasional golden field represented wheat in the grand scheme of things. I didn't see much in the way of brown, though. Very few parcels lay fallow.

In order to obtain my Geography minor from UT-Austin, I had to endure an "Agricultural Geography" class, which made me feel like an ignorant city kid and an Aggie at the same time. Still, I learned one thing: the importance of the fallow field.

In order for land to be it's most productive, it must be periodically allowed to rest, lest all of the nutrients be removed by the constant use.

We are built the same way, aren't we? We were not built for constant production. We need holidays and down time. We need seasons of peace. We need sports and theater and politics and other trivialities to allow our souls time to refresh themselves.

We must build in a fallow season. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, we are created in such a way that we must be purposefully unproductive in order to produce at our greatest level.

So, next time things seems too quiet or a bit boring, resist the urge to complain and yearn for more to accomplish. Instead, enjoy the restorative inactivity - the fallow moments that keep us going.

(The above picture is of Kansas crop-land as viewed from high above - thanks to the Wiki...)

01 September 2008

gustav, katrina, the human condition and the cone of uncertainty (2 of 2)

I wrote recently about the "cone of uncertainty".

The impending landfall of Hurricane Gustav has me wondering about what happens when the uncertainty disappears and we are faced with the worst possible outcome from the previously open-ended cone.

How do we respond? What have we learned? And do we really think that we are in control?

gustav, katrina, the human condition, and the cone of uncertainty (1 of 2)

It is Labor Day in the USA, a holiday for many.

For those fleeing the oncoming Hurricane Gustav, today in no holiday at all. These are tense moments. These are times when memories are painfully dredged up and lives are again uprooted. These are times when a nation watches and waits to see if history will repeat itself all too soon.

If you find yourself captivated by the storm and the story, I have a suggested DVD rental for you...When the Levees Broke is a long, often painful look at the Hurricane Katrina story. But it is entirely spellbinding and amazingly produced. So before we mutter anything about anyone deserving destruction or any town being rightfully inundated, this should be required viewing.

No one chooses to be born where they are and those with deep roots in New Orleans are no more culpable for their city's elevation below sea level than we are watching from afar. We pray in particular for the immense poor population of SE Louisiana. The land that they can afford to live on is typically vulnerable and their means of relocating is often nil. We hope for better this time around.